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Nourishing Tips & Recipes

Feeling the wave of fear coming? Maybe i can help.

Hello my friend. Here we are again. It’s a bit of déjà vu, huh? Everywhere we look we can feel and sense the fear that is rising, and we may feel like retreating — battening down the hatches and waiting for the worst.


I am reaching out to you with a few words of support and reassurance so you may feel greater authority over your health and the knowledge that there are things that you can do right now to reduce the feeling of fear and anxiety that is trying to take up residence in your body. First, I respectively suggest that you turn off the news and disconnect from the twitter doom scroll. For real. Take a break for a day or two; I promise you that tracking numbers is not doing you any good. At all. Take a few deep breaths and look out the window — or better yet, step outside.


It’s time for a perspective check.

Let’s slow down, take a deep belly breath, and back up for a minute….


Before we had lab-made medication in little plastic bottles, we relied on what came from the earth to soothe us. We looked to plants as a primary medicine. We used sunshine and fresh air and salt water in therapeutic ways. We checked in with our natural rhythms and corrected them if we lost our way. We kept in tune with the seasons and the sun cycles, letting nature guide us toward the right seasons to eat various foods, the right times to sleep and wake, the right times to produce and to rest.


Now things look a bit different: we can manipulate our circadian rhythm as we wish with artificial light, and we can eat almost any food or herb from around the globe at any time of the year. We have scientists and physicians constantly at work, trying to understand the body and support it with the best that the scientific method can offer. There are huge benefits to our evolution in this way, of course, but there is a tradeoff: we have become disconnected from the deep wisdom that comes from living in accordance with and supported by nature. We have lost our internal compass and the knowledge that many many things make up the state of our health — not just distinct viruses and our immune response to them.


With the advance of modern medicine, I find that many of us have lost some agency over our own bodies; we’ve begun to trust the “medical system” more than we trust ourselves. Maybe we have become comfortable with immediately looking to doctors or the pharmacy to calm our ailments – essentially saying, “Hey, you fix me.” We may forget how much healing potential is within us if we just listen to our own sensations, pay close attention to what our bodies are asking for. We may overlook the medicine we need for comfort and healing that’s available in our own kitchens and gardens. And we may have lost confidence in our own ability to listen to and take care of ourselves.


We also may take some big-picture solace in understanding that while this current COVID virus is spreading quickly throughout the globe, its spread is directly related to how mild it is for the vast majority of people. The nature of viruses follows a pattern: as they mutate, they become more efficient — which most often means that they become both less lethal and more transmissible. As Daniel Golden, MD, a critical care surgeon in Pennsylvania, writes: mutations “give the virus a greater advantage when spreading from person to person, and the version that spreads more easily will ultimately outcompete versions that don’t have those advantages.”


We also need to recall that most diseases are not fully eradicated — especially (relatively) milder ones like COVID. As Dr. Golden puts it, as time marches on, “the disease will survive, but severity of illness will decrease.” And while a surge may be in our near future, it very well may result in few cases of severe illness, and “it could also be the beginning of the natural end of the pandemic,” according to Dr. Golden. We don’t know for sure, but if we assume this virus is “going to follow the expected patterns we’d expect according to basic scientific principles,” we can perhaps release some of our anxiety and fear around it. (Read his whole article here.)


So What Should We Do Now?

I want to help you become more empowered to care for yourself, to gain authority and self-governance in your own health care. I hope to show you that nature provides remedies that are often both gentle on the body and powerfully effective. I also want to remind you that your immune system is not only activated and alert when you are feeling crummy; it is working on your behalf every single day (perhaps every single moment of every single day) to protect you from the world around you, and it’s relying on you for regular, perhaps daily, interventions to course-correct.



While you may have received a message that there is only one solution to being able to fight the virus at hand, there are also other things that you can incorporate into your life to help protect you, ease you, comfort and heal you.


So in addition to deep breaths (which are physiologically helpful to reduce the stress response), I want to empower you with some tips and tools at home so you can fortify your body now (don’t wait) AND be strong and able to manage illness if it should visit!


For extra prevention, please see my post on fortifying the immune system and consider this significant research regarding the protective effects of taking vitamin D! If you remember one thing from this post, let it be this: getting vitamin D levels in range is remarkably protective against the circulating viruses. As vitamin D levels reach 50, COVID mortality reaches ZERO. (Source.) This is an easy and cheap extra layer of protection to consider. (Most of my patients’ levels are in the 15-30 range, for reference.)


Concrete Steps to Promote Health and Well-being

It's really important to note that when food or herbs are used therapeutically, we use them a bit differently. Sometimes we use more than we are accustomed to — like swallowing down a whole crushed garlic clove masked in honey — or sometimes we enjoy remedies more frequently than we usually would — like sipping on hot water with added Honey and Thyme Cough Elixir (See recipe) all day long for a persistent cough or respiratory infection. A culinary-style sprinkle of cayenne, a seed of fennel, a sliver of ginger, or single vitamin C capsule is not going to cut it! Plants and supplements are potent, but they need to be taken in therapeutic amounts to do the trick, which usually means every few (waking) hours if symptoms are acute (meaning: symptoms are noticeable and active). We want the remedies to taste good, and be easy to take or apply, but we also want them to work – and the balance is sometimes found in being creative or a bit bold.


Here’s an important pro tip: in order to combat an ailment quickly and effectively, it is best to attack it right away, full-strength! This is especially true with a virus. When you have the first whispers of an imbalance, that is the time for action. There is no need to suffer valiantly with your symptoms for a couple days or a week to prove how hardy you are or to see how it will play out; you’ll defeat your illness quickly only if you treat it quickly, and early intervention and treatment are absolutely key.


At the very first sign of feeling a little off, I suggest you take action. I don’t have time to be sick, and I’m guessing that neither do you. If you take on your illness head-first — with frequent doses of herbs/vitamins, sweating, appropriate foods, and ample sleep — you may be shocked by how resilient you can be!


As soon as you cough, have a sore throat, or feel that exhaustion creeping in, follow these guidelines:


  • Stop all dairy and sugar. Dairy is a big mucous maker. Sugar suppresses white blood cells. Keep natural sugars (fruit juice, maple syrup) low as well, but do use honey.


  • Don’t force food. Take it easy with eating in general. Digestion takes so much energy that it’s often best to eat lightly — mostly cooked, simple foods — while healing. Think about porridges, soups, and stews, and just follow the appetite.


  • Put on a pot of soup. Start with some ginger, garlic, onion, and turmeric. Add any other veggies you wish, like carrots, zucchini, and celery, as they are alkaline and rich in electrolytes. A broth-y soup is a great food for times of illness.


  • Bring on the ginger. Ginger is perhaps the most versatile plant I can think of for immunity and healing a multitude of ailments. When in doubt, grate some fresh ginger and steep to drink in a tea. You can use ginger to fight colds and flus, drain a sinus infection, and calm a belly ache or sore muscles and joints.


  • Stay hydrated. Especially with diarrhea, vomiting and/or fever. During a fever, dehydration occurs simply by sitting around sweating with a raised breathing and heart rate. Take note of this: dehydration causes some of the most uncomfortable symptoms that we associate with fever, like headaches. Kids are especially vulnerable to dehydration, and it can even become dangerous. If someone is having trouble keeping anything down, have them drink small sips of electrolyte-filled liquids and suck on popsicles. Encourage babies to nurse or bottle-feed often (even babies that usually eat solid food may only want to nurse, which is just fine). You can feed pre-weaned babies small amounts of liquids with a spoon or dropper.


  • Rest. Sleep is the greatest healer. If someone is unable to sleep because of pain or fever, that’s when I reach for Ibuprofen; otherwise I usually let it be. It’s OK to be lazy, lounge around, and sleep if that is what your body wants. However, many feverish kids have high spirits and are bounding with energy, so let them play if they wish!


  • Bring on the heat! Wanna know one thing that SARS viruses hate? HEAT. Higher body temperatures in general (sauna, fever, exercise, hot yoga, active yogic breathing) inhibit replication of viruses. Coronaviruses, for instance, get killed at around 10,000 units per 15 minutes of heat exposure at 133 degrees, which is extremely significant![1] A sauna is the easiest way to sustain this temperature (as it’s not safe or possible to bathe at that temperature!!). Drinking hot water all day long can reduce a replicating virus that’s hanging in your nasal pharynx in those first days of incubation (before it travels to the bronchioles and lungs), so keep drinking that hot water! Feeling achey? Add 2 cups of Epsom salts to that hot bath! I know this may feel strange to some people, but we often can embrace fevers as a good thing. Increasing body temperature is a natural and intelligent immune response. Your body is turning up the heat because the hot temperature inactivates bacteria and viruses and helps to kill off unwanted critters! So stay warm, drink hot water or ginger or yarrow tea, and perhaps allow that fever to climb. Get in a sauna, if you have access, or a hot bath. *Important note: there are times, of course, when fever reduction and/or contacting your physician is indicated (especially for fever in children under the age of 3 months, or fevers over 103.5; this could be an emergency).


  • Fire up immunity with herbs and vitamins. For respiratory viruses, I reach for vitamin A, D, C, zinc, quercetin, echinacea, elderberry, and mushroom complexes. I simply love the powerful action of Propolis (a spray is best for sore throats) as it stimulates anti-viral immunity in mucous membranes[3]. And from your kitchen: a simple favorite of mine is to juice ginger and turmeric (or grate and make tea) and mix with honey and lemon, which seems to reduce symptoms immediately. Take your chosen immune support every few hours and start at the first sign of feeling off. (Astragalus, while a popular immune remedy, is better for immune support in between colds, for prevention.)


  • Remember that being in nature brings in-the-moment healing, and breathing fresh air is important! I’ve heard parents tell their children (and adults tell me) that they can’t go outside “because they are sick.” This always confuses me. It’s ok and even beneficial to go outside when you are sick! Put on a coat and take a slow walk around your yard or block. Or wrap yourself in a blanket and sit outside to get some fresh air in your lungs. If it’s warm out, sunbathe — with as much skin showing as possible — and soak up that immune-boosting vitamin D (20 minutes is ideal). In fact: In 1840, the first of the European sanitoriums were developed to treat Tuberculosis with fresh cool air (and good nutrition). Doctors observed that people with pulmonary problems did much better if they had fresh clean air to breathe. A classic 2010 study by Dr. Qing Li in Japan demonstrated that a single 3-hour forest therapy experience can raise the amount and activity of Natural Killer cells (cancer and viral killing cells) in someone’s body for up to 30 days![2] That’s right: just one afternoon jaunt in the wild increases immune action for an entire month!


Preparation Is Not Fear

Lastly, keep yourself in check with recognizing what is good and right and going just fine in this very moment. Check in and see if you are living in an imagined future reality or the present moment. Is the concern and fear you are feeling yours, or does it perhaps belong to others, or has it been fed to you? How do YOU feel about your body and your resources? What can you do to make yourself feel more prepared or more at ease? Be honest with yourself here as you disconnect from the story you are receiving every which way you look.


Being vigilant is not the same as living in fear. Being prepared and taking precautions is not the same as living in fear. But constantly tracking the data and surmising about how bad things may get? That will absolutely keep you living in fear — and living in fear will not serve you in any helpful way.


As we navigate these times together, remember that we are not alone, we are truly resilient, and this too shall pass. Please read my resiliency post as well for extra comfort and tips for feeling more whole and grounded in this moment.


With this post I also send a nice mug of hot tea, warm hugs of comfort, a sanitized fist bump, and a deep knowing that we’ve got this.


Erika Siegel ND


 


Honey and Thyme Cough Syrup

Makes about 3 cups

This is a simple and soothing elixir to relieve sore throats and prevent coughing. It’s a popular folk remedy that’s been effectively soothing throats since long before any products were available at the store. Thyme kills bacteria, viruses, and even parasites. It has a special beneficial effect on the lungs, making it a popular herb in cough drops. Honey also acts as an antimicrobial and heals the sensitive tissue of the throat.


This deliciously soothing syrup lasts for a couple of months, so you can make it in the fall and have it ready for winter’s first cough. Take it straight, 1 teaspoon every hour or so, or add a generous amount to a cup of hot water so you can sip on it all day.


INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups water

  • 1½ ounces dried thyme sprigs (approximately 1½ bunches)

  • 1 cup raw honey (see Note)

DIRECTIONS:

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, bring the water to a boil, then remove from the heat. Add the thyme, cover and steep for at least 15 minutes or up to a few hours. Strain into a jar and whisk in the honey. Refrigerate for up to 2 months.


Note: Raw honey is not intended for children under 1 year of age.



 


[1] Dinicolantonio, J. The Immunity Fix. 2020. Page 162.

[2] Li, Q. “Effect of Forest Bathing Trips on Human Immune Function.” Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine, vol. 15, no. 1, 2010, page 9–17.

[3] Ferreira, L. das N., et al. "Effect of the ethanolic extract from green propolis on production of antibodies after immunization against canine parvovirus (CPV) and canine coronavirus (CCoV)." Brazilian Journal of Veterinary Research and Animal Science, vol. 49, no. 2, 2012, pp. 116-121.

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