Prepare Yourself for Cold and Flu Season
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. With the advance of modern medicine, 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 know, however, that education can make us feel more empowered to care for yourselves, to gain authority and self-governance in our own health care.
Here are some concrete steps to promote health and well-being during cold and flu season: First, an important pro tip: in order to combat an ailment quickly and effectively, it is best to attack it right away, full-strength! 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. 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).
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. Just like our grandparents did, 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 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. Take note of this: dehydration causes some of the most uncomfortable symptoms that we associate with fever, like headaches. If someone is having trouble keeping anything down, have them drink small sips of electrolyte-filled liquids and suck on popsicles.
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.
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. 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.
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! 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.
For more integrative medical tips on building the immune system and aging gracefully, as well as cooking wholesome food for the whole family, check out The Nourish Me Kitchen — a first-of-its-kind, functional medicine field guide and cook book by Dr. Erika Siegel. See the book page for details. With love and wishes for health, Dr. Erika Siegel