An Herbalist’s View of Illness
Plant medicine is considered a holistic method for treating illness and as
such, herbalists evaluate the whole person and their lifestyle. Modern
medicine views the body as a machine with parts and tends to focus on
relieving symptoms of common illnesses whereas herbalists approach illness
with a three-pronged approach: support the immune system’s power to heal;
strengthen and balance the body’s systems; and lessen the effects of the
illness when appropriate.
Our Immune System
The human body has a potent healer in place: the complex immune
system. Supporting the health of your immune system is the #1 factor
in staying healthy and avoiding illness. The truth is we are surrounded
by bacteria and viruses all the time; when we become ill, it is because our
immune system had an “opportunity” (a weak spot) that allowed the virus or
bacteria to gain entrance.
Our immune system is complex with a variety of organs and glands that
continually fights off pathogens. The health of immune systems varies widely
and that’s why you see some people who are sick far more
frequently than others. This is usually an indication the immune system is
not working properly and/or needs better support.
The best defense against contracting a cold or flu is to be proactive in your
daily lifestyle and support the body’s systems so they are operating at their
optimum levels. When a virus hits us, we can usually backtrack to a change or
series of changes in the support of our immune system.
Our immune system is our internal warrior! We can support our
immune system by:
- Reduce negative physical and emotional stresses
- Eat healthy & nutrient-dense foods
- Reduce sugar intake; it suppresses your immune system
- Rest & sleep consistently as needed by our bodies
- Engage in daily exercise or vigorous play
- Practice daily stretching of connective tissue & muscle
- Enjoy time in nature each day
- Increase Vitamin D with a supplement if deficient
- Foster a sense of gratitude & joy
I half-jokingly recommend staying away from sick people but life doesn’t always work out that way. I have decided that wearing a mask in a public and confined place filled with people who may be infected is a brilliant idea!
When It’s Too Late…
- Rest! Allow your body to direct its energy to the immune system.
- Monitor your symptoms to determine if you have a cold or influenza.
- Pay careful attention to the symptoms and reactions to herbal remedies. Change remedies as needed.
- Use the remedies and dosage protocol as indicated. Herbs can be powerful. More is not better.
- Avoid alcohol, dairy, and fruit juices. Drink herbal teas for both medicinal and nutritive benefits.
- Maintain cleanliness by washing hands frequently, changing sheets and towels, and using clean tissues or handkerchiefs. And require the same of those who share living quarters with you.
- Appetite is often diminished when sick; don’t force yourself to eat. Bone or mushroom broth and veggie soups are best. Avoid heavy carbs and proteins.
- Occasional fresh air (not super cold) and moving around is important to maintain strength.
Herbal Remedies for Upper Respiratory Virus
As uncomfortable as they are, symptoms are an important part of the
healing process. Over-the-counter products are designed to suppress the symptoms, tricking us into returning to work before we are completely well, and this often prolongs the virus and time sick.
Instead, we need to support the hard work our immune system is doing while using gentle but effective herbal remedies to lessen some of the symptoms.
Each autumn, I make big batches of these elderberry remedies. Friends receive a package of these goodies on the winter solstice.
Winter Herbal Recipes
Folk Method: Fill a canning jar half full of dried and de-stemmed elderberries. Add brandy or vodka to cover. Seal with lid, label, and store for 6 weeks. You can strain the berries or leave them in. Tinctures last for years if stored in a cabinet. Avoid direct light.
Use & Dosage: At the first signs of influenza or cold, take 1/2 tsp. every hour until cold/flu symptoms recede or disappear.
This syrup is less medicinal than tincture but it is suitable for children and those who can not drink alcohol. And it is delicious on pancakes, waffles, ice cream, or in smoothies.
- Simmer 1 cup of fresh berries or 1/2 cup of dried berries with 1-2 cups of water. Add spices if desired (cinnamon, peppercorn, cloves).
- Remove from heat and allow to cool.
- Use a fine mesh sieve, potato ricer, or cheesecloth to strain by pressing onto berries until every last drop of juice is squeezed from the berries.
- Measure the juice and add it back to a clean pot. Add an equal portion of raw honey to taste and warm until blended.
- Bottle and store in the fridge for up to 1 month.
Dosage: One teaspoon per hour for the first day of illness
- Fill a canning jar 3/4 full of fresh, de-stemmed berries or 1/2 full of dried berries.
- Add additional spices and herbs, if desired.
- Add brandy to completely cover the berries.
- You can add honey now or after straining. Add to your preferred taste.
- Stir and seal with a lid. Store in the pantry for4-6 weeks, strain, and re-bottle.
- Spices: freshly grated ginger (or dried), cinnamon stick, cardamon,
- Herbs: cacao nibs, rosehips (fresh or dried), licorice, hawthorn berries
Use & Dosage: Take 1 Tbsp each day during winter months to support the immune system. Add to shrubs or cocktails.
Cold Care Tea
This well-known tea is used when fever is present and will help induce sweating but is excellent for drinking throughout illness.
Combine these dried herbs, pour hot water over them, and cover. Infuse for at least 30 minutes.
1 part elderflowers
1 part dried elderberries
1 part dried yarrow flower
1/2 part dried peppermint
1/2 part dried rose hips
Another must-have winter remedy is an oxymel to help with lung congestion and inflamed throats. Recipes & directions are located at How to Make Oxymels
A well-known oxymel, Fire Cider not only supports the immune system but can help with sinus congestion in a horseradish kind of way! Directions are located at How to Make Fire Cider
Herb-infused honey is a superb way to soothe an irritated throat. Directions & recipes are located at How to Make Medicinal Honey
Herbal Tonic Syrups
Herbal syrups are both food and medicine. I offer two recipes in my Herbal Tonic Syrup article.
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