Banish Colds and Flu with a Preventive Diet and Nature’s Green PharmacyRichard DeSylva, RH DNM November 1, 2010
Just the other day, I had occasion to go to the auto shop to pick up my newly-winterized car. While trying to explain all of the repairs that had been undertaken, my mechanic could not complete his description without breaking into spasms of coughing, sneezing, and nose-blowing. I felt sorry for him and for his wife who was just starting to go down the same path. Their response to my entreaties about their health was almost nonchalant – they more or less expected to get a cold and were simply trying to ride it out. No real thoughts were given to what they could try to do to prevent the next episode.
Given all the advertisements in the media about how to buy the latest drugs for that ‘achy, stuffed up, cold feeling,’ I suppose the mechanic’s response was typical; and yet, it does beg the question – is there anything that we can do to effectively prevent and treat colds and influenza without drugs?
The answer is a definite ‘Yes!’
Essentially, we need to start with a serious look at our diets. As a result of dietary indiscretions – poor food combinations and excessive amounts of mucus-forming foods such as cheese, milk, white flour products – the end product of digestion includes the formation of a thick, viscous, stringy matter that tends to accumulate everywhere in the body’s organs and intestines. It is then emptied into the general circulation, and we notice that the ears, fingertips, toes, etc. are subject to cold; the nasal passageways are clogged; and we may cough up phlegm upon arising.
With the arrival of colder weather, this mucus is expelled out of the tissues into capillaries, veins, arteries, and other passageways. So the efforts of the body’s vital force are directed at removing this offending matter because it can’t be further reduced or transformed. More often than not, the body will try and cough it up as phlegm, expel it as nasal discharge, or eliminate it through other channels such as the bowels and kidneys. In an effort to liquefy this mucus and thus restore homeostasis, the body can also resort to raising its temperature; this in turn causes the mucousal matter to flow more freely out through the body’s elimination channels. Elevated body temperature can also be caused by infection – the result of bacteria feeding on this devitalized mucous matter. Regardless of the cause of the rise in temperature, caution must be exercised in dealing with this condition, as the body’s temperature cannot be allowed to rise to a dangerous level. The first place to start is with what we put into our mouths.
REMOVE MUCUS-FORMING FOODS FROM THE DIET
Should one’s food intake include white flour in the form of toast, a croissant, doughnut, or cheese bagel in the morning, plus a glass of milk, cream in the tea or coffee; if lunch and/or snacks are made from white bread or even most of the so-called ‘brown’ breads; if we have white flour pasta for supper, or a cheese casserole – any and all of these items need to be eliminated from our diets, as their intake causes the formation of excessive mucoid matter.
Just as an aside, it is worth noting that the proper digestion of any milk and/or cheese product is greatly assisted by the regular use of a complex probiotic containing multiple strains of the various bacterial cultures found within the digestive tract. Many people today are lacking these bacterial cultures in their gut. When these ‘friendly bacteria’ are re-introduced, and taken regularly, those aforementioned foods are more likely to be properly digested and metabolized, reducing the formation of mucus.
Equally important, more vegetables should be incorporated into the diet, as their alkaline nature will help shift the pH of the blood and tissues back toward more normal values, wherein the blood is slightly alkaline and the tissues are slightly acidic. Disease-causing entities tend to proliferate in an acidic medium. Fruits such as raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, kiwis, apples, peaches, fresh pineapples, mangoes, and citrus fruits such as lemons and limes will help to alkalinize the blood. Note that I have purposely left out oranges and grapefruits, as they are harvested while not fully ripe, and this interferes with the maturation process, leaving these fruits acidic in nature.
Many of the above fruits are quite rich in potassium, as are vegetables such as carrots, celery, rapini, spinach, and other dark leafy green vegetables. As Dr. Bernard Jensen pointed out many years ago, disease entities cannot exist in a potassium-rich environment; it is potassium that can (through the process of biological transmutation), change into organic sodium, giving off a molecule of oxygen in the process. It is oxygen that can ‘burn’ through the lipid membrane of various bacteria and germs, leading to their destruction.
HERBAL MEDICINE FOR COLDS AND INFLUENZA
While these dietary changes are being incorporated, one must still deal with the cold and influenza symptoms so common in the winter months. Starting with very simple remedies, let’s take a look at what can be done to treat the common cold. At the first onset of a cold, it would be very helpful to make a tea from the following: equal parts of yarrow (Achillea millefolium), elder flowers (Sambucus nigra) and peppermint leaves (Mentha piperata). Mix these dried herbs together, and use a heaping teaspoonful per cup of boiling hot water. Stir and let steep for 10 – 15 minutes, then strain and drink one cup 2 – 3 times per day. Ideally, the last cup can be taken just before retiring. Put an extra blanket on the bed, and if you find yourself sweating, then all the better, as this tea will help sweat the cold out of your body.
The tea works to increase sweating quite readily because yarrow – and here I urge the reader to find really good yarrow; one that is still quite aromatic and pale greenish-yellow in colour – is an excellent diaphoretic, which helps induce sweating.
The elder flowers in the tea formula are likewise a diaphoretic (albeit milder); however, they contain an abundance of mineral salts including organic potassium chloride, which will help dissolve mucus, thus allowing its easier removal from the body. Further, elder flowers are diuretic (thus promoting the flow of urine), are also alterative or blood cleansing, and act as a mild laxative.
The peppermint leaves are calming and relaxing, and help provide ease to the irritated mucosa of the lungs, bronchi, and intestinal tract.
If, however, one’s cold is deeply entrenched, stubborn in nature, and accompanied by chills, aches, sore muscles, and a general malaise, then it is most likely caused by a virus.
While modern medicine may recommend antibiotics, by their very nature antibiotics are quite limited in effect and not able to deal effectively with the rhino-virus found in colds and influenza. This type of situation calls for one of the most powerful, yet least recognized agents in the herbalist’s repertoire – that of elecampane root (Inula helenium). This root is much stronger than echinacea root (Echinacea angustifolia) and more powerful in its capacity to deal with a variety of disease-causing organisms and the ailments that they create. Traditionally a lung herb, elecampane root has been found to contain antiviral, germicidal, antifungal, bacteriostatic, anti-parasitic, and immune-potentiating properties. The constituents found in this root are able to stimulate expectoration and dissolve phlegmatic matter, due to potassium chloride.
Elecampane contains many vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, iron, iodine, and sodium, and is rich in calcium and phosphorus. It also contains beta-carotene, vitamins B3 (niacin) B12, B5, and selenium (an element very much needed for promoting immune function). Elecampane root modifies and calms bronchial secretions, soothes coughing, is spasmolytic (reduces spasms), and even diuretic.
Made in tincture form, with one part of the chopped and dried root to two parts alcohol (45%), one half to one teaspoonful can be taken every 2 – 3 hours. Higher doses can be taken in more serious cases, but only under the recommendation and supervision of a registered herbalist.
This root can be combined with lomatium root (Lomatium dissectum), olive leaves (Olea Europea), and elder flowers for a more potent effect.
For those cases involving chronic mucus congestion in the lungs and bronchials, elecampane root can likewise be employed; however, it would be best to combine it with mullein leaves (Verbascum thapsus), horehound (Marrubium vulgare), St John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum), fenugreek seeds (Trigon-ella foenum-graecum), and anise seeds (Pimpinella anisum). Mix these dried herbs in equal amounts, and put two heaping tablespoonfuls in three cups of water. Bring to boil, then turn down and let simmer for 45 – 60 minutes. Strain, and pour into a glass jar. Store in the fridge when cool. Add 1/4 cup of this fluid to a tea cup, top up with hot water, add a touch of honey if desired, and drink a cup of this mixture 2 – 3 times per day – morning, afternoon, and evening.
Sinus congestion can be one of the most aggravating conditions. Those affected have difficulty breathing, sleeping, eating, etc. While either of the aforementioned preparations can be tried, in my practice over the past number of years, I have found that the following is very helpful: take equal parts (by weight) of dried mullein leaves, comfrey leaves (Symphytum officinale), and fenugreek seeds. Mix thoroughly, take a heaping teaspoonful, and put in a coffee mug. Add boiling hot water from the kettle, stir, and let steep for 15 minutes. Strain and sprinkle very lightly with a light dusting of Cayenne pepper (Capsicum annum). Stir in, and drink by sipfuls over the course of 20 – 30 minutes. This can be repeated throughout the day, 3 – 4 times in total. Keep a box of tissues handy, as this tea will cause nasal decongestion and require frequent attention.
While these remedies are offered as suggestions, for a more complete assessment and definitive recommendations, it is best to see a qualified and trained herbalist, recognized by the ‘RH’ designation as a ‘Registered Herbalist’ and sanctioned by the Ontario Herbalist Association (www.herbalist.on.ca).
Richard DeSylva is the owner of The Herb Works in Rockwood, ON. He is on the Boards of the Ontario Herbalist Association, and the Canadian Council of Herbalists Association. Richard is an advocate and lobbyist for the appropriate regulation of herbs and herbal medicine. For more information, email: email@example.com, or call: (519) 856-1636.