Cold Season Prevention



The weather patterns have been shifting these past few weeks, alternating between the last warm days of summer and the first long rains of fall.  As the temperatures vacillate, confusing our bodies, viruses start to make their rounds.

It can make a person feel helpless when they see their friends, family, and co-workers one after another succumbing to a particularly virulent strain of a cold or flu.  Unlike bacterial infections, there is little that can be done by conventional medicine for the temporary misery of a cold or flu.  Fortunately, this is where herbalism can excel–if you catch it on time!

The difficult and wonderful thing about Chinese medicine is that it weighs in the fundamental differences between people.  What works for me may not work for you, and so we need to pay close attention to what exactly the symptoms are when we very first start to feel a cold or flu knocking at our door.  The best time to reach for an herbal or natural remedy is the moment you notice you’re feeling a little off.  Take a minute to assess the sensations.  Are you a little chilled, and can’t seem to get warm?  Exhausted?  Does your nose tingle or throat feel scratchy?  Are you feeling flushed and uncomfortable?  Or are you alternating between hot and cold, with a clammy feeling?

While there are many Western and Chinese herbal remedies for colds, I want to focus on the more accessible and available remedies.  The easiest to find are the ones that you can buy in most supermarkets: echinacea tea and garlic.  Both can be effective, but especially with echinacea, timing is essential.  Echinacea should be used right when you first start to feel off.  If what you’re feeling progresses into an outright cold or flu, stop drinking it.

Raw garlic is my favorite cold and flu preventative, but it is a tough sell.  The spicy pungency of raw garlic can be tough on peoples taste buds and digestion, but it can do a world of good to knock a nascent cold or flu out the door.   My favorite thing to do is crush about three medium size cloves and wrap it in bread or cheese, or make my own pesto to insure the freshness of the raw garlic–basil also has it’s own healing properties.  For those who don’t do dairy or gluten, substitute bread and cheese with the savory treat of choice.  I do this three to four times a day if I’m feeling like I could get sick, and often it works.

The above two are more general remedies.  The next ones are specifically for when you feel chilled and can’t get warm.  Make a soup out of broth and miso paste, and add two raw chopped scallions to the soup.  Or, boil a pot of water and add 10 slices raw ginger.  Boil for 10-30 minutes.  Or, find a Chinese herbal remedy in pill, granule or raw herb form called Gui Zhi Tang and make as directed.  For all of the above, while you are drinking them, wrap yourself in a warm blanket while the heater is turned on until you break a mild sweat and no longer feel chilled.

If you’re feeling fatigued and on the verge of getting sick, or are going to take an airplane trip full of recycled air and germs, my favorite remedy isn’t one that you’ll find at the corner store.  It’s a Chinese herbal formula called Yu Ping Feng San.  It’s a fairly common Chinese formula, so if you’re lucky enough to live in a town with some well stocked herbalists, you might be able to come across this herbal formula in pill form.

If you’re flushed and uncomfortable, there is a Chinese herbal remedy that has a surprising popularity and tendency to pop up in natural food stores–Yin Qiao San.  While it’s advertised and sometimes used for all types of colds and flues, it’s meant more for the types where you feel hot with a scratchy throat.  Otherwise you may not find it as effective as you’d like!

If you’re pregnant, you might feel a bit wary of taking herbs, but still worried about getting sick.  Make sure you’re taking your prenatal vitamins and eating as healthfully as possible–though the latter applies to anyone wishing to keep from illness!  If you’re still curious about your herbal options, only one of the above mentioned herbal remedies, Gui Zhi Tang, is not advisable for pregnant women.  Yin Qiao San is not contraindicated, but neither would I recommend it if you’re pregnant.

If you have any questions, or would like further information, please, email me or consult your local herbalist.  Though the widespread availability of herbs makes it easy for anyone to self-prescribe remedies, for the best results, it’s helpful to talk to people who’ve spent some time studying the craft of herbalism.   Keep healthy and stay well!


Something I’m trying to live:

You are never too busy to go for a walk.  You may be too sick or injured, but even on the busiest day, there is time for a walk.  

It’s so easy to make excuses.  After a long day, or a poor nights sleep, the last thing that you might want to do is push yourself to go outside and walk.  Maybe it’s rainy or cold outside.  Why make yourself do it?  

The health benefits of walking are well-documented.  Not only is it a gentle yet effective form of cardiovascular exercise, it’s also a wonderful way to release stress and process whatever is going on in life at the moment.  Even though it’s recommended that we have 15-20 minutes of an elevated heart rate a day to maintain health, on a busy or tiring day, a walk around the block might help keep the habit alive.   A short walk is is also perfect for those who are suffering from health problems, and can help improve circulation.  

Explore your neighborhood to find a good route.  If you live surrounded by busy streets or in an unsafe area, find a place a short drive away that feels good to be.  Simply not knowing where to go can be an impediment, and keep people from establishing a walking habit.  In the end, both exploring new territory and tracing a regular path can have their upsides.  Walking connects us more intimately with our surroundings and can help us feel more of an established sense of place in our community. 

Walking is the most accessible and adaptable form exercise.  You don’t need any fancy equipment, a refined technique, or expensive clothing.  You don’t even need to be in shape.  All it is is you, the ground beneath your feet, and fresh air around you, going at whatever pace feels good for however long you like.       

The thing is when you come right down to it, whatever the reason, you’ll never regret a walk.  

The Science of Self-Compassion

Why is it sometimes harder to be nice to ourselves than being kind to others?   How is it that we can beat ourselves up about the unkind things we may have said or thought about others, and not think for a moment about the harsh words we’ve leveled at ourselves? If we don’t succeed immediately at something why are we apt to think that we’re a failure, instead of taking into consideration that we many need time to learn?  Why do mistakes tend to haunt us, becoming regrets instead of life lessons?

Though many have been onto this for years, if not decades, for myself, it’s only been in recent years that I’ve tried to start practicing self-compassion.  In the past, when people talked about loving themselves, it sounded hokey to me, like a cheeseball way to excuse egoism.  Maybe that sounds harsh, but it reflects the high level of self-criticism that tends to be my default.  It was only when I put it together that it was harder for me to have compassion for others if I didn’t have the same for myself that I started working on this.  As RuPaul says, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love anybody else?”

Still, in the daily grind, it’s easy to forget to hold compassion for yourself.  It’s also easy to confuse what the true meaning of self-compassion is.  It doesn’t mean indulging yourself indiscriminatingly or being lax in the standards you hold for yourself.  The Stanford University Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education published this helpful and comprehensive graphic as a resource for those wanting to better understand how to practice self-compassion:


For those interested in reading more about this topic, here are some additional resources:

The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley

The Stanford University Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education

Scientific American “The Self-Compassion Solution”

Philosophy of health and healthcare

I’ve been thinking for a while about what the word “health” means.  As always, when wondering what’s behind a word, I consulted the dictionary for the first interpretation.  Mirriam-Webster defines health as: “the condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit.”  The Oxford English Dictionary takes a slightly less holistic approach and defines it as: “The state of being free from illness or injury; A person’s mental or physical condition.”  The root of the word is of Germanic origin, having migrated over to the English centuries ago as “hǣlth”, and is related to the word for “whole”.  This seems more like it.


The thing is that like defining “happiness”, it becomes a little dicey when applying it to individuals.  In college I took a lot of philosophy, and one day in class we were discussing happiness or the good life in terms of the Epicureans.  The modern usage of the word “epicurean” is often used to mean someone of cultivated tastes who appreciates the finer things, especially as pertaining to food and drink, and can run close to hedonism.  This is far from the intention of the Greek philosopher Epicurus, who, while placing pleasure high on the list of what constitutes the good life, also preached a gospel of everyday temperance, advocating that his followers drink watery beer and porridge as their main sustenance.  This would make it so that when one did have good food or drink, it would taste all the better.

My argument in the class was is that this isn’t the good or happy life for all people.  Some people might be miserable eating porridge every day, and the rare occasions when they didn’t eat it they might be even unhappier for thinking that they would have to go back to porridge.  For whatever reason, my classmates weren’t buying it at the time, but as I’ve gotten older, it seems all the truer.  Each person has their own life paradigm: their core set of beliefs, what makes them happy, and how they choose to live their life.   What I’ve realized as a healthcare provider is that this extends to what constitutes “health”.  For some people, it’s worth it to do something typically regarded as “unhealthy” because of what it brings to their life.

Going back to the root of the word, what makes us healthy is what makes us whole.  Healthiness is being at peace with your body, mind and spirit.  Whatever brings you more in alignment with that should be taken in mind as a key component of your health, even if it’s outside of what a more common definition of “healthy” looks like.  If it’s something that isn’t good for your body to function long term but it brings you joy, the pros and cons should be carefully weighed out without value judgement.  It’s better to examine carefully what is going to bring us closer to an individual feeling of wholeness rather than dismiss it because it doesn’t fit into the mainstream paradigm.  It is up to both patient and provider to hold that seeming paradox, and to make a plan for wellness that is realistic and aims to optimize the patient’s overall health while accommodating for their life paradigm.