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!