Herbal Options: Cold & Flu Remedies, by Victoria Jungwirth

herbalism, U.P. holistic business, U.P. holistic wellness, natural health in MI's Upper Peninsula

Influenza often doesn’t make  it to these distant regions until late in the winter, and sometimes fluctuating temperatures as winter wanes can leave us vulnerable to infection.

During this season, we should be consciously working to avoid colds by taking care of ourselves. It’s when we let down our guard that imbalance occurs, and infections are allowed in. Eating well, reducing stress, drinking plenty of fluids, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep are some of the ways to help our bodies fight infection. I’m sure we can all recall times when we’ve allowed ourselves to become rundown and before we know it we have a cold! This article is not about the prevention of colds, but is suggesting a few helpful things for those times when, despite our best effort, we find ourselves ill with one.

It is often helpful to take echinacea at the first signs of infection, as it can lessen the severity and duration of an illness, and almost everyone benefits from eliminating dairy products from their diet during a cold, especially children.

Each time we “catch” a cold, it is an opportunity to gain more knowledge of how our bodies operate, and what the specific trigger is that commonly affects us.

This can really reduce the number of times you make yourself susceptible. Then, before reaching for an herbal remedy, take a moment to reflect on the symptoms that tend to bother you most, because this can vary hugely from one person to another. Some people tend toward hot, dry colds, where others have a lot of congestion. Some people shake a cold quickly while others may develop secondary infections that go on for weeks.

Boneset (eupatorium perfoliatum) is one of the best herbal remedies to use for the distressing symptoms of colds and flu. It eases the aches and pains of flu and helps reduce fever and nasal congestion. It grows locally, so learn to spot it on midsummer walks!

Ginger ( zingiber offinalis) helps to promote sweating, often shortening the lifespan of a cold, and always adding to a feeling of comfort.

Yarrow (achillea millefolium) is another invaluable herb for fever and headache. Again it is local, and lots of us have it in our backyard flower beds.

Elderflowers (sambucus canadensis), Mullein (verbascum thapsus)  and Peppermint (mentha piperita)are reliable treatments for catarrh and nasal congestion. The latter is especially good for mixing with other less tasty herbs. All of these grow locally and abundantly.

All of these suggestions can be used as teas, and can be mixed in any combination. They are also available as tinctures or capsules for times when you are busy or not at home, but drinking herbal teas helps keep you hydrated during periods of illness, and staying home and relaxing is a remedy of its own!

Victoria Jungwirth is the owner of Wilderness Herbs and specializes in local medicinal plants. She lives in a remote corner of Marquette County where she and her husband build birch bark canoes. She is also a manager at the Marquette Food Co-op.

Excerpted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Spring 2009. Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.