The changing seasons bring sickness as our bodies adapt to the weather. With a little awareness, whole foods, herbs and luck, most of these infections can be effectively treated at home (but don’t hesitate to see a doctor if things get serious). Here’s how I’ve survived cold and flu season without vaccines or doctors for the past 10 years.
Infections enter our bodies through our mucous membranes (the linings of our throat, nose, stomach, mouth and eyes). These membranes generally do a good job at keeping germs at bay, but should these membranes dry out, you are leaving yourself vulnerable. This can happen easily in Winter as we turn on our heaters and dry out the air. Drink tons of water all the time, especially before bed. Leave a humidifier on if you can (or a pot of water on the wood stove if you have one).
Germs can also enter through our eyes in mouth, making hand washing with normal (not antibacterial!) soap a must, especially before eating. Avoid touching your mouth and eyes.
Those ever-important mucous membranes carry an army of good bacteria to fight off germs. You can help them out by regularly taking probiotics in the form of yogurt, kefir, raw fermented foods (pickles, saurkraut, kim chee and the like), probiotic supplements and my personal favorite, kombucha. Should your first line of defense (moist mucous membranes) dry up, pack your diet full of probiotics to help restore the good bacteria.
I prefer fast-acting tinctures when I’m sick, but any of these can be taken as a tea. 1/2 to 1 dropper full 3x’s a day is a typical dose for an adult. This certainly isn’t an inclusive list, just my personal favorites.
Echinacea: As you may have already seen in this post, Echinacea should be taken at the very first sign of sickness. If you feel a little “off,” or if you are exposed to someone who is ill, take it! If you already know you’re sick for sure, it’s probably too late. Echinacea stimulates your immune system. If this is done while your body has already begun the fight, you’re likely to cause more harm than good.
Red Root: A local favorite, this herb clears the lymph system. Even in tincture form, it’s pretty nice tasting. I take this throughout the illness to help my body clear toxins through the lymph.
Yerba Santa: Nice decongestant. I use this at the beginning of colds to help keep the airways clear. Pretty good tasting as well.
Oshá Root: This herb takes a super long time to grow, so it should always be obtained from sources that ethically wildcraft it. Oshá is the best decongestant. Ever. I take this several times a day as soon as I start to drain. It pushes out mucous and lung crud like nothing else. Tastes terrible to me (its lovingly called ‘celery from hell’ by some) I find it best to take it in tincture form just to get it over with!
Garlic: One of the best herbal antibiotics! Take loads of it. Try to shoot for a bulb (a whole bulb, or about 10 cloves) a day if you can stomach it. I usually make a mega-garlic soup or raw garlic toast. If you burn your mouth enough, you can’t taste it anymore.
Goldenseal: Another endangered plant, be sure to buy only from cultivated sources (not wildcrafted). Goldenseal is one of a handful of herbs that is effective at killing strep. If you suspect strep, gargle this mega bitter herb (1/2 dropperful of tincture in warm water or a tea) and swallow.
Hot Honey Ginger-ade: Slice 1 tsp raw ginger (or 1/2 tsp dry powder), add 1 tsp fresh lemon juice and 1 tsp honey to a large mug. Cover in boiling water and drink hot. Ginger is a great herbal antibiotic, lemon provides vitamin C and honey soothes sore throats. Add a little cayenne if you’re into that kind of thing.
4. Essential Oils
Many essential oils are antibacterial and antiviral. Try adding a drop of peppermint, eucalyptus or lavender to a hot shower or bath. Or, add a drop or two to a cup of hot water, place under your face, cover your head with a towel and breathe deep to clear congestion. If you fear a sinus infection or strep, and you’re really hardcore, put some ULTRA Tiger Balm (or a natural alternative that is just as strong) under your nostrils. Burns like hell, but it will kill viruses living in your sinuses (and clear up the worst congestion). I once survived a strep/sinus/flu thing without going to the doctor by doing this (it was terrible, probably the one time I should have gone to the clinic, but I survived). While you’re at it, apply Tiger Balm to your chest and back nightly. Big Kid’s vapo-rub.
5. Homemade Herbal Honey Cough Syrup
This is my ‘liquid cough drop’ cane sugar-free alternative. I keep a dropper bottle near my bed and squeeze some into my mouth if I wake up with the coughs.
- 4oz honey (raw if you find it)
- 2-4 drops steam distilled Peppermint Essential Oil
- Herbal Tinctures
- Dropper bottles or a clean jar
- If your honey is crystalized, gently double boil it until you can easily mix it with a butter knife.
- Add as littler or as much herbal tinctures as you would like and mix well. I usually add 1 tsp each of Oshá, Red Root and Yerba Santa.
- Just before pouring, add your peppermint essential oil and thoroughly mix. Add just two drops at first and taste it. If you’d like it a little stronger, continue adding 1 drop at a time. Peppermint oil is relatively safe, but I wouldn’t use more than 2 drops per oz of honey (and you shouldn’t need this much!). Just go for a mix that slightly cools the throat.
BONUS: This is just me, but I swear by a low carb, high fat/protein diet to keep myself healthy. When I do get sick, I have very little mucous and it passes quickly. The important thing to remember is that we all respond differently to sickness and treatment. Always do what you feel is best for you and your family and don’t take these suggestions as a replacement for medical care when needed.
That said, what are your go-to cold cures?