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The Herbalist's Guide To Surviving Flu Season

With the cold and flu season upon us, it’s worth thinking about how we might be able to give our immune system a boost and keep those dreaded viruses at bay. While there’s no fool-proof solution or prevention method, we consulted seasoned herbalists for tips and tricks we could incorporate into our fall routine. Keep reading for their input. [Editor's note: It's important to note that the following article is not intended to serve as medical advice. We always recommend first consulting your licensed healthcare professional.]

Living in Balance with Bacteria

Julie James, an herbalist based in Long Beach, CA, notes that there has been a significant and important shift within the past decade or so in terms of how we view our relationship to other organisms. “It began in the gut, where we recognized for the first time, really, how intertwined our lives are with the bacteria, yeasts, and even viruses that we live with,” she tellsLively. “It has spread throughout our physiology and we now realize that the number of other organisms outnumber the cells in our body.”

She adds that holism in herbalism recognizes this complex relationship and changes the language from “becoming resistant” to bacteria, to “living in balance” with bacteria. “After all, we will never kill all the pathogens around and in and on us, and it’s not the presence or absence of pathogens that causes disease anyway — it’s the strength of our constitution and the balance of our immune system,” she explains. Rachelle Robinett,herbalist and holistic health practitioner, founder ofSupernatural andHRBLS, echoes this sentiment, noting that the more “good bacteria” we haveand the more diverse and flourishing our microbiomewill help lead to a more intact and bolstered immune system.

nourishing meal prep

Lifestyle Tips to Help You on Your Wellness Journey

James tells Lively that some important lifestyle changes to consider include having a nutrient-rich diet, optimizing sleep, etc. Jen Becker, L.Ac, MSTOM, licensed acupuncturist and herbalist, elaborates that rest is critical during this time of year. “While the lungs take in the new and receive the energy of the season, it is also very important to begin to turn inward,” she says. “Take advantage of this special time by sitting with your spirit, getting to know it and engaging with it — instead of running yourself ragged and setting yourself up for burnout.” She also notes to be sure to cover up and wear a scarf when the weather dips to 60°F and below. “When the acupuncture points (wind points) on the back of your neck are exposed and vulnerable to the wind and cold, pathogens can enter, causing us to get sick.”

Finally, Robinett adds you should look to minimize caffeine, alcohol and sugar as best you can, and make sure you’re drinking an abundance of water.

The Power of Plants

If you’re interested in trying out some herbs this cold and flu season, our herbalists have a few suggestions. “Some herbs that have deep, profound effects on boosting our innate immunity and regulating our acquired immunity include Astragalus, Reishi, Tulsi and Burdock,” says James. “I love these plants because they are very safe, mostly delicious (Reishi is a fabulous fungus, but not terribly delicious, though other mushrooms such as Shiitake and Maitake absolutely are), easy to source and to prepare, and are best used before and throughout the cold and flu season to provide that deep nourishment and long-term restoration of immune function.”

She notes that as adaptogens they’re also significant players in improving our stress response, which is foundational in building resilience and strength. Becker recommends Oil of Oregano as another option. “I like to get an Oil of Oregano tincture and add the liquid drops to a little water or juice, taking it quickly like a shot as the flavor is quite potent,” she says. “Oil of Oregano has antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and antibacterial properties.”

Our experts also unanimously suggest garlic as a means to help bolster the immune system during this time. James recommends taking 1-2 cloves of garlic per day for protection and 3-4 cloves per day to fight infection. “The sulfur compounds in garlic, which are largely responsible for its effects on improving expectoration and fighting infection, are cleared out of the body via the lungs, so garlic is a go-to especially when there is respiratory involvement as bronchitis or sinusitis,” she says. Another great and easy to find recommendation from Robinett is fresh ginger. She suggests simply juicing or straining this powerful plant which is excellent to consume “before, during and after the flu.”

It's important to note that before trying any new supplements or herbs, be sure to consult with your physician or other expert like a doctor of Chinese medicine, a naturopath or a licensed herbalist.

The Herbalists' Guide to Surviving Flu Season

Teas & Tonics

We also turned to our herbalists for any effective tea or tonic recipes and suggestions they have on hand to help during these colder months. Becker recommends a Ginger, Elderberry and Rosehips tea as a preventative immune booster. “Both elderberries and rosehips are immune-boosting, and ginger is an anti-viral which also settles the digestive system,” she says. “Plus, this combination is delicious!” She also suggests a Lemon Juice, Ginger, Turmeric, Oil of Oregano and Cayenne Tonic to help relieve cold symptoms and potentially shorten the length of a cold.

James has a recipe for a “Cold a Flu Tea” which includes equal parts dried Elderberry, Elderflower, Lemon Balm, Ginger and Tulsi. Simply use 1 heaping tablespoon per pint of water, steep 20 minutes and drink up to 3 cups per day as needed to relieve symptoms and support healing.

Rest, Rest, Rest

A final word on rest this season, so important that we felt the need to mention it again, especially since our normal daily responsibilities coupled with the holidays can make many of us feel like we’re burning the candle at both ends. “Sleep is critical in building our immune health, and conversely, lack of sleep is considered to be ‘the new smoking,’ as a major factor in chronic disease,” says James. It’s not like you needed a reason to kick back with some Netflix and fall asleep at 8pm anyway, but helping to keep your immune system healthy is an extra good incentive! 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.