This is a guest post by Monika Teixeira, owner of Stumptown Herbals, an alternative and holistic health service. Learn more by visiting Stumptown Herbals Facebook page.
Know your enemy. Unlike strep throat, the common colds you catch in winter are viral. It is why you cannot simply go to the doctor and get antibiotics to “treat” a cold. It just won’t work. As you can imagine, cells exploding with viruses is not so great for your health. Thankfully, your body has a well-tuned plan in the immune system to attack, destroy and clean up virus “machines.” It is helpful if the things you do help facilitate the immune system’s ability to 1.) Recognize and attack the right thing 2.) Destroy that thing 3.) Clean up that thing.
First you need a well-supported immune system. The irony of the Holidays is that though they are fun, they are also stressful. This long-term stress, called chronic stress, causes our immune system to become suppressed, decreasing our ability to fight off germs that we are exposed to. (Ref.) So, you need to be addressing that stress head on. Sometimes, it is unavoidable, but that does not mean that there is nothing you can do. Getting as much sleep as possible is your #1 biggest tool to support your immune system and decrease stress. Food is important too. Taking a moment and enjoying a simple cup of chamomile tea with a bit of raw honey and lemon would not only reduce your stress, it would improve your digestion, introduced bioflavonoids (powerful antioxidants that promote cellular health), increase wound healing speed (who hasn’t gotten at least one oven burn over the holidays?), give you a boost of B vitamins from the honey and much needed Vitamin C from the lemon.(ref) Speaking of Vitamin C, your immune system thrives in the presence of ample Vitamin C. It is also helpful in shortening the duration of a cold. More about that later. Turkey, blueberries, avocados, pomegranates, bananas, even oatmeal can also not only nourish your body, but actively reduce levels of stress in your body.
Helping your body recognize and destroy the viral targets begins by supporting a healthy immune response. Ginger is a super food that you need in your life! It has very powerful anti-inflammatory actions, is a digestive stimulant (making for easier digestion) and it is anti-viral. “Wait a minute” you might ask, “I’ve had plenty of gingerbread this winter and I still got a cold.” There is a reason for that. Dried ginger, such as what you would use in gingerbread, and FRESH ginger, meaning the actual root still full of juice, have very different actions. The drying process releases volatile oils that have specific anti-viral actions in ginger. So, when you use the dried herb, you are not getting the same thing as fresh ginger. You need to use fresh ginger root. You can easily find it in most grocery stores in the produce section. Wash it and thoroughly dry it before use. Begin by peeling away the outer dried skin. It will reveal a cream to yellow colored core underneath. The easiest way to prepare ginger is to simply grate it. For one person, about 1 inch of ginger, freshly grated works fine. Place the ginger in a tea ball, strainer, or directly in your mug if you are feeling bold. Add a dollop of fresh, raw honey, a squeeze of lemon and hot water. Let steep for 5-8 minutes then enjoy. You can eat the grated ginger directly and it is a WONDERFUL digestive stimulant as well as full of fiber. This simple tea is a powerful anti-viral and is safe enough to take daily to support a healthy immune response as well as to keep your digestion in top shape, another way to support your immune system. If you have an active cold, I encourage you to drink this tea at least 3-4 times a day while sick, or more if you like it. You will notice almost immediately after drinking the tea that you feel better. In order to keep this good feeling going strong, you need to periodically “reload” your immune system with the compounds found in fresh ginger, thus the need to drink more of it when sick.
Another important immune system supporter is Vitamin C. It not only supports a healthy “attack” on viral infections, it helps your body detox from the aftereffects of a cold or flu and to repair the damage that the viruses did to your cells. Things like lemons, red and green peppers, cantaloupe, kiwi, cranberries, broccoli, Brussel sprouts and pomegranates all contain both Vitamin C and beautiful, lovely bioflavonoids, other antioxidants, as well as complex molecules that your immune system thrives with. Unfortunately, oranges contain slightly inflammatory compounds in them, that can make a cold get worse. Ever have a stuffy nose and notice after drinking a glass of orange juice that it gets stuffier? Thankfully, lemons do not do this, and they are an ideal food to use in ample measure before, during and after a cold. Daily intake is a great idea!
The holidays are busy, and often getting enough Vitamin C is the last thing that you want to have to worry about. Thankfully, most Vitamin C supplements are absorbed just fine by your body. Did you know that when you are sick, your body uses considerably more Vitamin C than when you are healthy?(ref) So, supplementing extra Vitamin C when you think you may have been exposed to an illness and if you develop that illness is quite beneficial. Some studies have suggested that increased Vitamin C consumption leads to a shorter duration of illness. Since it is so important to immune health, it is no wonder why! Your body can handle larger doses of Vitamin C and puts it to good use.
You have by now heard me mention raw honey a few times, but I have not yet mentioned a BIG winner, Garlic. Garlic has demonstrated that it not only is great at preventing colds and flu infections from taking root, but it can help you fight one off faster, and helps the body detox after a cold or flu as well. Now, you could just peel and chew a clove of garlic and call it a day, and that works, but folks may not want to be lingering near you under the mistletoe if you do. A delicious way to prepare garlic for eating that uses raw honey is the following: 1. Peel 3-4 heads of garlic. 2. Place in a clean jar. 3. Cover with RAW honey. It is important that you use raw honey or this will not work. There should be about ¼-1/2 inch of extra honey on top. 4. Screw a jar lid loosely on the honey/garlic and put on the counter, away from sunlight. 5. Wait. 6. In about 4 weeks the garlic/ honey will be ready. You can eat the garlic and honey outright, (again, mistletoe time may not happen this way), smear it on a cracker with some jam or cheese, add it to stir fry, bruschetta, pizza, salad dressing, homemade stuffing, the sky is really the limit. Just make sure to have at least one clove a day. Here is a fun video of folks trying to make this for the first time! It shows what to do and demonstrates that you are not the only one who thinks that this could be a weird idea!
These are simple suggestions for enabling your body to use its immune powers to prevent or fight off a cold. There are plenty of other cool things you can do, such as eating elderberries, trying fire cider, or taking echinacea, but the things we have talked about here, use simple staples almost anyone can get their hands on. Here’s hoping these Holidays find you Merry and Bright!
One more thing…Did you know that chamomile tea is also an old-fashioned remedy for indigestion and upset stomach? Try it this holiday, brewed strong, if you stuff away a bit TOO much of granny’s pecan pie after the meal and begin to feel a bit ill. Chances are high it will calm your tummy down quickly.