Saturday, September 19, 2009

cold /flu season

It is upon us, the cold season. Many are just looking for the magic pill or preparation that will protect or cure them. That is just silly.
Everyone gets sick, it is just the severity of the illness we want to protect against. Getting ill isn't a bad thing, it builds our resistance in the long run. Building our health is the key to winter protection from illness. Proper nutrition and diet, exercise....we can all do this, even if it seems challenging in the beginning. Eating a variety of foods, whole foods- as free as possible from additives- is the first and best place to start. I was surprised to see 'modified corn starch' in the ingredients listing of a can of beans I opened last night. Those sneaky corn products are everywhere.... corn, one of THE most genetically modified crops out there, is in everything we can buy in a box or can. So it is challenging to know what we are eating, but with some effort and fore thought we can definitely do better for our bodies.

Here, our winter diet consists of a lot of whole chicken which is high in zinc and b vitamins. From the chicken meal, we get more meals out of the bone broth. We fill a pot with vegetables, the chicken carcass, and some vinegar (just a dash, which aids in pulling the minerals out of the vegetables and bones, so they are readily available in the broth). Most times we'll add burdock root (a local weed high in many vitamins and minerals), cayenne (yet more vitamin a and c and b's), or astragalus root (another nutritive medicinal great for the immune resistance). We will simmer our bone broth for at least 24 hours. Soup is so nutritional if made yourself.
We'll use the broth to make rice, beans, and pasta sauces.... a cost effective way to take charge of your nutrition.

Another winter habit I am hoping people take up- herbal teas.
One of the main reasons I believe in 'herbal medicine' is because I know that herbs are full of vitamins and minerals that directly nourish the body systems, optimizing it's functions. Herbal medicine is more of a lifestyle of nourishment and support, not a quick fix or magic pill. Drinking a daily tea- knowing it's nourishing the body with vitamins and minerals, supporting functions such as digestion and metabolism- has an immense affect on our immune system.
We eat, the body breaks this down and absorbs nutrients and delivers these to the cells, then removes waste from the cells and then, the body. Many beginnings of dis-ease stem from this process of the body getting mucked up with metabolic wastes. This in turn inhibits the assimilation of nutrients which has an effect on the systems and their functions through lack of nutrition. If the lymphatics are burdened with metabolic wastes, the white blood cells struggle to perform their job, opening us up to infection.

The first class of herbs I studied were the Alteratives. Alteratives help restore health and vitality to the body by helping it assimilate nutrients, eliminate metabolic wastes, and restore proper function. Many imbalances, common ailments, and factors associated with aging can be alleviated, improved, or prevented with the added support of these herbs. Some of my favorite alteratives for daily teas are: Raspberry leaf, Nettles, Burdock, Red clover, Dandelion.
Once you get into a tea habit, it is hard to stop. Winter, with it's cold, is a great time to get in the habit. With herbs like calendula (which also supports the lymph), chamomile (nerves and belly), sage (night sweats, veinous health)... it is easy to spread the tea habit around to other uses such as hair rinses, wound washes, sitz baths, and herbal steams for congestion (thyme tea has become one of my favorite of late).
Even the healthiest of us will get ill at some point. Then we call in the care.
Rest. Soup. Liquids.

Really, rest. We are such a fast paced society, slowing down is hard for some. When we are ill, we really need to just sit back and let our body do it's thing. Rest. We eat soup and broths so the body isn't burdened with spending energy on digestion...we drink lots of fluids to help flush wastes... we just let the body do its thing, letting our things go until we are better.
Most illness come with a fever, and most people think of Tylenol or Motrin at the mere mention of the word 'fever'. A fever is the immune system at work. It isn't a bad thing, even when it is higher. The activity of the white blood cells is optimized at 102-103 degrees. Think of a shooting star entering earth's burns up, right? Our bodies sort of react the same way when there is an intruding bacteria or virus. We should support this action, not suppress it.
Taking a hot bath, drinking hot teas, and wrapping up in blankets- will all get our sweat on.
As far as herbs go, there are many that help the body through a fever. These are the diaphoretic herbs. These will open the pores, increase peripheral circulation, and help one sweat...
These are best taken as hot teas, as the hot water has it's own diaphoretic actions. In a pinch, a tincture in hot water could be effective as well. My go-to herb in fever has always been yarrow, then yarrow and bee balm - drank in 1/4 cup doses every 20-30 minutes have proved wonderful for relief. Peppermint, catnip, and lemon balm are diaphoretics as well, and usually welcomed by children. These are wonderful for the stomach ills and for their mucous reducing abilities. For the achy, long flues- elder flower and boneset together as a combination, has been proven many times over for it's supporting actions, and relief of the aches.
When a person starts looking at the different actions and abilities of each plant, we learn there are many instances they offer support. Lemon balm (melissa officinalis) has anti-viral properties, relaxant properties (to the nerves, reproductive, kidney and urinary), enhances digestion and absorption of nutrients, and aids in fevers, to name a few of it's actions. Catnip (nepeta cataria) aids in fevers, has calming, relaxing, sedative properties, soothes digestive upsets, is relaxing to the lungs and is invaluable in respiratory infections and (what used to be) common childhood illness like chicken pox and measles. It's volatile oils make it useful to breathe in as a steam for excess mucus and sinus congestion. Elder (sambucus nigra , s. canadensis) here, the flowers are the sweat inducing fever aid, and great for reducing mucus and congestion. The berries are anti-viral, and high in so many of those immune supporting vitamins, the berries are mildly diaphoretic, and directly called for in cases of the flu. So maybe you see my point, people write volumes on this stuff.

Worry about a fever when it's recurring, otherwise, help it along at the beginning signs of infection. Get your fluids, and teas often. Remember your nutrition, and look at the whole foods that supply the highest amount of the vitamins and minerals vs. taking a supplement. Remember common-sense hygiene, like hand washing and coughing or sneezing into your elbow.
Go about this season with a new look at your immune system, trust in it and nourish it. Support it, don't suppress it. The cold season is here, be well.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

september blog party: herbs don't read books

It is September 1, and I am attempting the blog party last minute! This month's blog party is hosted by Henriette Kress, lots of useful information on her wonderful site! Check it out, and to see the many wonderful blog party posts as well. Our topic: Herbs don't read books.

I have known Nettle (Urtica Dioica) to be revered in the herbalist and wild food communities for it's nutrient density and powerful actions since I first started reading about herbs. It never was a plant (or entry in the beginning) I paid much attention to, or devoted any time to learning it's actions first hand. I feel like each season has a 'new' teacher to offer.... a new plant that stands out to us, everywhere we go, demanding our attention. In the past years, Nettle has not been one of them.
I love walking outside and relishing that I am surrounded by so many nutritious and medicinal plants. It is my goal to plant as many useful, native plants on my little farm as I can muster the right conditions for. Each year I try to get one or two good patches of medicinal natives established, this year I thought I would try nettle. We have a mucky wet spot in the wooded area along a cow field. It is right at the bottom of a hill and stays wet with spring rains flowing down the hill. Already there was a nice patch of Jewel weed established. I thought Nettle would love it there. Unfortunately, the plants stayed tiny and then were stunted by insect damage. Only a few plants remained by summer's end.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered a couple of plants under the cherry tree, on top of the hill. It is not particularly moist there. I hadn't noticed them while tending the cherry tree, picking the greens near there, or watching the Comfrey grow?? Nettle got my attention. Then, a day or so later, I lean on the railing of my porch and look down (something I will do often) and I see SEVEN big, healthy plants, spreading nicely already, just THERE. 'Well', I said to Nettle, 'I guess you and I will be friends'. So, I am paying attention.
I have watched it grow, branch out and flower. I have watched the flower turn to seeds, and the seeds in all of their various stages of change. I am excited to experience this plant first hand in all it's many uses. I cannot wait to see it emerge from it's 'chosen' spots as one of the first spring greens.
With that said, this summer my husband came down with that odd summer flu (summer flu? was it swine?). It started off with vomiting and high fever, chills. I had given him peppermint after it seemed the vomiting and nausea wouldn't stop. The peppermint was wonderful, it stopped the vomiting almost immediately. However, then it progressed to diarrhea. A lot of diarrhea. During the illness he had many teas and a few tinctures, staying with in the realm of a few specific herbs, but the diarrhea wouldn't cease. I ran to the herb cabinet after the third day and made a dedoction of nettle root (I had purchased from mountain rose two years ago, man, that stuff was old). I hadn't even tried it yet, and couldn't remember why I had it around. I figured it would be nutrient heavy for his depleted system if anything, and I hoped, would help his system flush excess waste from the war going on inside. I had read it has astringent properties, usually called for in bleeding...I gave it a try. Much to my husband's surprise and relief, it worked. He could drink and eat, and rest.

I have tinctures that have been macerating for over a year. I have used with success old herb in support and relief of conditions. I have planted 'by the book' with sad results. With herbs, by the book isn't always the case, herbs don't read books. Herbs speak to you, and in magical ways, offer their help and support... even when that is contraindicated in texts. Herbs require your full attention, it has something to teach you, something the book won't offer.