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Colds & Flu
by Gillie Whitewolf

The common cold - an infection of the upper respiratory tract - is something that most folk suffer from at least once in their lifetime (if not yearly!). It can be spread from coughing and sneezing, or by hand to hand contact - and seeing as the virus can live for several hours on surfaces (such as doorknobs) it is advisable to wash your hands often during 'the cold season.'
By including certain herbs and foods in our diets we can certainly reduce our risk of catching a cold. Including plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and Vitamin C rich foods (such as black cherries, citrus fruits, elderberries, pineapple and cantaloupe melon) would certainly help keep your immune system in tip-top condition - and they're also the foods you should have to hand when a cold threatens! Other useful foods to stock up on include garlic (unless you are taking blood-thinning medication), onions and black peppercorns.

Garlic is one of Natures wonder-foods - it contains allicin which is one of the plant kingdom's most potent broad-sprectrum antibiotics. Garlic is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream and is particularly effective at remedying bronchitis and respiratory ailments as one of the ways it works its way out of the body is via the lungs, treating them as it does so. A fun experiment which illustrates this action : rub raw garlic onto the soles of someone's feet, wait a few minutes and then smell their breath!
Garlic makes a delicious addition to a number of culinary dishes - as does Onion which also has valuable antibacterial and antiviral properties. For a popular folk remedy for colds, place a thick slice of fresh onion in a cup or small bowl and pour on freshly boiled water. You may like to include a teaspon of cayenne pepper or ground black peppercorns. Leave covered to infuse for at least 10 minutes, and drink the liquid whilst it is still warm, you can also eat the onion slice - this drink will help cleanse the airways and reduce congestion. Onion soup is a great food for cold patients - especially if you add some fresh garlic and season well with ground black peppercorns - delicious! Another popular folk remedy is a poultice of roasted onion applied to the chest every 2 or 3 hours to help remedy a persistent cough. Again, raw garlic could be added to increase the potency.

For centuries the American Indians of the Great Plains have used Echinacea to treat colds, flu and many other ailments. Echinacea strengthens the immune system by increasing levels of properdin, a chemical in the body which activates the part of the immune system responsible for increasing the defense mechanism. Echinacea is generally considered best used as soon as you feel a cold coming on, rather than relying on it all year round. The root can be chewed or made into a decoction, or the flowers made into a tea.

Lemon and honey are traditional remedies for colds and flu. Neat Lemon juice makes a wonderful sore throat gargle, and you can be safely swallowed after gargling to benefit you further. At the first sign of a cold or sore throat I get a pan of lemons and oranges on the stove :

Whitewolf's 'Hot Lemon, Orange & Honey Miracle Drink' - Cold Buster!

1 or 2 Oranges
2 or 3 Lemons
1 Tsp Honey
2 or 3 Cloves
Cinnamon Stick

Squeeze the juice from the Oranges and Lemons and place in a saucepan. Cut up the rinds and remaining fruit flesh and add to the saucepan. Add up to half a cup of water and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down to simmer and add the Honey, stirring well. Bruise the Cloves and add them to the mix, along with the Cinnamon stick. Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring [and squishing the fruit remains/rinds] occasionally. Remove the fruit rinds, cloves and cinnamon stick and pour the liquid into a mug. Don't strain out the small fleshy pulpy bits - leave these in and drink them up too!
The best sore throat and cold-buster drink I know - and very yummy!! [The number and ratio of Oranges / Lemons can be altered to suit your taste - as can the quantity of water - I generally use less than half a cup of water, I like my drink to be quite strong].
*A little ginger root can be added at the same time as the cinnamon stick - or sprinkle on a little ground ginger to taste.

Ginger, cinnamon and cloves all have heating properties and stimulate sweating - try adding to hot herbal or fruit drinks or fruit crumbles and deserts during the winter seasons to keep the cold out. Baked Apple stuffed with nuts, sultanas, raisins, honey and spiced with ginger and cinnamon, a couple of cloves (stuck into the outer skin of the apple) and drizzled with more honey and a little brown sugar would make a delicious, healing dessert.
Ginger contains nearly a dozen antiviral compounds. It is well known for reducing pain and fever, and surpresses coughing. It also has a mildly sedative effect. Stem ginger makes a delicious treat for those under the weather, or the powdered spice can be sprinkled onto fruit puddings and desserts, or hot drinks. A ginger footbath (which works much the same as a mustard footbath) will encourage the body to perspire and sweat out toxins. A footbath also helps draw heat away from the head and down to the feet, helping relieve fevers and heat congestion in the upper body.

Sage makes an extremely effective herbal gargle for sore throats - make a strong infusion of dried sage leaves, as if you were making a strong cup of herbal tea. (A teaspoon of honey can be added if desired). Infuse for about 5 minutes, strain and allow to cool to a comfortable temperature. Gargle and then spit or swallow - if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or suffer from epilepsy or high blood pressure either avoid using sage or be sure to spit, not swallow after gargling.

White Horehound has been one of the most popular country remedies for colds and coughs for centuries. Herbalist Gerard stated that "Syrup made from the greene fresh leaves of horehound and sugar is a most singular remedie against the cough and wheezing of the lungs."
White Horehound can be drunk as a herbal infusion to help with lung weakness, bronchitis, sore throats and irritating coughs.

Thyme has effective antiseptic, antimicrobial, bactericidal, and fungicidal properties and it has long been believed that thyme helps to revive and strengthen body and mind, and is known to enhance the immune system and help the body fight infection. An infusion of thyme can be gargled to soothe a sore throat and fight throat infections, or drunk as a warm herbal tea to help relieve general cold symptoms, including persistent coughs. A strong infusion can also be added to bath water, not only will it help fight the cold and boost your immune system, it will also help soothe aches and pains associated with colds and flu. For heavy chest infections add a handful of dried thyme and nettle to a large bowl, pour on freshly boiled water and draping a towel over your head and around the edges of the bowl sit for 5 - 10 minutes breathing in the vapours. Do not start with your face too close to the surface of the water or the steam may burn you! (If you have severe breathing or lung-related problems it may be advisable to discuss this remedy with your doctor / health-care professional before use).

Elderberries lend themselves perfectly to syrups for coughs and sore throats and have a long history of use in popular folk remedies They also make a delicious addition to fruit pies and desserts - try a combination of elderberries, blackberries, black cherries, apples and other seasonal fruits. Add some ginger, cinnamon and cloves, and sweeten with warmed honey. The elderberry has 2 compounds that are active against the flu virus, and also helps prevent the virus from invading the respiratory tract cells.
Elderflowers make a delicate and soothing cordial or tea which will help reduce inflammations - try blending elderflowers with rosehips and nettles.

are useful in ridding the lungs of excess phlegm and cleansing the body of toxins and make an ideal herbal cuppa. If you have access to fresh young nettles you could also cook them up (much the same way as you would spinach) and use in soups, stews and pasta dishes, or just on it's own (garnished with a little butter, a dash of fresh lemon juice and freshly ground black peppercorns - delicious!).

Lavender is a valuable treatment for colds, throat, chest and ear infections and is an effective antiviral agent - try a steam inhalation with a few drops of the essential oil or a handful of lavender flowers to soothe a sore throat and ease chest infections. To remedy sinus pains, earache, or sore throats try massaging a little Lavender oil below and behind the ear, or along sinus pains, or around the throat / neck roughly over the gland area. A strong infusion of lavender flowers (or diluted essential oil) can be added to bath water for a relaxing bath before bedtime to ease aches and pains and ensure a sound sleep.

A chesty cough may benefit from a chest and upper back massage using a a couple of drops of Eucalyptus or Benzoin diluted in a suitable carrier oil (such as sweet almond oil). These oils could also be added to an oil burner and placed in the sick room. Other useful oils for a sick-room oil burner or room-mister inlude Lavender (soothing and antibacterial); Rosemary (antibacterial); Tea-Tree (antiviral, antibacterial) and Marjoram or a citrus oil like Grapefruit or Bergamot will help lift the spirits. Any of these could also be diluted in milk or a carrier oil and added to warm bath water (up to a maximum of 6 drops for an adult bath - less if using Eucalyptus). Eucalyptus oil can also be added (2 - 3 drops) to hot water and used as a steam inhalant to remedy catarrh and sinus problems.

I like to burn herbs in my home to help cleanse the air and prevent infection, especially during the cold and flu season or when school terms start. The Ancient Greeks used thyme to fumigate against infectious illness, and it wasn't that long ago that French hospitals were still burning herbs such as rosemary and juniper to fumigate wards and prevent infections spreading. Lavender, thyme and sage also make ideal fumigating herbs / incense. Rosemary is my personal favourite, quite often blended with sage.

These are but a few of the natural remedies you can use to treat a cold or keep one at bay - and you should also remember to wrap up warm and drink plenty of fluids (herbal teas, fruit and vegetable juices and water). If symptoms persist, worsen, or cause you concern seek medical advice immediately. Remember that cold and flu in the very young and old or weak, if not treated, can result in pneumonia.

The herbal remedies mentioned in this article are not intended to replace professional advice. Any medication you are on should also be taken into consideration - always check with your healthcare professional if you are on prescription drugs before taking herbal remedies. In the case of serious wounds, or excessive blood loss, professional medical attention should be sought immediately.


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