Winter on the Rise(ganoderma appalantum)
These days, every day is a storm. Of sunlight, the kind that pierces our eyes with brightness, or of rain. The kind that comes down sideways, fills up gum boots and then pools in the garden turning the last greens into limp lily pads. This is the transition from one season to next, there is no determinable line, but instead a process that is marked as the leaves fall to the ground and then ice forms on the marshes. These seasonal transitions are often times when our bodies have the lowest resilience to colds and flus. New viruses come around and when our immunity is down, they get in.
Keeping your immune system strong can be a basic way of life and doesn’t need to involve expensive herbs or products. First off is the importance of getting enough sleep. As most of us know, sleep is when our bodies do needed repair and it is also when our immune systems are most active. While we have the grace of long nights, try to take advantage of them and sleep at least eight hours. A helpful way to wind down for an early bed time, is to limit any screen time an hour before bed. The light from the screens confuses our hypothalamus, that gland that governs our internal sleep cycle. Also, try a tea of chamomile and lavender after dinner. It both helps with digestion and calms the nervous system.
Aside from enough sleep, our diet is a an easy way to incorporate immune enhancement into our daily lives. Food such as garlic and onions, especially when consumed raw, are excellent as anti-microbial, anti-viral and anti-biotics. Hot peppers, and most aromatic spices like ginger, turmeric, black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, sage, rosemary, thyme and oregano are also wonderful for keeping our sickness. Hence the healing benefits of old fashioned chicken soup. A broth made from bones is also deeply nourishing. When cooking for health, add liberal amounts of herbs and spices to your dishes, maybe more then you do other times of year. Be sure the products you use are properly dried, non-irritated or fresh so that there are still active compounds in them. Adding in fermented foods to your diet will also help, as a large part of our immune response happens in the gut. Soup with a miso broth is nice to warm up with in winter. Non-pasteurized sauerkraut is a great way to get many different pro-biotics and goes well with heavier winter foods. I tend to stay away from dairy, even when fermented during the cold, damp months because according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is a cold, damp food and can create more mucus.
When it comes to herbs, Reshi and astragulus are wonderful for boosting and supporting your immune system, increasing white blood cells, which are those active in defense of infection. I suggest taking these as a tea or tincture throughout the winter. They are also both what is called adaptogenic herbs, which means they help the body deal with stress and can be uplifting.
If a virus does make its way past your initial immune defenses, it can be confusing to know which herbs to take when. Many people are familiar with echinacea, which when made as a high quality extract, is an excellent first response to initial stages of sickness. There are also many great local herbs that help at this stage as well, many of which are in a blend I make called ‘Kick the Sick.’ Local ganoderma species (a shelf fungus), usnea lichen, Oregon grape root and small amounts of cedar are a few local choices to take right when you notice a tickle in your throat or a weariness that signals the on set of a cold. Take these herbs as often as every 2-4 hours to ‘kick that sick out!’
Colds, flus and coughs are complicated matters. There are many wonderful herbs that are specific to each symptom, stage of illness and virus, too many to detail here. Some favorites though are yarrow flower, elder flower, peppermint and ginger drank as a hot tea in a hot bath and then again wrapped in many blankets to promote sweating and break a fever. For coughs I love honey mixed with elecampane, marshmallow and Oregon grape tinctures, taken as a syrup. And for colds lots of garlic, chamomile and calendula tea and lots of quality vitamin C. Above all, rest rest rest and drink lots of water or herbal tea to flush out your system!