Preventing colds and the flu can be summed up in three words: Wash your hands. The viruses that cause colds and the flu most readily enter our bodies by means of our hands. Wash your hands after shopping. Remind your children to wash their hands as soon as they come home from school. A little "hysterical hygiene" goes a long way to keeping colds at bay.
Of course, there are herbs that can be used to help thwart colds and the flu. Yarrow is a clear favorite, especially as a tincture. Teachers, moms, and wise children find a dose of 5-25 drops of yarrow tincture in the morning in some liquid reduces the likelihood of getting sick by more than half.
Astragalus is gaining fame for its ability to support strong immune system functioning. I throw a few tongue-depressor-like pieces in my soups, where they infuse their goodness without imparting much flavor. Powdered astragalus can be added to almost anything, from oatmeal to pancakes, soups to gravies. And there is always the tincture, which works well in doses of 1-3 dropperfuls a day. (If at all possible, use domestic astragalus, rather than that from China.)
Eleuthero, which used to be called Siberian ginseng, is another immune system nourisher, used in the same ways as astragalus: cooked into food or taken as a tincture.
And don't forget honey. A spoonful at the first sign of a sore throat or runny nose can kill the bacteria responsible and help you get better fast. (Note: Do not give honey to babies under 12 months old.)
And if you do get sick, here's my favorite way to get well fast.
- Treat a cold cold with heat.
- Treat a hot cold with cold.
This may sound too easy, but it is actually one of the most effective ways I know of to minimize the severity and duration of a cold (or the flu). I first learned about cold colds and hot colds when I was studying Five Element Theory with a sweetheart who was attending acupuncture school.
It is important to remember that "cold" and "hot" don't refer to temperature; they refer to what we might call metabolism. Thus, the person with a cold cold could very well have a raging fever and the person with a hot cold may have no fever at all. Similarly, hot foods and herbs are not necessarily cooked, and cold foods and herbs need not be refrigerated.
So how can we tell the difference between a cold cold and a hot cold? And what are cold herbs and hot herbs, cold foods and hot foods?
The person with a cold cold (or a cold flu) is pale. Their bodily fluids are copious and without color: The nose runs with clear or white mucus; the bowels are loose and the feces are light in color; urination is profuse and colorless. The tongue may be coated with a white moss. If there is fever, it is accompanied by chills. The person with a cold cold seeks heat and hot foods.
The person with a hot cold (or a hot flu) is ruddy; the face, or at least the cheeks, are very red. The eyes may feel dry and irritated. Their bodily fluids are scant and dark: nasal mucus is dry, yellowish, or "stopped up;" the bowels slow and feces are hard; urination is infrequent and highly colored. The tongue may be red or coated with a yellow moss. If there is a fever, it is "raging." The person with a hot cold seeks coolness and has little appetite.
When you have a cold cold, indulge your desire for heating foods and herbs: Drink lots of hot spicy herbal teas with honey*, such as ginger tea, cinnamon tea, or any of the spicy "Yogi Tea" type blends. Nourish yourself with chicken soup, beef broth, miso soup. Enjoy baked winter squash, baked potatoes, baked yams, baked garlic. Eat lots of olive oil, ghee, butter, olives, and avocados. Eat beans and eat the warming grains: kasha, rye, oats. Stay warm; take a hot bath or a hot shower and wrap up snugly before going to sleep.
When you have a hot cold, indulge your desire for frozen fruit smoothies. Drink lemon and honey* water, iced nettle infusion, hibiscus and mint teas. Nourish yourself with seaweed salads, cucumber sandwiches, and fresh tomatoes with basil. Enjoy berries and melons, green salads, and roasted fowl. Eat the cooling grains: corn, millet, spelt. Eat a little something even if your appetite is small. Stay cool; take off your shoes and socks and put your bare feet on the ground. But keep covers handy when you go to sleep.
You see, cold colds turn into hot colds and vice versa. They don't stay the same the whole time you are sick. So be prepared to pull the covers up to your chattering teeth and flowing nose even if you went to bed stuffed up and sweltering. Or to throw off the pile of covers you clutched hours earlier. The real beauty of this idea of hot colds and cold colds is the premise that everything, even a cold, will change and so the cure comes not from knowing the right answer, but in following the flow of the sickness and offering appropriate treatments. I imagine a balance scale, swinging back and forth between hot and cold, with me gently damping the swings, making each one a little less severe, until single-pointed stillness - health - is regained.
Whether dealing with a hot cold or a cold cold, you can eat as much of the neutral nourishing foods - rice, wheat, fish, honey*, and yogurt - as you wish. But, beware of taking vitamin C while harboring a cold or the flu; it is extremely cooling.
I hope these tips for preventing and dealing with colds and the flu help you, and those you love, stay in glowing good health all winter long.
(*Note: Do not give honey to babies under 12 months old.)