(note: cough & cold syrup recipe at the bottom of this post!)
Have you been overwhelmed with the social anxiety surrounding this season’s flu epidemic? Recently I was at the hospital visiting some patients and I felt like I walked into a movie set for the Plague: both the staff and patients were wearing face masks, so all one could see is eyes and attitudes fraught with paranoia and fear. Is this level of anxiety in proportion to the situation?
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada the actual numbers for hospitalizations and deaths from this year’s flu are very low considering the media hype that is unfortunately breeding fear and anxiety. Government authorities and emergency departments plan for the worst case scenario, that’s part of their job description in order to protect the masses. I get it. However, scientists and public health authorities are constantly reminding the public that for most people the H1N1 and related influenza viruses go away completely after a period of fever, malaise, body aches and general low energy just like any other flu. Vaccines, herbs and supplements aside, the immune system on its own is equipped to fight these kinds of illnesses. It’s been doing so for thousands of years. You can help yourself and the people around you by keeping things in perspective.
And while most of the population who becomes infected with the Influenza will recover completely, the very young, elders, and those with compromised immunity must take extra care because they are at risk of complications. Why? Because their immune systems are more fragile and may not be able to launch a healthy, normal immune response to the flu – or even the common cold for that matter which may result in pneumonia, bronchitis, or even death in some rare cases.
HOW TO BE PRO-ACTIVE
Our bodies are like a garden. We must feed, weed, water and fertilize ourselves sufficiently to ensure a healthy ecosystem (read: immune system) dominates. When an ecosystem is healthy, pests such as unwanted bacteria, viruses, or other invaders do not take root. And if they do, the immune system is robust enough to easily do away with them without complications.
The old saying, “a pinch of prevention is worth a pound of cure” really is true. Build your resiliency and resistance by nourishing your immune system with healthy habits so when viruses strike, your system is well-equipped to handle it. What does this mean?
2. SLEEP MORE
Sleep really does an immune system good as highlighted here in this article. If you are sensitive to sound and light, use black-out curtains, an eye mask, and ear plugs if necessary. I’m a firm believer in “Sleep Hygiene” which promotes the bedroom as a place to only sleep, read, or have sex! No video games, movies, work, or eating. The bedroom should be a calm place to nourish peaceful sleep and rest.
3. TAKE VITAMIN D
Vitamin D is like a watchdog for the immune system. Your family physician can test your blood levels to see if you’re low in vitamin D.
4. WEED UNHEALTHY HABITS
Weed yourself of unhealthy habits such as irregular sleep patterns, empty carbohydrates (snacks, packaged food products), and too much stimulation. It’s so important to allow yourself to have “do nothing” time. This is actually when our body slips into the parasympathetic state – that’s that state when our nervous system signals the body to rest and restore. This is like a self-inducing immune tonic!
Eat and drink healthy things regularly, not just once in a while or when you are sick! A favourite of mine is miso soup containing burdock root, carrots, onions, ginger, garlic, astragalus root. Favourite teas for this time of year are elderberry, rose hips, burdock, nettle, eleuthero root, thyme, elecampane, and milk thistle.
6. MAKE YOUR OWN MEDICINE (if you can)
While on principle I encourage folks to make their own medicine, I also acknowledge that’s not always possible. But if you have the time and resources, here’s my favourite recipe (below) I’m happy to share with you. I recommend making it when you are not yet sick so you can have on hand at the first sign of symptoms (directions below).
AND IF YOU GET THE FLU?
- HOMEOPATHIC MEDICINE!
Take the homeopathic remedy Anas Barbarie, sold commercially as Oscillococcinum. This really does work. If you take it at the very first sign of symptoms (even if you’re not yet sure if it’s a cold of flu) you can nip it in the bud so it may not progress at all. If the flu does progress, this remedy is amazing at shortening the duration of the flu and easing the symptoms altogether. Directions are on the package. (p.s. I get no kickbacks for suggesting this product, I just simply know it works).
2. COUGH SYRUP! (which is an amazing immune tonic)
Take the Cough and Cold Syrup below.
3. CASTOR OIL PACKS!
Use castor oil packs on the chest if your viral infection results in a terrible cough. Directions here. Castor oil packs are very soothing.
4. REST (for real. Rest).
Really let yourself rest. The more you push yourself through illness, the longer it takes to really heal from it. For however many days you are sick, let yourself stay home and rest. So, if you were sick for 6 days (these days should include the first day of sniffles, fever, then feeling somewhat better) then stay home for this number of days. That means 12 full days of self-care. Then for 2 more weeks take a nourishing immune tea containing elderberries and rose hips.
FINALLY! SERAPHINA’S COUGH AND COLD SYRUP RECIPE
Elderberries are featured in this cough syrup for their remarkable anti-viral activity. During H1N1 2009 they were studied and found to be effective against the virus; to-date they are shown to be effective against 8 different influenza viruses.
A pot with a well-fitted lid
50 grams of the following mixture: elderberries, rose hips, elecampane root, burdock, thyme, marshmallow, and a small amount of licorice root
(if you cannot find all of these herbs, then you may use just one or more. Whatever you do, only use a small amount of licorice because it’s so over-powering).
Sweetener (sugar, honey, maple syrup)
Clean bottle for finished product
The first step in preparing a syrup is to make a strong tea by simmering your choice of herbs. This is called a decoction. This decoction, once reduced and mixed with a sweetener, is called a syrup.
The ratio of herb to water for the decoction is 1 part to 20 parts. So:
- Place 50g of herb into a pot with a lid.
- Pour upon it 500ml cold water.
It is important to begin a decoction with cold water in order to ensure complete extraction of all soluable constituents from the herb.
- If time permits, let your herbs sit in this cold water for a few hours before heating
- Cover the container and bring your brew slowly to a boil
- Once brought to boil, remove lid (or just have the lid half way on the pot).
- Decrease the heat and simmer it until it reduce to half its original volume (so 250ml).
- After the decoction, remove from heat to press the herb hard to extract all the medicinal solution from the exhausted plant material. Compost the plant material and pour the liquid back into the pot.
- Traditionally, most syrup recipes add the sweetener to the decoction at the ratio of 2:1 (so 500ML honey to 250ML decoction). This makes for a VERY sweet syrup, however it also makes it shelf stable. Honestly, I prefer my syrup recipes at a 1:1 ratio, so 250ml decoction to 250ml honey. The consistency is fairly nice, and I’ve never had a bottle spoil.
- Warm the decoction (if it isn’t still warm) and dissolve the sweetener until it is completely dissolved.
- If you want a really thick syrup, GENTLY heat it further for 20 or 30 minutes until you reach the desired consistency.
- Take it off the stove and add 6 TBSP of brandy (optional but encouraged for shelf-life stability).
- Brandy is added for flavour and further preservation action. It’s also a gentle muscle relaxant which is appropriate if you are making a cough syrup
- Pour syrup into a clean jar with a lid such as a mason jar or old salad dressing jar. Label it complete with ingredients and the date.
- Dose: For adults use 1 TBSP 3 times a day for prevention, or up to 8 times a day when illness strikes. For children, 1 tsp twice a day for prevention or 1 tsp 6 times a day while sick. Please consult with a qualified health practitioner for children under 5 years of age or individuals on medication.
- Always remember herbs and supplements are not a replacement for healthy lifestyle modifications and a nutritious diet.