Herbs for Colds and Flu

Winter’s coming here in the Northeast, and along with that comes the standard “seasons changing” illnesses: the flu, colds, ear infections, sore throats, and lung gunk. Here are some easy remedies that you can try for your family next time something’s going around!

Ear Infections

onion sliceAs a child, I was particularly prone to ear infections, but no one figured out that I have a dairy allergy until I was an adult. If your child has recurrent ear infections, make sure to consider eliminating dairy products, or gluten, or both – they are often the root of the problem. But whatever the cause, my favorite remedy is something you probably already have in your kitchen: Onion! This might sound crazy, but it’s literally the best thing since sliced bread: slice an Onion in rings about 3/4 of an inch thick. Sauté lightly in olive oil, until it’s hot all the way through (not carmelized, just hot). Wrap the Onion slice in a clean soft cloth and lay it on the ear like a heating pad – if you’re doing this for the kiddos, be sure to test the heat first so that little ears don’t burn.

Why does it work? We don’t have studies on this yet, but my theory is that the sulfur in the Onion is carried into the ear via the steam, and kills the infection and reduces inflammation. Also, of course the heat is soothing, especially when the infection is painful. I always put Onions on both ears, as I’ve found that ear infections have an uncanny way of passing between ears. Repeat as often as necessary – I usually find that doing this every few hours for a day is enough to end the infection altogether.

Thyme to Get Well!

garden variety thymeFor sore throats, as well as upper bronchial infections, another kitchen favorite comes to mind: Thyme! Thyme is markedly antibacterial and antiviral – so whether it’s just a cold or something more tenacious, Thyme’s got you covered. Our favorite way to work with Thyme is as a steam – you may remember your grandmother doing this. Simply take a pot of boiling water, set it on the table and lean over it with a towel over your head. Toss in a handful or two of dried Thyme and inhale deeply! (Do not add the Thyme while the water is boiling – wait until you’re ready to sit and breathe.) Make sure to have a handkerchief nearby if you have any congestion, because this will clear it out quickly. This remedy is also excellent for styes or other eye infections.

I particularly love to do this as a preventative: when everyone around me is getting sick, I make sure to have a Thyme steam every evening when I get home. Whatever nasties I’ve inhaled that day get wiped out before they have a chance to really take hold!

For children who are too young to be left alone near a pot of boiling hot water, you can drape blankets over a table to make a tent. The tent will keep the steam contained for them to breathe in, and then you and your child can climb into the tent together, where you can keep little fingers away from the pot. For children old enough not to touch the pot and burn themselves, they can be in the tent by themselves or they can sit at the table with a towel over their heads. This is a good, fun way to take your medicine – they’ll feel silly, but you’ll know the medicine is getting where it’s going.

How will you know? The antimicrobial action of Thyme is in the volatile oils, which are released when the dried herb is heated. Breathing in the steam of the hot water carries the volatile oils through the entire respiratory system, into every nook and cranny in the lungs. You don’t have to wait for it to go through the digestive system and get to the lungs and the airways through the blood, it’s right there at the source. Once you’ve finished with the steam, boil the water with the Thyme in it again for about half an hour to release all the minerals in the herb – now you have a nourishing tea that will help rebuild the resources you’re using to fight the infection!

Smells Good!

rosemary & lavenderA lot of people like to use Lysol or other air fresheners when people are sick in the house, to kill the germs in the air. You can do the same job more effectively and without the chemicals with herbs! Fill a spraybottle with water, and add to it 10-20 drops of essential oil of Rosemary, and 10-20 drops of essential oil of Lavender. Use this in place of the Lysol – just walk around the house spraying the bottle, and you’ll kill off all the germs floating around. This mixture was found, in European trials, to be as effective as standard hospital sanitizer, but in fact longer lasting, because the oils stay on whatever surfaces they land on longer than the alcohol-based sanitizers. Not only that, but it smells great! In our house, we use this mixture to clean countertops, the kitchen table, the bathroom sink – just about anything.

How does it work? Much like Thyme, the volatile oils of Rosemary and Lavender (which are the part that is captured in the essential oil) are the anti-microbial part of the plant. It’s unclear whether a spray like this can actually kill germs in the air, or only on contact on a surface, but either way is fine with me, because not only are these anti-microbial agents landing on the surfaces in my house to kill germs, they are also landing in my lungs!

Kool-Aid Health Aid!

rose hipsSo you want to be healthier, but your 5-year-old (or your inner 5-year-old!) wants Kool-Aid. What to do? Why, you reach for your herbs, of course! Here’s a recipe that’s kid friendly, supremely healthy, and sure to please everyone: just blend up Rose hips, Elderberries, Hibiscus, and Orange peel. These should be available in the bulk section of your local health food store, and if they don’t have them or can’t order them for you, try Mountain Rose Herbs.

You can mix these ingredients to taste, but I like 3 parts Rose hips, 1 part Elderberries, 1 part Hibiscus, and 1 part Orange peel. Per quart of water, add two or three tablespoons of the herbal mixture (depending on how strong you want to make it), and bring to a boil. Simmer the mix for 20 minutes, and then let it cool. The flavor will be sweet-tart; you can add some honey or dark maple syrup to sweeten.

The result? A super high-vitamin naturally bright red Kool-Aid replacement! Rose hips are one of the best sources for vitamin C – one Rose hip has as much vitamin C as four lemons! There’s vitamin A in there too, along with a whole host of bioflavonoids (which are antioxidants). Hibiscus has nutrients that nourish the cardiovascular system, and orange peels have vitamins C, B1, folic acid, many bioflavonoids (over 60!), and a whole host of other vitamins and minerals! And of course, Elderberries have potent respiratory virus fighting action – most excitingly, by inhibiting virus’ ability to replicate, meaning less work for your immune system!

So what are you waiting for? This is one brightly colored kid drink that mom and dad will love!

What’s YOUR favorite cold and flu remedy?

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