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Flu First Aid - An Herbalist’s Top Tips to Fend off the Flu

This year is already a notorious flu season. People all over the country are suffering with a viral infection  that leaves them feeling icky for days or WEEKS on end. Fingers crossed that you don’t get the flu this year (or ever!), but since that’s not likely, we have some great tips to help you fend off the flu and keep you and your family well.

First things first: the flu is a virus, and that means it can’t be treated with antibiotics. Period. But because it is a virus you are able to help PREVENT the flu and also help shorten the duration when you do have it by supporting your body and encouraging a healthy immune response with a few easy pointers.

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The following tips are some of my favorite ways to help keep myself and my clients healthy. Get to know these tips well so that if you do feel something coming on, you’ll be able to spring into action before the flu takes hold and knocks you out.

  1. Wrap up with a Scarf: There are a few key areas that you should keep covered during cold (and especially windy) weather: your neck, the small of your back (where your kidneys are located), and when possible, your hands, feet, and head. These are considered ‘wind channels’ in Traditional Chinese Medicine, and are points of vulnerability when your immune system is compromised. If you start to feel a little icky, covering up immediately can avoid your body expending extra energy to keep you warm at a crucial moment. Don’t forget to keep warm while you sleep too! If I’m feeling unwell I will be sure to sleep with a scarf around my neck to be extra careful. .

  2. Heat your Body to Boost Immunity: Staying warm with layers isn’t the only way to tackle a virus with heat. Warm baths, infrared or traditional saunas, steam rooms, hot tubs, or even just a hot shower can do wonders to boost your immunity. Warming our bodies this way is especially helpful if you already have a fever. Our body reacts with a fever to kill viruses. Most viruses become inactive or are destroyed at higher temperatures and rather than taking ibuprofen or aspirin to decrease the intensity of the fever, you can work with your body to keep the fever up to kill the viruses. If you keep yourself warm for a long period of time, you will likely break the fever. When you break a fever you usually end up drenched in sweat but your temperature will have returned to close to normal. This is a good sign you are on the upswing!

  3. Warm from the Inside-Out: Drinking herbal teas for preventative care and care during sickness can be really helpful. It doesn’t hurt that it is also warming and delicious. One of the most potent options is fresh ginger tea. To make, cover fresh sliced ginger and a lemon wedge with boiling water. Cover and steep for 15 minutes (covering keeps the healing, volatile oils in the tea). You can add some honey to sweeten, and will help moisten sore throats too.

  4. Sleep as much as Possible: Yes, I know you have a lot of work to do, but to the greatest extent possible, give yourself time to rest and heal. Don’t push it. Your body is going through a deep healing process, and this takes a lot of energy. If you try to work or be productive, you can hinder the healing process by asking your body to do what it’s not ready to do, leading to a longer illness and likely less productivity overall.

  5. Sip Homemade Healing Broths: Broths are great to have all the time, but especially if you’re unwell. You can make these ahead of time, freeze, and have at the ready. Get more details about the healing powers of broth with my Magic Mineral Broth (vegan) and Homemade Bone Broth [links]. Folklore wisdom says to ‘feed a cold, starve a fever,’ and you may find that you don’t want to eat anything when you have the flu, but trying to sip some broth can help your body get some gentle nourishment in liquid form without asking your body to do too much with digesting a big meal.

  6. Heal with Proper Hydration: The flu will likely knock out your appetite, and it might kill your thirst too. But to keep your body well, it’s important to keep drinking throughout the day. Drink  herbal teas listed above, warm water with lemon or lime, water with sliced cucumbers, water with a pinch of sea salt, or gently warmed broths as mentioned above. Another one of my favorite hydration solutions is diluted coconut water (dilute 1:1 with filtered water to decrease the natural sugar content of the coconut water); optional - add a pinch of salt to boost minerals and electrolyte content.

  7. Enjoy Elderberry: Elderberry is a potent herb that works to help prevent illness but also treat acute illness, by shortening duration and intensity. Elderberry is a dark purple, sweet tasting berry, so it is also that this is one of the best tasting healing options available. Elderberry can be taken as a tincture, as a syrup, as capsules, and as a tea. Find the option that works best for you, and keep on hand at all times.

  8. Bring Fever down with Herbs:  A fever is considered anything over 100.4º F and can last from a few hours to several days. Symptoms can also include headache, rapid heart rate, skin flushing, sweating, shivering and loss of appetite. Most adults can even tolerate a fever as high as 103º or 104º for short periods of time without having problems. If this level of fever can be withstood, it may be beneficial in the longterm to inactivate or destroy the virus permanently whereas if the fever is brought down too soon through artificial means, one runs the risk of having the pathogen remain latent in the body essentially creating the possibility of future flare ups during times of stress or the other possibility of a low grade chronic fatigue or unexplained symptoms later. There is a tipping point, however, if the fever gets too high for too long to where someone is starting to hallucinate, experience extreme irritability or run the risk of other complications, then action should be taken. There is a class of herbs known as diaphoretic herbs that open the surface of skin to ‘vent’ the body – these plants help you release heat more efficiently  to bring a fever down. One of the easiest diaphoretic herbs to obtain is fresh ginger (see the herbal tea section above). Other diaphoretic herbs include elderflower, yarrow, cayenne, peppermint, horehound, sage, lemon balm, chamomile, and catnip. To make a quick tea to help a high  fever, combine 1-2 Tablespoons chopped fresh ginger or 1 tablespoon total of one or a few of the other diaphoretic herbs listed above. Cover with 8 ounces boiling water, cover and steep for 15 minutes. Drink while hot.

Photo by Naomi August on Unsplash