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WINTER IMMUNITY

Living & Being, January 2009

GET PROACTIVE TO KEEP COLD AND FLU AWAY THIS SEASON

Be Proactive to Stay Well

It’s January -the depths of winter. The holiday rush is over, life returns to normal. But if your normal is a winter filled with colds, flu and fatigue, you might want to consider some alternative ways to remedy your health.

One reason we get sick so often during the colder months is we are not in alignment with the environment. Look around you – animals hibernate, trees and plants are in a dormant state, the nights are long, activity is minimal. Nature is resting in preparation for the outburst of spring.


So how does that apply to your busy life?

If you look at your schedule, most likely there are too many events and activities and not enough rest. The holidays were stressful and activity-filled – an antithesis to the inward retreat nature undergoes.

If this pattern continues, fatigue, burnout, illness may progress. See what you can cut from your schedule. Look at your calendar and write in some time to simply regenerate. Make sure you and your family have enough sleep. Simplify. It’s better for you to choose your schedule than leaving it up to a cold or flu to make the choices for you.

Take out some of the events, but add in a few simple health remedies to support the immune system during the winter months:


Hydrate​

Drink water -even if you think you’re not thirsty. You should drink enough fluids that when you go to the bathroom, the urine comes out a light yellow. And leave out the ice – drink warm or room-temperature fluids. Your body is already working overtime keeping itself warm – it’s 98.6 degrees in there – adding in freezing water only wastes energy the body could better use to maintain the immune system.


Use a neti pot

When the mucous membranes dry out, they become more susceptible to germs and viruses. A neti pot flushes the nasal passages with warm salt water and is an invaluable tool for sinus health. Sold at most health food stores, a neti pot looks like a ceramic Aladdin’s lamp.


If you’re feeling congested of if you tend to have sinus, nasal or upper respiratory infections, use a neti pot daily – or use it weekly as a preventive measure.


Here are some tips on using on proper nasal rinsing with a neti pot:

  1. The easiest way to use a neti pot is in the shower, but it can also be done over the sink.

  2. Fill the pot with warm water and add a quarter-teaspoon of finely ground sea salt.

  3. Turn your head to one side over the sink, keeping the forehead at the same height as the chin, or slightly higher.

  4. Gently insert the spout in the upper nostril so it forms a seal. Raise the neti pot so the saline solution flows out the lower nostril. If it drains out of your mouth, lower your forehead in relation to your chin. Some solution may travel to the back of your throat. Try not to swallow it – spit it out.

  5. When the neti pot is empty, gently blow your nose.

  6. Refill the neti pot and repeat on the other side. ** If the nasal rinsing causes a burning sensation, lower the amount of salt and adjust water temperature.

Install humidifiers in the home

Drinking water and using a neti pot are two solutions for hydrating, but if we’re constantly breathing in desert-dry air, we need to add in moisture. Investing in a humidifier – either one that connects to the heating system or the small portable ones easily available at any hardware store is a must.

If you have a wood-burning stove, you’ll need to be particularly mindful of the moisture you’re putting back into the house. Usually this requires more than a single pot of water on the stove.

Baths with salts and essential oils

Take baths – perhaps replacing some or all of your daily showers – and add in Epsom salts and/or Dead Sea salts. The minerals in both, when absorbed through the skin by bathing draw toxins from the body, sedate the nervous system, reduce swelling, relax muscles and are natural emollients and exfoliators. Using essential oils in addition offers other health benefits. Lavender, rosemary, peppermint, spearmint, black spruce, eucalyptus are possible choices for winter bathing. See what appeals to you and make your choice based on that.


  • Lavender is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral. It is also relaxing and calming.

  • Eucalyptus is best known for its respiratory effects, fighting viruses and bacteria, while easing congestion. It also eases muscle and joint aches and pains.

  • Rosemary is antibacterial and uplifting, for body and spirit.

  • Spruce eases body pains as well, is great for mental and physical exhaustion. It is grounding as well as stimulating. And it smells like the essence of winter.

  • Spearmint and peppermint essential oils are antibacterial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory. Peppermint oil is more stimulating – a good morning bath addition – while spearmint oil is more calming and relaxing. Both are uplifting.


When adding essential oils to the bath, the idea is to have them penetrate the salts and not immediately evaporate. You can do this in two ways. One, take a container, put in the salts and add a generous amount of essential oils. Cap and use as needed. Or simply put the salts in the bath before you run the bath water, sprinkle on the oil(s) and then run the water.

Eat Warming Foods

Eat warm foods, especially for breakfast. Slow-cooked foods help the body retain its warmth. A slow cooker is a perfect investment for the season, if you don’t already own one. Bone broth soups are the perfect winter nourishment – add in a tablespoon of cider vinegar to extract added calcium from the bones.


Cold cereal with ice cold milk is not a good way top start your day in winter. Hot cereal, with added ground flaxseed, which gives it a slightly nutty flavor, is much better. Add in frozen blueberries, and heat gently – they’re loaded with antioxidants.

Or try warm apples with cinnamon: Slice the applies (no need to peel), add a tiny bit of water, cinnamon (sticks or ground), some cloves or allspice if you want the apple pie flavor. Cook slowly until soft and serve. You could cook the apples the night before and just reheat. Can be eaten alone or with yogurt. Granola and/or milk can be added.

Exercise – Body And Mind

Brisk walks outside in nature. If you get moving in the cold, the cold doesn’t enter your body the same way. The best way to start your day? The night before, lay out your warm, outdoor clothes by the door, slip them on first thing upon rising and take a brisk walk outdoors. Think of investing in snowshoes for those snow-covered days.


Walking outside in nature, your body will warm up. This flow of qi and blood, as the Chinese term it, moves around your body, providing a natural protective immunity against disease. Just make sure you’re bundled well – particularly the back of the neck.

Notice what is going on in nature. This time of year, it’s so silent, there are no crickets, no squirrels chattering. It’s an incredibly beautiful hush. The silence can be deafening, particularly on a morning after snow falls. Take all of this to heart -where do you need to go, to replenish, nurture and restore? This is the season to pay attention to that quiet, inward energy.


Meditate

Our minds go 24/7, 10,000 thoughts a day: Is there anything else we would dare attempt to do so constantly? While at first, meditation may seem an impossible achievement – I’m so busy, I never stop, I’m so hyper, I can’t sit still – this is one action that will change your life. Take one month – or better yet, 40 days – and commit to meditating only seven minutes a day (pick a number, but start small). The same time is best – whatever moment in your day works for you, upon rising, before going to bed, during a mid-day break.

Find a comfortable seated position. Set your cell phone alarm as a timer – turning it to “Alarm Only.” Relax. Breathe deep, listen to your breath, say a word over and over, count backward from 100.

Basically, just sit and be – not doing anything. If thoughts come up, let them pass by, as if you were watching leaves floating down a stream. Don’t engage, just observe with a non-critical, open-minded wonder: Oh, there’s my mind conjuring up that detail, how interesting … Let it go.


What you will find after a period of consistent meditating is you’ll have moments in your hectic life when you’re not bombarded with conflicting thoughts. You’ll notice you feel more clear-headed, more open and less stressed.

Acupuncture

For prevention - Acupuncture can prevent colds and flu by building up the immune system. Needling key points can strengthen the circulation of blood and energy, fortifying the outer defense layers of skin and muscle (wei qi) so germs and viruses cannot enter through them. Seasonal acupuncture treatments only four times a year also serve to strengthen the inner organ systems, correcting minor annoyances before they become serious problems.


To get better faster - If you’ve already succumbed to that cold or flu, acupuncture can also help with symptoms in a safe, non-toxic way.

Prevention

Take the time now to rest and renew with a few simple remedies, so the time won’t overtake you later with illness.


If you do start to feel sick, make feeling better your priority. In the long run, you’ll find this approach will save you time and energy-and guarantee healthier living during our cold winter season.


Herbs for Health

Drink an infusion of nettles (tea brewed for several hours) to maintain a healthy immune system and good energy.


Stinging nettles — considered a pesky garden weed — is a great all-year tonic and easily prepared using the dried plant. Its many qualities include blood-building and cleansing. You can drink it every day.

  1. To make an infusion, you will need: a) Nettles in bulk – dried, cut, sifted (not the tea bags). b) A large glass jar with a tight lid. Ball jars are best; the half-gallon size, gallon-sized iced tea jars work well, too.

  2. Fill the jar with a few inches of nettles and fill to the brim with boiling water. (See precautions below.) Let sit a minute or so, stir and then add more boiling water to refill it, as the herb will soak up the water. Cover and let steep 4-8 hours.

  3. Strain and drink. Refrigerate what’s not used. May be reheated gently. Add honey or sweetener if desired.

Precautions: When filling jar with boiling water: Make sure the glass jar is at room temperature; don’t have the jar sit on cold stone or metal, as the difference in temperature could cause it to crack; don’t let the kettle touch the edge of the glass.

Herbal Tinctures

There are several herbs particularly good to treat cold and flu. While tinctures may be purchased at health food stores or online, a more economical choice is to make your own. Below I’ve described four herbs to consider as well as directions on how to make your own tinctures.

Usnea

This herb you most likely won’t find in health food stores, but you can easily order the dried herb and make your own. (See Resource list) Usnea is a moss that grows on the sides of trees. It’s invaluable for throat ailments — if you have a red, scratchy throat, think usnea. It’s a gentle expectorant as well.

Echinacea root (Angustifolia or Purpurea)

Also called American coneflower, echinacea is used for treating and preventing the common cold and other upper respiratory infections, and for treating urinary infections. It aids the immune system by increasing lymphoctye activity and has anti-inflammatory qualities. Echinacea also has anti-fungal effects.

Barberry OR goldenseal

Barberry and goldenseal are often used for similar medicinal purposes because both herbs contain the chemical berberine. Use one or the other for the common cold and other upper respiratory tract infections, in additions to various ailments, including urinary tract infections, constipation and diarrhea. They’re both anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial and boost immune system function.

You may be able to do go out into your yard and find some wild barberry. Barberry is an invasive shrub with gray, thorny branches that can grow to about 9 feet tall. Bright yellow flowers bloom between April and June and become dark, drooping bunches of red berries in the fall. For medicinal purposes, use the root, which you may be able to dig up if the ground is not completely frozen. Both goldenseal and barberry have deep yellow roots.

Since wildcrafted goldenseal has been seriously diminished in this country, substituting barberry is good medicine for self and planet.

Precautions: Pregnant women should not take goldenseal or barberry, as the herbs could stimulate uterine contractions. If you are taking prescription medications, consult your health care provider about any possible interactions. As with any food product, there is the possibility of an allergic reaction.

Make Your Own: Tinctures

Herbal tinctures are made using fresh or dried plant material and a liquid base (called the menstruum), such as grain alcohol, vodka, brandy, apple cider vinegar or vegetable glycerin. Tinctures remain potent for many years.


The small dropper bottles are convenient to carry. While teas and infusions can be a very effective way of taking herbs, there are some herbal compounds that can only be extracted with alcohol.


Choosing the solvent for tinctures

A simple and effective choice for homemade remedies is 100 proof vodka. You can substitute apple cider vinegar or vegetable glycerin. Alcohol is a more effective solvent and has a longer shelf life: six months for the vinegar, several years for alcohol. *Never use rubbing, isopropyl or wood alcohol.

How to make herbal tinctures

Fresh: 1 part herb to 2 parts menstruum.

Dried: 1 part dried herb to 5 parts menstruum (NOT powdered).

– If using fresh barberry root, for example, pick through the roots, cut out any damaged parts, brush off well and gently wash the roots (don’t soak). If they’re particularly dirt-filled, you might want to let them dry overnight after the rinse.

– Coarsely chop the roots. If using a plant — then coarsely chop the stems and leaves as well. You can leave the flowers whole.

– Put your herbs (dried or fresh) in a clean, dry glass jar, with a tight-fitting lid and fill with the liquid of your choice: either vodka, organic apple cider vinegar or vegetable glycerin mix (mix 50 percent glycerin with 50 percent distilled water). *If using vinegar, heat it slightly before pouring. It should be warm, not hot.

– The herbs need to be completely immersed in liquid. Cap the jar tightly.

– You may need to add more vodka or vinegar over the next day or two as the herbs absorb and expand.

– Label your creation with the ingredients and date and store in a dark place for 2-8 weeks, shaking occasionally. Six weeks is optimal, but if you need to use some of the tincture before that time passes, do so after a minimum of two weeks. Cap and let sit the remaining time.

– Strain out the herbs, squeezing the saturated herbs dry and pour tincture into clean, dry bottles. Label with the date and ingredients used.

– Vinegar tinctures should be refrigerated after straining.


How to take

Dosing varies from person to person. For an adult, two droppers of each herb, two to four times a day. (1 dropper = 20 drops, approximately.) A child would take half that amount two to four times a day. The tincture can be diluted in tea, juice or water.

You can take these herbs when you feel your immune system is vulnerable or when you start to get sick. Take the herbs for a regular course a week to 10 days at least. Lessen the number of times per day as you near the end of the course.