Herbs for Health
by Katrina Herren
1: Herb Preparation and Cold Prevention
With the cold winter months upon us, it is time for us all to take a few extra measures to ensure our good health. There are many ways which to do so. Some may choose to get a flu shot, others may intake more vitamin C, or pull out the ol' humidifiers and blankets. Then there are those, like me, who for some (God and Goddess knows) reason, prefers to turn to the blessed plants of the land - herbs. Herbs hold precious life-giving and life-renewing qualities that are accessible to all of us at a relatively low cost. For me, working with herbs is an interest with many rewards. First, I have a sense of empowerment by being able to take my health and that of my family into my own hands (never trying to exceed my own knowledge or replace medical practitioners). Second, herbs are natural, and can remedy or help prevent many, many ailments, with little or no side effects. Using part of Nature to help me, another part of Nature, keeps me feeling more in-tune with Her. Third, on a more practical note, herbs are less expensive than a doctor visit and are readily available whenever I need them. And fourth, the process of preparing herbs is a type of prayer or meditation. With love and wonder, I prepare my herbal concoctions, thankful for the healing plant essence and the knowledge of these gifts, which I continue to seek. It is magick, as well as science. For those who wish to prevent or cure a cold or the flu this season, or in the seasons to come, here are some ideas you may wish to try.
But first, before I begin describing or listing herbs good for colds and respiratory problems, lets begin with some basic forms of medicinal herbs you can find or even make for yourself. Herbal teas (actually called infusions or decoctions) are a nice, cozy way to enjoy herbs during the winter months. An infusion is made in a similar way as you would make tea. Water is boiled, fresh or dried herbs are added to the water, left to steep about 10 minutes, then strained. You could also make homemade tea bags out of 4"or 5" muslin or cheesecloth squares filled with 1 or 2 teaspoons of herb, then tied with a ribbon or string (for those who do not like the mess of straining or are traveling), though the first method may be more potent. A decoction is typically used with bark, berries, or roots of plants, and involves actually cooking it (bring 3 cups of water and 1 oz. dried or 2 oz. fresh herb to boil, simmer 20 - 40 minutes until volume is reduced by about one-third), then strain. Infusions and decoctions are stored in a cool place and have a shelf life of one to two days. A nice herbal infusion is perhaps my most favorite way to enjoy herbs, for medicinal needs or just to relax and revitalize. Have you ever thought of making your own cough syrup? Well, you can. It involves cooking an infusion or decoction and honey or refined sugar, stirring constantly, until dissolved. Simmer until it has a syrupy consistency, cool, and store up to 3 months in dark glass bottles with cork stoppers. Tinctures are more potent and can be made by steeping the herb in an alcohol and water mixture for 2 or more weeks. Since they are more potent, the dose is usually stated in number of drops or teaspoons, and they have a longer shelf life (up to two years, if kept in a dark glass bottle out of the light). Capsules are another of my favorites. With a coffee grinder and a Cap-M-Quick (device that allows you to do 50 at once) you can get a nice supply of capsules quickly. What I like about making my own capsules versus buying ready-made is 1) it's less expensive, 2) it's all herb -- not some herb, some filler or "preservative". With a shelf life of 3 - 4 months, there's no need for anything but herb. Steam inhalations are a nice way to relieve sinusitis, bronchitis, asthma, and other respiratory system problems. This method involves using a few drops of essential oils or infused oils (which is very different from essential oils), and a basin half full of steaming water with a towel over your head to breath the steam. These are just a few of the ways to prepare herbs. There are also massage oils, tonic wines, tablets, compresses, poultices, suppositories, hot or cold infused oils, ointments, creams, lotions, emulsions, baths, gargles, and even eyewashes. All of these remedies can be made by you (except perhaps the tablets I don't have that one down yet). And now, let's get on to some of the specific herbs to prevent various cold related problems.
At the first sign of cold or flu, say, with a tickle in your throat, or that first sneeze or cough, or the feeling of being a bit off or weakened, perhaps the best immune boost you can give yourself at that time is few doses of echinacea (echinacea angustifolia). It is also an antibacterial, ideal for infection - viral, bacterial, or fungal. The suggested dose for capsules is 3 x 200mg three times a day. And I would not suggest taking any herb on a regular basis for more than 2 - 4 weeks. After that time period, I suggest giving your self a 2 or more week break, then resume again, if needed. You may choose to drink a decoction made from 1 ounce of the dried (2 ounces of fresh) herb root with 3 cups of water. Reduce this to 2 cups. Then take a teacup or wineglass dose 3 times a day. To make an echinacea tincture, put about 7 oz. dried (20 oz. fresh) herb root in a jar and cover with, depending on the source, pure alcohol (vodka is my preference, but rum is a good choice, too), 1 qt. vodka and 2 cups water, or a 25% alcohol and 75% water mixture equaling about 6 cups. Seal the jar and store it in a cool place for 2 weeks. Occasionally shake the jar during this time. After at least two weeks, strain the liquid through muslin into a winepress, ideally, so you can press the mixture more easily. Otherwise, squeeze the cloth with your clean hands (messy, but it works o.k.) until most of the liquid is released. Then pour into sterilized, dark glass bottles. The dosage for echinacea in tincture form is ¼ to 1 tsp. (1 - 4 droppers full), every 2 - 3 hours for influenza, chills, or the fist couple of days of acute symptoms. I have one friend who likes to put a few drops of echinacea tincture at the back of his throat for a few seconds, then swallow. This is similar to a gargle, which is done with a dose of decoction or watered down tincture (2 tsp. with wineglass of warm water); it is gargled and swallowed. The herb will keep working as it is digested. An echinacea gargle is great for alleviating sore throats.
Another herb that supports the immune system is garlic (Allium sativum). Garlic is antiseptic and antifungal, and helps to reduce cholesterol levels, too. Use plenty in cooking or take 2 - 3 pearls (gelcaps) daily. Eating fresh parsley can help eliminate odor on the breath. Or take in capsule form in the dose of 2 x 200 mg. three times a day. Capsules can be made with 2 g. (about 1/16 tsp.) of garlic powder, but some feel this method is not affective. As with anything, I suggest you try it to see if it works for you. Medicinal amounts of garlic are not recommended for pregnant or lactating women.
Huang Qi or Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) is another excellent immune-stimulating herb. It increases production of white blood cells, which is one way the body wards off infection and illness. A decoction or tincture (prepared in the standard way) can be taken to strengthen the immune response. Unfortunately, there is not as much information on this herb compared to others like echinacea, but it is highly recommended. There is one warning associated with this herb. "Avoid if condition involves excess 'heat' or yin deficiency." So, all those people who are hot headed and full of yang this is not the herb for you!
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) is a fourth preventative herb, often found commercially combined with echinacea. Goldenseal is excellent at drying and reducing mucus, aids digestion, and has been said to help ease menstrual pain or PMS, too. A tincture dose is 1/8 - ½ tsp. (½ - 2 droppers full) three times a day. Or you, as with echinacea, can gargle with a dose of decoction or ½ - ¾ tsp. tincture in small glass of warm water for sore throats and mucus conditions. Please avoid this herb if you are pregnant or lactating. If you have a problem with high blood pressure, stay away from the goldenseal.
Some other herbs listed as immune system stimulants are barberry, basil, boneset, chamomile, ginger, ginseng, gotu kola, licorice (large amounts may cause various problems), marsh mallow, mistletoe (avoid if you have heart disease), St. John's Wort/Hypericum (acts like MAO inhibitor, interacts with a number of foods and other drugs). But I feel the previous herbs are the most affective or main herbs for an immune boost.
These are just a few of the many remedies
to resist colds. A later article will cover what herbs you can use if you do get
sick. But until then, try some of these herbs, intake more vitamin C and zinc,
wear a jacket or coat when needed, get plenty of rest, eat well, enjoy your family
and friends, and have a great Yule! HAIL THE AESIR AND VANIR!
Catleman, Michael. The Healing Herbs: The Ultimate Guide to the Curative Power of Nature's Medicines. Rodale Press: Pennsylvania, 1991.
Ody, Penelope. The Complete Medicinal Herbal. Dorling Kindersley, Inc.: New York, NY, 1993.
Ody, Penelope. Home Herbal. Dorling Kindersley, Inc.: New York, NY, 1995.