Natural Living

By Laura Peterson

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I’m sitting here in my living room on a work day, fighting off a cold as I’m writing this article about natural remedies for cold and flu. Ironic, most would say, but I choose to see it as a self-experiment for journalistic integrity. (Are you buying that? Neither did my boss.) For a few weeks now I’ve been burning the candle at both ends, as they say, and this is the sorry result. I didn’t put common sense ahead of my stubborn assumption that because I have the knowledge of how to heal myself, I can get away with making foolish choices. This is why pride is one of the deadly sins, I guess!

Be warned, dear reader, because what I’m about to tell you here will empower you with that same knowledge. No longer will you be able to blame your sneezing coworker, the coughing guy on the subway, nor your significant other who’s been groaning through the flu for 6 days. You’re going to be taking full responsibility for your own health by learning how to safeguard against sickness and treat it with common sense and simple, natural remedies.

First let’s look at why we get sick. The reason is simple – because we allow our bodies to become dis-eased. I’m not talking about “disease” in the sense most people think, but a state of dis-ease in its simplest definition, which according to Webster’s dictionary is “a condition of the living animal or plant body that impairs normal functioning.” A poor diet, lack of sleep, lack of exercise and stress all contribute to that state of dis-ease and the process takes weeks or months, not days. The sneezing coworker and the flu-ridden significant other just contribute by thrusting the germs onto your already dis-eased body. However, bacteria and viruses cannot live in a healthy body. They must find some dis-eased tissue to host them, otherwise the body’s amazing security system throws those buggers right out with the rest of the trash! Therefore, if you maintain a strong immune system and a healthy body by doing the right things (and not doing the wrong things) you won’t get sick, even if you visited a dozen flu patients at the hospital.

Once we get sick, how do we respond? Too many of us push ourselves past our limits. Our bodies, after weeks or months of poor nutrition, lack of sleep and enough stress to make a horse collapse, start begging us to slow down and rest. It starts with fatigue and some body and/or head aches. Then the congestion starts, perhaps with some sneezing and/or coughing and a tight feeling in the throat. Sound familiar? And what do we do when these symptoms begin? Sadly, statistics show most people either ignore the symptoms for as long as possible, or start taking over-the-counter drugs to suppress the symptoms so they can maintain their stressful lifestyle. Why, oh why do we abuse our bodies like that? The symptoms are the signs that something is not right; they are not the reason things are not right. Whenever possible, take the day off at the beginning of a cold and you’ll find yourself feeling much better after just one day of rest and home remedies. Push yourself and try to suppress the symptoms and you’re doomed to a week or longer of being sick.

When it comes to herbal remedies, it’s important to note that just because they’re natural does not mean they’re weak. I recently spoke with Joann Pelletiere, owner of Aphrodisia, about this subject. Joann has been working with herbs for thirty years and her store on Bleecker Street is one of the best resources for medicinal herbs in the city. Joann told me, “It is absolutely false that natural remedies are all harmless. It’s very important to know what you are taking, how much to take and when to take it.” Joann went on to warn, “It is especially important that anyone on prescription medication consult with their physician before taking any herbs, since many herbs will interfere with medications.” For instance, Joann pointed out that anyone suffering from allergies or asthma should stay far away from echinacea and chamomile. “Those are both in the ragweed family, so they’ll have an adverse affect on anyone who is sensitive to ragweed.” When I asked her opinion on those encapsulated herbs found in almost every corner store these days, Joann said, “Herbs in that processed form are almost pharmaceutical. If you want the natural healing properties of a plant, you need to use the whole energy of the plant.” That’s why tea (made from fresh herbs) and extracts are the best ways to utilize herbs for healing.

Some herbs can be taken everyday while others should be used just during times of crisis, and the form the herb is taken in makes a difference. If you want to take herbs for basic things, like immune boosting, or for chronic problems, like asthma, you can make the herbs into tea and have them everyday. But, Joann says, “For acute conditions, like cold or flu, use an herbal extract just for the duration of the health crisis and then stop. The acute conditions are a good time to bring in the heavy hitters, like echinacea.” Also don’t mix in every herb you’ve ever read about for your condition. Many customers go to Aphrodisia looking for Joann’s expert advice on how to cure their ailments. When she suggests just one herb as a solution, they often argue that it can’t be that simple. “Less is better, and practical advice really does work,” Joann states. “Taking too many herbs can cause a toxic buildup in the body, and that’s not going to help anything.”

The wonderful thing about natural remedies is that there are so many of them that can address the same problem. Try one and see if it works. Chances are it will work on its own and you’ll be back on the path to health. If it doesn’t work, try a different remedy. When in doubt, consult an herbal expert like Joann who has experience with herbal medicines, or pick up a few books and learn about herbs yourself.

Now let’s discuss just a few simple, natural remedies. There is no cooking, grinding, draining, or waiting more than 10 minutes with any of these remedies and several of them are probably already in your house. As a busy professional myself, I know realistically we don’t have time to spend concocting medicine in our kitchen! With that in mind, I am listing only the simplest remedies. Please remember it is important to combine plenty of rest and a healthy diet (I can’t say that enough) with any remedy, and slow down at the first signs of symptoms and start treating them immediately to avoid days or even weeks of feeling rotten. Here are some of my favorite natural and herbal remedies for the common cold, flu, sinus infections and general upper respiratory infections:

Osha Root:
Osha root has been used for generations by western Native Americans to treat colds, flu, and upper respiratory infections. Osha is a natural immune builder and helps the body ward off viral infections. This is a great substitute for those that are sensitive to ragweed (echinacea). You can use Osha syrup or extract as a “heavy hitter” during acute conditions, rather than as a daily tonic, although it is not too harsh for daily use.

Echinacea:
The most popular “heavy hitter,” Echinacea has become almost too popular. For best results with this powerful immune boosting herb, take Echinacea extract only once you begin to feel a cold coming on and continue for several days until all symptoms subside. This herb is too strong to take every day for a prolonged period of time.

Grapefruit Seed Extract:
As I start listing the miraculous attributes of this herbal remedy, you’ll wonder how you never heard about it before! Not to be confused with grape seed, grapefruit seed extract is the most effective, nontoxic antibiotic available in the world. Numerous studies have shown it is safe for humans and animals, and it can be used internally to treat anything from cold, flu, strep throat, ear infection, and basically any viral or bacterial infection. Externally, grapefruit seed extract can also get rid of a cold sore in about ten minutes! There are no side effects from grapefruit seed extract, however this is one to consider as a “heavy hitter” for acute cases, and not for daily use.

Astragalus Root:
If you’re looking for something for daily use to prevent even the first sign of illness, have a couple of cups of astragalus root tea every day. This gentle root herb has been used for centuries in China for its antioxidant, immune boosting and age deferring properties. Unlike Echinacea, astragalus can be used daily without harm. It can also be combined with other herbs.

Apple Cider Vinegar:
Apple cider vinegar is an antispasmodic, and can be used to treat bronchial infections by calming the spasms and loosening up mucous. Bring a couple of cups of apple cider vinegar to a boil and then place in a large bowl. Tenting a towel over your head (you know the routine), take deep breaths of the steam.

Salt Water Gargle:
Yes, such a simple solution but it works to treat sore throats! Use warm (not hot) water and a teaspoon of sea salt and gargle several times a day. Salt has natural antiseptic properties so it eases the pain of sore throats.

Laura’s Home Remedy for Colds and Flu:
Press one fresh clove of garlic in a cup of hot water. Let it sit for 10 minutes. Squeeze in the juice from half a fresh lemon and add a tablespoon or two of honey. Sip the liquid and then eat the garlic clove when you are done, since garlic is a natural antibiotic and will knock an infection right out. Repeat every several hours until symptoms subside, and make sure one of those doses is right before bedtime. If there is also a fever, grate some fresh ginger into the mix for added measure.

Now you are armed with the knowledge of how to prevent and treat colds. Knowledge is power, so use it wisely and avoid making the mistake I made of assuming that just knowing this stuff is enough to fend off illness. As I am finishing my third cup of “Laura’s Home Remedy” though, I can tell already I’m going to be just fine by tomorrow. Oh yay. I get to go back to work.

Aphrodisia is located at 264 Bleecker Street, New York, NY

Originally published November 2005
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