Flu Herbs

This has been one of the most difficult flu seasons in Asheville in years. I have seen a lot of clients with lingering respiratory infections and so for the first of these newsletters, I thought I'd offer up what's been working for my clients.

One of the most popular of all natural cold remedies, Echinacea works well for the first stages of being sick, either when you've been around other sick people or the first few days of illness. To be most effective at this stage, take large frequent doses such as 2-3 droppers of tincture every couple of hours. You'll easily go through an ounce of tincture in two days, but it's worth not getting sick.

I almost never combine Echinacea and Goldenseal either. Yes, Goldenseal is antimicrobial, but is too strong for those early stages. It works much better when the illness starts penetrating deeper into the body, maybe 3-4 days in when a cold goes from runny nose to congestion. I tend to reserve Goldenseal for stubborn "damp heat" conditions with thick green phlegm, fatigue and poor digestion. More commonly I use the local herb Barberry or a western US relative, Oregon Grape (not actually a grape). Neither is as drying as Goldenseal, but Oregon Grape is more drying than Barberry.

Prickly Ash has been in a lot of my formulas. This under-used herb of the southern coast has even more tongue-tingling effects than Echinacea because it has higher levels of a constitutent called "alkylamides." Prickly Ash directly stimulates blood flow and immune response in the throat area while getting the blood flowing throughout the entire body. A very warming herb, use with caution if already feeling hot or agitated.

Bayberry (different than Barberry) is one of my faves for sinus congestion. Like Prickly Ash, it's a good circulatory stimulant but also helps dry and move excess mucous. I use it as part of formulas for both sinus infections (with antimicrobial herbs), for allergies (with antihistamine herbs), or for gum disease.

Red Root, another local herb, I often add to formulas when there are swollen lymph glands. Not as well known as it should be, Red Root is one of the best herbs for moving lymph.

Elderberry has become another favorite of mine; a great mild antiviral that because of its sweet moist nature also keeps a formula from being overly drying. If a more drying effect is needed use the flowers of Elder, which also help with a sweat as discussed below.

One of the best herbs for flu with muscle aches is Boneset. A great antiviral whose strong bitter taste helps dry out mucous and stimulate digestion of toxins, Boneset earned its name not from healing bones but from its use during an outbreak of "break-bone fever" in the 19 th century.

Boneset can also be used with yarrow, elderflower and peppermint in a tea to sweat out a fever. Drink the tea hot while sitting in a hot bath, then go to bed afterwards and sleep it off. A warning though - don't try this for fevers of 104 or higher.

So go easy on the sugar, eat foods high in vitamin C (but not oranges, which create more mucous), and above all, remember to rest. After all, winter is a time to go inward. Enjoy the early nights!