By Mel Kasting, RH (AHG) and the ESHM team
Happy Holidays Herbies! Tis’ the season to share delicious food at gatherings with our loved ones. This time of year, we are often sharing illnesses along with the good times. This year in particular seems rough, with covid, a bad flu, RSV and a potential bout of pneumonia all floating around, eating up our vacation days and planting us in bed watching reruns of Once Upon a Time (or is that just me lol).
Winter time in brings an increase in respiratory infections, at least partially because the outside air is more dry, and people also spend more time indoors with heaters and lower air humidity. One way or another, lower air humidity dries out mucosa, and allows virus laden droplets to travel farther than they ordinarily would.
I don’t know about you, but I can be TERRIBLE at taking care of myself when sick. I can bring buckets of soup and tea to sick friends, but when my head hurts and my body aches, all of my herbal knowledge is inaccessible. My medicine cabinet makes no sense to me and I never have the energy to blend teas in the middle of a fever.
Enter the best idea EVER: Build a winter wellness kit.
Why? Because our future selves need support! They aren’t going to be able to get it together to make tea and take vitamins when they aren’t feeling well.
Having a box or basket full of lovely, health-supporting herbs and supplements already assembled for yourself and your family will save energy and make preventing illness, supporting symptoms during illness, and recovering more quickly a lot less stressful.
We’re doing a much deeper dive into building a winter wellness kit here on the blog, but we’ve also created a quick reference guide for those of you who want to skip right to it.
I have three sections in my winter wellness kit:
1. Immune Support and Illness Prevention
2. I’m Sick, Now What?
3. Illness Recovery
There are a lot of options that could go into each section, but here are some of our favorites over at ESHM.
Not all of the things we need to do to prevent illness will actually fit into a box, but we wanted to include them here anyway. 🙂
Keep Mucosa Moist
One of the body’s first layers of defense against infectious organisms are the mucosal membranes. Mucus is over 90% water and contains particles important for immune health, such as lysozymes to break down microbe cell walls and secretory IgA that prevents microbes from attaching to mucosal cells. When temperatures dip below freezing, there is significantly less moisture in the air. Pair that with indoor heaters and it’s a recipe for dryness. Dry, sticky mucus can’t do its job effectively.
How to Stay Moist?
Drink plenty of water and herbal teas! I love Traditional Medicinals Throat Coat tea; it’s multipurpose, inexpensive and most folks have access to it (you can find it at most grocery stores). Brew it double strength (2 teabags per mug) to moisten mucosa, help with sore throats, and soothe gut irritation.
The average person needs a minimum of eight and one-half hours of sleep every night, and many people need nine or more hours. Losing just one hour of sleep per day builds up a “sleep debt” of one hour per day. This can really add up, and our immune systems are most efficient when we don’t have sleep debt.
Do your best to get 8-9 hours of sleep per night (not just time in bed but actual sleep!) and practice good sleep hygiene.
You’ll find Throat Coat in multiple places in this guide!
Sleep Hygiene Checklist
- Consistency: Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even on weekends, helps regulate the body’s internal clock (this will also do double-duty for mental health, as our circadian rhythms can affect mood).
- Environment: Creating a comfortable sleep environment by controlling light, noise, and temperature, and investing in a comfortable mattress and pillows.
- Pre-Sleep Routine: Engaging in calming activities before bed, such as reading, meditation, or taking a warm bath, to signal to the brain that it’s time to wind down.
- Avoidance of Stimulants: Avoiding caffeine, nicotine, and other stimulants close to bedtime, as they can interfere with the body’s ability to fall asleep.
- Mindful Eating and Drinking: Being cautious with food and drink that might disrupt sleep, such as large meals, alcohol, or spicy foods near bedtime.
- Physical Activity: Regular physical exercise can promote better sleep, but engaging in strenuous workouts too close to bedtime might interfere with sleep.
- Limiting Naps: While brief naps can be beneficial for some, long or late-day naps can negatively affect nighttime sleep.
- Technology Restrictions: Reducing exposure to screens, such as computers, tablets, and smartphones, as the blue light emitted can interfere with melatonin production.
- Managing Stress: Practicing techniques to manage stress and anxiety, as these feelings can hinder sleep.
Milky oats (Avena sativa).
There is a lot going on in the world right now, and a lot that’s happened in the past few years. Stress levels are at an all-time high, and for some of us this ramps up during the Holiday season. In times of stress, our bodies need more sleep, better nutrition and downtime to relax. Exercise of all types, but especially yoga/pilates/stretching and activities that get your heart rate up will increase endorphins and overall decrease stress levels.
It’s also an excellent time to integrate tonic nervine teas into our daily routines. These herbs tonify the nervous system’s response to challenges, increasing flexibility and capacity for adaptation. These are not remedies you take when you feel stressed and need to calm down (though some work quickly enough). Nervine tonics are remedies you take preventatively if you’re prone to burnout, starting to feel fried, or have any sort of chronic illness or pain.
Nervine tonics work best when they are taken consistently, even when you’re feeling fine or having a good day. The deepness of their actions don’t start to become apparent until around six weeks of consistent use. It’s often when people run out that they notice they are feeling more taut, irritable, and more easily overstimulated. Some people feel profound effects quickly, but as a general rule these herbs are defined by their subtle, gentle, and deep resiliency building action.
We love milky oats and skullcap tincture by the teaspoonful 2-3 times per day, and/or wood betony and holy basil teas along with ashwagandha in capsule or powder form (1,000 mg 2-3 times per day – but avoid Ashwagandha in hyperthyroidism).
For those times of acute stress, a tincture of stronger, faster-acting nervine relaxants work best. This class of herbs is relaxing and anxiolytic in small to moderate doses and sedative in larger doses. There are many of these herbs; we especially love blue vervain, linden, lavender and passionflower. If you need an even stronger push, you can add herbs like kava and polygala for more focused anxiety support and herbs like lemon balm when you need uplifting.
Moving your body moves your lymphatic fluid and increases immunity. When you exercise regularly, it contributes to the overall health of your body, which includes the immune system. When you do moderate-intensity exercise, it promotes the circulation of white blood cells and other immune system warriors. Regular exercise also reduces inflammation and can help your immune cells to regenerate regularly.
Immune Nutrients – D ZACES
In an ideal world, we would all be eating a wide variety of dark green and colorful fruits and vegetables with high quality fats and proteins every day. This time of year can be particularly challenging to eat healthfully with all of the gatherings we may be attending, so it’s not a bad idea to take a multivitamin if the quality of your diet goes down around the Holidays. We like ONE Multi by Pure Encapsulations. It’s inexpensive and covers most of your nutrient bases (and it’s hypoallergenic, making it a good choice for a wide range of folks). In addition to that, an ADK supplement is a great thing to have in your illness prevention kit.
These nutrients won’t boost immune function if you’re not deficient in them, but being deficient will definitely suppress immune function. Deficiency of vitamins A and D are particularly common. You will get enough of the other nutrients below if you are eating a couple of servings of fruit/vegetables per day, along with taking a quality multivitamin, so you may not choose to supplement with them in this case.
Vitamin A – Contrary to popular belief, beta carotene isn’t vitamin A. Small studies show that about 50% of people don’t convert beta carotene to vitamin A. About half of Americans get inadequate dietary levels of vitamin A. Preformed vitamin A can be mega dosed short term to brings stores up rapidly.
The cheapest way to get a large loading dose is via liquid emulsified vitamin A. Most products are 10,000iu per drop. 10 drops (100,000iu) per day for 3 days brings levels up rapidly. Don’t take more than 10,000iu a day after this loading dose. One bottle of A-Mulsion by Seroyal provides a 300,000iu loading dose for 30 people.
Cod Liver Oil varies a lot in vitamin A content. Sonne’s, one of my favorite brands of CLO, has 4000iu per tsp – a perfect amount to add to a healthy diet while also getting in your EPA/DHA.
Vitamin A overdose can cause Nausea, Vomiting, Double vision, Headache, Dizziness. Don’t take more vitamin A if you experience these symptoms. Don’t take supplemental vitamin A if you have liver disease or abuse alcohol.
Vitamin D – Unless you supplement with vitamin D your blood levels are unlikely to be in the 50-60ng/mL sweet spot that maximizes immunity and minimizes inflammation, especially in the winter when we have less light and lower temperatures keep us inside more. Taking more than 50,000iu of vitamin D at a time can cause a transient disruption in calcium metabolism. Vitamins A and K2 seem to minimize the hazards of excessive vitamin D.
Find a supplement that combines Vitamin D with K2. To boost reserves quickly try 25,000iu of Vitamin D, and 500-1000 mcg of K2 daily, taken with your largest meal, for 1 month. After a month test blood levels and adjust dose or discontinue.
Vitamin C – Eat a few servings of fruits and veggies and you’ll get enough. If you’re worried 500mg of supplemental vitamin C per day is all you need to quickly boost stores. There will also be some in all multivitamins.
B2, B6 and Folate (B9) and Selenium – A few servings of fruits and veggies daily should give you most of what you need. A decent quality multivitamin should have enough b-vitamins, selenium and zinc to supplement even a SAD diet up to normal levels within a couple of weeks.
I’M SICK, NOW WHAT?
Beginning Stages of Illness
Some forms of illness (like gastroenteritis) tend to hit hard and fast, but others (like colds/flus) tend to come on more slowly. We feel extra tired one day, a little achy, a little chilled, not ourselves. In the beginning of some illnesses, there is a sweet spot to use herbs to prevent full blown sickness.
Fast acting immune stimulants work on the innate immune system, increasing NK cell activity, and possibly WBC count. They are appropriate for short term use in folks who do not have autoimmunity. Herbs we like here are echinacea and cats claw in large doses. For echinacea, we like a 1:1 fluid extract (5 times stronger than standard tincture) 3-5ml taken 4-8 times a day, or a quart a day of strong decoction. Cats claw is best as a 1:1 fluid extract, 3-5ml taken 4-8 times a day. You can mix them together 1 part of each to cut down on the intensity of the echinacea.
Warming/pungent aromatics are also excellent here. Think fire cider, composition powder, a spicy curry or chicken soup with fresh chillies. I like to keep chicken soup made with bone broth, lots of garlic and astragalus in the freezer for a quick defrost at the first signs of illness. If you are vegetarian or vegan, a good spicy vegetable broth with shiitake and astragalus is good to have in the freezer instead (you can make your own or purchase a premade blend).
See below for some helpful recipes!
Fill a pot or crock pot with roughly chopped carrots, onions, celery, a handful of kelp or seaweed of choice, fresh mushrooms, 5-10 dried shiitake mushrooms, a full head of garlic roughly chopped, a couple of slices of astragalus and a 1-5 sliced hot chilis (depending on how spicy you like it) and cover everything with water. Simmer gently with the lid closed for 2 hours. Let cool and strain.
Fire Cider Recipe from Thomas’ book “The Modern Herbal Dispensatory”
This is a great cold and flu remedy made as an herbal vinegar. The formula originated with Rosemary Gladstar. Prepare the following ingredients:
- ½ cup fresh horseradish root, grated (key herb)
- 1 medium onion, chopped (supporting herb)
- ½ cup fresh ginger root, grated (key herb)
- ¼ cup garlic, mashed (key herb)
- 2 jalapeño peppers, chopped (catalyst)
- 1 lemon (zest and juice) (balancing herb)
- 2 tablespoons dried rosemary leaves (optional balancing herb)
Place all ingredients in a jar and cover with raw apple cider vinegar. Protect the metal lid with waxed paper or parchment paper before putting the lid on the jar. Keep the jar in a dark place and shake daily for 4 weeks. Strain, add honey to taste, and rebottle. As a cold and flu remedy, take 2 tablespoons up to 8 times daily as needed.
Composition Powder Recipe from Thomas’ book “The Modern Herbal Dispensatory”
- Herbal Composition is one of Samuel Thomson’s formulas. It is designed to “scour the bowels and remove the canker [mucus].” It is a decongestant, expectorant, and circulatory stimulant and can be used for most acute illnesses. To make it, mix the following herbal powders together:
- 4 parts bayberry root bark powder (key herb)
- 2 parts white pine bark powder (supporting herb)
- 1 part ginger root powder (supporting herb)
- ½ part clove powder (catalyst)
- ½ part capsicum powder (catalyst)
Prepare as an infusion using 1–2 grams (¼–½ teaspoon) per cup of water. Drink for colds, flu, sweat baths, congestion, etc.
Well F*&k, I’m sick. Now it’s time to discontinue immune stimulants, rest, get plenty of fluids and use herbs to support your body’s natural processes AND work on symptom control so that you are able to rest. Seriously, go to bed. If you are a fidgety person who has trouble resting when sick, chamomile tea with 2 mls of blue vervain added in should help.
Fevers are the worst. Uncomfortable, achy, hot/cold. It’s understandable that folks want to take NSAIDS to reduce body pain and chills that come along with it, but we need fevers to fight pathogens. Traditionally, fevers weren’t suppressed with anti-inflammatories. Instead, remedies were given that move blood to the surface of the body, which facilitates sweating. The sweating results in a reduced body temperature. This method works with the body’s natural processes instead of suppressing them. Herbs that facilitate this process are called diaphoretics.
There are two different types of diaphoretics: stimulating and relaxing. Stimulating diaphoretics move blood to the periphery by dilating peripheral arterioles and/or by non-specifically increasing circulation. If you have ever eaten too much cayenne pepper and broken out in a sweat, then you already understand the action of a stimulating diaphoretic.
Stimulating diaphoretics are indicated when you feel chills but aren’t running an actual fever (yet), or are only able to mount a low grade fever. They are most specific for the pre-fever and early fever phases. Use stimulating diaphoretics cautiously as many tend to dry out mucosa. If you are already taking demulcents and your tongue is not dry, stimulating diaphoretics are indicated. Most warm pungent herbs, when taken in hot water, act as a stimulating diaphoretic. These include ginger, cayenne, horseradish, and mustard seed, which are likely available at your local grocery store. One of our favorite stimulating diaphoretics is yarrow. It isn’t pungent but it is very aromatic, and much less likely to dry out the mucosa than the pungent herbs are. Cardamom is another favorite, and widely available stimulating diaphoretic that doesn’t tend to dry out mucosa.
Alternatively, relaxing diaphoretics promote peripheral blood flow by relaxing physical muscle and tissue tension that is inhibiting the peripheral blood flow and sweating. Relaxing diaphoretics are indicated when there is a fever but no sweating. People often feel tense and peevish. Our favorite relaxing diaphoretics are elderflower, catnip, peppermint, spearmint.
A nice classic formula for fevers combines equal parts yarrow as a stimulating diaphoretic with elderflower and peppermint as relaxing diaphoretics taken together as a hot infusion. Feel free to use honey liberally in your infusions as a demulcent to balance the drying actions of the herbs.
“Fever Phobia” is a nice write up on the fear of fevers by jim mcdonald. You can also sign up for his class “Holistic Perspectives in Fever” (we highly recommend this class!)
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium).
But I hurt when I have a fever. (Symptom support ideas for fevers.)
Two herbs which can support the aches and pains that accompany a fever are boneset and black cohosh. Boneset indications include bone-deep aches and pains which may include deep muscle aches. Try 2ml of tincture with a cup of chamomile tea. For muscle pain caused by tension during a fever, take small doses of black cohosh tincture (5-10 drops). Too much black cohosh can induce a headache – should that occur, drink a strong cup of green tea to remedy the headache.
The initial response to respiratory irritation involves the production of mucus. Once the barrier has been broken and infection elicits an immune response, the role of mucus shifts from being primarily a barrier to playing a big role in the expulsion of the irritant. The traditional herbal approach to respiratory infections has focused on herbs that directly modify the composition and rate of clearance of mucus.
The respiratory system is a lovely place to see the 6 tissue states in action. If it’s cold, warm it up. If it’s hot, cool it down. If it’s tight, relax it. If it’s lax, tighten it. If it’s damp, dry it up. If it’s dry, moisten it.
Yellow and green mucus is colored by the presence of neutrophils, indicating heat. White mucus is traditionally thought of as a cold condition. So we can make sure to include warming and cooling herbs in our respiratory formulas based on this knowledge.
Coughs are uncomfortable and make resting difficult, but there are many herbs we can use to support them.
For a dry, wheezy cough with or without stuck mucus, consider demulcent herbs to moisten and soothe. Marshmallow root, licorice and mullein leaf are two examples of demulcent expectorants. If mucus is particularly stubborn and sticky, 800 mg NAC 2-3 times a day for a couple of days. Avoid NAC if you are taking nitroglycerin or have kidney or liver disease.
If the cough is productive, meaning it’s bringing up mucus, expectorant herbs can be helpful to support this process. These herbs help the body expel mucus. Aromatic expectorants trigger mucus production via chemoreceptors in the nose, and through transient tissue stimulation/irritation as they are exhaled. These are also good for sinus congestion. Pair these warming herbs with cooling/demulcent herbs as needed to balance their dryness if it’s not needed. A few examples of the many herbs that fit here include Thyme, Elecampane, hyssop and ginger.
Antitussives are herbs that suppress coughing. These herbs are useful for frequent unproductive cough and in the evening when you are coughing so much that you can’t sleep. The classic antitussive herb is wild cherry bark; lobelia is also helpful.
For those who imbibe, in moderation an herbal spin on a classic hot toddy will help to relax and calm a cough in the evening.
Herbal Hot Toddy
- 2 droppers of wild cherry bark tincture
- 5-10 single drops of lobelia
- ½ shot of rye whiskey
- a lemon wedge
- 1-2 TBS of honey
- 1 tsp of ginger juice
All of the above goes into 8 ounces of water. It’s also very tasty!
For lung tightness and tension, we can use a simple bronchodilator like lobelia. If there is tension from dryness, add demulcents.
Note: Keep a Pulse Oximeter in your Winter Wellness Kit. Covid is no joke and can still cause serious breathing problems. If your oxygen saturation is less than 90, take lobelia, sit down and test again in 10 min on a different finger. If it’s still under 90, go to urgent care.
- 2 parts licorice (key herb)
- 2 parts wild cherry (key herb)
- 1 part khella (supporting herb)
- 1 part lobelia (supporting herb)
Onion syrup is excellent for coughs and sticky, thick mucus.
Slice onions and place about a quarter inch in a jar, then cover with an ⅛ to ¼ inch of sugar. Repeat until the jar is full. Refrigerate. Take 1 tsp of the honey onion juice syrup 6-10 times a day. More is better here unless you feel like it’s drying your mucosa out. Lasts 1 week. Discard and make a fresh batch weekly.
Herbal Cough Syrup (Drying)
This formula is an expectorant and decongestant formula for damp coughs where there is a lot of mucus production and sinus drainage. Mix the following herbs together:
- 2 parts wild cherry bark (key herb)
- 2 parts white pine bark (key herb)
- 1 part spikenard (supporting herb)
- 1 part elecampane (supporting herb)
- 1 part yerba santa (supporting herb)
- 1 part licorice root (balancing herb)
- ½ part thyme (catalyst)
- ½ part cinnamon (catalyst)
This blend can also be made as a 1:6 glycerite or syrup, or a 1:5 tincture in 40% alcohol.
Herbal Cough Syrup (Moistening)
When the cough is dry and unproductive, the following formula can moisten the lungs and help expel trapped mucus.
- 2 parts mullein (key herb)
- 2 parts marshmallow (key herb)
- 2 parts plantain (key herb)
- 1 part licorice (supporting herb)
- ½ part lobelia (balancing herb and catalyst)
This formula works best when made into a decoction. It can also be made into a 1:6 glycerite or syrup.
For upper respiratory symptoms we can use the same tissue state principles we went over for coughs to make formulas for our nasal issues.
For thin drippy mucus, use organically grown (not wildcrafted) goldenseal, 1-2 mls. Yerba santa is also an aromatic astringent excellent for drying up drippy, lax mucus membranes.
For thick congested mucus that’s difficult to blow out, aromatic herbs like thyme paired with demulcents should do the trick to ease stuffiness and that mentally stuffy, headachy feeling.
Aromatic herbs are also excellent for sinus and lung congestion made into a simple steam. You can make your own herbal steam blend (see below) or purchase one if you don’t want to make it.
Herbal Steam for Congestion
- 2 parts thyme
- 1 part peppermint or spearmint
- 1 part eucalyptus (or 5 drops of eucalyptus essential oil added right before you begin your steam).
Gently simmer a handful of the herbs in a pasta sized pot with a few inches of water with lid tightly closed for 8-10 minutes. Let sit another 5. Get a towel, open the lid and drape the towel over your head and cover the pot. Breathe in the steam for 5-10 minutes and make sure to keep your eyes closed.
A sore throat is usually caused by irritation from bacteria or viruses causing inflammation of the pharynx. It can also be caused by chronic coughing and dryness from mouth breathing due to sinus congestion. Strep throat is a common cause of throat pain and will present with white spots on tonsils and pharynx tissue. If you think you have strep throat, call your clinical herbalist or call your doctor for antibiotics. Suppressing this illness but not getting rid of it can cause scarlet fever, which can in turn cause heart valve damage if left untreated.
Sprays are an excellent thing to keep around for soothing sore throats because they are ready made, unlike gargles where you need to brew tea. Look for ingredients such as propolis and/or myrrh, echinacea and sage. Keep in mind that throat sprays made with alcohol may be best for the earliest stages of illness; the alcohol can become irritating as the throat becomes more inflamed. You can use some glycerin instead of alcohol and add a touch of honey when making your own to avoid this issue. We love this throat spray by Forest and Meadow Apothecary if you don’t want to make your own.
A salt water gargle can be an excellent way to help with throat pain; mix ¼-½ tsp of salt into warm water and gargle for 30 seconds, then spit out. This can be done 3-5 times per day.
Demulcents also soothe irritated tissues. 2 parts Marshmallow, 1 part Licorice Root and 1 part Cinnamon tea with plenty of honey works well to soothe and gently tone. Throat Coat tea is a preparation by Traditional Medicinals that works well; brew double strength and add honey, then sip warm.
Don’t forget to add some salt for a gargle to your Winter Wellness Kit!
Gastroenteritis and food poisoning are the two most common causes of gastrointestinal illnesses. It’s also common to have nausea with the newer covid variants and sometimes with respiratory illnesses if mucus is draining into the stomach. With these issues, we see nausea, lack of appetite and diarrhea, often with cramping and abdominal pain.
With any illness that causes fluids to leave the body, we need to watch out for dehydration, especially if someone is having a difficult time keeping fluids and/or water down. Signs of dehydration can include darker urine and less frequent urination, dry mouth and tongue, and dry eyes. (Gently pull the lower eyelid down; it should look wet). Also look for decreased skin turgor. You can check this by pinching the skin around your collarbone. In dehydration, the skin will take longer to snap back into place.
If someone is dehydrated, use electrolyte mixes and demulcents as well as water to hydrate. Drinking broths and soups with the solids strained out are also a good way to hydrate while taking in nutrients. We like LNMT and Liquid IV as premade electrolyte mixes; you can also make your own with this recipe:
Homemade Electrolyte Solution
- Mix 1 liter water, ½ teaspoon salt, and 6 teaspoons sugar in a water bottle or resealable container.
- Shake well until salt and sugar are completely dissolved, then drink.
- To improve the taste, add a cup of freshly-squeezed orange juice or lemon juice.
If using herbal infusions for hydration, it’s important to sweeten them. Sugars in rehydration drinks significantly enhance the absorption rate of water and electrolytes.
If nausea is bothersome or affecting your ability to keep food and/or liquids down, herbs can help. Peach leaf tea, sipped slowly, or 5-10 drops of peach tincture in a little warm water is one of our favorite remedies for the hot, churny, acidic nausea common in between acute vomiting sessions and right before you jump up to run to the bathroom.
Ginger tea, tincture or ginger candies are another great option to include in our winter wellness kits. This pungent carminative is excellent for the cold stagnant nausea that makes you feel like puking would make it better but it’s not happening. This type of nausea is common at the end of a stomach bug or bout of food poisoning. It’s also common with covid and as a side effect in respiratory illnesses. Ginger is excellent paired with catnip and/or fennel for stomach and intestinal cramps.
When we’re thinking of being prepared for potential digestive upset, it’s also a good idea to keep astringents and demulcents on hand for diarrhea. Diarrhea causes irritation in the gut, which exacerbates the condition, so soothing and calming with demulcents while drying up the secretions with an astringent can be very beneficial.
A tea made from marshmallow leaf and plantain can be helpful here. Agrimony tea with honey is also a good choice.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale).
Note: We don’t want to completely stop the bowel movements by overastringing, especially in food poisoning, because they are serving to clear the microbes/pathogens out of the body. Astringents are most helpful at the end of an illness when there is lingering diarrhea from laxity. This type of diarrhea will often be less liquidy and come with less urgency.
Activated charcoal is another item to consider keeping in your Winter Wellness Kit. Activated charcoal is adsorbent, which is useful when dealing with digestive upset because it can bind to harmful substances in the stomach and intestines, preventing them from being absorbed into the body. We like to keep activated charcoal on hand for stomach bugs and food poisoning; once vomiting and diarrhea have slowed down, taking activated charcoal with sips of peach tea can help.
Alteratives support the body’s channels of elimination, as well as overall metabolism and assimilation of nutrients. They are indicated for the end of illnesses when there is stagnation and lingering symptoms, especially the achy-yuck-malaise that isn’t bad enough to keep you from going to work, but is bad enough to keep you from enjoying it.
Ed Smith, founder of Herb Pharm, says, “Their primary action is to favorably alter disordered metabolic and catabolic processes, especially those associated with the breakdown and elimination of metabolic waste.” The exact mechanism of action isn’t well understood, so let’s call them magic. 🙂
There are lots of potential supporting herbs that work well at this stage. After illnesses, we really like alteratives that also have a lymphatic action.
Standard Gentle Alterative Formula
- 4 parts echinacea
- 2 parts burdock
- 2 parts cleavers
- 1 part violet
- 1 part red clover
As important as herbs are, physical movement is even more important for fluid movement in the body. The combination of lack of movement with the increase in metabolic waste from immune cells fighting viruses and bacteria can build up in the extracellular fluid, causing that “yuck” feeling. After an illness, gentle exercise like walking, deep breathing and yoga/stretching are important. Movement alters fluid metabolism by pumping fluids through the body, allowing the metabolic waste products that were in those fluids to be removed.
Keep up with tissue-based support as needed for lingering symptoms and pay attention to tissue state. Often at the end of illness there is some stagnation as the resolution of inflammation and remnants of microbes are cleared out of the system.
For those with slow respiratory recovery post infection, Codonopsis pilosula is a sweet, moistening, nourishing remedy that stimulates appetite, improves digestion and absorption, and respiratory function (6-30g as decoction, or low alcohol fluid extract).
For lingering digestive upset, drinking a quart of gut healing tea for a week or so and gentle bitters before meals will help get your digestive system back to normal.
Note: If you have lingering digestive issues after a covid infection, we suggest taking cinnamon and andrographis capsules for a week or so to knock out any lingering infection in the gut: Andrographis 3 caps 3 x day + Cinnamon 1 cap 3 x day x 14 days.
Thank you for reading and don’t forget to download your Quick Guide to use as you’re building your own winter wellness kit!