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October Blog Party: Bio-regional Herbs for the Cold and Flu Season
posted on Thursday, October 1st 2009 9:04 am
a literal medicine chest in a basket…i just harvested these today from the top going clockwise: honeysuckle flowers, wild cherry twigs, self heal, goldenrod and rosehips in the center.

this month’s blog party is being hosted by rosalee of methow valley herbs. head on over there and check out everyone’s postings that are participating!

it’s so easy to get caught up in the latest and greatest new exotic herbs that are being promoted that it’s hard to remember that sometimes, the best medicine is growing right in our own backyards! this blog party is a great reminder to run to our backyard instead of the nearest health food store to find our remedies. i am located in the midwest, near st. louis but most of these herbs can be found across the country.

first, remember the golden rule of health: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! i’ve written a post about what can be done to prevent the flu here.

beautiful solidago

one of my new favorite herbs that i’ve been dancing with this year is goldenrod (solidago spp.). i’ve tinctured him and admired him for several years but i’ve never tried him out until this late summer. and boy, am i glad i did! i was experiencing a headache that was created from sinus pressure and a voice kept whispering to me ‘goldenrod.’ after trying to ignore both the headache, sinuses and voice for 2 days, i decided to break out goldenrod and give him a try. and kicked myself for being a stubborn taurus herbalist and waited so long to try him out. the headache disappeared within a few hours of dosing (1 dropperful about every 30 minutes or so) and though it came back, it was less intense and as i continued taking goldenrod, the stuffy sinuses were gone and with them, the headache, all by the end of the day. goldenrod is astringent, diaphoretic, diuretic, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory, making him an excellent choice for colds and flus. taken as a hot infusion, he will help you sweat out a fever. taken as a cold infusion (meaning after infusing the herb in hot water, let the infusion cool down) he acts as a diuretic and will flush out the kidneys and liver. to test any goldenrod found growing in your landscape, break a leaf off and chew. if he’s bitter and drying, you’ve got an excellent medicinal herb growing in your backyard! harvest his flowering tops and leaves when the flowers just start to bloom and tincture immediately. you can also dry goldenrod. make sure that the flowers have not opened yet or he’ll set seed in your drying room!


another terrific flu time herb is elderberry! i cannot rave enough about this wonderful elder of ours. both sambucus nigra and sambucus canadensis are found in my area and both are equally useful. elderberry is prophylactic against flus and colds which means if you take her daily, she can help prevent you from getting sick. she also has antiviral properties which will be helpful for lessening the duration and severity of the flu. she’s also full of vitamin c! elderberry is the first thing i reach for when my kids are getting the sniffles. richo cech’s making plant medicine book is an excellent resource for making herbal remedies and he suggests making a glycerin tincture of dried elderberries to be the best choice for tincturing elderberries. this makes a delicious tincture that kids will readily take. don’t forget elderberry syrup though. this medicine is easy to make and delicious to take. she can be taken daily by the teaspoonful or even used to flavor french toast, pancakes and waffles or even drizzled over some homemade vanilla ice cream! yum!!

to make a syrup, gently heat 2 cups of fresh elderberries with 2 cups of water. when it hits boiling, turn off the heat and mash the berries. cover and allow to infuse for about an hour. strain off the berries and add 2 cups of honey to the liquid and warm on the stove until the honey is thin enough to mix together. stir and pour into a bottle. label and keep refrigerated. to help preserve longer, you can add a bit of brandy (about 1/4 c.) and shake.

elderberry also contains diaphoretic and diuretic qualities. elderberry is also an expectorant, helping to relieve lung congestion.

elderflower is also a wonderful cold and flu herb to have on hand. the flowers of elder contain most of the same properties as the berries.

for treating coughs, i like to make a cough syrup or cough drop from our wild cherry bark. he is delicious and relaxing, helping to ease coughing spasms. among other things, wild cherry bark is analgesic and antibacterial which can help ease the painful chest congestion and help prevent a secondary bacterial infection from setting in. if i’m out of the syrup, i will often snip a few twigs from the tree and decoct them for about 10-20 minutes to make a quick cherry bark drink. sweetened with a dab of our raw honey, they will drink it down fairly quickly!

other herbs that grow around us that are helpful for treating colds and flus are bergamot (monarda fistulosa), st. john’s wort and lobelia. lobelia i tend to be cautious with as it is a low dose botanical but bergamot makes a delightful tea that i enjoy immensely as a beverage and has great carminative, diaphoretic, diurectic and antibacterial actions. use of bergamot dates back to native americans who used her for treating bronchial ailments, sore throats, fever and headaches. any of the monarda species can be used but i prefer to use my wild bergamot that grows in my garden. i collected 1 seed head several years back and i now have three beautiful stands in my garden!

st. john’s wort is most often known for his use in treating depression but he has antiviral abilities as well. he is also astringent and expectorant making him great to treat lung congestion. i have not had much experience in using him but i have lots tinctured up and will be trying him out this winter if needed. while st. john’s wort grows wild around here, my tiny wild patch was choked out by honeysuckle last year and is slowly reemerging in another part of the woods so i’m using my cultivated st. john’s wort which makes a lovely blood red oil and tincture. in the future, i hope to be able to use the wild st. john’s wort since i truly believe wild is stronger than cultivated.

honeysuckle, the bane of master naturalists everywhere, is used a lot in chinese medicine and is great for stimulating circulation and removing inflammation. in traditional chinese medicine, she is used for clearing heat and removing toxicity. she is excellent for treating ‘hot’ sore throats and modern laboratory research has proven she has antibacterial qualities. it’s best to harvest the flowers before they open and are great dried (for teas), tinctured or even honeyed or made into a syrup.

rose hips are high in vitamin c which is great to take to help fight off colds and flus and they are also antiviral. a rose hip elixir is a great way to get kids to take their medicine! a great preventative and a great curative as well.


and finally, self heal/all heal, prunella. i wrote all about her on a previous blog party (see my list of resources below for the link)so i won’t go into much detail here. she has an amazingly long list of actions: alterative, antimicrobial, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, antipyretic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent, carminative, diuretic, febrifuge, hypotensive, stomachic, styptic, tonic, vermifuge and vulnerary! as a preventative or treatment, she will work great. make her into a tea or use in tincture form.

some resources and more information:
for more information on goldenrod:

for a great list of all the elders available around the world try this link:

trying to identify elderberry? read my recent post on herbal roots zine:

want to teach your kids more about elderberry? check out a past issue of herbal roots zine on elderberry:

rose or st. john’s wort:

or wild cherry, bergamot or goldenrod:

for more about honeysuckle:

more information on wild rose petals and hips elixir:

my blog party post on self heal:

preparing for the flu
posted on Thursday, September 24th 2009 10:29 am

there’s been a lot of talk about the swine flu and how to prepare it lately online. a lot of scary talk, from mandatory vaccines (which incidentally, the manufacturers have just had a law passed on their behalf which holds them unresponsible for any side affects that might occur from said vaccination) to quarantines and more.

many people are wondering what to do to prepare for the flu, to help prevent it, how to lessen the severity and duration and how to avoid the secondary bacterial infections that can occur from complications of it. i hope to be able to touch on all these things and give you a starting point for feeling confident in preventing and/or treating any cases of the flu that might come into your home. today i’ll cover what to do to prevent the flu from entering your home.

first of all, to vaccinate or not? honestly, that is a personal decision that you alone have to decide. i can tell you that research has proven that the flu vaccination (for any flu, not just the swine flu) will NOT prevent the flu. it will only lessen the duration of the flu by 1-2 days and lessen the severity of it. also, the vaccination needs to be taken at least 10 days before the flu is contracted to be effective. herbalist michael tierra recommends taking homeopathic thuja occidentalis 30x starting 2 days after vaccinating for 3 days, 3 times a day, with a dosage of 10-20 drops for liquid or 4-5 for pellets. he recommends taking this for prevention and to treat reactions, including guillain-barre syndrome (which is one of the side effects of the swine flu vaccine).

whether or not you decide to vaccinate, there are precautions you can take to avoid the flu. one of the most obvious is hygiene. frequent hand washing is a must. watching what you touch in public, possibly bringing along your own alcohol wipes to wipe off shopping carts and your hands is a great idea. most public places offer handy wipes and while i generally wouldn’t use them, for this time of year, it’s a smart choice.

~as an aside, if you do get the flu and your doctor recommends tamiflu, please be aware it is only helpful if taken in the first 1-2 days of contracting the flu and will not ‘cure’ you of the flu but only lessen the duration and severity….see a pattern here?!~

getting large dosages of vitamin d3 to keep our vit d levels up has been proven effective for preventing the flu. the problem with us folks in the northern hemisphere is that no matter how much time we spend outdoors this time of year, we are not going to get the necessary amounts of vitamin d into our system because the angle of the sun/earth will not allow it which causes many people to become vitamin d deficient in the winter months. paul bergner recommends going to a tanning booth 3 times a week for 20 minutes, using a tanning bed with uvb rays. (if you go this route, make sure you specify you want a uvb bed as most beds are calibrated for uva). this is too short of a time to get sunburn or cancer is the most natural way to get vitamin d3 this time of year (funny, i never thought i’d recommend a tanning bed as ‘natural’ but here ya go!). another way to get vitamin d3 is to take 4-5000 iu a day. there has also been some suggestion of eating sun-dried mushrooms which contain vitamin d2, another useful form of vitamin d that could also be effective. a third way of getting enough vitamin d would be to visit south florida or mexico during the winter and hang outside between 11-1, exposing as much as your body as possible (your face does not absorb enough vitamin d on its own).

diet plays a large role in remaining healthy as well. avoiding the usual recommendations of processed and refined foods, eating lots of dark, leafy greens, drinking at least 8 glasses of water a day all have their merit. cooking bone broths and using them for daily cooking in place of water (for rice, beans, soups, etc) are another great way to get lots of valuable nutrients. adding 4-6 ’sticks’ of astragalus roots to a soup/broth once a week will give your entire family a huge immune supporting and building herbal treatment without them even knowing it. garlic is another great herb to try to consume daily. rosemary gladstar has a great recipe for pickled garlic. unfortunately, it takes 12 weeks to completely process but it’s great to have on hand any time of the year! here’s my version of it:

peel as many cloves of garlic as you’d like. i generally fill 1 quart jar full of them. try not to nick the cloves as they will become discolored. fill the jar full of either tamari or apple cider vinegar. i usually make 1 jar of each because they both are tasty! label and set aside for 6 weeks. after 6 weeks, strain off half of the tamari or vinegar and top the jar back off with raw honey. shake well to mix and then set aside for 6 more weeks. now it’s ready to consume! eat a couple a day to keep the germs away! these make tasty gifts as well. if you start a batch today, they will be ready on december 17! just in time to give away to family and friends for the holidays and possibly even enough time to save yourself from the flu season (jan – mar is typically the hardest hit time).

exercising daily is important as it keeps the blood from getting stagnant. exercising outdoors is preferable so that your lungs can breathe in fresh air. something as simple as stretching or yoga every day is the perfect way to begin your day, especially if done outside. it’s an invigorating and wonderful way to start the day!

other important factors are adequate sleep, lowering stress levels and having a happy outlook on life.

one final factor is using herbs to help prevent the flu from arriving on your doorstep. i’ve already mentioned using garlic and astragalus in your daily/weekly cooking. burdock is another great nourishing root that is quite delicious when cooked right! here’s a great recipe to try it out:

Burdock-n-Wild Rice

2 cups sliced Burdock root (about 4-5 medium-sized roots)
5 or 6 Wild Leeks (can substitute 6-8 cloves garlic)
2 Tbsp olive oil
Thai peanut Sauce* (find at a local co-op or ethnic food section of grocery store)
1 cup wild rice, uncooked

Cover washed and sliced fresh burdock roots in 2 cups water with ½ tsp baking soda. Bring to a boil, pour off the water. Cover with fresh water and boil gently until burdock is very tender, about 10 minutes. Drain thoroughly, put into a skillet. (Note: cast iron may discolor the burdock root)

Add chopped leeks or garlic. Sauté in 2 Tbsp olive oil for 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile cook wild rice in 2 cups water, 20-30 minutes. Mix sautéed burdock with cooked rice. Add ½ cup Thai peanut sauce. Serve hot or cold.

*Can substitute any favorite stir-fry sauce for the Thai peanut sauce

burdock root can be found growing all over the place or in your local asian grocer. it is also known as gobo.you can add some chopped root to any soup base. just be sure to follow this method before adding to stocks or soups to make it palatable:

cover washed and sliced fresh burdock roots in 2 cups water with ½ tsp baking soda. bring to a boil, pour off the water. cover with fresh water and boil gently until burdock is very tender, about 10 minutes.

elderberry is another great herb to take that has shown to be prophylactic for the flu. unlike echinacea which should only be taken for a short period of time, elderberry can be taken daily for long periods of time. it’s great as a tincture (glycerin is actually best because it draws out the constituents better than alcohol), syrup or elixir. taking a ‘touch of the recipe’ as the ballwin sisters were known to do on occasion on the waltons, is actually a wise choice for this time of the year, especially when elderberry is involved!

echinacea can be taken as well but i’m backing down on recommending this because of conflicting information about the ‘cytokine storms’ inhibition. i think early on, it is great to help as a preventative but once the flu hits, i would stop use immediately. since this post is already so long, i will not go into detail about this subject but if you are interested in learning more, you can google cytokine storms and echinacea to get more details.

all these factors boil down to having a better chance of avoiding the flu or lessening the duration and severity of it. if you are stricken with the flu, don’t panic, for most of us, a few days in bed, lots of nourishing bone broths and/or miso, herbal teas (think antivirals such as lemon balm, peppermint, licorice, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, boneset, chamomile and st. john’s wort) to help support the body without wildly stimulating the immune system and lots of ginger, garlic, elderberry and astragalus will be the key to a quick recovery and lack of secondary bacterial infections.