More Winter Wellness, 1/ 10 / 13, written for the Mt. Baker Community News
As this article goes to print we have surpassed the most yin day of the year, the winter solstice and are in the heart of the cold season, with warmth and sunshine scarce. That we refer to most mild upper respiratory illnesses as a “cold” is no coincidence, even though we can just as easily catch one in summer. The reason these illnesses are more prevalent in winter is that our own systems are down. Our body is so busy keeping our vital organs warm that sometimes we leave our periphery vulnerable and a pathogen is able to penetrate.
Sometimes these bugs elicit a “cold” response- we feel tired, stiff, and achy with chills, low energy and clear mucus. Other times we have a “heated” response with fever, yellow mucus, sore throat and restlessness. What I have just described are two basic patterns that emerge when we look at an upper respiratory illness from an energetic perspective. We should treat each pattern differently, according to its nature.
In this column, I would like to share a few of my favorite remedies for winter bugs. These statements represent my personal experience and are not necessarily FDA approved. Always seek guidance from a health professional before making any medical decisions. Note that a medicinal dose of herbs is much stronger than a culinary dose and must be prepared correctly so that the essential oils and phyto-chemicals aren’t harmed.
Regarding the above-mentioned situations there are a few common Chinese formulas that often work quite well. For the cold response try gui zhi tang, a cinnamon based formula that is great for warming up the body. Ginger is another good warming herb to use and it also settles the stomach. For the heated response, try gan mao ling (if sore throat predominates) or yin qiao (if nasal congestion predominates). Yin qiao uses mint and chrysanthemum to help clear heat and eliminate the bug. All of these formulas are easy to find from a Chinese herbalist or at some Asian grocery stores.
Some western herbs that I like include Oregon grape root, a bitter herb with strong clearing actions that make it particularly suitable for heated responses such as a sinus infection with yellow or green mucus. Black elderberry extract (sambucus nigra) is a great immune booster that I like for most acute illness including viral pathogens. Honey is a great medicine for many respiratory illnesses (dry or productive cough) with its soothing and moistening properties and can be combined with other herbs as a harmonizer in the formula. Peppers and other hot food can get things moving helping to clear out the sinuses, but if you have excessive heat issues this may not be the right option.
And of course, remember that adequate sleep and rest along with appropriate food and drink are of prime importance and in many medical issues worth more than medication. I hope these words help you and your loved ones stay healthy through the cold so you can enjoy the down time and all that winter has to offer.