As we begin to return to a more normal world this is a good time to look at how we approach dis-ease and wellness from a refreshed perspective, we have the ideal opportunity to manage our health in a more natural and sustainable way, using holistic methods which are mostly easy to do and these practices give us a better physical and emotional connection with our own healthcare. As a herbalist alongside my fellow holistic health practitioners, we repeatedly see how a natural approach to disease prevention, treatment and recovery can make a very significant difference.
The following tips are relevant to coronavirus protection but these can also be applied for protection against the range of illness’s that commonly circulate throughout the year. Importantly, we should remember that we’re built to heal from within, if we nourish our physical, mental and energetic bodies, most of us have the ability to maintain good health. The layers of our immune system and our ability to adapt are integral to how we stay healthy and we can easily enhance these processes with diet and plant medicines.
Eat well – decrease sugar, carbohydrate, fat and protein, small amounts of these are good but don’t need to be eaten with every meal. Decrease processed foods and increase plant foods. Increase grains, nuts, seeds, pulses and fungi and if organic or local is an option, even better.
- Eat your rainbow of food every day. Red, yellow, blue, purple and green fruits and veg contain an abundance of varied substances and compounds which are used by the body to stay in good shape.
- Maintain good levels of hydration with plenty of water and opt for decaffeinated options and don’t forget you can chill herbal infusions in hot weather. Oats actually nourish our nerve fibres, eating oats regularly can help with functional nerve problems such as pins and needles.
- Excess weight makes us more vulnerable to certain conditions, if you need to lose weight remember that exercise is as important as diet.
Microbiome health – can affect our overall health, some of the negative influences on our microbiome include sugar, sweeteners, yeast, antibiotics, stress and lack of exercise. The good guys include pre and probiotics, fresh fruit and vegetables, allium foods such as garlic and onions, fermented food and drinks and herbal bitters.
Traditional Herbal Bitters are a mixture of bitter tasting herbs which are taken in dropper doses every day, normally before meals. They directly stimulate our digestive juices, enzymes & liver, which helps food breakdown, digestion, excretion and intestinal flora.
Supplements – The question of supplements concern diet, environment and body function. If your diet is lacking something specific or there are issues such as digestive disorders which may impair absorption of vitamins and minerals then supplements might be appropriate. Age is another consideration, as we get older we absorb and assimilate nutrients less optimally and a lack of sunlight in winter months may leave us low on Vitamin D.
- Vitamin D is necessary for many cellular functions and a deficiency can affect muscles, bones & joints. Importantly, Vitamin D enhances immune system responses to bacteria and viruses by its influence on the various cells of immune defence. Lack of vitamin D may also increase the risk of Diabetes and Hypertension. Our skin makes Vitamin D on exposure to sunlight and small amounts are found in mushrooms, eggs, oily fish, cod liver oil and fortified foods.
- Extensive Vitamin C studies show assistance in prevention of colds and flu, in addition, Vitamin C may help prevent respiratory infections. It’s found in citrus fruit, strawberries, red peppers and chili peppers, kale, broccoli, watercress, cauliflower, cabbage. Because Vitamin C is water soluble some prefer liposomal vitamin C, which is encased in tiny lipids making absorption easier. This can be good for the elderly & people with decreased digestive function but beware with raised lipid disorders.
- Zinc is found in every cell in our bodies and is essential for a huge range of cellular processes. It can interfere with viruses and may help reduce the duration of the common cold. It’s found in grains, nuts, seeds, shellfish and offal. Beware of not taking too much in supplement form.
- Mushrooms contain compounds called beta glucans which stimulate the immune system to defend the body against viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungal infection. Maitake and Shiitaki may be particularly useful.
Respiratory health – our defence against many pathogens begins in the upper respiratory system so keeping the tissues of our nasal passages, mouth and throat healthy can directly enable these parts of our barrier defences to prevent microbes from penetrating the body. Salt or herbal gargles, nasal flushing, throat sprays, good oral hygiene and promoting tissue health from within can be beneficial.
An excess of dairy foods can promote mucus formation and therefore congestion, limiting dairy intake and using alternatives as well as increasing fluids can actually thin the consistency of mucus which allows the body to breakdown and expel an excess.
An overview of Herbs
Many herbs work to increase our natural barrier systems and innate defences. Using herbs regularly can improve your overall health and enhance physiological processes in a safe and gentle way. Mother nature is a far more competent pharmacist than we’re led to believe and the myth that herbal medicines don’t work, are inferior as drugs, or are dangerous is propaganda spread by those who wish you to believe that the medicine freely found in nature is not scientific or effective.
The beauty of our herbal allies is that they can be easily used to help prevent infections or as direct treatment during illness. All plants have a range of active constituents, most have more than one specific use and when used in their whole state the plant’s chemical profile gives a balanced effect on our bodies so we experience less unwanted additional actions which we refer to as side effects. Plants work with the body to moderate health and maintain optimum function, they’re often so effective but gentle it’s hard to distinguish why we simply feel more normal, this is truly harmonious healing!
Top 10 herbs for immune defence:
- Echinacea – is an immune modulator, it actually help’s to regulate the body’s innate immune responses creating faster responses where are needed and slowing overactive responses which may be detrimental. It has particular influence over certain cells of the immune system and is anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and topically healing. Traditionally used for respiratory infections and is safe to take for prolonged periods.
- Elderberry – good antiviral properties and has been shown to improve immune system activity. It stimulates certain immune cells which combined with an anti-inflammatory action, improves the defences of our innate immunity. Elderberry extracts are traditionally used for colds and flu and have an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and diaphoretic (sweating) action.
- Astragalus – an adaptogenic herb (helps the body overcome & adapt during stress), it’s used especially for respiratory infections and can increase respiratory function with asthma. Immune enhancing, immune modulating, anti-viral, anti-oxidant. It has a positive effect on the heart, endothelial function and the liver. In Chinese medicine it’s called Huang Qi and is used in menopausal preparations and as a blood tonic.
- Andrographis – a bitter tonic which stimulates and modulates the immune system, an effective anti-viral which also protects the liver and is hypoglycaemic. Adrographis is used for respiratory infections and the bitter element helps strengthen a weak digestive system.
- Liquorice – has a wide ranging profile and is truly multi-purpose herb! It’s soothing both internally and externally and is used extensively in mixtures for respiratory infections, especially conditions that produce mucus. Shown to have anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic actions, another immune modulator, liver herb and supports the adrenal function. It has a mild hypertensive effect so large amounts should not be used in high doses for prolonged periods by people with high blood pressure.
- African Geranium – the root can help decrease excess mucus in the lungs and it’s valuable for acute respiratory and sinus infections as it actually helps the body expel excess mucus. Has immune cell enhancing properties is anti-viral.
- Ginger – has been shown to have immune and antiviral activity, ginger heat is useful for increasing body temperature and the anti-platelet and anti-inflammatory actions can help keep blood vessels healthy. Ginger aids digestive function and is good for nausea, rheumatic conditions and migraine.
- Marigold – is a great external remedy which promotes skin healing and often used internally for gastric disorders. In addition it has a mild oestrogenic effect making it very useful for gynaecological conditions. It’s anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and is a mild immune stimulant.
- Eucalyptus – often forgotten about as a herb, eucalyptus has an affinity for the lungs and upper respiratory system. Its good for all respiratory complaints including infection, asthma, catarrh and bronchitis and is anti-tussive which helps stop a cough. Its anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic. Do not use for young children, in pregnancy and for very frail people.
- Turmeric – this plant has wide ranging benefits and has become known a bit as a wonder herb in recent years, with good reason. Turmeric is excellent for pain and inflammation, for both chronic and acute conditions and regular use can give outstanding relief. It has a powerful anti-oxidant activity and influences cell life cycles in a positive way to be helpful in cancer prevention. Also being an immune modulator, anti-microbial, heart and liver protector and digestive herb, turmeric is useful to include either via the diet or supplement.
Looking at natural options and holistic health has never been more important. As we emerge from global lock down we’ll be much better off if we harmonise more with nature and use a lighter touch toward our health and our environment, with mindful thinking we can all learn to take better care of ourselves using less toxic and more sustainable self-practices. To share these ideas and knowledge with each other sits with the true nature of herbalism and brings us back to more natural and grounded thinking. Take care, be well and practice Ahimsa* towards yourself and the beautiful planet we share.
*the practice of non-violence in all aspects of life from physical to mental and emotional