(I am hoping that between the post about elixirs, my older posts on caring for the ill, and this post on prevention and support for viral infections, I will have enough to refer folks who are requesting information to here on the blog, that I will be able to get some of my other work done. Here’s to a expedient end to this flu season! )
Oh dear its flu season again and yes it is a particularly virulent strain, or is it?
According to a report on ABC, maybe not so much. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 22,048 flu cases from Sept. 30 through the end of 2012.
Sounds alarming right? Now let’s go back to 2009, and the much ado about nothing “swine flu epidemic”. Over 80,000 cases had been reported by the end of the year and most people criticized the CDC for over-blowing the warnings of the swine flu. So it seems to be a matter of public perception as manipulated by the media.
From the ABC report again, “In an immediate sense; we were a little spoiled last year,” said Dr. William Schaffner, chair of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. “Last year, we had fewer influenza cases than had ever been recorded before.”
Back to the Present
The strain of the flu that seems to be giving us trouble this year is the H3N2 strain. A stubborn little bug that may be a little bit more hard on children and the elderly. After seeing it pop up in vaccinated clients, I was wondering if the maybe they botched the guess when formulating this year’s vaccine?
I checked with the CDC and this year’s flu vaccine was formulated to address the H3N2 virus. That might make you say “Hmm?” about the vaccine if you are one of the folk who got vaccinated and still got sick, but really it shouldn’t. The flu vaccine is notoriously ineffective. Even in last year’s lull, it was only deemed %52 effective by the CDC and those statistics are slanted towards encouraging you to vaccinate. I am not even going to go into the vaccination debate. That is your personal decision .
But if you are one of the %48 of people who did get vaccinated and you come down with the flu anyway or you chose not get vaccinated, not to worry. The plants are here to help you.
There are many concoctions ubiquitous to those of us who live in the herbal realm and most of us rarely even give a thought to the flu, having prepared our arsenal last fall. In my home I think we probably muddled through our little outbreak shortly after the holidays. That is fairly normal around here, as we let our diet go shamelessly, that time of year. This season promises to be drawn out given the sporadic weather, so I thought I would share some of my ideas with you on prevention and management.
As always, my first advice to you is to eat good food. Here is a short journal article from Cambridge entitled concerning Selected vitamins and trace elements that support immune function .
If the information about Vitamin D included there doesn’t persuade you to hit up a supplement then you should take the time to read this. Now as much as the hippy in me would love to tell you to just go outside to get your Vitamin D, that just won’t work this time of year. During the months that correspond with flu season, the UV rays from the sun aren’t strong enough to trigger Vitamin D precursors in your skin. So if you spent the drought hanging out in the air conditioning, get yourself a supplement. Studies done on construction workers show that even they don’t get enough Vitamin D stored to get through the winter months without becoming depleted. I supplement all winter long.
Increase the humidity in your environment. The lack of humidity in the winter dries and weakens the respiratory mucosa which is one of your first lines of defense against invading pathogens. So often, we run a steamer with essential oils in the house, through the winter. If your office is dry, take one of those little potpourri crocks to work and put it on your desk; filled with some water and herbs or essential oils.
Stay warm. Being cold doesn’t make you sick but it may make you more susceptible to respiratory infection. It only makes sense not to direct the energy of your body towards warming you up when it is supposed to be working to keep you well. So wear proper winter gear for the area in which you live.
Throw away that antibacterial crap you rub into your hands and wash your hands with soap and water. Even, if it doesn’t kill a pathogen, washing with soap makes your hands slippery and running water over them washes everything that can’t stick to them down the drain. The bacteria are becoming resistant to the antibacterial gels and if the gel doesn’t manage to kill them, they aren’t going anywhere- except in your mouth.
Moving On to the Plants Cardinal Wolsey who lived back in the 1500′s is one of the first folk recorded to wander about huffing essential oils to “preserve himself from infection” but it is almost certain he wasn’t the first. Those are antimicrobial herbs that are being burned in those nifty little censures at churches. It is fairly probable that the priests who originally came up with the idea were trying to keep from getting sick, like our good Cardinal Wolsey. Other cultures such as the Ancestral Puebloans burned juniper and pinion in the sick room to protect all occupants. My point here being that ancient people brought aromatic plants into their homes during the winter for a reason, emulate them.
Here are several methods of getting essential oils circulating in the air of your home during the winter:
Make an antimicrobial aromatherapy spray.
Toss a cotton ball with essential oils in your vacuum canister or drop some on your filter.
Drop a few drops of essential oils on the filter of your air purifier or on your furnace filter.
Set herbs steaming in those little potpourri pots they sell around the house- works well on desks.
Burn some loose incense.
Set potpourri about the home.
Hang pine boughs and other aromatic plants in your home for the whole of the winter season.
Tonic Herbal Preparations There are some herbal preparations that I have a bit of every day, during the flu season. I make my Apple-Elderberry Elixir by the gallon jug in the fall and add them to our nourishing infusions daily. I use fire cider to make salad dressings and add my infused honey.
When someone else in your house becomes sick. I usually just ramp up the measures above. Steve, who can’t really afford the luxury of a few days in bed, starts chugging the fire cider and applying my aromatic chest rub, as soon he hears a sneeze. Thieves vinegar is also a common preparation to take internally as a preventative, when there is an illness in the home.
The lovely and talented Rebecca Altman offered up a most glorious blog post on fire cider recently so I will not bore you with repeating details except to say that mine contains horseradish, onions, garlic, thyme, turmeric, cayenne, raw ACV and just the slightest bit of raw, local honey.
Thieves vinegar has an interesting history. I almost wonder if it wasn’t a poor man’s version of absinthe, which was originally an elixir of health and pretty expensive. Thieves vinegar has many of the same ingredients, including wormwood. Peasants often used it as a preventative against the plague. I wrote an article for the upcoming issue of The Essential Herbal that tells a bit about the history of the preparation and shares my recipe. Karen Vaughn has been kind enough to share her Thieves Vinegar recipe online and there are formula’s in Jean Valnet’s The Practice of Aromatherapy, also. I would imagine some people shake their heads at this idea, but I clean with it when people are sick. I usually clean with vinegar infused with orange peel, pine and thyme When people are sick, I add about 1/4 cup of the thieves vinegar to a half gallon of my cleaning vinegars.
After the Onset of a Virus
I think that once a virus sets in, your prime directive is to prevent secondary infection. As I mentioned a few posts back, it is my firm belief that suppression of symptoms leads to secondary infection. I can’t prove that these measures work, but I can offer the anecdotal information that neither of the boys has every had antibiotics, due to illness. Steve hasn’t had them since we got married, except for that time he was trapped in San Antonio without his herbalist. That is not to say that we sit around and suffer from the symptoms. I have plenty of tricks up my sleeve.
Fevers I tend to poke fevers with stimulating diaphoretics unless they are causing discomfort, because in my family we run a little cold. If a fever causes a headache, we generally tuck one compress under the neck and another on the forehead and that usually soothes the headache while still allowing the fever to do its work. If a high fever presents, a relaxing diaphoretic will help open the vents without stoking the fires, so to speak.
Elder Few herbalists love anything more than elderberry against the flu, and I am no exception. I saw Rebbecca and Holly both mentioning it recently. My recipe is in the blog post from the other day. The chart to the right refers to a good study to read when you have a chance. Personally I view elderberry elixir as a tonic for prevention but I tend to end up turning to the elderflower for support when ill. I think that is another blog post, also. They really are two different creatures.
Antivirals I make a lemon balm elixir, with fenugreek and cardamom, that seems to have hit the proverbial spot this year. It really seemed to alleviate the norovirus, we ran into last month-but more on that later. Ginger tea is something I only really enjoy when I am ill.
Old Dog-New Trick Do you remember that meme that went around facebook this year in which they poured honey over sliced ginger and lemons? I did that with the leftover sage honey I had from last year and Trapolin loves it. He actually asked for it.
Lymph movers such as calendula and red root, to help keep things moving in the immune system.
Diet I keep the diet light; we pretty much stick to a homemade soup monodiet. Warm beverages that flowed freely included: my sekanjabin (served warm), ginger-lemon tea and my favorite infusion blend for the flu-elderflower, rosemary, mint and rose hips, sweetened with my sage-thyme honey. Warm bone broth was kept simmering on the stove.
Supplementary measures I use include an aromatic chest rub, elderflower/mint steams and lots and lots of rest. I usually lull the boys to sleep with an audiobook. Hot water bottles tucked in next to a little body, help mitigate “the chills”. Long soaks in the tub full of my sick day Epsom salts, also helps sooth aching limbs.
I am not claiming to cure a viral infection and anyone who tells you they can is misleading you. I can tell you that when someone begins to show signs of being exposed to a virus, these measures shorten the impact of the illness, may ward off secondary infections, and seem to help contain the spread of the contagion. My husband and I often don’t even catch whatever the kids come down with. While he has always had the constitution of an ox, this is a huge change for me. I was frequently ill, when I was younger.