Category Archives: Caring for the Ill

Support for Seasonal Ilnesses


As always I refer readers back to my Caring for the Ill post for a primer on how to take care of sick family or friends. Last year’s flu post offered many additional ideas.  Please check those out.

As there are many reports of H1N1 circulating, I thought I should mention that elderberry preparations seem pretty effective against the H1N1 virus, even though I am not in love with the idea of using it during the active phase of a viral infection.

Elderberry is a traditional preventative preparations which seems to work through the mechanism of binding with viruses before penetrating into the walls of cells, consequently preventing the their spread.. The authors of a study published in the journal Phytochemistry concluded “the H1N1 inhibition activities of the elderberry flavonoids compare favorably to the known anti-influenza activities of Oseltamivir (Tamiflu; 0.32lM) and Amantadine (27lM).” (Bill Roschek, 2007, p. 1255)

The CDC didformulate this year’s vaccine for the H1N1 strain, along with an H3N2 strain and a Influenza B strain with the Yamagata lineage.  It is pretty close to last year’s vaccine only the B strain is different and some people got a quadrivalent vaccine which included a  B strain of the Victoria lineage.   But the H1N1 strain still seems to rearing its ugly head this year, even amongst the vaccinated.

Steve and I managed to pump the fire cider and the Vitamin D and avoid becoming ill but it hit our poor kids before we knew they had been exposed.

RSV is considered a seasonal epidemic and that is what our community really got hit with this year.   I have to say I prefer  RSV to  last year’s norovirus, but it is still no fun, especially for very little children.     Respiratory Synctial Virus (RSV) exhibits symptoms similar to a cold.  It does not respond to antibiotics and unlike influenza, there is no vaccine, so this one is one we have to learn to deal with.   Symptoms are similar to those of a cold- runny nose, sore throat, cough, earache.    Having been around it before,  I will say that this seems to be a particularly wicked strain causing significant symptoms in older kids and hospitalizing babies around here.     I found that the boys really experienced the most relief from their symptoms when they were kept in a steamy environment and given frequent lymphatic massages with our aromatic chest rub.

To end this I would really like to offer you a few additional tricks that I think are particularly useful this year and made with ingredients you can buy at the grocery store.


Keeping Hydrated

As you may  recall I  really prefer warm broths, for hydration.  Here is another  tasty broth that can be used to make soups for the convalescence period so you might want to double the recipe. Barley water is a beverage traditionally given to those recovering from illnesses.

Barley Broth
1 chopped onion and 2 leeks
1/2 cup barley or steel cut oats
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons dried rosemary
2 tablespoons dried thyme
2 tablespoons dried shitake mushrooms
coarsely ground sea salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 quarts water

In a large saucepan, heat the oil over really low heat. Stir in the chopped onion and leeks. Cook until the chopped vegetables are translucent and soft, but don’t let them brown. Pour in water and add barley, spices and dried mushrooms. Simmer uncovered for 40 minutes. Turn off heat and let the mixture infuse for as long as you want. I usually make mine at night and let it sit overnight. Strain and serve in a mug.


Soothing Sore Throats
I received a lot more complaints about sore throats than I’ve experienced with RSV, in the past,  but that could be because of pressure from swollen lymph glands, too.    Still it can’t hurt to mention that sage tea with lemon can be soothing to sore throat.

You can also bake a lemon, spread it with honey and give it to someone to suck on.

Horehound candies are a traditional remedy for relieving inflammation of sore throats. They sell them at Paul’s here in Iowa City.

Another Trick for Fevers
Finally I thought I would mention another idea for fever support.  As I mentioned frequently in the past, I don’t suppress fever.  In fact, the immune system  functions most effectively, in preventing future reinfection,  at about 102 degrees, so I choose to support fever and attempt to minimize the discomfort that it causes.

In addition to using cool compresses/hot water bottle at the feet, another traditional practice which can be used to pull the heat away from the head and upper body, is a calf wrap.

This is an old anthroposophic medicine trick that I learned possibly from the book You are Your Child’s First Teacher or one of the other Waldorf books I read when the girls were little.

Calf Wrap
1.  Add 1/2 cup rose vinegar or lemon juice to a basin of warm water.
2.  Soak two long strips of cotton in the solution These should be long enough that you calf wrap them from the knee to the foot
3. Wring the strips of cotton until water no longer drips from them and wrap the foot and the leg up to the knee.
4.  Take long strips of wool and wrap the feet and legs again. This is another good use for old sweaters. For children you can just cut the arms off the sweaters and pull them over like a sock.
5.  Position your feverish “patient” comfortably in bed and change the cotton strips out when they get cold.  If you would like you can lay something under the patient to protect the bedding from getting wet, but honestly the wool keeps most of the damp from seeping out.


Bill Roschek, R. F. (2007). Elderberry Flavonoids bind to and prevent H1N1 infection in vitro. Phytochemistry, 1255-1261

What to do with all that sage?

Fall Sage HarvestSage is one of my favorite herbs.  Perhaps that is because we both have Jupiter as our ruling planet. Whatever the reason,  I adore it.    The best time for harvesting sage really is in the spring just  before the flowers blossom and I make my tincture then, but the fall cuttings are certainly still potent.

Sage has been used as a medicinal herb since the beginning of recorded history.  Salvia means health. One of the earliest written Celtic references to its use can be found in a  manuscript circa 72o A.C.E  cataloging the healing herb gardens  tended by  Columbán monks.

Between 1151 and 1158, Hildegard Von Bingen wrote “Sage is warm and dry of nature… If a person abounds in an overabundance of phlegm or has a stinking breath, let them cook sage in wine, strain it through a piece of cloth and then drink it often.”   Any nurse, or mom,  out there who knows what I mean by “strep breath” might join me in wondering if that later symptom isn’t our blessed green lady’s  reference to sage’s usefulness as a preparation for sore throats.

John Hill was convinced that growing the herb led to long life saying “Sage properly prepared, will preserve the faculties and memory”  and “will long prevent the hands from trembling and the eyes from dimness.”  Culpeper goes on at length about garden sage mentioning that it  helps with “all pains of the joints”  and “diseases of the chest.”

Now maybe you see why given its long history of use,  I sometimes feel sorry that sage been undervalued to the point of being the herb you put in the stuffing at Thanksgiving.

What to do with fresh sage?

  • Infuse  fresh sage and thyme in honey.    If I don’t end up using it for sore throats, I mix it into an elixir.  It adds depth to your elixirs, for those who care about those things.
  • Infuse some sage in a pint of vinegar.  It  makes a great base vinegar for salad dressings.  I like to combine it with burdock root.
  • Make a fresh infusion.   Fresh sage infusion is amazing.  Throw a sprig of leaves in a covered pot with a slice of lemon,  pour boiling water over it and cover it tightly. Just a note though, when making infusions with fresh herbs, don’t expect the color change that you see from dried plant material.    I once had a client tell me that their tea “didn’t take”.
  • Mix freshly chopped sage into butter  and use it for flavoring vegetables.
  • Make an infused oil with sage.  I actually mix sage and goldenrod which I use for aches and pains.   I like to use fresh-wilted ingredients for that, but you can use dry in a pinch.
  • Fry few handfuls in butter until they are just crisp and snack on them.   If you have any left you can go on to drying them.

IMG_9751How I  Dry Sage

Pick the sage on a dry, breezy day.  Sage is one of those plants that can be cut back quite vigorously and still thrives the following year, so don’t be afraid of cutting back too much.

Shake the sage clean and pick out all leaves that have blemishes.   Bundle the stems together and fasten them to a dowel.   I use rubber bands for this.   Twine works, too.

This is when my OCD kicks in, otherwise known as my attempt at establishing my own good manufacturing practices.    I know that you have all seen the lovely pictures of bunches of herbs hanging about to dry.  I am certainly guilty of posting those, myself.  I let the strewing herbs dry in the open air all that time, because they are so pretty and I always have my bunches of protective herbs hanging on the hearth.

However, if there is even a chance that what I am drying is going to go into a product for  consumption,  I put the bunches of herbs inside a brown paper bag to dry,  as  pictured above.  This keeps the  drying herbs from accumulating dust and from being exposed to light.   They should never actually touch the wall, either,  as that allows spiders, and other bugs,  easier access.

I also have a dehydrator that I use depending on how aromatic the plant is.  I don’t like to lose essential oils to the heat,  I generally only use the dehydrator for roots, barks and berries.   When the leaves have dried sufficiently that one can be crushed in my hand,  I transfer them to clean glass jars to live  in the dark of my herb closet.

You can also tie it up in little bundles to use for fumigation, but I will cover that in another post.

What to do with dry sage?

  • Cook with it.  It is great in stuffing but you can cook it in with the rice, too.    You can add it to broths.  You can also crumble up a bit to add to savory scones, or corn bread.
  • Make sage infusion with lemon and a dash of honey.   There is an interesting variation of this recipe, in my family,  which involves putting sage,  a lemon and a glass of white wine in a pot and pouring a couple of quarts of boiling water over the ingredients.  I believe the recipe calls for a bit of sugar or honey as well.  I’ve never actually seen it, it is one of those things passed down.
  • Gargle it.  When I want to use the sage infusion as a gargle, I make it much stronger and sometimes I add a bit of thyme to that, as well.

So there you have enough different ways to use sage that you might even run out.   Have fun experimenting and if you have other ideas, add them to the comments!