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Nature’s Medicine Cabinet

Although drugstore shelves are lined with remedies for cold and flu viruses, many people look for naturally effective ways to deal with the symptoms. Some commercial medicines even claim to contain natural ingredients like lemon, honey or herbs for flavor or added strength.

But long before patent medicines became available in standardized packaging and doses, your ancestors relied on remedies cooked up in the kitchen from larder ingredients.

Before you begin treatment, keep in mind that these concoctions are not cures. Indeed, doctors acknowledge there are no cures for the common cold and the flu: They are viruses, and even the most powerful antibiotics do not destroy viruses, although they will kill bacteria. In fact, taking antibiotics when you do not have a bacterial infection may actually destroy millions of good bacteria that your digestive system or other body functions use, causing side effects like diarrhea, yeast infections, and maybe worst of all, harmful bacteria that develop a resistance to antibiotics.

Perhaps the first line of defense is to avoid catching a cold or flu virus. The Internet’s DrGreene.com, a site dedicated to wellness advice from a pediatrician, offers four ways to prevent colds, flu and infections: 

• Decrease the disease-causing germs on surfaces in your home. Researchers have found that the kitchen harbors more bacteria than most bathrooms, with moist dishcloths and sponges breeding germs that make families sick. Keeping sink drains, faucets and doorknobs clean and disinfected will help minimize the germ population in your home. Popping sponges in the microwave for two minutes will disinfect them. Be careful—once heated, they are too hot to handle!

• Decrease disease-causing germs in the air we breathe. Teach those in your household to cover their noses and mouths when they cough or sneeze. Invest in an air purifier to help keep the indoor air clean, particularly in the winter when air remains trapped inside the home for months on end.

• Avoid antibacterial soaps, except for medical scrubbing. Overusing powerful bacteria-killing soaps may actually cause harmful bacteria to mutate into resistant strains. These soaps actually kill all bacteria—even the good kind.

• Wash your hands throughout the day—especially before meals and whenever you must touch your eyes, nose or mouth. Teach children that germs travel into the body through the moist areas of your eyes, nose and mouth, and that care should be taken to keep the bad germs out of your body. Instant hand sanitizers are effective and a great way to clean hands when soap and warm water are unavailable. Unlike antibacterial soaps, they use alcohol, which is an antiseptic, so resistance cannot develop as it does with antibiotics.

Eating healthy, whole foods and getting plenty of rest provide the final defense. Your body is equipped with a living immune system that works hard every day to store up what it needs to keep you well. Keep your body’s defenses strong and it will return the favor.

Useful Health Boosters

Garlic. When brewed in a hot chicken or vegetable broth, pungent and delicious garlic boosts immune systems by increasing the antiviral powers of white blood cells.

Oregano. The common kitchen herb, from the wild Mediterranean plant, may be the most powerful natural germ fighter. It has been shown in research studies to destroy the human cold virus within minutes of exposure to full-strength oils of oregano. You may choose to take oregano capsules, administer a few drops of oil of oregano under the tongue, or just add generous quantities of the fresh, dried or frozen herb to a hot broth.

Cloves and cinnamon.
These aromatic spices also possess antiviral properties. Make a tea by simmering fresh cinnamon sticks and a handful of clove buds in a pot of boiling water. Let steep for about an hour, then strain and drink, with some raw honey to taste.

Oils and essences. Massage eucalyptus, lavender or peppermint oils, in a base of almond or olive oil, onto the chest to ease aches and congestion. The warm aroma will help clear sinus passages and promote a general feeling of well-being.

Herbal teas.
Singly or in a blend, brew an infusion of soothing herbal teas by steeping herbs in freshly boiled water, straining, adding honey and sipping while warm. Echinacea or astragalus taken at the onset of symptoms boosts the immune system, but avoid echinacea if you have an autoimmune disease or have an allergy to ragweed or plants in the daisy family. Elderberry is said to keep the flu virus from replicating and helps relieve coughing. Yarrow causes the body to sweat and helps break high fevers. Horehound also boosts immunity and is said to thin mucus in the bronchial tubes and lungs.

For Coughs and Sore Throats

Soothing Hot Lemon. Squeeze the juice of one lemon into a cup of boiled water and add honey to taste. Sip while warm.

Hot Orange and Ginger Brew. Squeeze the juice of an orange into a cup of boiled water, add honey and sip while warm.

Onion Cough Syrup.
Cook four to five large onions in a stock pot with ¾ cup of honey. Simmer for approximately 1½ to two hours, strain and take as often as needed for relief. Onions are rich in flavonoids, which can protect against the growth of harmful germs.

Raw Honey. May be effective in upper respiratory ailments, with enzymes that give it virus-killing powers. High heat will destroy the enzymes so add it only to warm beverages, or take it by itself at room temperature.

The most important benefit of natural remedies is that they provide a first line of defense when you begin to feel poorly. But they cannot take the place of professional medical care. See your doctor or health care provider when symptoms linger for more than a couple of days, or if you begin to run a high fever.

If you are your household’s primary caregiver, keep small batches of homemade chicken or vegetable stock in the freezer, along with a ready supply of frozen or dried essential herbs and other vegetable and fruit ingredients for brewing up
healing therapies for yourself or your family in a hurry. The morning you wake up feeling lousy is the wrong time to have to make a grocery store run to pick up the essentials, and the last thing you want to do is drag yourself to the kitchen to do some cooking.

Taking stock of the symptoms associated with your winter cold or flu will let you apply the natural remedy that will help you feel better. Keep these remedies handy and use them generously when you’re feeling under the weather. You’ll save money by avoiding costly over-the-counter medicines that may not be all that effective or that make you feel groggy or cause other side effects. You’ll feel the penetrating warmth of giving your body what it needs most: natural healing.  

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York