As we move into March and get closer to the spring equinox, many of us are glad the cold and flu season will soon be behind us. As I write this, we are still in the thick of it, with many people experiencing some form of a cold for two or three weeks. And, we have the coronavirus affecting thousands in China. So, what can we do to keep ourselves healthy during the winter months and through the powerful seasonal shift from winter into spring?

In Chinese medicine we talk a lot about qi (pronounced ‘chee’), and when it comes to preventing colds and flu, we talk about our protective qi. Protective qi, or wei qi in Chinese pinyin, is an aspect of our qi that has the role of protecting us from catching colds, the flu, and other conditions that can develop from viruses, bacteria, and seasonal allergies. During cold and flu season, it is our protective qi, supported by our general qi, that keeps us healthy and in harmony with our environment.

When our general and protective qi become weakened by stress, or not eating well, or lack of sleep, we become much more susceptible to catching the cold or flu that is going around. Or, we become more sensitive to seasonal changes and temperature swings.

Along with getting enough sleep and managing stress with exercise, meditation, or yoga, maintaining a diet rich with vegetables, fruit, and quality protein is essential. In addition, here are some simple habits, herbal remedies, and essential oils that will help support our overall and protective qi throughout the cold and flu season, and the transition from winter into spring:

Healthy Habits

Wash your hands! This is the single most important thing you can do, especially if you have been out and about where there are a lot of people, like the grocery store, on public transportation, or when traveling. 

A little note about hand sanitizer: According to the CDC, hand sanitizers that contain higher concentrations of alcohol (60-95%) can kill most germs. Hand sanitizers with lower levels of alcohol or no alcohol may not be effective and in some cases simply reduce the growth of germs rather than killing them.

Dress adequately, especially on days when the temperature swings widely – hats and scarves are great to protect our head and neck. [In Chinese medicine it is thought that the common cold and flu viruses can penetrate our body via the head and neck, hence the importance of keeping them covered, and, don’t leave the house with wet hair!]

Herbal remedies

There are many products on the market that can aid in the prevention of catching a cold or coming down with the flu, along with products that are designed to help you manage the symptoms once you come down with either. A key factor in getting the most out of any herbal product is timing and dosing. With formulas like our Sniffle & Sneeze tincture it is best to dose frequently (3 – 4 times) during the first 8 – 12 hours of recognizing the signs that you may be catching a cold. This is especially important when it comes to the flu, as the onset of the flu is much faster than that of a cold. 

Other options are found in your kitchen and garden. Herbs like ginger, mint, and spring onion, are very effective to address the early stages of a cold. The best way to use these common herbs is to put a small handful of the fresh or dried herb into a cup and fill the cup with boiling water. Let the “tea” steep for 15 to 20 minutes and then drink the liquid. At the beginning stages of a cold or flu, it is helpful to wrap yourself in a blanket while sipping the tea. Ideally this will cause you to sweat. When this occurs, your body is releasing the pathogen (virus). Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated while your body goes through the process of releasing the pathogen.

Ginger and Spring Onion: When you first feel the symptoms of a cold coming on – runny nose, sneezing, headache and/or body ache, try ginger or spring onion. Taken at the early stages to produce a sweat and prevent the progression of a cold

Mint: When you’re feeling more feverish and chilled and maybe have a sore throat, headache and body aches, try fresh or dried mint fresh to reduce fevers, soothe the throat, and reduce body aches

Lemon and Honey: For a sore throat and sinus congestion, sip on a cup of hot water with lemon and honey 

Essential oils

Many essential oils have anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-inflammatory properties and are very useful when managing the symptoms associated with a cold or flu, and in some cases, can aid in the prevention of both.

For nasal stuffiness and congestion: Put a couple of drops of either Peppermint, Eucalyptus or Thyme oil onto a tissue and inhale the scent, or you can put 10 – 12 drops into a cup of hot water and breath the slight steam to open your sinuses and relieve congestion.

For cough:  You can put 10 – 12 drops of either Cinnamon (use 1/3 of the amount listed above as it is a very strong essential oil), Eucalyptus, Lavender,  or Rosemary oil into an ounce of carrier oil like coconut oil, or olive oil, and massage the oil onto your chest and upper back. Or, put 10 – 12 drops into a cup of hot water and breath the slight steam.

For sore throat: Tea tree oil – put in a few drops in 2 ounces of water and gargle, but don’t swallow! Make sure to spit the water out before swallowing! Or, sip lemon and honey in hot water.

General: During cold and flu season, you can use oil diffusers in your home or office. Diffusing lavender, tea tree, and eucalyptus can clear the air. 

*Remember, essential oils are not be ingested and when using topically put them in a carrier oil

The value of vitamin C

A daily dose of vitamin C on regular basis has shown to reduce the amount of days we experience our colds. The research is inconsistent regarding vitamin C’s ability to prevent a cold but, does positively impact the duration of a cold (lessening it by a day or two) when taken on a daily basis. A diet high in fruits and vegetable most often provides us with adequate amounts of this powerful vitamin but supplementing during the cold and flu seasons is valuable and easy to do.

If you want to learn more about herbs and oil blend that would suit you best, contact Christine at The Contemporary Herbalist in West Washington Park.

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