I'm feeling rather paranoid getting colds and flu like symptoms as very often not serious enough to get off the work. For obvious reasons this is not right as once infected we are already contagious to others before we know it. Colds and flu are acute viral infections of upper respiratory tract causing - at least to my own perception, unpleasant and extremely uncomfortable symptoms. Both conditions are highly contagious spreading via airborne droplets, by direct contact with infected person or from contaminated items. Although not serious, in case of flu, pregnant, young babies, elderly, people with chronic conditions or ilmmuno-compromised may be put at risk.
Common cold presents with nasal sneezing, congestion, sore throat, cough, ear ache or headache, tiredness and fatigue. During the first few days nasal secretions are usually watery and clear changing to thick yellow later as cold progresses. Greenish discolouration can be a result of secondary bacterial infection, and untreated cold may develop into bronchitis or compromise existing asthma conditions. Influenza, commonly known as a flu, presents similarly as cold with addition of muscle and joints pains, headaches, digestive upsets, loss of appetite and feeling of sickness, diarrhoea, exhaustion, and risen body temperature or fever. If not treated properly, flu can evolve in pneumonia or death in susceptible individuals.
Treatment for both colds and flu is symptomatic unless underlying condition is present. Prevention is a key and unlike conventional medicine encouraging use of flu jabs, herbal medicine puts their focus on supporting the immune system. Taking vitamin C, D, probiotics, and herbs such as echinacea, astragalus, olive leaf or elderberry help to optimise immune system and its response during the respiratory infections. If not prevented, duration is usually milder and shorter with quicker recovery. It is recommended to treat colds and flu with bed rest, plenty of fluids and easily digestible foods such as rice, vegetable soups or chicken broth for non vegan/vegetarians. It is also important not to suppress fever as much particularly at early stages of infection. High body temperature inhibits division of the virus therefore fever acts as a body's own defence mechanism.
Herbal prescription consists of phytotherapeutics to decongest, improve elimination of mucus, reduce coughing and spasm, promote sweating to eliminate all toxins, reduce inflammation of irritated mucosa, and sooth down the digestive tract. Herbal remedies can be taken internally as tinctures or teas which are extremely beneficial in respiratory conditions because teas can be drunk throughout the day to increase liquid intake and soothe down the nasal passages immediately. Facial steams or essential oils inhalation, and nasal/chest balms can be used for localised relief too. My favourite herbs for respiratory conditions are mint, lemon balm, cardamon, ginger, yarrow, cinnamon, lime flower, thyme, sage, oregano, liquorice, plantain, lemon verbena, marshmallow and elderflower. There are few examples of herbs effective to tackle respiratory infections once colds and flu develops:
NASTURTIUM (Tropaeolum majus) - climbing wine with beautiful edible yellow-orange flowers and soft round leaves (delicious in salads). Nasturtium is antibacterial and antiviral and effective in clearing of catarrh due to presence of mustard oil which decreases thickness of the mucus. Not suitable for babies, and to be used in supervision if pregnant.
GARLIC (Allium sativa) - culinary herb used as a systemic antiviral agent. It has antimicrobial, anti fungal, antiseptic properties traditionally used for respiratory infections. Garlic can be eaten raw or as an extract in liquid or capsule form.
OREGANO (Origanum vulgare) - culinary aromatic herb with antiseptic, antibacterial, antiparasitic and antiviral properties. Used as an expectorant and antispasmodic for bronchial catarrh and cough or digestive issues. Essential oil extract seems to be the most potent, taken in drops with liquid or food. Not to be used in pregnancy.
THYME (Thymus vulgaris) - culinary aromatic herb with strong antiseptic, antiviral, antibacterial and antimicrobial properties. Thyme helps with upset stomach, sore throat, dry spasmodic cough particularly if underlying conditions are present such as asthma or COPD. Not to be used in pregnancy for medicinal purposes.
ECHINACEA (Echinacea spp.) - potent antiviral, antiseptic used for respiratory tract infections. The herb improves lymphatic drainage and stimulates immune system. Extracts of fresh roots and cone flowers are considered the most powerful antivirals at first sings of infections.
ANDROGRAPHIS (Andrographis paniculata) - considered as a king of bitters, useful for diarrhoea and digestive upsets if present. Andrographis is bitter tonic mainly but effective in prophylaxis/prevention of respiratory tract infections. Not to be used in pregnancy.
To remember when dealing with colds and flu - prevention is a key, so supporting the immune system, bodily resiliance and encouraging a good hygiene practice is necessary as viral respiratory infections are contagious from day 1 and last up to 7 days from developing of the first symptoms. I hope this winter season will be mild and kind to us in term of any seasonal epidemics.
Love and hugs,