Seasonal Health Tips from Your Local Herbalists

As the fall season advances, temperatures are growing colder, the air in our homes is dry from turning on the heat, the house is closed up more, and ventilation is poor. We urge you to get plenty of fresh air, even sleeping outside where you will breathe fresh cool clean air all night.

As days grow shorter and darkness increases, our metabolism starts to slow down, our "psyche" makes a subtle shift, and it's not unusual to feel "under the weather". We encourage you to "eat with the seasons", ie. , eat the foods grown locally at the time they are available. In the fall seasonal foods include squash, onions, cabbage, peppers, carrots, beets, parsley, turnips, broccoli, and greens like kale, chard, and collards. These foods are rich in bioflavonoids , which are anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, stress-reducing, anti-aging and support the health of the heart and blood vessels.

Hearty soups made of these vegetables and whole grains are quick and easy to prepare and slide down easily without much effort. Try this Winter Tonic Soup offered by Herbalist Marayah Rai:

"Chop these vegetables: 1 cup shitake mushrooms, 3/4 cup beets, 3/4 cup burdock, 3/4 cup carrots, 3/4 cup leeks. Grate 3 tablespoons fresh ginger. Mince 3 tablespoons garlic. Saute the above in 1/4 cup olive oil until tender. Add 8 cups chicken or vegetable broth and 2 table-spoons soy sauce. Simmer 1 hour until ingredients are soft. Add 2 tablespoons miso and serve; garnish with chopped cilantro."

The kids are back in school now and regularly bring home the latest version of colds and flu for the entire family to share. Although this strengthens the immune system eventually, having everyone sick all the time can be frustrating for the caretakers and means missed time at school or work. Strengthening the immune system with tonics before illness sets in can mean fewer and briefer illnesses for all. Tonics work from the inside out and don't address specific signs and symptoms as much as they help the body's own defenses work better to do their job. Tonics can be herbs stimulating to circulation, antioxidants, mood lifting and antimicrobial essential oils; tonics can improve the efficiency of liver function, digestion, and elimination of wastes and toxins.

Some possibilities include astragulus, ashwaganda, burdock; ask an herbalist which tonic herbs would be best for you. Black beans are also good tonic food.

Dietary changes can make a big difference in immune system function, especially in families who experience frequent colds and flu. Avoiding drinks containing sugar and corn syrup (usually described on the label as "high fructose corn syrup") is a very good first step. This kind of sugar has an enormous depressing effect on the immune system. Try herbal teas sweetened with a little honey or stevia. Tasty and health- promoting teas include rosemary, licorice, mint, chamomile, fennel, ginger, raspberry leaf, lemon. Herbalist Richard McDonald had this to say about the sweetener,Stevia: "Stevia is 300 times sweeter than sugar and can be used in place of sugar, including in cooking and baking. Safe for diabetics, it satisfies the desire for a sweet and has no calories. For convenience of use, buy the powder and use tiny amounts; or dissolve 1/4 ounce of the standardized extract in 2 ounces of distilled water; keep in a dropper bottle."

Another food type having health implications are dairy products, especially cheese, which can result in increased mucus production and congestion, as well as frequent colds, allergies, sinus problems, and Candida infections. Goat milk and cheese may be more easily digested by some folks. For others, soured or fermented products, ie, yogurt, kefir, cottage cheese, buttermilk, and soured milk can be used.

Getting lots of sleep is essential for good health. Many of us tend to think we can get by with just a few hours of sleep but we are cheating ourselves of the essential act of allowing the body to rest and regenerate. Those teens who sleep until noon have the right idea!!! A cup of catnip tea an hour before bedtime can help everyone calm down and get ready for sleep.

Drink lots of good quality water to keep toxins flushed out of the body. We do not recommend drinking chlorinated water, as it has been shown to depress the immune system. Get yourself a good water filter or buy bottled water.

Once illness sets in, numerous herbs are at your service to ease the discomforts and shorten the duration. Echinacea has become popular for colds and flu, and Herbalist Naava Koensberg has this to offer on how to use it: "The most effective way to take Echinacea is to take high doses at the very first sign that you may be getting sick. In whole plant form, this is perfectly safe. Doses range from 30-100 drops of tincture every 2-4 hours or 3-5 cups of tea a day for the first few days. It can be counter productive to take Echinacea on a long term basis as a preventative. Doing this keeps your immune system in a "red alert" phase and then, when you really need it, your system may be too exhausted to respond effectively. This herb is often used in combination with other herbs that provide a "team approach" by stimulating circulation, assisting lymph movement, and alleviating symptoms."

Try this recipe for Kid-Fever Tea: equal parts elder flowers, yarrow, Yerba Buena (Mexican spearmint), chamomile. "A tea made from flowers or leaves, also called an infusion, is easy to make", says Herbalist Monica Rude. "Simply pour boiling water over 1 teaspoon dry herb per cup tea desired. Cover and allow to steep for ten minutes. Strain, sweeten to taste with honey or stevia."

In summary, herbal products are meant to be supportive and tonifying, not necessarily curative. A change in diet, attitude, or lifestyle may be necessary for herbs to be most effective. No medical claims are made for herbal remedies; if you are ill consult with your health care practitioner. For questions related to herb use, consult with your herbalist.

This article was written jointly by members of the Silver City Herbalists Guild, who will be sponsoring classes on proper and safe herb use during the coming months, and through the years ahead.

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