As a traditional home herbalist with more than 30 years hands-on experience I have great respect and appreciation for the healing power of plants. So many of these wonderful green allies, both gathered from the wild and cultivated in my own garden, have been essential for supporting and maintaining our family’s health, providing optimum nutrition and a range of flavors to entice every palate. I can’t imagine our life without herbs! I also have great respect and appreciation for modern medical advances that are absolutely life-saving in many cases. My own perspective is that I am very fortunate to be living in a time and a place where both options are readily accessible. For myself, I love maintaining a home apothecary to meet the health needs of my family when needs arise ranging from the common cold, sore muscles, headaches, upset tummies, or simple scrapes and minor cuts. I am also thankful that when serious infections or traumatic accidents occur we have access to life-saving surgeries and medications. These approaches are not at odds with one another but, rather, complimentary systems with the same goal: healthy, whole people living life with vitality! Naturally, each person’s health needs, sensitivities, and unique situations vary widely. Nothing shared in this brief booklet is intended to be perceived as prescriptive; rather, it is descriptive of what I have found helpful as an herbal homemaker and mother. Nor is this information meant to replace the advice and care of your preferred health care practitioner. Please use caution, common sense, and informed care when ingesting any herb, food, or vitamin and be alert for any negative reaction.
Wishing you abundant and vibrant health from the good green herbal path!
It probably goes without saying, but in the case of maintaining health during a viral outbreak or even during seasonal periods when it seems like everyone around us is sneezing, coughing, or just plain sick, it’s wise to pay close attention to the basic habits that support our bodies. Not only will attending to these basic daily practices provide the best opportunity to experience optimum health, but they will also set the best conditions for recovery if we do succumb to sickness.
Dietary restrictions, preferences, and tastes all vary but over and over there are a few foundational essentials that almost all systems agree upon. Lots of dark, leafy green vegetables, high quality protein, whole grains, and a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables are the best choices for nourishment. Since most viruses feed on sugars, it is wise to avoid sweets (pardon the pun) like the plague. Consuming mineral-rich broths and teas in addition to these foods provides an extra nutritional boost and I have included some recipes on the following pages of this booklet.
Fresh leafy greens, veggies, beans for protein, wild greens and flowers, plus feta and Kalamata olives make for tasty, satisfying daily nourishment.
Clear fluids are generally best as the primary source for hydration with simple, pure water making the top of the list. Adding a quart of herbal tea daily, either hot or iced as you prefer, adds essential vitamins and minerals as well as fluids. I often make herbal blends to suit current needs. If you’re not used to brewing and drinking tea you might think a quart of tea sounds like a lot but it is actually only about two big coffee mugs worth of liquid. When our children were young I used to make it a habit to brew a “pot” of herbal tea in a quart canning jar each evening when I prepared supper. It was cool enough to place a lid on as we washed up after our meal and I placed it in the refrigerator to steep overnight for the next day. Now I generally brew a pot in the mornings and drink it throughout the day. Here is a typical herb tea blend, in fact the one I am currently sipping while writing, and the purpose for which I have included each herb:
Daily Nourishing Blend
3 parts Lemon Balm (calming nervine tonic, anti-viral)
2 parts Peppermint/Spearmint (flavor, respiratory tonic, digestive)
2 parts Red Clover tops (nutritive, lymphatic, immune support)
2 parts Calendula (antimicrobial, lymphatic)
1 part Red Raspberry leaf (general tonic, nutritive)
1 part Nettles (mineral nutritive, respiratory tonic, iron)
1 part Mullein leaf (lung tonic)
Blend all herbs together, mixing well. Store in a labeled, lidded glass jar in a cool, dark place. To use place 4 heaping Tablespoons in a quart teapot or jar, cover with boiling hot water and allow to steep at least 15 minutes. A touch of honey or maple syrup is okay to add but not really necessary. You could also add a pinch of Stevia leaf or Licorice root for a touch of sweetness.
*Sufficient Good Quality Rest!
For many this can be one of the most elusive habits to realize. I have to start planning early in the day in order to ensure that I will be able to sleep well. No caffeine after mid-day, which is around noon for me. I also try to avoid screens for at least several hours before I plan to go to sleep. A warm bath or shower goes a long way toward helping me wind down and relax. Going to bed early makes a big difference for many. Although it is not always possible depending upon work and family obligations, early to bed and early to rise seems to be beneficial for many. A relaxing tea, such as Chamomile or Passionflower, can also help me unwind. One of my favorite evening drinks is warm Golden Milk. This traditional Ayurvedic recipe is not only delicious but also soothing and anti-inflammatory, which helps ease stiffness and joint pain.
There are many delicious and deeply nourishing broths that can be prepared or purchased, ranging from bone broths to miso to good, old-fashioned chicken soup. Choose a couple of favorites and keep some on hand to consume daily. These broths are satisfying when we are hungry, easily digested, and a powerhouse of minerals and nutrients. There are many I could share that our family has enjoyed over the years but one of our very favorites is the first one I learned to make while studying with pioneering herbalist, Jeanne Rose. The star of this broth is immune-boosting Garlic and although this is the main ingredient, you may be surprised at the mild flavor. This is more or less the original recipe but I have tweaked and adjusted to suit our needs and comply with ingredients on hand so many times that I am unsure precisely what the recipe was to begin with. Obviously, you should feel free to substitute to suit your own needs as well, but DON’T skimp on the Garlic!
2 bulbs (not cloves!) Garlic, peeled and crushed
2 Tbsp butter or olive oil
1 qt. Chicken stock
2 egg yolks
Gently saute Garlic in butter or oil on low heat until just tender. Do not overcook or the Garlic will take on a bitter taste. Add broth and simmer for about 20 minutes. You can strain this through a fine sieve but I always leave the Garlic in ours. Whisk the egg yolks and slowly add 3 or 4 Tbsp hot Garlic broth to temper the eggs. When they are warmed but not curdled, heat the stock in the pot and very gradually add the tempered egg yolks while stirring continuously. Heat for 1-2 minutes, stirring often. Serve in mugs with optional, but delicious, slices of crusty artisan bread. This broth is so delicious anytime but our go-to especially when we feel a virus trying to gain a toe-hold. If by chance your egg yolks curdle, as mine have when I got distracted and added them too quickly or neglected to temper them, rest assured the broth still tastes wonderful and works its magic. Feel free to add some cooked noodles to further entice kids to gobble up this good broth.
*Loving Relationships & Supportive Community
This is definitely a place where quality trumps quantity. One good friend who you know you can trust and depend upon has far more value that a triple digit social media friends list. Good neighbors are worth both being as well as cultivating. If you’re blessed with a partner to share your journey you can count yourself truly fortunate. If you are currently feeling disconnected or isolated look for opportunities to reach out and build mutually nourishing relationships. It is beyond the scope of this small booklet to address this topic fully but including this in your daily health care “medicine” kit is worthwhile.
*Wash Your Hands
Such a simple habit but it really can make such a difference. Plain soap and hot water works fine. The key is to wash your hands thoroughly, between the fingers, backs of the hands, and to do it long enough. I was taught to sing the Happy Birthday song to myself, which is probably about 20 seconds as recommended by most health departments. This goes a long way toward preventing the spread of viruses.
Now for my favorite topic that never gets old, except for those who have to listen to me wax poetic and ramble on about herbs! In this case I am narrowing my focus and giving all the attention to herbs that specifically support immune system health, although in some ways that is not precisely accurate. Our immune responses are not isolated to any one organ or even only one organ system within the body. Rather, it operates throughout all of the body systems including the skin, which both protects the internal organs and structures and helps rid the body of toxins as well as absorbing healing agents that are applied to the surface. Both the respiratory system and digestive tract are often the first lines of defense when viruses and bacteria are present. The bone marrow and lymph nodes are responsible for producing the white blood cells that protect us from infections and disease. Immune health is holistic and multifaceted. That’s why what we eat and drink, our basic hygiene, and even our mental health impact our immune “system” health. Below are some of the herbs that I have found most helpful in this process.
Aromatic herbs, consumed daily in foods and beverages, used in baths and/or facial steams, have a great impact on our health. They not only benefit the respiratory system but also the digestive. They enhance the flavor of foods as well as our enjoyment of them with their delicious flavors and scents. Some of my favorites include Rosemary, Basil, Oregano, Parsley, Dill, Peppermint, Spearmint, and Fennel.
*Immune System Tonics
Tonic herbs are ones that impart tone in the same way that exercise tones and strengthens the muscles. Generally, tonic herbs are considered to be like foods. That is, we can consume them daily without fear of ingesting a toxic dose. While it is possible to eat too much of anything, in practical terms these herbs are considered safe. Tonic herbs can be used in the form of teas, syrups, elixirs,tinctures, or even powdered and encapsulated. Two of the most popular immune system tonics in our family are Elderberry Syrup and Fire Cider.
*Spiced Elderberry Syrup
Elderberry has a long history, and now a lot of scientific research, as an immune system stimulant. The bonus is that it also tastes delicious! You can purchase it ready-to-use or make your own. Like most enduring recipes, everyone who makes their own comes up with their own favorite blend of herbs and spices. I tend to like tangy, spicy flavors and my syrup reflects that. You could certainly add more honey if you prefer it sweeter. Here is my tried and true recipe:
I admit that I am partial to this traditional immune system tonic that comes with a spicy bite. It’s so easy to make and many homes already have all of the ingredients on hand. It’s inexpensive and works not only for supporting health but also makes a fine base for salad dressings, marinades, and more. Most days I take a “shot” of Fire Cider, which is about 2 tablespoons. It’s warming and good for my circulation, digestion, and immunity. If I feel a scratchy throat, heat in my nose, sinus pressure, or just a little under the weather, I will take several shots throughout the day and make sure to get extra rest that night. This seems to nip any opportunistic bugs in the bud for me. Make some today!
Or view this video of our community Fire Cider Making Day: Making Fire Cider with Leenie Hobbie
*Other Tactics & Approaches
As with most topics, opinions vary from one person to another, and herbalists are no exception. What I use is based on what I have tried and found effective for myself, my family, and community members. That’s what I have shared in this brief booklet. You may have a different experience or even want to try something altogether new. That’s great; that’s how we all keep learning!
I like using the following either preventively or during an active viral illness, and in some cases both:
*Powdered and encapsulated herbs: a blend of Yellowdock, Ginger, Goldenseal or another berberine-rich herb such as Oregon Grape, and Eleutherococis roots. (Note that I generally reserve Goldenseal for extreme circumstances due to its endangered status. When I do use this plant I have generally grown it myself so I can track the sustainability, or I purchase it from a reputable grower. Otherwise, I choose to replace it with an alternative plant that contains berberine.)
*Fresh Echinacea root tincture: A tincture is an alcohol based extract of a plant. In my experience dried Echinacea is not very potent so I always make a tincture from the freshly dug root. This is one of my primary immune system supporting plants and I grow lots of it.
*Neti Pot: It seems that you either love neti pots or hate them. I fall into the love category. Simple warm salt water is used to irrigate the nasal passages and it is nothing short of amazing in its ability to keep sinuses clear and breathing passages open. You can find oodles of tutorials on how to use a neti pot or you will likely find the directions in the packaging when you purchase one. It used to be a specialty, hard-to-find item but I routinely see them in pharmacies and through online vendors. I find them at least as effective as pharmaceutical decongestants and much faster and cheaper. As far as I have been able to discern there are no negative side effects. One caveat: if you wait to use a neti pot until you are seriously congested you will discover that they don’t work nearly as well as when used preventively or at the very first hint of illness. When others around me are ill or there is a serious viral threat I use my neti pot daily even if I feel fine.
*Herbal Steams: For those opting out of using the neti pot or if it didn’t work so well for you, or if you are very congested, an herbal steam is a wonderful way to open clogged sinuses and breath easier. I like to use aromatic herbs like the ones listed above. I also like to include lung tonic herbs like Mullein or Comfrey. Place a handful of fresh or dried herbs in a saucepan and fill with water. Cover with a lid and bring to a simmer. Remove the pot from the stove and place it on a stable surface, being sure to turn the handle away from you so you won’t accidently tip the boiling hot water over on yourself. Drape a towel over your head, remove the pot lid, lean over the fragrant pot of herbs and breath in the steam. I like to alternate breathing in through my nose and mouth. Both help in different ways. Lift the towel anytime you need to cool down a bit. It’s fine to add a drop or two of essential oil such as Rosemary or Eucalyptus for extra strength but they are not absolutely necessary.
ADD NOTES HERE ON OTHER APPROACHES YOU FIND USEFUL AND WANT TO REMEMBER:
In closing, I would like to thank you for bearing with me through this very first attempt at creating an e-book. I welcome your gently constructive feedback as I learn to make use of the technology at our fingertips today that allows us to connect as a global village and learn from one another as never before. I also want to encourage everyone to support their local herbalists, herb growers, farmers, and small herbal businesses. Find out who and what your local resources are and choose them as often as possible over big box vendors and distant providers. It helps our communities grow and is kinder and gentler on the planet. Or try your hand at growing some of the herbs that you find most useful. Many herbs are surprisingly easy to grow and many of the common plants that some call weeds are full of nutrients and healing constituents. You never know what you will find right outside your door.
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