Beyond-the-Basics Pandemic Preparation

By now most of us are repeatedly washing hands, disinfecting surfaces and practicing social distancing, but there is a lot more we can do to protect ourselves from respiratory viruses.

Covid 19 Virus is a reminder of how connected humans are with all living things and that our thrival depends on embracing the gifts nature offers and offering our kindness and care in return. Fortunately, there are many plant allies out there to help us heal. Most deaths from such viruses (and this includes flu) are caused by secondary infections like pneumonia, therefore prevention and then sound healing practices when you are sick, are very important. The following is written from a preventive perspective. If you have the symptoms of fever and dry cough then seek medical testing for the virus and if symptoms are severe please seek medical help. It is most important to not panic (which may require turning off the news sometimes) as stress lowers immunity. Getting enough rest and tuning in to your own body are still most important.

Herbal Home Care:

Make an essential oil-based room spray. Use equal parts vodka and purified water (filtered or bottled water or a hydrosol) and then 20+ drops of essential oil per 1-ounce spray bottle. Top essential oils: thyme, eucalyptus, rosemary, oregano, tea tree, orange, lemon, lemongrass, ravensara, palma rosa, geranium, sage, fir, cedar, juniper, cinnamon, grapefruit, clove, bay. You can choose one or blend them. Example blends: Eucalyptus/rosemary/lemon or tea tree/orange or thyme/lemongrass or clove/cinnamon/orange etc. Use it periodically to dose indoor air (car too), especially if there is someone home who is sick (also doubles as hand sanitizer when you add one-fourth part isopropyl alcohol). Alternatively you can diffuse oils in aromatherapy dispenser or very low simmer fresh plant material (leaves of eucalyptus, rosemary, pine/fir, yarrow, bay, lemon and orange peels) in an open pot on your stove. These anti-microbial oils go into the air and enter your respiratory system, helping to protect tissues. If you are experiencing congestion or you are vulnerable to illness, then do a facial steam using some of these plants and a towel over your head to create a tent as you breathe in their aromas. If you pick fresh bay or eucalyptus leaves and hang them in your house, you will help disinfect the air. Smudging with sage leaves also does this.

Keep your nasal passages clean. Why wait until you have symptoms of illness? Preventive measures include nasal irrigation (netti pots) with salt water that you can add colloidal silver, essential oil hydrosols or 8 drops of herbal tincture like Oregon grape, goldenseal, myrrh, sage or yarrow. This can be done 1-3 times a week to rinse out particulate you picked up. Remember a bogged down respiratory system is more vulnerable than a flowing one.  If you are working with the public, consider a nasal oil (made by Baraka or diluted essential oil in jojoba) that you swab just on the inside of each nostril or the Olbas brand nasal inhalers that you can keep with you and periodically use. There are also many natural nasal sprays on the market that can be used as protection. Then see above for altering indoor air with herbal scents.

Protect your throat and lungs. Propolis-based throat sprays can be used to coat and therefore protect the back of your throat and worth keeping in the car to use before you go shopping. At home it is a good practice to gargle a couple times a week (or more) with saltwater and herb tea. Sage, rosemary, calendula, white or yellow chrysanthemum and thyme are all easy to grow and pick for this purpose. Wild (or backyard) plantain leaf is also helpful. Breath through your nose when you can, sing often, practice deep breathing, stretch and twist your torso and get plenty of fresh air to keep your lungs open and expelling. Fluid movement of your lungs is important. If you are vulnerable, indoor HEPA air filters, humidifiers or dehumidifiers (depending on your environment) can be worth the investment.

Make sure your food is medicine. We can boost immunity with our everyday dietary habits by eating organically whenever possible, including essential power plants into our food, usually as raw additions to cooked food: garlic, onion, horseradish, ginger, burdock root, galangal, peppers also cinnamon, clove, anise, cumin, corriander and fennel. This means stepping up your condiments and salsas and grating or pressing some of these powerhouses into your salads, soups, stir fries or dips – don’t be shy! Include plenty of fresh herbal greens whether wild nettle, plantain, dandelion, fennel, mallow or garden oregano, thyme, rosemary, nasturtium, calendula flowers, basil, mustard greens, parsley, cilantro, dill – they all have protective plant chemistry and are packed with nutritional value. Herbs are easy to incorporate in post-cooking by just washing, chopping and sprinkling and of course, there is always pesto . . . This is also time for curry and chai spices if you tolerate them – things that open your skin and get fluids moving and draining. Include a little fermented goodness to keep your gut flora happy: sauerkraut, miso, kefir, yogurt, kombucha and fresh pickled veggies.

Keep the Flow. Drink a minimum of two quarts of water a day – three is even better. Keep elimination channels open. Add extra fiber like ground flax, apple pectin, chia, psyllium, to your diet to move more waste out of your lower bowel. The lower bowel is directly linked to lung health and back door for the elimination of excess mucus of the lungs. Spring is a great time do undertake a bowel cleanse if you are not sick. If you have been sick in the last 3 months but feel well now, bowel cleansing is a good idea. If you are currently ill, then work individually with a practitioner for specific herbal protocol which would depend on your symptoms, then wait until you feel well and strong again before cleansing. If you are feeling like you might be catching a cold or bogged down with allergies, then enjoy  veggie juices, omega-3 rich fibers like chia and flax, soups/bone broth, herbal immune decoctions for the lungs and plenty of warm water. It is a good idea no matter what your health status to drink a daily respiratory support tea – at least one cup a day. You can use a commercial blend like Breathe Easy by Traditional Medicinals (and others) or you can make tea with herbs from your garden or mix dried herbs. Examples of very helpful tonic herbs are: thyme, rosemary, ginger, sage, mullein, calendula, elderflower and berry, yarrow, lavender, rosehips, tangerine or blood orange peel, mallow leaves, cleavers, chickweed, lemon peel, mugwort, horehound, licorice, mints. Nature has a bountiful pantry we only need to open the door!

 

Juniper

Juniper

Juniper is an evergreen tree that grows wild throughout parts of Europe, Asia, and North America. There are many varieties of juniper, but the most common is Juniperus communis, which grows to 10 feet tall and has needle-like leaves and tiny seed cones. The medicinal parts of the juniper tree are known as berries but are really dark blue-black scales that come from the cones. Berries from the male juniper ripen in 18 months while those from the female juniper ripen within 2-3 years. The berries can be eaten right off the tree or dried as a nice addition to trail mix.  You don’t need to eat many as their oils are strong, yet they have been used as a flavoring in foods and drink for centuries. They make an excellent addition to homemade sauerkraut since ingestion of juniper assist with inflammation and balances the production of stomach acid, a common reason for acid reflux. Juniper berry is often a part of bitter formulas to help stimulate and soothe the gastrointestinal system.  Combine Juniper with chamomile in a tea as an excellent treatment for conditions such as upset stomach, heartburn, flatulence, bloating, loss of appetite and gastrointestinal infections.

The antiseptic properties in juniper make it cleansing to the urinary tract, thus valuable for treatment of urinary tract infections, urethritis, kidney stones, and bladder stones.  Juniper also acts as a diuretic to help with edema related to poor kidney function. This strong action on the kidneys helps rid the body of excess uric acid which can lead to gout or general joint pain and swelling.  Since juniper is very warming, it is contraindicated where there is very hot inflammation of the kidneys. Juniper berry along with cedar berry is also high in natural inulin, a sugar that helps the body manage insulin levels.  It was traditionally taken to help balance the function of the pancreas, usually in a formula with other healing bitters like artichoke and bitter orange.

Extracts and essential oils from the juniper berries contain terpinen-4-ol, a compound that stimulates the kidneys and acts as a diuretic, along with Amentoflavone, which has strong antiviral properties.  Juniper has been found effective in treatment of acute respiratory infection, staph infections and sinus infections. For sinus and bronchial conditions the inhalation of juniper, whether fresh crushed berries in hot water or drops of essential oil in hot water for a steam works well for bronchitis, pneumonia and rhinitis.   Taken in a hot bath with Epsom salts it Juniper can help ease sore muscles and joints. The berries can also be infused in witch hazel as a topical treatment for acne. The essential oil of the berry diluted in a carrier oil or lotion is used topically for joint pain, sore back and to treat conditions like acne, athlete’s foot, warts, skin growths, psoriasis, and eczema.

Calendula

Calendula

Calendula Flowers (Calendula officinalis) are cheerful and easy to grow, so invariably find a way into the hearts and gardens of all herb lovers. Usually cultivated as an annual, calendula can be easily be grown as a perennial in warmer climates and will reseed naturally. Calendula is sometimes called marigold and pot marigold and this confuses it with members of the genus Tagetes, which go by the same common name. Marigolds in the Tagetes genus are in the same family as Calendula – the Asteraceae (Sunflower family) – but they are not interchangeable with calendula in medicine.

When you pick calendula, your fingers will be sticky from the resinous bracts, which form the green base of the flower head and the leaves. The resin has a distinct smell and is an important part of calendula’s healing power. It has been used medicinally for centuries to heal wounds, burns and rashes, internally and externally. You can use the leaves and flowers as a poultice for sprained ankles or cuts and both leaf and flower can be added to healing salves when you make them. Tests of Calendula oil suggest that it promotes tissue growth and chemically enhances immune response to infection. Crush fresh flowers and upper leaves (extracting the resin) directly on skin to spots you suspect can be staph infection – the essential oil of this plant can also be used in such first aid cases. The flowers are rich in bioflavonoids that aid the eyes and are generally highly anti-oxidant. The whole flowers can be eaten fresh, broken over salads and omelets, or dried, and added to soups and stews in the winter as an immune tonic. Calendula’s bright healing energy ‘brings light to places where the sun don’t shine’, is a folk saying that refers to its ability to help move stagnant lymph and deal with yeast infections as well as brighten one’s outlook during the cold, darker months of winter.

To make a calendula oil that you can use as skin moistener, baby oil (helps with diaper rash) or in salves, just collect fresh calendula flowers and carefully dry them out of direct light for a few days (so they are wilted and nearly dry). Then put them in a jar and cover them completely with olive or jojoba oil (mix well). Store in a warm dark place for 1-3 months (the longer the stronger) and decant/press out the golden oil.

California Poppy

California Poppy

Who isn’t cheered and revitalized at seeing the bouncy orange of California’s state flower along roadsides, field-edge and garden? The vibrancy of color alone is food for the soul. Eschscholzia californica is a native annual that often grows like a perennial in coastal climates. Hundreds of years ago, poppies blanketed the land – an orange that could be spotted from miles offshore. The lanceolate, finely cut, almost blue-green leaves, papery flowers and long deep translucent orange taproot are its medicine.

In the wizard of Oz Dorothy, the Lion, Tin man and Scarecrow all fall asleep in a field of Technicolor poppies, eluding to the drug-like effects of the oriental poppy, Papaver somniferum. Our native poppy power has similar, but milder effects, however it is non-addictive and won’t depress the central nervous system. Like the Opium Poppy, California poppy contains a variety of isoquinoline alkaloids including very small amounts of morphine and codeine. While these famous alkaloids may contribute to the activity of Eschscholzia the medicinal properties are likely due to over a dozen other compounds along with flavone glycosides (antioxidant, blood-vessel strengtheners).

The flowers have an iridescent sheen and close in dark or wet weather. Petals can be picked and added to foods for flourish and high anti-oxidant content, or made into tea for a mildly relaxing beverage. The foliage contains a watery white sap that is slightly narcotic, and was traditionally used by Native Americans for relieving toothaches, headaches and reducing spasms. The whole plant treats nervous tension, mild anxiety, allergies, insomnia and bed-wetting in children. Poultices can be made for topical treatment of ulcers and sores of the skin.

Rooting into Winter

This time of year, many favorite herbs have disappeared from view and are hiding underground. A few of us have disappeared too, if only to enjoy a little ‘down time’ as the cool, dark, rainy weather beckons us inward. Shifting our activity levels with the change of season helps us adapt to the unfolding of the year and its energy requirements. Even as roots are living off of stored minerals, they are also gathering nourishment and ‘rest’ for the growing season soon to follow and it is a good time for people to do the same!

 

In many healing traditions, winter rules the kidneys and adrenal glands – storage roots for our physical energy. These organs enjoy rest. Sleeping more (or at least slowing down) and eating root vegetables are a great way to rejuvenate. There are plenty of roots available at your natural grocer, including: celery root, turnips, yams, radishes, rutabaga, parsnips, sun-chokes (also called Jerusalem artichokes), burdock root, beets and carrots. More condiment-type roots available are garlic, ginger, turmeric and horseradish, all of which have powerful medicinal value.

 

Raw garlic is highly antimicrobial, for keeping cold and flu bugs (and perhaps a few folks) at bay, while cooked garlic serves to help loosen plaque and lower cholesterol. Both ginger and turmeric are highly anti-inflammatory and cleansing, so work well as a team. Ginger is warmer and stirs up circulation and promotes sweating (which expels toxins) while turmeric is a strong liver detoxifier. Small peeled nubs of each of these roots can usually be pushed through a garlic press into sauces, dressings and stir-fry’. For an easy instant ginger tea: grate it fresh into the bottom of your cup, pour in the hot water and stir in your favorite raw honey. Then there is horseradish root with its upward moving energy which many of us have experienced eating too much wasabi paste! There is no better root for clearing the sinuses and stimulating the flow of lymph, plus, it’s anti-fungal.

 

Take this season to replenish your body, mind and spirit. Drinking root decoctions and eating roots with winter greens, mushrooms and sea veggies will help re-mineralize your bones and keep you grounded for the coming spring.