Over the past few weeks cold and flu season has kicked into full gear, as it generally does. Between the darkness, kids back to school, being indoors more and getting less fresh air, and sugar-filled holiday season, our immune systems have a tough time warding off illness. Even though it is inconvenient and uncomfortable, getting sick is part of our immune systems’ strength training process. Adult and kids alike need to keep our immune systems exposed, educated, and resilient without getting knocked down too hard.
As a family, we use supplements like probiotics and Vitamin D pretty regularly, but we do like to get our immune boosters through food if we can. There are a couple tricks that our family uses to keep (relatively) healthy through this time of year:
– Hydration: It seems like such a simple thing, but it is imperative at this time of year. We are inside more, subject to the drying forces of forced air, radiated, or wood-stove heat. That dry heat, which combats the dampness outside, also dries out our mucous membranes. And these mucous membranes are our primary defense when someone sneezes, coughs, or generously wipes critters all over you. In order to keep our mucociliary elevator running smooth, it requires lubrication from clear fluids. This can be clean water, herbal tea or broths. Keep in mind that sugar and caffeine de-hydrate, so for every cup of juice, coffee, tea, or soda, please add in one extra cup of water.
– Spicy Tea: This changes every year but it is common occurrence in our house to have a pot simmering on the stove on most days that includes household spices and seasonings that stimulate our immune system, create ‘heat’ to combat the colds, and improve digestion (which often get dampened by the sugar and rich food of holidays). My brew this year has included: fresh ginger, fresh garlic, black peppercorns, cinnamon, licorice root, and cloves. I am pretty imprecise when it comes to this tea and just throw in a few teaspoons of each. Simmer, strain, and drink!
– Mushrooms: There are so many wonderful things we can say about mushrooms. They can contain Vitamin D (!!), they grow readily in our environment (which can give some sense of their purpose in this climate), they contain a multitude of immune modulating chemicals, and they taste great with butter. I use mushrooms often this time in of year in my soups, as a side dish, and in tea form. The medicine in mushrooms is best released in hot water extracts, so even if you don’t like the taste or consistency of mushrooms, you can simmer, strain, and drink. My favorites for immune modulation are: Reishi, Lion’s Mane, Cordyceps, and Shitake. There are several sources for dried mushrooms locally and online, and great mushroom farms locally like Sno-Valley Mushrooms. You can add these to your Spicy Tea or make this part of your hydration plan.
– Elderberry: My n=8 from last year was pretty clear on this one. Yes, it is a small sample size, but it was interesting nonetheless. My son and I were the only ones taking pure Elderberry extract daily (1/4 tsp for him and 1/2 for me) last year. And we were the only ones that did not get the flu-like symptoms of fever, chills, sweats, cough, and body aches that the rest of the extended family did over the holidays despite the fact that we were the two most exposed. And that has been true every year we have used it. It’s not enough to use Elderberry or Sambuccus preparations over the counter, it has to be the ‘good stuff’. We like the Wise Woman or Heron Botanicals brands (no affiliation) because they are high quality and potent.
– Essential oils: we now have a diffuser going in the house and two in the clinic because essential oils help keep the air ‘sanitized’. Our favorites are eucalyptus, clove, tea tree and lavender at home.
– Sleep: It’s dark for a reason. Enough said.
There are so many more ways we can support our bodies and families during this time. Try these out and let me know what you think. And please share your favorite tips as well!
Be well! Sunita