With the change-of-season happening as we speak, let’s make a pact to keep ourselves charged and prepared for the cold months to come! Along with the beautiful red-orange leaves hovering the ground and the winds picking up pace at this time of year, we all know how it feels to be next to someone in a crowded, public place when we hear the dreaded sound of coughing or even…“Aaacchooo!!”
Eating a clean, healthy diet and engaging in daily physical activity is key in providing our immune systems with the nourishment and vigour to fight potential colds and flus wandering around at this time of the year.
Let’s look at two great herbs for this change-of-season:
- Astragalus membranaceus: This herb can help boost our immune system long-term and aid in the prevention of acquiring the common cold/flu
- Eucalyptus globulus: This herb is termed an “expectorant” in the herbal world, which helps get rid of thick, mucous discharge by coughing or through the sinuses/nose during respiratory tract infections.
Astragalus membranaceus is a Traditional Chinese Medicine herb also known as Milk Vetch Root, which is originally from Mongolia. This herb belongs to the Fabaceae family of plants and is classified as an “immune adaptogen”. Adaptogens help to regulate bodily responses to all types of stress – physical, mental and emotional. Astragalus helps our immune systems to adapt well to stress because the herb stimulates the adrenal glands (specifically the cortices), which are responsible for the secretion of our major stress hormone, cortisol.
Since Astragalus is a deep immune activator, it is more effective when taken preventatively versus during an active infection. Astragalus enhances the immune system long-term, by acting as an antibacterial and antiviral agent, while also protecting the liver and heart from damage from certain foods or toxins. In addition to boosting the immune system on a long-term basis, Astragalus can also be used to help individuals with allergies and autoimmune diseases. Because of its long-term action, avoid using Astragalus during an active infection (i.e. Common cold) because it could make you feel worse! Astragalus is most commonly taken in liquid tincture-form, which concentrates active herbal components, in order to have a strong effect on the body.
Eucalyptus globulus is derived from the Myrtaceae family and is also known as Blue Gum. This herb originates from Eastern Australia, but is now also grown in Southern California. The volatile oils (also known as essential oils) of this plant are the major acting parts of the herb. This herb is great for getting sinus fluids moving and breaking up mucous in bronchitis, for example. Eucalyptus also serves as an antibacterial agent. As opposed to Astragalus, Eucalyptus oil would be great to use at the onset of cold/flu symptoms or even during a cough spell involving mucous, during an active infection. In the above situations, an effective and safe way to use Eucalyptus would be in a steam inhalation as follows:
- Boil water in a pot (or a kettle) and then pour into a big round glass bowl.
- Quickly add 1-2 drops of Eucalyptus essential oil, which is more than enough.
- Place your head over the steaming bowl of water and cover both your head and the bowl of hot water and Eucalyptus oil with a large towel, to keep the heat within that limited space.
- Take deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth at least 10 times in a row (or until you feel discomfort) and then, if necessary, lift the towel over your head and onto your shoulder to breathe in open air for a quick few seconds.
- Pull thee towel over your head and the bowl again and repeat until steam from the bowl is no longer present.
For best results during a cold/flu or respiratory tract infection, perform this 3-4 times per day. It is important to note that ingesting essential oils without carrier oils can be fatal. Avoid using the oil directly on the skin (causes irritation and burning due to highly concentrated and toxic components).
Herbs are powerful substances and can affect various systems and physiological pathways within our body. It is important to consult a Naturopathic Doctor, herbalist or any other certified health educator who is well versed with herbal forms before you take them (especially if you are on any medications; prescription or over-the-counter). Also ask about the best preparation or form that an herb should be taken (tincture, powder, capsule, tea, decoction, etc.) for safety purposes and optimal results!
Best Wishes for a Healthy Change-of-Season!
Now you can say, “Bring on the Bugs!”
Born and raised in Calgary, Alberta, Nadia is a University of Calgary graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences and a Minor in Dance. She is currently studying to become a Naturopathic Doctor in Toronto, at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and will be entering her second year in September. Naturopathic Medicine’s holistic approach is what intrigues her the most about this field of medicine. In particular, she values the strong doctor-patient relationship that can be cultivated in order to guide patients through treatment. Nadia is a recipient of the Gold Level Duke of Edinburgh Young Canadian’s Award Challenge, which was awarded to her for her long-term involvement in community service, skill, physical activity and camping adventures. In her free time, Nadia enjoys volunteering with youth around the city, maintaining her daily fitness routines at the gym and spending time with her family and friends.
Godfrey A., Saunders P., Barlow K., Gilbert C., Gowan M. and Smith F. 2010. Principles and Practices of Naturopathic Botanical Medicine. CCNM Press. Immune System: 416-421.
University of Maryland Medical Centre. 2013. Astragalus. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/astragalus.