Sunday, March 30, 2008

How to Survive the Flu, Part 2: Acute Remedies

So, what happens, if despite getting enough rest, eating well and using herbal immune supporters, you or your loved one still catches the dreaded flu? What is the best course of action?

Here’s my standard plan to address the flu and ensure proper recovery for the general populace. That said, the elderly and young should be very closely monitored and if the fever goes too high or other complications develop, medical assistance should be sought out.

  1. Fever is your friend. Do NOT suppress your fever.

The first instinct most people have when they discover they have a fever is to suppress it. This is usually accomplished by taking aspirin. There are several problems with this. Fever is usually a good sign. It is your body’s defense system at work. A healthy fever makes the body inhospitable to invading organisms of all sorts. The influenza virus in particular doesn’t like temperatures much higher than 98 degrees, and a healthy fever can help kill off the flu virus and reduce replication. It has also been shown that reducing a fever can actually extend the length of time it takes to recover from the flu. Don’t take aspirin to reduce your fever. A healthy fever can run up to 102 or 103 in most adults. A fever higher than this can be gently reduced with hydrotherapy, using a cool water rinse, bath or cloth. NEVER use ice or ice packs. These are suppressive and damaging to tissues.

You can support healthy fever response with diaphoretic herbs which both stimulate circulation and relax the capillaries allowing heat to diffuse throughout the body. Diaphoretics can sometimes bring down a fever by opening the pores in the skin and allowing the heat to come to the surface. Generally diaphoretics will slightly increase body temperature initially, and open the pores which will allow heat to escape.

My favorite diaphoretic tea for the flu includes equal parts:

Yarrow leaf/flower,

Monarda leaf or flower

Elder flower


I suggest drinking this tea as hot as you can stand at the first sign of the flu, and throughout the duration of the fever, and wrap up in plenty of warm blankets to keep warm once your pores open and you begin to sweat.

  1. Feed a cold and starve a fever.

An old axiom holds true during the flu. Most people when feverish will have little to no appetite, and food should not be forced on them. During a fever the body has concentrated all its resources and energy in fighting off the virus. The act of digestion at worst will suck vital energy from the immune system and weaken the immune response, and at best, food may sit undigested in the guts because the body has more important things to do that digest food.

Food may be taken when the fever breaks. Usually mild, easy to digest foods are best. Broth and scrambled eggs are good choices. It is important to replenish protein especially, but any food palatable is acceptable. (But avoid the ice cream or pastries.)

The usual duration of the flu is about 3-4 days, and the body is not going to starve in 4 days. It will need replenishing and rebuilding after the flu, as protein in the body is used by the immune system to fight off illness. (This is one of the reasons the body aches during the flu.)

Warm teas and plenty of fluids are important to continue to consume during the fever to avoid dehydration. Do not take iced drinks. Room temperature water with lemon is refreshing and won’t cause a shock to the system like iced cold water or drinks. (And for heavens sake DO NOT drink a soda while you have the flu. Remember, sugar=kiss of death.)

  1. Support the immune system

There are lots of herbs one can take during the flu to support the immune system, and my favorite is elderberry. Elderberry is relaxing, delicious and long known as effective against viral illness of many sorts. Infusions or tinctures in large doses work quite well, I’ve also found one commercial elderberry product in particular to be very effective for viral illness, including influenza. It is called Blockade, by New Chapter. It is a high potency extract of elderberry which has been patented by the company. It comes in tasty blueberry flavored lozenges which dissolve in the mouth and are excellent for children or those who can’t tolerate teas or tinctures. I think it seems quite a bit more potent than normal extractions in water or alcohol, but it isn’t cheap. And I’ve seen the tea or tincture work just beautifully as well. I recommend taking one every 2-3 hrs during acute influenza. If you are using a tincture or tea, take at least 4 oz of tea or two droppers of tincture every 2 hours.

Echinacea may be useful in supporting the immune response, but I have found tinctures are far less effective than a traditional long decoction of the roots. Cook the Echinacea in simmering water for 30 min to an hour, and drink a quart of this tea over the course of the day. It can be added to other tea formulas (the diaphoretic tea, with a squirt of boneset and elderberry tinctures) for simplicity. Echinacea might not address the symptoms directly, but is an effective immune system booster, which can’t hurt when dealing with the flu.

  1. Make the person comfortable.

Make sure there are plenty of blankets and pillows for the afflicted to rest in, books, pleasant music, or videos. Whatever suits them. Often times they will end up sleeping more than anything else, and that is great. But when not asleep, attempt to keep them as comfortable as possible. The flu is NO FUN.

Headaches can be alleviated with a cool cloth over the eyes, a warm foot soak, or a gentle massage. Try to avoid NSAIDS like ibuprofen as they can also hinder the healing process and immune function.

Body aches, common in the flu, are the result of the body stripping protein from tissues to use in the immune components. Boneset, long used in flu, is a relaxing diaphoretic that can be used as a warm tea, or a tincture squirted into warm water or tea. It tastes very bad, but it can be very helpful in managing fever, relaxing the person who is ill, and alleviating the body aches to some degree. Again, cool or warm cloths, showers and rinses may make the person more comfortable.

Often a relaxing, nervine tea can help when the person is tense, agitated, irritated, or otherwise uncomfortable. I favor relaxing herbs which are also diaphoretic with dealing with a fever or influenza. Here’s a simple blend you can try.

Relaxing Tea

1 pt Elder flowers

1 pt Catnip

2 pt chamomile

1 pt vervain

1 pt peppermint

  1. Stay in bed.

Possibly one of the most important steps in successfully recovering from the flu is the hardest for some people to accept, that is staying in bed. Do NOT go to work, do NOT get up and try to clean the house or walk the dog. You need to rest. Your body is fighting off a serious infection and rest is the best way to support that process. You can get up to take brief showers or baths, and to make yourself medicinal teas if you don’t have someone to help you while you are sick, but most of your time should be spent resting. Read, listen to music or watch videos to keep occupied. Sleep as much as you feel the need and desire to. Sleep may be restless or filled with strange dreams, and uncomfortable alternating hot and cold and sweating. To some degree this is the nature of the beast and can’t be avoided completely, but rest as much as you can, and sleep when you can.

The corollary to this is the need to continue resting as you recover. A good general rule of thumb is rest and recovery for as many days as you had a fever. If you were in the throes of influenza fever for 4 days, you must take 4 days to recover before even attempting to go back to work, school or daily chores. This would be the time to take in plenty of easily digested nourishing food. Soups, cooked vegetables, eggs, stewed meats, beans, rice, or porridge like congee or kitcheri made with bone broth, and soft vegetables, and eggs. Those who do not take the time to recover properly from the flu often succumb to secondary infections like pneumonia, long term fatigue and malaise, or chronic bronchitis or other respiratory infection.

  1. Respiratory Rescue

Influenza is characterized by fever, body aches, and a severe respiratory infection. There is often uncomfortable coughing, which can disrupt sleep, exhaust the body, and develop into deeper infections. If coughing at night is keeping you from resting, an anti-tussive formula might be indicated. Suppressing a cough completely is counter productive, as the body needs to expel mucous and infectious material, but sleep is also important.

Nighttime Cough Formula

½ oz wild cherry bark tincture

¼ oz boneset tincture

¼ oz lobelia tincture

Take 1 dropper every 30 min to an hour for relief. This is often more effective when given in smaller doses more frequently. 10 drops every 15 min can be remarkable. This is safe for kids who are sleepless and red faced from coughing so hard, but reduce the dose. 5 drops every 15 min will probably suffice, but use your judgment.

Lots of coughing and hacking can irritate the throat and respiratory passages, and the heat of a fever can dry out the mucous and respiratory passages. I like to give a demulcent, anti-inflamatory, antispasmodic and relaxant tea during the day. This tea isn’t meant as a cough suppressant, but a relaxant which will ease the discomfort of a dry unproductive cough.

Soothing Cough Tea

1 pt Licorice Root

1 pt Ginger or Turmeric

1 pt Marshmallow root

1 pt Elecampane

1 pt Pleurisy Root (alternatively a dropper of tincture may be added to warm tea upon drinking. This is fairly bitter, but a supreme relaxant and anti-inflammatory for the lungs.)

This can be simmered gently for 10-15 minutes, and taken warm in 4 oz doses throughout the day. 1 quart is appropriate, but if you need more moistening up, increase the marshmallow, or take plain marshmallow root tea as your beverage.

Alternatively, if you have a very wet, mucousy cough which is deep in the lungs, congested and infective with green yellow mucous, you can try this more stimulating tea.

1 pt Osha

2 pt elecampane

1 pt pleurisy root

2 pt hyssop

1 pt ginger

1 pt marshmallow

Sometimes the cough can last longer than the fever, and if you are well on your way to recovery, but the cough lingers, a restorative and healing respiratory may be in order.

1 pt red clover

1 pt violet leaf

1 pt hyssop

2 pt mullein

1 pt tulsi basil

  1. Hydrotherapy

A therapy for many illnesses used in clinics and spas across Europe, hydrotherapy seems to have been forgotten by most Americans. This can be as simple as warm foot soaks and cool, not icy cloths on the body to gently bring down a fever, or stimulate a healthy fever response when needed. Cool water can be helpful for the discomfort of hot sweats, and stimulates the body’s vital response. Cool applications should not be applied for extended periods of time (no longer than 2-3 minutes) and often alternating warm and cool can be beneficial. I’m not well versed in hydrotherapy techniques, so I would suggest further reading on the subject, but the take away lessons here are never use Ice or COLD water, and never for extended application. Warm water on the feet can help alleviate high fever, headache and fullness in the head. Cool applications will stimulate the body to send blood and immune components to the surface of the body. Warm water can soothe aches and relax the body.

So now you have a little arsenal of tools to address the symptoms of an acute flu. For most healthy adults, the flu can be recovered from easily as long as you rest and take proper actions (avoiding suppressive medications and therapies is important here.) If the person is elderly or very young, and has a high fever or isn’t recovering, or seems to get progressively worse, seeking medical attention is prudent and wise. As the flu is a virus there isn’t a medication the doctors can give to make the infection go away, but they do have tools not available to the lay person, and in serious cases can be of great assistance. If there is any doubt in your mind when treating someone with the flu, it is also prudent to call a doctor for advice. There are many more herbs which may be useful, and each individual will experience the flu differently. The formulas and therapies here are based on my own personal experience in treating my own illnesses and what I’ve learned as vitalist therapies from Paul Bergner at NAIMH, but are certainly not the be all of flu care. I’d love to hear of other effective remedies and how you manage the flu at home.


Anonymous said...

Wow. For the information alone, I love this site! You are so knowledgeable about herbal healing, it blows my mind. :)
I also love that you are direct with the information. You don't divert from what it truly does for the body, and I appreciate that. A lot of authors go in a million directions about what the herb does, and you stay true to the herbs and their function in our bodies.
Thank you!

Darcey Blue said...

Thanks so much! I try to keep it simple so everyone can understand. I could go into great depth about each individual herb, but sometimes it is as simple as knowing its action. Does it relax or stimulate? Then you can extrapolate on your own when a relaxant or stimulant might be appropriate.

I've been studying at this for a while, and I have had amazing teachers gift me with their knowledge.

I'm so glad you enjoy it!!

Anonymous said...

One of the reasons I love elder so much for cold/flu bug stuff is that it's an *emotional* relaxant as well. Especially for those of us who are having trouble staying "down on the farm" when we are sick and most NEED to rest (ie sitting on the couch just gets us wound up about all the stuff we're NOT doing etc). So, sometimes I find that my body doesn't even really need the frank "cold/flu" herbs, but just nervines like passionflower/skullcap/cal poppy etc etc to help me RELAX enough to be able to effectively rest. Of course, St. J's, elderflower, lemon balm, calendula etc that are nervine *and* antiviral and/or lymph moving do a nice job of tackling both ends of the spectrum ;-) MDV

Alyss said...

This is wonderful, thank you. This winter my boyfriend had a pretty bad flu and just from intuition I did a lot of the stuff you mentioned. Make him rest, use cool to warm compresses, soup when he was up for it. I think the best advice for the flu is treat it like the serious illness it can be and rest, but other than that let your body do it's own healing. Thanks for the great information!

Sean Donahue said...

One of my teachers, Tommy Priester, says that most people who die of the flu die due to respiratory inflamation.

Japanese Knotweed is an excellent anti-inflamatory herb for both the lungs and the upper respiratory system.

Skunk Cabbage doesn't agree with everyone, but for some can be an excellent remedy too.

"The mother of us all, the oldest of us all, Hard, splendid as rock, Let the beauty you love, be what you do. There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth"~ Rumi ~