Understanding the fascinating and complex work of herbs and our immune system
Disclaimer: The information here is for educational purposes only. It covers the traditional use of herbs and traditional medicine from a historical and folk lore standpoint only. The information here is not intended to be used in the place of medical services. Please consult a physician prior to using any herbs.
Over the last few months I've seen a lot of misinformation bandied back and forth when it comes to using kitchen medicine especially herbs for healing during cold and flu season. So I'm taking to my blog today to shine a light on some terminology and the complex working of herbs in the body when it comes to viruses.
Lets look at some terminology and science first
I have found when teaching, we take the term "medicine" and lump both nutritional/herbal medicine with that of western medicine and western pharmacology. The ideology and practice of these two forms of medicine are widely different and complementary to each other. There are stark differences though. Western medical pharmacology is founded on the synthesis of single chemical compounds that originally came from plants. Single chemical compounds are used to target a specific symptom and often provide fast paced changes to the symptoms that the patient is experiencing. Nutritional / herbal medicine or therapy is meant to provide the body a varied number of chemical compounds, vitamins, antioxidants and minerals needed to bring the body back into balance. This type of therapy often takes longer for clients to notice, clients must be diligent in maintaining new habits and allow time for the body to right it's course.
So what does this have to do with feeling better and being healthy during cold flu season. Well lets look at what a virus is, viruses are microscopic entities that lack the ability to reproduce outside of a host. A host is most often you! The virus needs your healthy cells in order to reproduce and create more baby virus. They do this by add hearing to your cell and slipping inside. Once inside the virus hijacks the cells ability to reproduce and reprograms it to reproduce virus. Once the cell ages out it dies releasing all the new viruses into the body where the process is duplicated. Gross. But with out the ability to get into the cell in the first place, the virus will die.
This is where anti viral herbs enter. Aside from being delicious, some anti viral herbs provide the body substances that create coatings around the outside of our cells that make it difficult for a virus to attach and gain entry. They don't actually kill the virus they just make it harder for the virus to do what the virus needs to do. Other anti viral herbs rally our T-Cell's and help the body to quickly produce more, T- Cells actually do kill viruses. Other herbs that are used in conjunction with anti-viral herbs help to alleviate stress so that the immune system can work efficiently.
Lets have a look at some of these herbs.
Star anise has a delightful sweet taste with an underlying flavor of black licorice. It's warming and comforting.
The biggest draw of this herb is it's chemical compound, shikimic acid. Shikimic acid coincidentally is one of the compounds found in Tamiflu.
Star anise is also filled with thymol, terpineol and anethole which aid in relieving coughs and congestion.
An afternoon cup of tea made with one star anise pod is a tasty way to celebrate the days accomplishments and toast your health and well being.
Thyme is a gardeners staple and can be easily grown in a pot on a patio or terrace.
Here is another plant allie brimming with thymol making it helpful for restoring respiratory wellness.
Thyme has demulcent properties meaning it provides a soothing coating. This little plant traditionally was used to sooth sore throats and bronchial channels that were irritated from coughing.
Because thyme is so plentiful it makes a fun kitchen companion. I enjoy throwing sprigs in to just about any pot of soup or crock pot meal. It's also enjoyable in making flavored oils, vinegars, and honey.
Nasturtiums are another popular garden grower, especially here in the Southwest where I am located. They tend to pop up in February so by March and April their beautiful bright blooms are ready to be harvested.
Nasturtiums are filled with a compound called Glucotrodleocline. It can be found in both the flowers and the leaves, which are both edible by the way. Glucotrodleocline clears out the sinuses and opens up our airways.
Nasturtiums have a light peppery taste to them which makes them a delightful accompaniment to salads and stir frys.
I use them when available in my Desert Cider as they have been traditionally used to move mucus and water in the body.
Through regular use in our foods using herbs traditionally marked as anti virals gives our body the building blocks it needs to be prepared to take care of its self when faced with challenges from the many microbes we interact with daily. By having a varied diet, and eating seasonally we supply our body with the necessary building blocks it needs in order to run smoothly and efficiently.
For more information on traditional medicine, food as medicine, herbs and gardening check out my instagram page filled with daily inspiration.