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Natural Booster Shots
Toronto holistic health experts share their best tips on how to improve your immune system to fight the running-around rundown blues.
BY Damian Rogers December 17, 2008 21:12
What does herbalist Celina Ainsworth do when she feels a cold coming on? “I think it must be because I’m around herbs all the time, but I almost never get sick,” says Ainsworth, who runs The Herbal Clinic & Dispensary (409 Roncesvalles, 416-537-5303). She credits herbal tea, which she regularly drinks in the evening, to keeping her in good health. “There’s something so comforting about a big cup of hot tea,” she says, suggesting peppermint, elderflower and chamomile for everyday use and well-known immune-boosters like astragalus for those times when you know you’re losing steam. “And add some ginger slices to the pot with fresh lemon and a good quality honey.”
For tackling that telltale tickle in the throat, she says, “My first instinct would be to do a little gargle with rosemary, sage and thyme, with a pinch of salt.” (Insert Simon and Garfunkel joke here.) Ainsworth recommends making a “nice, strong infusion” on the stove and gargling with it while it’s still warm. “Boneset is excellent for fever and colds, and so is catnip, which will also help you relax,” she says, pointing out that stress has a big impact on the body’s ability to fight off sickness.
For an easy, off-the-shelf option, the Dispensary sells prepared blends
in both tea and tincture form to boost immunity (a mix of licorice,
astragalus, cleavers, cat’s claw, anise and blupleurum) and soothe a cold or
flu (a mix of elderflower, echinacea, boneset, chamomile and peppermint).
Forget the “feed a cold” adage — if you’re sick, heavy comfort food isn’t the answer. Vegan cookbook author and holistic nutritionist Jae Steele (www.getitripe.com) says it’s best to basically follow a detox diet: avoid caffeine, sugar, white flour and dairy. But of course, that doesn’t mean you should starve yourself. A good, steaming bowl of soup can be one of the best things for speeding up your recovery time. Steele includes several helpful recipes in her book Get It Ripe (Arsenal Pulp Press), such as Mighty Miso Soup and Immunity-Boost Juice.
Ainsworth agrees that eating as lightly as possible will help your body rest and suggests taking all herbal remedies on an empty stomach. She recommends traditional Chinese wei-qi soup, which combines herbs such as astragalus with immunity-boosting mushrooms such as reishi and shiitake. “It’s good to make a big, stocky brew and sip it throughout the day,” she says.
Naturopath Millie Lytle (www.millennialytle.com), author of the popular blog Millie Says, keeps it simple. “When I’m feeling rundown, I cut all the sugary treats, coffee and alcohol and put myself to bed,” she says. “Plus I keep a pot of a boiled tea of sliced ginger, cinnamon stick and cloves on the stovetop, constantly dipping, refilling and boiling up. Sometimes I add lemon, honey or garlic. It really helps warm up the body from the stomach to the tip of the nose to the toes.”
One last word to the wise — it’s not just what you take to get better, it’s how often you take it.
“You can take vitamin C every hour,” says Steele. “The key thing to be aware of when taking anything anti-fungal, anti-bacterial or anti-viral is to hit it frequently in small doses. Bacteria replicates really quickly, so don’t overload your system with one big whammy.” She says cycling through different methods of attack — say oil of oregano at noon, colloidal silver at 1pm, a homeopathic remedy at 2pm — is the best way to beat the bug.
As for vitamin C, avoid commercial preparations that include sugar. “The
cell receptors that are responsible for the intake of vitamin C are the same
ones that absorb sugar,” Steele says. “If there’s a competition between the
two, sugar always wins. And avoid orange juice — it’s mucus-forming. Use
fresh lemon. Or parsley — parsley is an awesome source of vitamin C.”
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Your website hosts Tony Isaacs and Luella May