Tag Archives: fever

How to Make Elderberry Syrup

Elderberry European? cropped

Last week, I wrote about natural tips for preventing the flu. Elderberries were one of the items I highlighted because they taste delicious and are safe for nearly every age group. I have trouble getting my husband to use some of the remedies I use personally like Echinacea tincture and oregano oil, but he is happy to take elderberry syrup. Elderberries have been shown to directly reduce the rate that the influenza virus can replicate. We both notice that it seems to immediately make us feel a little better when we are fighting a cold or flu. Allergy sufferers also report that elderberry syrup eases their symptoms.

I have been making elderberry syrup for years now. I make it from either fresh or dried elderberries and various sweeteners. I don’t even normally use a recipe because you can hardly go wrong. I just taste it to see if I have sweetened and concentrated the syrup enough. For my last version, I used xylitol as the sweetener since this is a natural sugar alternative that won’t raise blood sugar and can help prevent some bacteria infections, especially ear infections. I usually make very large batches and freeze the extra so I have it on hand to defrost whenever we need it. In the summer, I will harvest the fresh elderberries and make syrup out of them right away. At this time of year, we only have dried elderberries available, so this recipe will use them. For fresh elderberries, you can cut the water in half.

 

Dried Elderberries

Dried Elderberries

Simple Elderberry Syrup

½ cup dried elderberries

2-3 cups of water

¼-½ cup xylitol or sweetener of your choice

Combine ingredients in a saucepan and bring them to a boil. Simmer on low for an hour, stirring occasionally. Let it cool down enough to handle. You can strain it through a fine mesh sieve. I prefer to put to then put the berries into a jelly bag or nut milk bag so that I can squeeze the residual juice out of the berries.

(Some times I then take those berries and cook them down a separate time with more water and sweetener to get the remaining goodness out of them. This makes a less concentrated syrup, so I just label it differently so I remember to use twice as much of it.)

I take 1-2 Tablespoons up to 5-6 times a day when I am really feeling bad. For prevention, I might take it once or twice a day.

Natural Flu Prevention

This seems to be shaping up to be a particularly bad flu season. So far, nearly forty people have died of influenza here in Arkansas. My husband recently had a mild case himself, and it made me think I should share what I did to prevent myself from getting it. These interventions can also help prevent colds and other upper respiratory infections and reduce the severity of a cold or flu if you come down with one.

Astragalus

Astragalus

When the cold and flu season starts, I begin taking astragalus, which has been shown to boost the immune system especially when taken long term. That is why I start it at the beginning of flu season, so I get the full immune benefits. But it is worth starting at anytime since astragalus also has a mild antiviral activity. Astragalus also helps with the body compensate for stress and reduces cortisol, which has been shown to suppress immune function. In addition, astragalus can help increase stamina. Because of this combination of immune and energy benefits, I choose astragalus over Echinacea for the flu season. I still use Echinacea sometimes, especially if my preventative strategies haven’t been enough and I start to feel a cold or flu coming on.

Another lesser-known immune booster is larch arabinogalactan. These are polysaccharides derived from the larch tree. Polysaccharides are the immune stimulating compounds in many of the best-known immune herbs like Echinacea and aloe. In addition to supporting the immune system, larch arabinogalactan can help with inflammation and joint pain. I also like larch arabinogalactan because it is a mild tasting powder that is safe to for children.

In addition to an immune booster, I take my daily fish oil and vitamin D. Fish oil and vitamin D are again obvious choices because of their multiple health benefits. The polyunsaturated fatty acids in fish oil help with optimal immune function, while also supporting mood, fighting inflammation and helping prevent heart disease. Vitamin D has been shown in numerous studies to help reduce rates of influenza. People who are deficient in vitamin D are much more likely to get the flu. In fact, lack of vitamin D production from sunlight is possibly one of the reasons the flu season is at this time of the year. If you already have adequate vitamin D levels, taking more vitamin D isn’t necessarily helpful. In fact, excess vitamin D might slightly increase the rate of influenza.

Elderberry

Elderberry

I always keep elderberry syrup in my house, and when my husband or I start feeling sick, this what we reach for. Elderberries have been shown in test tube studies to reduce the rate of influenza virus replication. Studies have also shown it to reduce the severity and duration of flu symptoms. In one study, 87% of the people taking elderberry had nearly complete resolution of symptoms in 3 days, while only 33% of those given the placebo felt as good at that point.

There are many other herbs and supplements that I could write about to help fight the flu, but lifestyle considerations are even more important. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to reduce stress, get adequate sleep, and allow yourself extra rest when you feel like you need it. When our stress goes up, so does our cortisol, which as I mentioned suppresses the immune system. Additionally, inadequate sleep hampers our immune system partially through causing elevated cortisol output. So get 8-9 hours of sleep a night and establish stress management techniques like deep breathing, exercise, yoga or meditation so that every day stress won’t leave you more susceptible to the flu.

Natural Pain and Fever Reducers to Replace Acetaminophen

Recently, the FDA recommended that doctors limit the amount they prescribe of acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol and some other pain reducers. They stated that taking more that 325 mg of acetaminophen per dose didn’t outweigh the added risk for damage to the liver. Liver injury has occurred in patients who took more than the prescribed amount of acetaminophen in 24 hours, took more than one product containing acetaminophen, or drank alcohol while taking acetaminophen. The harm to the liver by acetaminophen is greatly increased by alcohol, which slows down the rate that the liver can neutralize acetaminophen.

Since this is just one of the many negative reports about acetaminophen in recent years, it is time we looked for alternative to help us manage without acetaminophen or reduce the amount that is needed. We can’t necessarily take a combination of acetaminophen and non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin or ibuprofen, as these medications also slow down the detoxification of acetaminophen by the liver.

The two main actions of acetaminophen are to help reduce fever and pain. Some natural alternative to help reduce fevers are herbs like white willow, gotu kola, and to some a milder extent, peppermint. Additionally, we can choose herbs that induce sweating and in turn can help break a fever. These herbs are ginger, yarrow, chamomile, and hyssop. For fevers related to the flu, homeopathic remedies like belladonna, gelsemium, and oscillococcinum may also be useful.

Passionflower

Passionflower

To help reduce pain naturally, there are many herbs and supplements that can be used without the harmful side effects of acetaminophen. One of my favorite supplements for pain is MSM, methylsulfonylmethane. MSM is anti-inflammatory and safe to use in large amounts. Turmeric and its active constituent curcumin is probably one of the most popular supplements for reducing inflammation and therefore pain. These are sometimes paired with DL-phenylalanine, an amino acid that supports the production of endorphins. Endorphins are the chemicals our bodies produce naturally to reduce pain and improve mood. Other herbs for pain include kava kava, valerian, California poppy, passionflower, and white willow. All of these herbs are centrally acting like acetaminophen, which means they work on the brain to slow the transmission of pain signals from the body. Dr. Oz has also recently popularized the herb Corydalis, which has this same type of action.

If natural options like these are enough to sufficiently reduce pain and moderate amounts of acetaminophen containing medications are still needed, make sure you have sufficient amounts of these nutrients that are necessary for acetaminophen breakdown: riboflavin, glutathione, selenium, zinc, and molybdenum.

Essential Oils for Cold and Flu Season

It is that time of year again. The cool weather is hitting us and I have been seeing more people with colds and other contagious illnesses. One of my strategies to stay well when interacting with sick patients is to use antimicrobial essential oils like peppermint and eucalyptus. While many essential oils have antimicrobial benefits, I particularly choose these two for their additional decongestant nature.

Peppermint essential oil is a very versatile and inexpensive remedy to have around for cold season as well as other times of the year. Inhaling peppermint oil can help relieve sinus pressure because of its high concentrations of menthol, which helps open up congested nasal passages. Peppermint also has analgesic and anti-inflammatory benefits so it helps ease the discomfort that comes along with sinus issues. Peppermint also helps reduce coughing so you nearly always see menthol added to cough drops. Due to its cooling action, adding 10 drops of peppermint oil to a tepid bath can also be useful for fevers or sunburns. For all times of the year, peppermint oil can be a wonderful digestive soother. Add 2-3 drops to 1-2 teaspoons of a carrier oil like almond or coconut oil and massage some of that blend on the back or tummy to reduce indigestion or nausea. Peppermint oil also works well for headaches that are related to digestive or sinus issues. Finally, inhaling peppermint oil has been shown to increase alertness as well as memory and concentration.

Eucalyptus Leaves

Eucalyptus Leaves

A great essential oil to combine with peppermint during cold season is eucalyptus. Eucalyptus is a relative of tea tree and has nearly as potent antimicrobial action as its well-known cousin. It also helps reduce inflammation in the respiratory tract. It is a popular choice for sinus congestion and bronchitis because it helps to break up mucus. Eucalyptus oil can also be a very useful headache remedy. Combined with peppermint it can be used topically for numerous issues from joint pain to repelling mosquitoes. Always dilute them with water or oil before applying to the skin.

For colds, I add 5 drops of an essential oil to a boiling hot cup of water and inhale the steam for several minutes. In addition to easing respiratory symptoms, these oils can also help prevent upper respiratory tract infections. Inhale these essential oils when you have been around sick people or are travelling by plane to create your own essential oil vapor shield.

Catnip: This Nerve Soothing Herb Is Not Just for Cats

My cats love it, but there are many great reasons for people to choose this nerve-toning herb too. While catnip is stimulating to cats, it is relaxing to us. Because of these benefits, catnip can be a good option for restlessness, insomnia, and nervous headaches. It also helps relax tense muscles and ease muscle spasms. For this reason, some women use catnip for menstrual cramps. Like its close cousin lemonbalm, catnip has a pleasant lemony taste that can make it a great choice for a soothing tea. It is also a popular addition to make herbal blends taste better.

Catnip

 

Catnip is a great herb for children too because of the good taste and gentle effect on the body. It can be used for insomnia or excitability in children. It is good for upset stomachs and other digestive complaints. Catnip has some antiviral activities and can help break a fever. It also helps ease coughs. These actions make it a good herb for children during cold and flu season.

I find catnip very easy to grow as long as my cats don’t destroy it when it is small. I bring the fresh leaves inside for my cats, but also see them in the garden eating it and rolling around in it. Catnip is reputed to be a nerve tonic for cats, so their brains actually benefit from the “buzz” they get. I also love catnip for its scientific name: Nepeta cataria. If fact, I used to have a cat by this name. Her nickname was Nip.

Nepeta hunting goldfish

Nepeta hunting goldfish

Herbs of the Ozarks

I believe that if we know the local herbs in any region well enough, we can rely on them nearly exclusively to treat most common complaints. This holds true for the Ozark region, where many classic American herbs grow and many introduced species also tend to flourish. In fact, the Ozarks are part of the native range for herbs in very high demand—like goldenseal and American ginseng.

Another well-known plant from this part of the country is black cohosh. This herb is found in nearly every blend for menopausal symptoms, but it is most effective for women that have a particular constellation of symptoms, such as hot flashes, depression, and achy muscles or joints. Studies are showing that black cohosh may reduce the hormone surges associated with hot flashes. Black cohosh might also have constituents that act similarly to the medications known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which could explain its possible mood benefits. Furthermore, black cohosh also has pain-relieving attributes that make it an ideal herb to choose for discomfort and complaints not related to menopause. It contains analgesic and inflammation modulating constituents that make it a promising consideration for joint and muscle pains. Women can use it to address menstrual cramps because it relaxes smooth muscles, such as those found in the uterus. Black cohosh is also an herbal option for men who have low back and knee pain, especially if they also have prostate issues or are under a lot of stress.

 Robert H. Mohlenbrock @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA SCS. 1991. Southern wetland flora: Field office guide to plant species. South National Technical Center, Fort Worth.


Robert H. Mohlenbrock @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / USDA SCS. 1991. Southern wetland flora: Field office guide to plant species. South National Technical Center, Fort Worth.

Japanese honeysuckle is a plant that is probably known to every Arkansan, but few know about its health benefits. Japanese honeysuckle isn’t native to the Ozarks. It was introduced and is now invasive, but one way to combat invasive plants is to harvest them for herbal medicine. The flowers of Japanese honeysuckle are antimicrobial, antiviral, inflammation modulating, and mildly detoxifying. The most common traditional use of honeysuckle flowers is as a component of Chinese herbal blends for colds and flu. A modern use of honeysuckle flowers is as an addition to pharmaceutical or herbal antimicrobial agents to increase their effectiveness. Additionally, Japanese honeysuckle flowers can help block the pumps that harmful bacteria use to disseminate the antimicrobial agents out of themselves. Apart from supplementation, Honeysuckle flowers are also mildly cooling and can make a refreshing summertime iced tea.

So we don’t necessarily have to search exotic lands for our medicinal herbs. Instead we can use our local plants provided by Mother Nature to help our environment and ourselves.

And you can check out my recent appearance on a local Harrison TV station talking about some other common herbs found here in the Ozarks.

Willow Bark: Herbal Aspirin?

Many people consider willow bark to be an herbal aspirin substitute. This is true for many of its actions, but there are some differences that are important to know about. The main commonality is that willow bark has analgesic and inflammation modulating effects that make it useful for pain. Willow bark is used for headaches and body pain. Studies have even shown it to be helpful for low back pain and osteoarthritis. Willow bark also can be a good choice when dealing with influenza. Willow bark shares aspirin’s ability to help reduce fevers. It can also reduce the body pain and headache associated with the flu.

Aspirin was not originally created from willow bark, but it could have been. Aspirin was derived from meadowsweet, a plant that contains salicylates just like willow bark does. Aspirin is acetylsalicylic acid, and the addition of this acetyl group gives aspirin its blood thinning capacity. Unlike aspirin, willow bark does not reduce the stickiness of platelets or thin the blood. Otherwise, they are very similar in their actions, but willow bark is less likely to irritate the stomach compared to aspirin. The liver activates the compounds in willow bark after they have been absorbed into the blood stream, so they are not present in the gastrointestinal tract to cause irritation. Because of this activation step, willow bark doesn’t work as quickly as aspirin. But once converted to the active form, it can be effective for several hours.

P.S. There is a connection between the last 15 herbs I have blogged about recently (except the posting on Medicinal Kitchen Spices). Extra credit to anyone who can tell me what it is.

salix-alba

Pleurisy Root: An Ally for the Lungs

Butterfly milkweed is one of my favorite roadside wildflowers. It has another common name pleurisy root, earned from its traditional use for conditions of the lungs. Pleurisy refers to an inflammation of the lining around the lungs, as sometimes results from coughs and other disorders. Pleurisy root was traditionally used to ease this painful condition, partially because it can help reduce pain and inflammation in the lungs. Pleurisy root is also used for wet coughs that are due to upper respiratory tract infections. Pleurisy root is a stimulating expectorant, which means it helps to encourage a productive cough so mucus is more efficiently expelled from the lungs.

Pleurisy root also supports the body during infections in less direct ways. Pleurisy root is used to induce sweating during a fever. This can help break an uncomfortable fever, but for this effect it is best to take it with a hot beverage like tea. It can also be used to support suboptimal fevers, where the temperature isn’t high enough for the full immune benefit of a fever. Pleurisy root also stimulates the circulation of the lymphatic system, particularly around the lungs. This action can also contribute to a more effective immune response. For all of these pulmonary benefits, pleurisy root has earned a place in many herbal blends used for coughs and bronchitis. It is usually used in fairly low to medium doses because higher doses can cause nausea and vomiting.

Antiviral Elderberry for Colds and Flus

Whenever I have a cold or feel like one might be coming one, I reach for elderberry. Mostly, I use a syrup made from the berries, because it is a pleasant herbal remedy that always seems to revive me a little. The berries of the elderberry plant are well known for their moderately strong antiviral benefits that may work by reducing the ability of viruses to invade our cells. Though I use it for colds, elderberry has also been shown in two small studies to help relieve some of the symptoms of influenza compared to placebo. The doses used in these studies were between two to three teaspoons of the syrup multiple times a day. This matches my experience. I feel a greater boost from a larger dose of elderberry as opposed to the teaspoon many products recommend. Also, elderberry needs to be consumed often. Peak levels in the body are reached an hour after consumption and drop off quickly after that. Since elderberry is a very safe herb these fairly high frequent doses are usually not an issue.

Though my main reason to use elderberry is to help fight colds and sore throats, this isn’t the only benefit of elderberry. Elderberry has some immune stimulating attributes, but may also be an immune modulator. This means it may balance out either an overactive or underactive immune system. The berries are also very rich in antioxidants, particularly catechins similar to those in green tea. The flowers of elderberry are occasionally used in cold and flu blends since they can induce sweating and thereby help break a fever. Similarly, they can act as a diuretic and increase urinary output. A less common use of elderberry is to help with symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, maybe mostly because of this diuretic action. Elderberry is also thought to help the nerves and has been used for neuralgia and sciatica.