Ginger Elder (berry & flower) Cranberry
Of all the herbs and fruits out there - and there are MANY great ones - these are the top three I would recommend during cold and flu season. They're easy to incorporate into the diet, they're tasty, and they're powerful.
Before I go into more detail about these three, let's briefly review information about viruses from the Jan. 21, 2020 blog on Monthly Tidbits.
Fresh ginger and cranberries are hemagglutinin inhibitors - they prevent virus particles (virions) from gluing themselves on to our epithelial cells. Virions that don't glue on to our cells cannot break open and enter our cells, so they cannot reproduce.
Ginger, elderflowers, elderberries, and cranberries are all neuraminidase inhibitors. This is a second line of defense against viruses. If a virion does glue itself onto an epithelial cell, these herbs can help prevent the virus from breaking into the cell. Again, if the virus can't get in, it can't reproduce.
You'll have noticed a common theme here - prevention of virus reproduction. A virion (it's technically not considered a living cell) sitting on a desk is not multiplying. It's simply waiting for someone to pick it up. Viruses are not capable of reproducing by themselves - they can only reproduce when they enter their 'soul cell'. (Okay, I'm being whimsical here.) You've heard of a soul mate, it's sort of the same concept. A flu virus will only attach to epithelial lung cells, no matter where or how it enters the body. All virions will only attach to cells with matching receptors in the body.
One virus particle entering your body will get wiped out by your immune system, but a few dozen particles entering all at once may be too much for your immune system to handle at that moment, and some of those particles find their 'soul cells' and literally stick to them. At this point, you still have no symptoms and you feel healthy. However, the particles that manage to break into your cells, will go nuts making baby virions. They'll keep doing that until your cells get so full that they explode open and spew thousands of baby viruses (called shedding). Many of those babies attach to other epithelial cells to keep the process going, others spread (through coughing and sneezing) to new hosts.
While your immune system was probably alerted to a problem when the first viruses entered your body, it still needs some time to get up to speed on fighting the pathogen because it needs to identify the intruder, determine if it has seen this version before, (if not, figure out how to destroy it) then ramp up immune cell production. At the point when viral shedding starts, you may have few, or no, symptoms, but you become contagious. Your immune system is still building up its army of soldier cells for the fight that's about to start, but it's not quite ready for a full-on battle. As the viral load in your body increases and your immune cells multiply and engage in war, you become symptomatic - you feel sick.
This brings us back to the previously mentioned points: 1. If the virus particles don't attach to your epithelial cells, they can't reproduce; and 2. If a virus particle attaches to your cell, but can't break into the cell, that virus can't reproduce. Preventing viral hemagglutination, neuraminidase activity, and reproduction is the key to preventing colds and flu.
Drinking a cup of cranberry juice or a cup of ginger tea a day can help prevent viruses from attaching to your cells.
Drinking cranberry juice or tea made from cranberries, ginger, and/or elder can help prevent viruses from being able to enter your cells in case some do attach.
If you're already sick, these herbs can help reduce symptoms and shorten the duration of the cold or flu by reducing inflammation and by preventing many of the new baby viruses from attaching to and/or breaking into more cells.
These herbs can be prepared in a variety of ways separately or combined, and are generally safe for any age.
* Fresh ginger root can be purchased at most grocery stores for a few dollars. Cut off and slice up about an inch of the root. Add it to water or any other beverage. I put it in my morning coffee.
* One cup of cranberry juice a day works just as well as ginger. You can buy the juice any time, or get a couple of bags of frozen cranberries in December, then make them into juice or tea during the year.
* Elderberries can be made into tea, syrup, jam, gummies, wine, and tincture. They do need to be cooked to be safe.
While these herbs can help you resist viral infections, your body might still get overwhelmed with a huge influx of virus particles. If you do start to feel the first signs that you're getting sick (i.e. that funny taste in your mouth or a tickle in your throat) these herbs are a great ally. Making a tea with ginger, elderberry, and elderflower (you could add cranberries too) and sipping on the warm tea all day for two days can help knock out the infection more quickly than doing nothing. I've done this several times at the first onset of symptoms, and ended up not getting sick.
Here's my recipe for this delicious tea (I call it EEG Tea):
1 tsp dried Elderberries
1 tsp dried Elder flowers
1 inch fresh ginger root sliced
3 cups water
1. I place the herbs in a tea diffuser ball (you can use a cotton tea bag, or just drop the herbs in the water and strain at the end).
2. I put the water and herbs in a pot on the stove, cover the pot, and bring it to a boil.
3. Once it reaches a solid boil, I turn off the heat and allow it to steep covered for at least 15 - 30 minutes.
I usually make another batch for the next day before I go to bed. I allow this batch to steep overnight and get really strong. The next day, I can add 3 more cups of water to stretch the tea further.
I don't add anything to sweeten the tea because I love the flavor as is. However, you could add honey to taste if you prefer.
As a final note, there are other things you can do to lower your chances of catching a cold or the flu: 1. get enough rest; 2. eat a healthy diet; 3. wash your hands before eating; 4. avoid touching your face when you're in an area that may have viruses hanging around; and 5. keep commonly touched surfaces clean during cold and flu season (vinegar makes a great natural cleaner for this).
Next week's blog will be in the Essential Oil of the Month section and will examine a few essential oils that are great choices to have on hand during cold and flu season.
P.S. I'm adding to this blog on the day I planned to publish to share my experience of the past few days. Friday evening, I started to feel the first signs of being sick. I suddenly got really tired and generally puny. Then I started to have a dry cough, but it made my lungs sore. I made my EEG Tea and drank 3 cups before bed. I was feeling better Saturday morning, but my husband was starting to feel ill. (He didn't tell me that he started to feel sick about the same time I did on Friday.) I made more tea for both of us and went to my booth at the flea market. By the time I got home, I was fine -- he was SICK. He had a sore throat, a temperature over 100, he was coughing, had no appetite, etc - all the symptoms of the flu. I switched him to another tea I make to help support the lungs - it adds mullein, thyme, and star anise to the EEG Tea, but his viral load was too great - he was feeling lousy. Sunday morning, he was doing better, though still had a fever. By that evening, he was much worse and could not take a deep breath - he was struggling to breathe. At that time, I took him to the emergency room. He has flu plus bacterial infection, and is now on antivirals, antibiotics, steroids, and an inhaler. The point of this part is to say: The herbs can help, but they are not a total preventative or cure. It's important to recognize when medical attention is needed and to get that help! Modern medicines do have their place in taking care of our bodies.
As I write the ending to this blog, I'm sipping on my second tea and trying to fight off a second infection. It would appear that, in taking care of DH, my own viral load has increased - I'm now coughing, achy, and starting to run a temperature. For tonight, I'll drink my tea, use a personal inhaler with essential oils, and run a diffuser overnight. In the morning, if I'm no worse, I'll continue with my herbs and oils, but if I need to, I will go to my doctor.
Next week, under the blog Essential Oil of the Month, I'll discuss essential oils that can bring some comfort and relief during cold and flu season.
1. Buhner, Stephen H., Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging & Resistant Viral Infections, Storey Publishing, (c) 2013, pages 20 - 34
2. Butje, Andrea, Aromahead Institute Course: Viruses and the Immune System
3. Weiss, El, et. al., Cranberry juice constituents affect influenza virus adhesion and infectivity, Antiviral Res. 2005 Apr;66(1):9-12., Accessed January 27, 2020
4. Nantz, Meri P, et. al., Consumption of cranberry polyphenols enhances human γδ-T cell proliferation and reduces the number of symptoms associated with colds and influenza: a randomized, placebo-controlled intervention study, Nutr J. 2013; 12: 161., Accessed January 27, 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3878739/
5. van Meer, G, and Simons, K, Viruses budding from either the apical or the basolateral plasma membrane domain of MDCK cells have unique phospholipid compositions., EMBO J. 1982; 1(7): 847–852., Accessed January 27, 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC553120/
6. Racaniello, Vincent , Influenza virus attachment to cells, Virology blog about viruses and viral disease, May 2009, Accessed February 3, 2020; www.virology.ws/2009/05/04/influenza-virus-attachment-to-cells/
7. Haynes, Laura, What the Flu Does to Your Body, and Why it Makes You Feel so Awful, The Conversation US, Inc.; (c) 2010 - 2020, February 12, 2018, Accessed February 3, 2020; https://theconversation.com/what-the-flu-does-to-your-body-and-why-it-makes-you-feel-so-awful-91530Copyright © 2010–2020,
The information contained in this blog is for educational purposes only and has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.