Recently, both of my roommates came down with a vicious cough and head cold that left them down and out with misery for days. As soon as I realized they were battling some bugs, I started implementing ways to support my immune system to prevent coming down with the same sickness they were suffering from.
I really emphasize using a mix of both internal and external applications with foods, herbs, and essential oils. If I act quickly and proactively, I can usually prevent the sickness (like I did this time around with my roommates). If a sickness has had the chance to settle in for any length of time, it may require more patience and persistence to fully rebound, but when that happens I am usually back to normal within a day or two – assuming the ailment is just a common seasonal bug.
Quick side note: getting sick can actually be useful. It keeps our immune systems evolving! Fevers are a natural response for the body’s healing process. The idea isn’t to suppress a fever or sickness (which can drive it deeper and cause it to linger) but rather, the goal is to assist the body in working through the ailment more quickly, and ideally – more enjoyably.
Here are some of the most effective ways to keep bugs at bay and protect your health:
1. Fire Cider. This is a prized remedy many herbalists and health enthusiasts make every year. It’s cheap, easy, and powerful. Take it by the spoonful to fight microbes. It takes about 2-4 weeks to make, so plan ahead and then you’ll have it on-hand to use as needed. Right now is a great time to make it as the weather is changing and that tends to bring a change in health. If you’re short on time, you can purchase pre-made fire cider at local health food stores. You can find more health benefits of fire cider and how to make it here. Note: to keep it vegan, skip the honey. It won’t be as sweet but it will still be worth the spicy kick.
2. Veggie Soup. Recipe below. This simple soup has a serious punch. While liquids in general are recommended for restoring optimal health (remember to drink lots of quality water) – this soup is a concentrated source of medicinal ingredients. I found it was too potent to eat like a normal soup, so I pour it into a mug and sip on it throughout the day.
To make soup, combine ingredients in a pot and low boil for 20 mins. Strain ingredients and serve.
1 quart veggie broth
1 medium onion chopped
6 cloves of garlic chopped
2 inch piece of ginger, grated
Pinch of cayenne, or more to taste.
3. Hot Bath or Shower with Essential Oils. This works really well because the heat opens up the pores, which is one of the primary avenues of elimination. It helps the body rid toxins by sweating them out. Adding Epsom Salt to the bath further dilates and detoxifies, serving as an additional booster to the process. Use essential oils that offer antimicrobial activity (lavender, tea tree, or eucalyptus, for instance) which will fight pathogens on contact. Add them to the bath or, if you prefer to shower instead, add a few drops to the shower floor in front of where the water stream falls. The steam will help deliver the oils appropriately. My favorite go-to blend when I feel I need a boost of support is: Sage (cleansing), Lavender (soothing), Petitgrain (uplifting), Vetiver (grounding), and Cedarwood (regenerative).
4. Onions in Socks. Okay, it sounds quirky but it’s truly worked. The premise is that the phosphoric acid in the onion serves to draw out toxins from the body and is able to work easily through the pores of the feet. More info here.
5. Netipot. This simple method is actually pretty profound. Using a contraption that is reminiscent of a genie lamp (because who doesn’t wish to feel better when they’re not) – a saline solution is poured through the nasal passages with the help of gravity. It may sound scary if you haven’t experienced this before, but it’s not so bad. I have a pretty sensitive nose, especially with water going the wrong way, and this treatment was not at all uncomfortable for me. It can offer fast acting relief of either a stuffy or runny nose, and can also assist with the sinuses. For a really nice enhancement, add a drop or two of lavender and/or tea tree essential oils into the saline mix.
6. Elderberry Syrup. Types of coughs can vary pretty widely, expressed as wet/dry/surface/deep etc. Getting familiar with your body’s particular response can help you determine the best course of action, but in general, Elderberry syrup is a time-tested and proven cough remedy that is highly antiviral and soothes the bronchi.
7. Know Your Nutrients and Use Them! Incorporating foods with key immune-enhancing nutrients are a natural defense against foreign invaders. Garlic and Onion have sulfuric compounds that do a lot of detoxification, while Vitamin C (found in citrus, berries, bell peppers, parsley, broccoli) and Zinc (found in cremini mushrooms, spinach, asparagus, pumpkin seeds) work together to support the immune system.
8. Echinacea. There’s a common misconception around the role that this herb plays in health. People often reach for it after they’re already sick, but it’s more effective as a preventative agent. Rather than working directly on pathogens, its strength is in the ability to enhance the body’s immune system function. You can still use it if already sick and find some benefit, but if the expectation is to kill off bugs directly it won’t be as effective – that’s where garlic and onions come in. It’s best to take Echinacea when you know you have an increased risk of exposure (via travel, public environments, or close encounters with a sickie).
Also by Jen: How to Get the Most Out of Natural Remedies
Related: 30 Best Immune System Boosting Foods
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Photo: lauren rushing via Flickr