Monday, November 29, 2010

Herbal Gifts for the Holidays

Are you wanting to make herbal gifts for your friends and family this holiday season? 

This blog post will look at a variety of ways you can spread herbal cheer this holiday season. Don't miss the Herbal Winter Tea Coasters at the end!

Herbal Gifts ebook, Second Edition
This fall I did a major overhaul on my Herbal Gifts ebook. The result is almost fifty pages full of new recipes combined with old favorites and beautiful photography. It contains many simple herbal gift ideas from spice mixtures to facial scrubs that your friends and family will love. It's available at or as part of the Wildcraft! sale...

WildCraft! An Herbal Adventure Game
John at is also getting into the holidays by offering his amazing cooperative board game, Wildcraft! for 50% OFF. This board game was create for ages 4 and up and is a perfect game to teach kids about using plants. 

In addition to this incredible sale he is also offering a slew of bonuses including: 

  • My Herbal Gifts ebook
  • 7 hour teleseminar with Herbalist Angie Goodloe on Kids and Herbs
  • A children's herb book you can customize for your own child 
  • and lots more

You can read more about this innovative game that teaches kids (and adults!) about herbs here. Hurry sale ends on December 2nd at midnight. 

Free Herbal Gift Newsletters
Every year around the holidays I do a series of free newsletters for So far this year we've made Bay Rum Aftershave and Vanilla Extract. There are four more newsletters in the series. You can sign up for this for free by signing up for the HerbMentor newsletter at

Here's a excerpt from my Herbal Gifts ebook
Winter Tea Coasters
These coasters are a wonderful gift for the holiday season. When warm cups are placed on the coasters, they release their wonderful scent.
Here’s what you’ll need to make one winter coaster. Multiply by four to make a full set. 
  • 5 teaspoons each of ground nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and cardamon. 
  • two pieces of fabric measuring 4 inches by 4 inches
  • Thread
  • Sewing machine or needle and thread
  • Funnel

Begin by placing your fabric together, ugly side facing out. 

Sew 3/4 of the way around the coaster. 

Turn right side out. I use a pencil to get all the corners fully switched.

Mix together your spice powders. 

Using a funnel (or a lot of patience, if you don’t have a funnel leave a bigger opening) fill the coaster with the powdered herbs. 

Once filled, sew the remaining hole shut. 

Now you have a wonderful smelling coaster for all your warm winter teas. 

Here's a look at the table of contents for the the ebook on Herbal Gifts. Happy Holidays!

  • Sections on spices and herbal mixtures
  • Herbal tea blends
  • Vinegars
  • Herbal oils
  • Syrups (elderberry and rose hip)
  • Infused honeys (rose hip, lavender, garlic)
  • Cordials and Elixirs (elderberry, rose petal, pomegranate cordial)
  • Vanilla Extract
  • Bee pollen candy
  • Seaweed cookies
  • Herbal butter
  • Tea coasters
  • Bath salts
  • Salt scrub
  • Bath herbs
  • Body powder
  • Bay rum aftershave
  • Eye pillow
  • Herb sachets
  • Sugar facial scrub
  • Packaging ideas
  • Lots more!
You can get your own copy of my Herbal Gifts ebook by subscribing to or as a bonus as part of the WildCraft! Herbal Adventure Game Sale

Friday, November 12, 2010

The immune system

Seen within the context of ecology, both human and environmental, immunity is about HARMONY and not resistance, a dynamic dance with the environment and not simply a series of barriers to it. 
- David Hoffman

In the last Anatomy and Physiology section we looked at the lymph system. The lymphatic system is part of the greater immune system function, so please review that section before heading into this article on the immune system. 

The western medical system has divided the body into different mechanical systems. We can learn the specifics of the digestive system or the specifics of the cardiovascular system using this model. 
However, in real life, it is impossible to truly separate the body into different mechanical parts because it is innately connected. One aspect of the body influences the other through an intricate web that results in our total body. 

The immune system is no exception and it is actually a rebel within the western model of understanding because it does not have a specific set of organs and, instead, is a variety of biological structures. 
Our immune system is the way we protect ourselves against pathogens and tumor cells.   It is a set of biological structures and processes that can detect a wide variety of invading microorganisms from viruses to bacteria to parasites. 

In order to do this, the organism must recognize the difference between self and non-self. This is a complex system that must continually evolve as pathogens are continually evolving as well. 
Disease can occur when the immune system is under-active or over-active. Immunodeficiency, or an under-active immune system, can result in frequent infections like seasonal colds or the flu. We are constantly in contact with a wide variety of bacteria and viruses that can cause infection. The strength of our immune system makes the difference in those people who are sick all the time and those who seldom become ill. 

A hyperactive immune system can also lead to ill-health. Auto-immune diseases such as  lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are the results of an immune system that no longer recognizes the difference between self and non-self. Sometimes this is seen as an overactive immune system. 

Types of immunity
One form of immunity is called nonspecific resistance. It protects the body from all pathogens and other foreign substances by using the following four methods:

Mechanical barriers
This includes the skin and the mucous membranes. 
The skin prevents pathogens from entering the body both because the pH of the skin can kill some bacteria and also because the epidermis of the skin has closely packed cells preventing entry. 
The mucous membranes do not have the advantage of the closely packed cells like the skin, but it does produce mucous that can engulf microorganisms. Most mucous produced in the upper respiratory system is swallowed and, upon entering the stomach, the acids present destroy the pathogens. 
Other mechanical barriers in the non-specific immunity response include fluids that flush the system. This involves saliva, tears, and urine. 

Chemical actions
Chemical actions in the body are another type of immunity that can disrupt pathogens from reproducing. 
Some examples of these include the enzyme lysozyme, which destroys bacteria. It is found in tears, saliva, mucous, and perspiration. Pepsin is a chemical found in the stomach that stops foreign microorganisms from replicating. The chemical interferon stimulates healthy cells to inhibit viral replication within cells. 

Phagocytosis is an immune response that includes the engulfing and destruction of micro organisms as well as damaged or old cells and other cellular debris. Phagocytosis is a process carried out by macrophage cells. 

Macrophage literally means “big eaters.” Besides phagocytosis, macrophage cells can also alert the immune system that pathogens have entered the body. 

Some herbs like Echinacea spp. and Boneset (Euporium perfoliatum) can stimulate phagocytosis. 

Inflammation is a localized immune response that inhibits infections and promotes healing. 
It is easy for us to think that inflammation is “bad” since it is characterized by pain, redness, heat, and swelling. However, inflammation is an important part of the immune system. 

At the beginning of the inflammatory process chemicals are released to dilate blood vessels, thus creating more blood flow to an area. Increased blood flow causes redness and heat. The inflammatory process also increases the permeability of the capillaries and this increase in fluid movement creates swelling. 
Pain can result if there is an infection present from the swelling or from irritation of nerve endings. 
Through the process of inflammation white blood cells become attracted to the area to inhibit infection. Macrophages come in to phagocytize bacteria. All of this extra cell activity - white blood cells, macrophages, and dead bacterial cells - may form a thick white to yellow liquid called pus. 
The inflammatory process inhibits infection and then promotes healing by stimulating cell division to repair any damage. 

A fever is another important immune system response that often gets a bad rap. Pathogens are killed at certain temperatures. A fever then raises the body’s temperature in order to make the environment less hospitable to the invading microorganism. Not only does this inhibit the growth of pathogens, it also increases immune system function. 

Mechanical barriers, chemical barriers, phagocytosis, inflammation, and fevers are all methods of the non-specific immune system response. Next we will discuss specific resistance. 

Specific resistance 
The immune system can also have a specific resistance to an organism. This is the production of specific cells to attack a specific invader. These cells create a memory of the specific pathogen and if it is encountered again the response is quicker and stronger. This is why people often only get chicken pox one time. After the initial infection the immune system is able to take care of the chicken pox virus before it can cause another systemic infection. 

Lymphocytes are an important part of specific immunity response. Lymphocytes are white blood cells. Larger lymphocytes are called Natural Killer cells while smaller ones are T Cells and B cells. They are created in the bone marrow but must mature and become specialized before they are a part of the immune system function. T cells go to the thymus gland to become specialized. It is currently unknown where B cells become specialized. 

All cells have antigens that are surface recognition molecules. After a lymphocyte goes through the specialization process it is able to recognize “self” cells from foreign cells. So it knows to attack cancer cells or viral cells and to not attack self cells. 

Organ transplants have to inhibit lymphocyte activity; otherwise the body will attack the new organ. This is why people with organ transplants will take pills to inhibit their immune system for the rest of their life. 
There are two types of specific resistance: cell-mediated immunity and antibody mediated immunity. 

Cell-mediated immunity
T lymphocytes target specific foreign cells to attack. They remember the antigens of these cells in case they should appear again. When specific T cells (Th cells) bind to antigens they release cytokine chemicals. These chemicals attract immune system cells to the site and increase phagocytosis. Further, they stimulate cell division and the immune response from activated B and T cells.

As T cells increase and the pathogen in the body decreases the immune system slows down. 
A cytokine storm is an exaggerated immune system response that can be fatal. 

Antibody-mediated immunity
In antibody mediated immunity B and helper T cells bind to pathogen cells in order to tag them for other cells to destroy. This process inhibits extracellular pathogens. 

This works because cells in the body recognize foreign antigens. Once recognized B cells bind to the antigen, starting the antibody mediated immunity. Plasma cells in the body produce specific antibodies to the antigens. They then circulate throughout the body looking for these antigens. Once they find them they bind to the non-self antigens, which are then destroyed by phagocytosis. If the same antigen re-enters the body at some time in the future then B memory cells act more quickly and more strongly to stop the antigen. 

For an unknown reason people can generate antibodies to foods such as gluten, dairy, soy, seafood, corn, and more. When someone has these antibodies they can no longer eat these foods without creating an immune system response. Overtime, these responses can lead to excessive inflammation and are suspected as a key culprit in many autoimmune disorders. 

Immune responses
The first time an antigen is encountered the immune system launches its primary immune response. B and T cells are stimulated to produce clones that attack and destroy the non-self antigens. This particular antigen is filed away in memory B cells. 

If that same antigen should enter the body again a secondary immune response is activated. This time the attack on the antigen is fiercer to more quickly eliminate it. The concentration of antibody in the secondary immune system response is much higher than in the primary immune response. A secondary immune response is stimulated every time that antigen enters the body. 

Again, this is why people tend to only get chicken pox once. When the body comes into contact with it again, it launches a secondary immune system response that quickly inhibits the virus before it becomes a full blown illness. 

Immunity Types
Here is an overview and explanation of different immunity types. 

Immunity Type
How it works
Naturally acquired active immunity
Infection like the chicken pox
A person becomes ill as a result of the pathogens. The immune system is activated into a primary system response and the memory of the infection is stored away. If the pathogen ever enters the body again, the immune system launches a secondary response that is stronger than the first and prevents infection. 
Artificially  acquired active immunity
An injection of a weakened pathogen or some variation of their pathogens are given to a person and an immune response happens without the person becoming overtly ill. 
Artificially acquired passive immunity
An injection of antibodies or antitoxins against an antigen
Immunity is acquired in the short term. Booster shots are needed. Tetanus is a common example. 
Naturally acquired passive immunity
Antibodies the child receives from the mother either through breast milk or in utero
Short term immunity is passed onto the baby without creating an overt illness. 

Ways to Support Your Immune System
Maintain healthy digestion
Research is now showing that the majority of our immune system lies within our gut! Having chronic digestive problems such as constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, and dyspepsia could all lead to immune system dysfunction. 

One manifestation of this is what is called Leaky Gut Syndrome. The intestinal walls not only absorb nutrients from food but also act as a barrier to keep food particles out of the blood stream. If the intestinal villi become damaged (through food intolerance, excessive alcohol, NSAIDs, antibiotics, etc) then food particles can move into the blood stream. This can set off an immune response and is thought by many to be the cause of  some auto-immune diseases. 

Gut Health a Question of Balance a short article relating why gut health is an important part of immune system function

Vitamin D
Vitamin D is being heralded as the nutritional breakthrough of the 21st century. We now know that the majority of modern people are very deficient in vitamin D. We also know that vitamin D plays an extremely important role in many of our systemic functions and notably in our immune system. Vitamin D is made when our skin comes in contact with direct sunlight. For those of us in the norther latitudes this is only possible during late spring to early fall. Unless we are able to add extraordinary amounts of liver to our diets, supplementation is often necessary. 

I encourage all of my clients to get their vitamin D levels checked. Once you know your particular levels you can supplement accordingly. 

I also encourage people to get appropriate sun exposure. This is 15-20 minutes of noontime sun with a lot of skin showing. If you have fair skin you might need to work up to this amount. Burning from sun exposure is harmful, but regular short term sun exposure is not. 
The Vitamin D Council is a good source of information. 
Avoid Sugar
Even small amounts of sugar have detrimental effects on your immune system. Researchers say that as little as 8 teaspoons can decrease immune system function by 50% for five hours. 

Eat Well
It can’t be said enough that eating good food leads to good health. But what is good food? It is my belief that one person’s healthy food is another person’s poison. I really like the book Metabolic Typing by William Wolcott. Instead of giving a diet dogma about what is the right food to eat, it teaches people how to recognize when foods are working for them and when they aren’t. Do you feel hungry all the time? Do you often get bloated? Do you have chronic constipation or diarrhea? Then it’s quite possible that you aren’t eating the right foods for you. 

Get appropriate amounts of sleep
If you are consistently not getting enough sleep I would encourage you to examine your life to figure out how this can be changed. Sleep is crucial to our healing process. Long term sleep debt can lead to a host of serious diseases and even general unwellness. If you sleep many hours but wake up feeling unrested then seek help to get this issue figured out. If you have insomnia, then seek help to get this figured out. In my mind there is no excuse for chronic sleep depravations as this is one of the core needs of your body to function in a healthy manner. 

Maintain a healthy relationship to stress
We all have stress and it is a part of life. Stress doesn’t even have to be a bad part of life when it is experienced normally. If you have excessive stress in your life then you know it. Again, I encourage you to reexamine ways to reduce stress. If small things stress you out you may consider looking into a herbal regimen of adaptogens to help you create a better resiliency to stress. 

Be Joyful
Western medicine is proving over and over again that our happiness directly affects our immune system. But we didn’t need to be told that, did we? 

Immune System
Christopher Hobbs gives an Immune System Overview
In-depth overview by Chanchal Cabrera
Quick overview of allergies by Henriette Kress
Allergic Reactions a pdf by 7song
Paul Bergner has an excerpt from his fabulous book, The Healing Power of Echinacea and Goldenseal, that discusses several lymphatic herbs. Besides reading this short excerpt I also highly recommend this book. Besides giving an incredible in-depth view on two very important western herbs, it is also has a really thorough description of the immune system and how it functions. 

Infections and Illnesses
There is also a long listing of articles specific to infection and illnesses that can be found on jim mcdonald’s fabulous website, 

Works Consulted
The anatomy and physiology in this article was extracted mainly from The Principles of Anatomy & Physiology, Tortora, Grabowski. I also used Anatomy and Physiology by Stanley E. Gunstream 4th ed. 
The second half of this article giving us an herbal perspective on the nervous system would not have been possible without jim mcdonald’s Article Index. Thanks a thousand times to jim for putting this together. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Lymphatic System

This is a concise view of the lymphatic system as viewed by western medicine. I wrote this article as part of the Anatomy and Physiology series on

The lymphatic system was not understood in the western world until as little as two decades ago, yet this system is responsible for keeping us healthy and vibrant on a daily basis. Problems from the simple cold to complex cancer are tied to the lymphatic system.

This article will focus entirely on the lymph system anatomy and then next Anatomy and Physiology article will focus more on the immune system function.

What is the Lymphatic System?
The lymphatic system is considered to be a part of the circulatory system. Like the cardiovascular system it is made up of various organs, vessels, and fluids.

 The lymphatic system has four functions:
  1. The removal of interstitial fluid from tissue spaces and then the circulation of this fluid (lymph) back into the blood stream
  2. The circulation of fatty acids to the blood stream
  3. The transportation of immune cells to and from the lymph nodes.
  4. The creation and circulation of lymphocytes, an important part of immune system function.

Problems in the lymphatic system can lead to swelling and even cancer. An impaired lymphatic system can also lead to an overall poor immune system and leave someone susceptible to various illnesses.

The lymphatic system is made up of the following organs, vessels and substances:

Interstitial fluid
As blood plasma is forced from the blood capillaries it gathers in the tissue spaces. Once the plasma is no longer within the venous system it is called the interstitial fluid. It is a watery-like substance that bathes the cells of the tissues.

Lymphatic capillaries
Lymphatic capillaries are completely immersed in the interstitial fluid. They have thin membranes that allow the interstitial fluid to flow in. Once the interstitial fluid is in these lymphatic capillaries we refer to it as lymph.  Like the venous system, the lymphatic system has a series of valves that only allow the lymph to move in one direction. The lymphatic capillaries are continuously draining the interstitial fluid from the tissue spaces. This prevents lymphatic stagnation or edema.

Lymphatic vessels
Lymphatic vessels are formed by the merging of the lymphatic capillaries. There are about the same amount of lymphatic vessels in the body as there are veins. Lymph continues to flow in one direction through these vessels. Eventually these lymphatic vessels merge to form larger structures called lymphatic trunks.

Lymphatic trunks
Lymphatic trunks are the largest lymphatic vessel in the body. They drain directly into two different lymphatic collecting ducts.

 Right lymphatic duct
The right lymphatic duct drains the lymphatic trunks from the right side of the head and neck, the right arm and shoulder and the ride side of the trunk or thorax. This duct is short and empties directly into the right subclavian vein.

Thoracic duct
The thoracic duct is responsible for collecting the lymph from the rest of the body including the legs, left arm and most of the trunk including the abdominals. It empties into the left subclavian vein.

As the lymph enters either the right or left subclavian vein it has been returned back to the blood stream where it can be either reused or filtered further by the liver, spleen and kidneys.

Organs of the Lymph System

 Lymph nodes
Also called lymph glands these organs are solely responsible for cleansing and filtering the lymph. They are located along the larger lymphatic vessels throughout the whole body. They tend to accumulate more heavily in the groin, arm pits, abdominals, and neck regions. Lymph nodes are somewhat bean shaped and are around 2mm in length. Lymph enters the node through the afferent lymphatic vessels. It continues to flow to the lymphatic sinus cavities. It is collected from there to continue its movement through the efferent lymphatic vessel. Through this process the lymph is filtered of cells that have been damaged, cancerous cells, cellular debris, and pathogens like bacteria and viruses.

The nodules located in the lymph nodes are the location of lymphocyte production. Lymphocytes along with macrophages destroy the waste materials that have been filtered in the lymph nodes. We will discuss more of this process when we look at the immune system function.

Many of us are probably familiar with the tonsils. These are important lymphatic organs that act as the guards to our internal body. Located near the throat or the back of the mouth and nasal cavities, these clumps of lymphatic tissue intercept and kill pathogens that enter through the nose or mouth. As little as twenty years ago these organs were routinely removed in children who repeatedly had problems with them swelling. Now, we have more understanding of the important function of these tissues and they are seldom removed.

The spleen is the largest organ of the lymphatic system. It can be found behind the stomach and just underneath the diaphragm. It is about 5-6 inches long and 2-3 inches wide. It, like all lymphatic organs, produces lymphocytes.

The spleen plays a role in both the lymphatic system and the cardiovascular system. It cleanses and filters the blood. The spleen can destroy harmful pathogens in the body and it is also the main site for red blood cell production. It stores a large supply of blood and platelets, which are released when needed, such as a hemorrhage.

It is not that uncommon to have a spleen removed. Those people without a spleen can live full lives, but they may be more susceptible to illness and hemorrhage.

Thymus gland
The thymus gland is a soft structure located in the mediastinum just above the heart. This gland plays a big role in the immune system development of infants and children. As we age, the gland begins to shrink and is actually quite small in adults. The major role of this gland is the production of a particular type of lymphocyte called T-cells. These important immune system cells can attack and destroy foreign antigens. We will look at T-cells more closely when we study the immune system.

I’ve heard it suggested that we can help to stimulate our thymus gland by pounding on our chests like gorillas or tarzan. This article explains further and gives 10 Ways to Jump Start Your Day.

How lymph moves
There are a lot of parallels between the lymphatic system and the cardiovascular system. Both of these involve circulating fluids throughout our body using very similar structures such as vessels. The lymphatic system differs in a major way in that it does not have a heart pumping fluid through its vessels. Instead lymph moves only with the help of outside forces.

These forces include:
Contraction of muscles
Respiration or the act of breathing

Just looking at this list and you can see how important movement and exercise are to maintaining a healthy lymphatic system. Some people suggest jumping on a trampoline or skipping jubilantly is one of the best ways to get lymph flowing.

Further Reading:

7Song’s pdf on An Herbalists View of the Lymph System

Fantastic article by Suzanne Sky explaining the lymphatic system and then giving detailed suggestions on personal lymphatic massage.

Paul Bergner has an excerpt from his fabulous book, The Healing Power of Echinacea and Goldenseal, that discusses several lymphatic herbs. Besides reading this short excerpt  I also highly recommend this book. Besides giving an incredible indepth view on two very important western herbs, it is also has a really thorough description of the immune system and how it functions.

This Love your Lymph article briefly looks at some lymphatic herbs and has great suggestions in how to keep your lymph healthy.

Kiva Rose discusses using alder trees as a lymphatic.

An article about Lymphatic Massage

Finally the Spleen Gets Some Respect, an interesting NYT articles highlighting a new understanding of the spleen and it’s functions.

Works Consulted
The anatomy and physiology in this article was extracted mainly from The Principles of Anatomy & Physiology, Tortora, Grabowski. I also used Anatomy and Physiology by Stanley E. Gunstream 4th ed.

The second half of this article giving us an herbal perspective on the nervous system would not have been possible without jim mcdonald’s Article Index. Thanks a thousand times to jim for putting this together. 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Preventing Colds and the Flu ~ Part 1

The following is an excerpt from my ebook  Herbal Remedies for Colds and the Flu. You can download the entire ebook at
Our Immune System

Have you ever noticed that some people tend to be sick all the time? Others are seemingly superhuman, never succumbing to the latest bug. The difference between these people lies in their immune system. This complex set of organs and glands in our bodies help to keep us strong and healthy. It’s made up of our connective tissue, our lymph glands, various organs such as bone marrow, thymus, spleen, and various cells including white blood cells, T cells, and B cells to name a few. Each of these different systems have specialized jobs to keep us working well. Anytime there is a “hole” in the system, opportunistic bacteria and viruses can move in. Please understand that there are “germs” around us all the time; the difference of whether or not we get sick lies in our immune system strength. 

The best defense against a cold or flu is a pro-active offense to ensure that all systems in the body are operating at their optimum levels. 
Solutions for strengthening the immune system

Vitamin D
It might seem strange that I am beginning an ebook on herbal remedies with vitamin D. However, we are now beginning to understand not only the incredibly important role that vitamin D plays in our immune system function but also how many people are deficient in this important hormone. That’s right, Vitamin D is actually a hormone produced in the body and used extensively by almost every cell in our body.  Research scientists are pouring out studies linking vitamin D3 deficiencies with immune system dysfunction, resulting in many ailments from the common cold to cancer. Some vitamin D researchers are hypothesizing that the “cold and flu season” is a result of sub-optimal immune system function due to low vitamin D levels. 

Luckily, for many people vitamin D is readily available by just stepping out their front door to soak up the sunshine. However, in order for your body to produce vitamin D the sun needs to be at least 45 degrees high in the sky and there needs to be a considerable amount of exposed skin. This means that, for many people in the world, Vitamin D levels fall below optimal levels during late fall to early spring, depending on their latitude. 

In my own practice I recommend that clients get their vitamin D levels checked. This can be done by seeing a physician or by ordering a Vitamin D test from the Vitamin D Council. ( 25-hydroxyvitamin D test) I have seen countless vitamin D results through various seasons and from people living at all different latitudes and I have yet to see one result come back normal, instead all are deficient.  

Knowing your actual Vitamin D level can help to determine how much vitamin D will be best. If someone is severely deficient taking 1,000 - 2,000 IUs will not be especially helpful. However, someone who is moderately deficient does not need to take high levels of Vitamin D. 

Currently the western medical world has normal levels of Vitamin D anywhere from 30ng/mL-50ng/mL. The most recent research however indicates that higher levels are more optimal. Using the latest research and my own clinical experience I generally like to see people testing above 50ng/mL.  The Vitamin D council suggests from 50ng/mL - 80ng/mL

I generally recommend that people get their levels checked three times a year until they are able to stabilize their numbers through appropriate sun exposure and/or supplementation so they are maintaining ideal numbers. 

Vitamin D can be found naturally in abundance in eggs, liver, and cod liver oil. In case some of you have horrid memories of cod liver oil, there are many naturally flavored cod liver oils out there that actually don’t taste all that bad. When high levels of vitamin D are necessary it must be taken in pill form. Also it’s important that you use vitamin D3, not vitamin D2

Nourishing Herbal Infusions
A nourishing herbal infusion is a strong tea made from plants high in vitamins and minerals. I consider my daily quart of nourishing herbal infusions a delicious and potent brew of dense nutrition. Nourishing herbal infusions can be jam packed with essential vitamins and minerals for tonifying effects on the respiratory system, urinary system, liver and gallbladder, and nourishing to the heart. Herbs I frequently use as an infusion are nettle, red raspberry, oatstraw, and red clover. To learn more about this foundation of herbal health, see my ebook entitled, Nourishing Herbal Infusions: Our Superfood found on 

Astragalus Root (Astragalus membranaceus)

Astragalus root is an herb that originally came to us from China. It has been used as a tonic herb for thousands of years to support the immune system, strengthen weak lungs, and regulate fluid metabolism. 

Astragalus root is the most commonly used Chinese plant here in the American West.  Referred to as an adaptogen, it has the ability to gently but effectively support our immune system, resulting in better overall health, even throughout the cold and flu season. 

Astragalus root is sweet and mild tasting. Simply add it to bone broth (see recipe below), chai tea, when cooking rice or other grains, or simply simmer it in water for twenty minutes and enjoy it as you would a tea or infusion. 

I generally recommend astragalus root in high doses, 1-2 ounces a day, especially for people who are chronically deficient. 

Because astragalus root is considered a tonic herb, it is not recommended to take it during an acute illness. 

Nourishing Bone Broth
Grandmothers knew best by spoon-feeding us chicken soup made from scratch. This incredibly rich brew supports our immune system and provides nourishment that is easy to digest. 

Science has now validated this time-honored tradition by verifying this is high in many vitamins and minerals that are readily absorbable by the body. Bone broth soup is high in calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur, trace minerals, chondroitin sulphates, and glucosamine. It is also high in gelatin, which is released into the water with extended boiling times. I know I have made an especially rich broth when the liquid hardens slightly when cooled.  Besides nourishing the immune system, gelatin has been found to be useful in the treatment of a long list of diseases including peptic ulcers, tuberculosis, diabetes, muscle diseases, infectious diseases, jaundice, and cancer (Weston Price Foundation). 

The following recipe can be made without the use of burdock, dandelion, and astragalus, but I highly suggest making the effort to include all of them or as many as you can. All help the body maintain health and overcome illness. Astragalus especially supports the immune system – using this herb in our broth is one of the main ways we support our immune system and stay healthy. Omit the astragalus if you are already ill. 

You can’t really go wrong with soup. Basically fill a pot with the ingredients and follow the directions. There really isn’t a set amount of how many onions or how much burdock to include. The following is a rough guideline, but please feel free to follow your own intuition (and ingredients on hand) to create delicious bone broth soup. 

Bone Broth Soup Recipe

Several bones from poultry or beef (preferably bones that have marrow). To give you an idea of how many bones, I like to have enough bones to fill half the cooking pot. 
1 T apple cider vinegar (helps to draw out the calcium)
1 onion coarsely chopped
2 carrots coarsely chopped
2 big pieces of burdock root coarsely chopped or a handful of dried root 
Several dandelion roots coarsely chopped or a handful of dried root 
15 - 20 slices of dried astragalus root
2 celery ribs coarsely chopped
A handful of herbs such as rosemary, thyme, or oregano

Place everything in a large pot except for the handful of herbs. Fill the pot with water and bring to a boil slowly. Once it is boiling reduce to a simmer. After a while you will see some foam forming at the top. Gently skim this off every couple minutes until the broth runs clear. Add the handful of herbs and simmer for 8 to 12 hours. When ready, strain off the broth and discard the leftover materials. 

Store the broth in the fridge or freezer until ready to use for soups, roasts, chilies, etc. Some people like to freeze the broth in ice cube trays. Once frozen these can be stored in a ziplock bag in the freezer and used as individual servings when needed. 

Eating whole, fresh, organic foods
Shop your local farmers’ markets and the periphery of your grocery store to find whole, organic, and unprocessed foods to fill your belly. A body that is stressed from eating processed junk will undoubtedly fall more ill than the body given the best nutrients for optimal function. I highly recommend the book Metabolic Typing as a way of customizing your food to your body. All of us are different and all of us need different foods to keep us in health. Metabolic Typing by William Wolcott offers simple ways to finding out which foods your body needs. 

Avoiding sugar (a.k.a. white death
It’s no surprise to me that the “cold and flu season” is the season when we are culturally eating the most sugar. Nothing suppresses the immune system like sugar. In fact research has shown that 8 tsp of sugar, or the amount found in one soda, inhibits your immune system by 40% for a minimum of 5 hours. It also depletes important vitamins and minerals that are needed for immune function, notably vitamin C. Cutting out sugar from your diet is one of the best things you can do to prevent sickness. 

Besides increasing your vulnerability to illness, regular consumption of sugar also leads to insulin resistance and diabetes, chronic fatigue, obesity, and tooth decay. If cutting sugar out of your diet seems impossible, instead focus on adding healthy treats to your life. Berries are sweet, have less of an impact on your blood sugar, and are extremely high in antioxidants that protect your eyesight, cardiovascular system, and youthful vigor. This may seem to be difficult but over time, little by little, you will notice that the sweetness of berries and fruits is more satisfying than the “sugar fixes” of candies, sodas, and doughnuts.

Support your immune system by getting enough sleep. Sleep requirements vary from person to person. You probably know how much you need to feel well. Consistently stressing your body by not getting enough sleep is a great way to ensure you’ll get sick! Prioritizing your life so that you can be in bed by 10:00 pm is a great start. If you have trouble falling asleep on a regular basis then consult with a holistic health practitioner to help your body get the rest it needs. 

Reduce Stress Levels
Scientifically proven, ongoing levels of high stress will undoubtably land you more illness. In our culture we tend to think that prolonged stress is simply a way of life. I encourage people to really examine their lives to find a better way to live. Solutions to dealing with high stress can range from herbal support to drastic life changes to yoga to breathing exercises. 

Exercise (or playing vigorously) 
Our bodies function best when they are active. Frankly I find exercising boring, but I love gardening, walking around the neighborhood, swimming in lakes and rivers and dancing till you drop kind of parties. What do you love? Find it and then hop to it! Our immune systems are proven to function better when we are regularly active. 

Wash your hands
It’s important to build up and support our immune system with the above recommendations but you can keep from throwing hardballs at yourself by washing your hands frequently, especially if you are around someone who is sick and contagious. Please avoid anti-bacterial soaps and detergents. Instead wash your hands for thirty seconds with mild soap and dry your hands with a clean towel. 

Understanding different sickness from a Traditional Chinese Medicine Perspective

Most people who tend to get sick often also tend to go through the same stages of illness each time. Using a differential diagnosis from Traditional Chinese Medicine we can ascertain which organ systems are imbalanced and in what way we can support them. 

A general pattern I often see with people who are frequently getting sick is an overall propensity to coldness. They may feel cold, have frequent urination, sore low back, loose stools and mucosal secretions that are clear. These people need to be warmed up with warming foods, spices, dressing appropriately for the season and avoiding those things that promote coldness such as cold drinks, cold foods and prolonged exposure to cold. 

Deficient Lung Patterns
People with deficient Lung patterns (or deficient Lung Qi in Traditional Chinese Medicine) tend to succumb to allergies, colds and flus and frequent mucosal congestion. They may have a bright white complexion, be exhausted, and have a weak or low voice. They may have a difficulty breathing or a shortness of breath with minimal exertion. They may also have daytime sweats. Lung tonifying herbs will be helpful such as codonopsis, astragalus, cordyceps and mullein leaf as well as breathing exercises and Qi Gong.

Deficient Lung with dryness
In TCM this is Deficient Lung Yin. The main symptom here is a chronic or acute unproductive dry cough with little or no mucous. Other symptoms include a dry mouth and throat, afternoon fevers or feeling of heat, red cheeks and nose, night sweats, and dry mouth and throat. Tongue may be red with no coat and a dry appearance. The protocol here is to restore moisture to the lungs, demulcent herbs like marshmallow and violet will help as well as eating moistening foods. 

Cold Dampness in the Lungs
This person may have a pasty white complexion. Coughing will produce copious white phlegm. Breathing may be difficult especially when lying down along with a general shortness of breath. Their tongue may have a thick and greasy white coat. In this situation the cold dampness needs to be transformed. Elecampane, cottonwood buds, ginger root and arrowleaf balsam root are my go to herbs here. They will also benefit from onion poultices, or garlic oil on the feet. 

Excess Overall Dampness
Dampness throughout the whole body can be indicative of a sluggish lymphatic system (an important part of the immune system). Symptoms include edema, moist skin, a feeling of heaviness, slow movements, abdominal distension, loose stools, lethargy and foggy thinking. Tongue may be pale but overall wet in appearance with a thick coating. 

Still want more tips?

That's dedication. See my article on 7 Tips for Improving Immune System Function here.