Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Western Herbal Medicine and the Common Cold and Flu

How to Use Western Herbal Medicine for the Common Cold and Flu
James Christian, B.Sc., MNIMH, RH, Medical Herbalist

As we see the days getting shorter and the leaves on the trees changing colour, we realize that summer is gone and winter is on its way. One of the unpleasant parts of the winter is that the common cold and flu are more likely to infect people. But what is the common cold and what can we do about it?

Throughout medical history, strength and vitality has been represented by warmth and fire. So as the name itself suggests, cold, an infection by a virus to cause the flu or the common cold, is seen to reduce the vitality of the individual infected. Once infected, symptoms include nausea, vomiting, fever (which is your body’s way of trying to counteract the “cold”) runny nose, coughing, aches and general fatigue. The viruses’ that cause our illness are around us all the time, but it is when we are weak or our reserves are depleted that we become vulnerable to them. But is there anything we can do to defend ourselves, or if we are already infected, is there anything we can do to fight it off more quickly? As a Herbalist, I can say definitely Yes!

Herbs to Use:
Herbal Medicine provides us with herbs of various actions that are beneficial in the treatment and prevention of the common cold or flu. Herbalists use plants with immune stimulating, decongestant, diaphoretic (warming to the body) and healing actions. Echinacea angustifolia and purpurea (Purple Coneflower) are both very effective at boosting the immune system of the individual. A good quality Echinacea should cause your tongue to tingle for about 5 to 10 minutes after oral administration of a liquid extract such as a tincture. Eupatorium perfoliatum (Boneset) is a great herb for dealing with most of the symptoms of a cold. It helps relieve aches in the joints, helps manage a fever and reduce congestion. Allium sativum (Garlic) is a great anti-viral herb. The best way to get its benefit is to eat raw cloves of garlic either on their own or in other foods. Sambucus nigra (Elderflower) is an amazing herb for dealing with colds and flu. This plant helps with congestion of the lungs and upper respiratory tract. Zingiber officinale (Ginger) and Cinnamonum zeylanicum (Cinnamon) are great warming herbs used to help the body’s natural defense against a fever.

If you feel like you are coming down with a cold or flu, try having a strong tea made with fresh ground ginger and cinnamon. Grind an amount of each plant equal to the size of your thumbnail and let steep in hot water for 10 minutes, strain and drink up to 3 times per day. Also take a hot bath with some essential oils added to it such as Thyme, Eucalyptus or Peppermint to ease congestion and help you rest.

Lifestyle and Supplements:
As I mentioned earlier, the viruses that cause our colds and flu are always around us. It is important to stay healthy so that we are able to defend our body’s and avoid being sick all together. To do this, remember to eat healthy foods, drink plenty of water and get adequate rest. All too often in our busy lives we neglect to give ourselves proper rest. For supplements, use Vitamin C, Zinc (high in Pumpkin Seeds), B-complex and Vitamin A. Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Soup is very easy for your body to assimilate while it is weak, so hearty vegetable soups are great!

Every individual is different and different herbs may be required. For a more customized approach to your Cold or Flu, consult your local Medical Herbalist. This information is not intended to treat or diagnose any disease or disorder.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Ask a Herbalist - Diet and Overconsumption

Dear James,

I have rapidly gained so much weight that I now have stretch marks. My doctor has me on Lexpro 20mg for anxiety and Diovan HCT 30 mg for high blood pressure. But now I am having serious side effects and no one is listening.

Before all of this RX, I cleansed often with herbs and so my body is not used to this continuous bloating and heaviness. I want to feel better and this state is making me feel worse. What are some herbs that would or could be substituted for the medications above? How can I get off of this stuff? I am 5'3 and now at a whopping 221...MY LORD! Please help me.

Amber, Texas

Dear Amber,

Thank you very much for your email. Firstly, I have to address the fact that I would need further information from you regarding your current life situation to begin to unravel what is happening with your body. That being said, I can make some general comments and suggestions on how to proceed until we can talk some more in detail about what is happening and why.

Plants contain hundreds, and even thousands, of chemical constituents that interact with your body. These chemical compounds work synergistically with one another, and with your own biochemistry to restore balance and proper functioning to the systems and organs of your body. Think of them as tiny teachers moving through your body retraining and re-educating healthy functioning, as opposed to pharmaceuticals which essentially act as a crutch and take over the functions for your body leaving you relying on them for “health”.

The first recommendation I have is to initiate a cleansing of your body. This does not have to be an intense experience, but rather can be a gentle push to help with elimination of toxins from within your body. Some great herbs to help with this are Arctium lappa (Burdock), Silybum marianum (Milk Thistle) and Taraxacum officinale radix (Dandelion Root). These herbs help protect the liver, while at the same time repair any damage that may have been caused by fats within the bloodstream and the assimilation of the pharmaceutical drugs you have been taking. These 3 herbs also help to move digestion along and push out any digested food matter that is stagnating within the digestive tract. Allowing food to decay while still within the intestines can lead to toxins being absorbed back through the intestinal walls and into the bloodstream. This can lead to food allergies, fatigue and reduced immunity to name a few.

Combine the Herbal Cleanse with an abundance of fresh, raw fruit and vegetables to help increase your fibre intake. Consult a Nutritionist of Dietitian to include foods in your diet that will help detoxify your body and begin to restore your vitality.

Upon completing a 7-10 day cleanse consisting of the herbs above, it would be beneficial to have a custom formulation of herbs that will help the underlying cause of your illness. One of the things that we would want to address is the high blood pressure probably stemming from atherosclerosis, or the hardening of plaque on the inside of your blood vessels. Continuing to support healthy digestion and elimination is also a priority, and we need to support the eliminatory organs such as the intestines, liver, gallbladder and kidneys as well. We also would like to help with the anxiety that you are feeling and restore a sense of well being.

Herbs that are traditionally used to help with digestion and elimination include Artemisia absinthum (Wormwood), Taraxacum officinale radix (Dandelion Root) and most importantly for you, Plantago ovata (Psyllium). Psyllium seeds are a bulk laxative meaning that they increase in size in the digestive tract with adequate water and help increase transit time of food, causing regular bowel movements. It is also very helpful in lowering cholesterol and regulating blood sugar levels which may be a problem with your health currently as well.

Tonic herbs that could be used to help with protecting your liver would be Silybum marianum (Milk Thistle) and Verbena officinalis (Vervain). Vervain is good for you as it also has a good effect on stress and anxiety. Your kidneys can be supported with Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (Bearberry) or Zea mays (Cornsilk).

As you mention you are on Lexpro for anxiety, it indicates to me that you are operating in a stress-response way called the “Fight or Flight” response. Living this way everyday causes your body to have the majority of its blood flow directed to the muscles and extremities. The opposite of this is “Rest and Digest” when your body relaxes and allows the blood to return to the abdomen and again begin properly absorbing your food. All the time that you are living highly stressed your body’s hormones are imbalanced and this as well can cause weight gain. To address this anxiety, the herbs that I would recommend include Scutalleria lateriflora (Skullcap), Passiflora incarnata (Passionflower) and Tilia europea (Limeflower). Limeflower is also great for lowering blood pressure and reducing blood cholesterol, so it would be very beneficial in a holistic approach for you.

Don’t discount your day to day activities as having a dramatic impact on your overall health, especially when it comes to digestion. Your body thrives on routines; in fact it is essential to the functioning of your body. Try to eat meals at regular times during the day to allow a routine that your body can adjust to. Again, work with a Nutritionist or Dietitian to create a healthy eating plan that will help eliminate weight at the same time as maintain a health intake of vital nutrients.
Under no circumstance should you try and go off all your medications without working with your Doctor. Many drugs have side effects if you discontinue their use without adequate time to adjust. Continually monitor your blood sugar, cholesterol levels and blood pressure to ensure that you are working along the right path.

Ask a Herbalist - Daily Care and Herbs from the Shelf

Dear James, I don't have a lot of extra money every month, but I want to start investing in preventative medicine so I can live a long and healthy life. Where's a good place to start?
Janine, Victoria

Dear Janine,

This is a very important question and one that many people today wonder about. I often get asked “What herb should I be taking everyday?” The short answer is that there isn’t one single herb that everyone should be taking every day. In Herbal Medicine, and other Holistic Health Care, it is always the person that is treated and supported rather than any symptom or disease and everyone is individual with their own unique lifestyle and health concerns. If you have current specific health concerns, or a family history of health issues that you are worried about, please consult with a Holistic Heath Care practitioner to see what treatment plan can be made specific for you.

There are some things though that everyone should be doing to minimize dis-ease and they include proper nutrition, adequate exercise, lots of water and fresh air. Ensuring that you get all of these things, you should be able to remain healthy. Living in Victoria allows at least 3 of these 4 things to be easy to attain and abundant, but many people have trouble with proper nutrition. There is one product that I do recommend to many people to use daily and it is called Vitamineral Green. It is a vegan, organic, live food made from various plants, seaweeds and algaes and provides all the minerals, vitamins and trace elements that the body needs in a form that is bio-available (your body is able to absorb them and use them effectively). Many people have great health success just from incorporating this one product into their daily routine! You won’t find this product on many shelves in Victoria, so check their website at or come and see me at my clinic.

Dear James, What is the difference between using Herbal Medicine from the shelf of a Natural Health Food Store or Pharmacy and herbs bought from a Professional Herbalist?
Matt, Victoria

Dear Matt,
There are several reasons why purchasing herbs from a Herbalists Dispensary are better than those from the shelf.

Firstly, a Herbalist will customize the formulation for you as an individual. This customizing of the formulation ensures you are receiving the herbs best suited to your health conditions, and none of those that aren’t. A Herbalist is also able to assess if there are any potential interactions with any pharmaceutical medications you might be taking as well. You are not given that protection if you purchase a pre-formulated remedy off the shelf.

Another problem is determining whether the pre-manufactured products actually contain the right species of plants and the right part of the plant needed to achieve a therapeutic effect. A Professional Herbalist ensures that the plants he/she uses are the right species and that the correct part of the plant (roots, leafs, fruit, etc.) has been used.

Lastly, plant medicines are generally safe, but they are still medicines. They need to be respected and used properly and the guidance of a Professional Herbalist is vital to ensure that you are taking the right combination of plants properly to be confident that you truly are working towards better health.
There are some very good products out there as well, ask a Professional about which ones are good.

If you have any questions about Holistic Health and Healing Herbs, please feel free to email me at or call me at 250 920 8351. You can see more about me at I have a sliding fee scale and offer discounts to students, seniors and low-income individuals. Please get in touch with me to book an appointment today.

Ask a Herbalist - Stress

Dear James,

Going back to University always makes me feel a bit stressed. Are there any herbs that I can take for that?
Janine – Vancouver

Dear Janine,

Although modern day living provides many new conveniences, there is still a large portion of the population that suffer from various degrees of stress. But what is stress and how does it affect people’s health? Basically stress can be described as any outside force that disrupts the internal balance or harmony within the body. These can include relationships (both personal and professional), work conditions and bodily health among others. Living in the city requires the ability to withstand some stress, but when it becomes overwhelming and begins causing physical complaints such as high blood pressure, insomnia, digestive upset and the inability to concentrate and focus, it is indicative that balance needs to be restored within the body.

By nature, stress is not a condition that can be “treated” itself, but rather the body can be given support through the use of healing plants, supplements, relaxation techniques and lifestyle adjustments to work through the stress in a healthy way.

Herbs to Use:
Herbal Medicine provides us with herbs with various actions that are beneficial in the treatment of stress. Herbalists use plants with adaptogenic, relaxant, adrenal tonic and nervous system restorative actions. Adaptogenic herbs include Eleutherococcus senticosus (Siberian Ginseng) and Withania somnifera (Ashwaghanda) which both effectively help the body adapt and cope with stress. Relaxing herbs are important as they can help calm the mind. Some great herbs for relaxation include Valeriana officinalis (Valerian) and Scutalleria lateriflora (Skullcap). As stress can sometimes lead to an over-use of adrenalin from the body to cope with stress, your adrenal glands (located on top of your kidneys) become exhausted and begin to cause other health problems. Borago officinalis (Borage) is a herb that works well to restore healthy adrenal function. Nervous system tonic herbs are used to help bring balance back to your nervous system and help you function and cope with stress by providing nutrition to nerve cells and restoring healthy cell activity. Herbs that have this action include Avena sativa (Oats) and Stachys officinalis (Wood Betony)

Lifestyle and Supplements:
One of the most important things to help with lifestyle stress is to examine the circumstances that trigger the stress and see how you can change your lifestyle patterns to minimize them. It is very beneficial to try to incorporate relaxation techniques into your life routine including yoga and meditation. If you feel that you are unable to cope with the stress in your life on your own, you should consult a Counsellor or Psychologist to help work through the issues professionally. Good supplements to use during stressful periods of life include Vitamin A, B-complex, B6 and B12, C, D, E, Magnesium, Zinc and Oils of Evening Primrose or Borage.

Every individual is different and different herbs may be required. For a more customized approach to your allergies, consult your local Medical Herbalist