Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Herbal Medicines and Trips to Western Massachusetts

When swine flu hysteria started making my world feel like Salem, Massachusetts 1692 style, I did two things.  I stopped listening to the news and I decided not to give myself or my family the vaccine.  I wouldn't put myself in the category of vaccine-fearing-government-conspiracy-believing-wacko, but I am wary about them, especially when there are signs everywhere shouting: "Vaccinate NOW!" "Get your free vaccine here!"  "If you vaccinated here, you would be home by now," I mean, that doesn't even make sense.  The news was just wiggin' me out and I didn't want to put my carefully reserved positive energy into worrying about the pig flu. 
I'm a big fan of protecting yourself by eating dirt.  What I mean by that is my kids get dirty. Despite evidence to the contrary, we don't actually eat dirt. But, we don't use hand sanitizer, we wash our hands but not obsessively, we play with other kids and sometimes those kid our direction.  All that said, I had already been partially poisoned by the news I was listening to before I quit the junk.  So, I was freaked out.  Freaked out enough to imagine the system shutting down and needing to dig up Day Lilly tubers and heat them over a fire made from my dining room chairs.  I thought if I was going to make the "crazy" decision not to vaccinate I should have some knowledge of what I would be in for were we to sweat out the flu. 

When I was a kid my mom got into natural remedies.  When we got sick there was always a piping hot mug of something bitter and sluggish to choke down (sorry mom), which we would do, dutifully.  To my recollection, we were always cured right up.  I didn't inherit this knowledge from her, but it did foster in me a love and interest in herbal medicine.  It gives me a real witchy feeling and makes me feel like a natural woman, makes me want to wear a hooded cape and carry a basket instead of a courier bag.  ...Anyway, I have a couple of medicinal wild plants field guides, and along with my wild edible forays, I have picked up some info about what I could use out there in the woods for various aliments.  I am forever running out to the yard to grab some plantain for a poultice, but I wanted to know more.  I wanted to know enough to feel comfortable keeping my kid away from the doctor's office were she to have a fairly high  fever.

I stumbled across this website.  Tony(a) Lemos runs Blazing Star Herbal School in western Massachusetts and was offering a workshop called "No Fear Flu." How's that for a made-to-order gift from the Universe? It's quite a hike from where I am, about a three hour drive. But as many of you mommas out there can imagine, a trip to beautiful western MA in the fall, with no kids in the car, a scarf, a warm mug of tea, and some historical fiction on cd is something of a beautiful nerdy mini-vacation.  When I got there, I quickly realized that I was by far the least knowledgeable person in the room.  It seemed like the class was full of people who (all knew each other) and who had been practicing either professionally or for a long time.  This was great news because I was bound to learn a lot, especially if I could get over a childhood fear of "asking stupid questions."

Tony(a) covered a lot of material, and I'm no herbalist, so I won't be giving any medical advice.  But I will say this, she made me feel really comfortable, and not crazy, with my decision to deal with potential sickness at home with plants. I guess that's no surprise given what she does for a living, but I am a New Englander and skepticism lives close to my heart, despite my fairy-loving beliefs.  It was really down to earth with great advice.  Like what?

Get Sleep.  Get as Much sleep as your body needs.  Not just when you're already sick, that's how you keep from getting sick in the first place!  If you are going to get sick, you'll get sick when you are tired and your body is not getting a chance to repair itself when you're resting.

Take a hot bath.  Like  98 degrees.  Keep your kids in a bath over 98 degrees for over 20 minutes and it will kill the flu virus.  So, if you're out an about and someone wipes their nose and shakes your hand (or kids do this or something even grosser) take them home and plunk them in the bath.  They will complain, I can tell you, just read them a story or something, try to keep them in there for as close to 20 minutes as possible, and try not to giggle at their super red bums.  That's pretty easy, isn't it?  My older girl got in the habit of saying to the little one, "Hunter, it's hot for your health!"

Eat well. This is pretty straightforward, but it's easy to forget. Your body works only as well as the fuel it runs on, you know?

I also learned some other things like:

Don't suppress a fever up to 103 degrees.  This is a healthy fever.  It's doing its job, cooking out the virus, let it be.  If the fever rises above that gently reduce it using lukewarm water and wiping the patient (a.k.a. whimpering child) with a rag. No ice, this can cause shock.  I asked how long would you keep your feverish kid feverish before you started to worry about...what?...brain damage?  I mean, I don't know about you, but I have loads of cultural images in my head from my full childhood of TV watching that tells me that fever=insane person in like, 2-4 hours.  She said she would be pretty comfortable with a fever of 103-104 for three to four days.  (Let me just say here that I am not offering medical advice here, I'm just a lady who believes the herbalist and would wait out a fever for a few days.  You should do whatever makes you comfortable...just so we're on the same page.)  I also know that a little peppermint essential oil on the bottom of a kid's feet will drop a fever, as will wool rags soaked in vinegar or lemon justice and applied to the calves.

Stimulate a low grade fever.  A prolonged low-grade fever is something more to worry about and it might be helpful to stimulate the fever with a little cyan to induce sweating and get the circulation going. 

When the fever is broken eat protein.  Scrambled eggs are a good choice.

I also learned a few great recipes, some of which have become staples for my family.   One of which is FIRE CIDER!  I imagine this being advertised 1800's style with slogans like , "Dr. Stinky's Fire Cider! Impress your friends! Made from roots that come from the center of the earth!  Breath fire! Grow hair on your chest! Keep the common cold at bay."  Fire cider is an immune strengthener, you make this tonic and take a table spoon a day.  Although, over here we like to down a shot glass every morning.  Then we beat our chests and growl a little.  It makes us feel like animals with super immune systems. 

Fire Cider:

Fill a quart mason jar 1/3 full equal parts peeled and chopped:
ginger root
horseradish root
burdock root
pinch of cyan

then 7/8thfull of apple cider vinegar and 1/8th full raw honey.

You should let it sit for about a week and then use it until it runs out.  You can cook the roots with some chicken once you've finished the cider. 

Another standby in our house (just administered to the wee one this morning after)  is sage honey.  Sage is an antiviral, antibacterial, anti fungal.  Taken internally, it will fight infection.  Honey is awesome.  I made a big 'ol jar of it this year.
Fill a jar with chopped fresh sage leaves.  
Pour (preferably raw, local) honey over the leaves about 7/8th full. Mix it around as much as you can to get the honey over and through the leaves.  Pour in more honey.
 Fill 1/8th with brandy.  This helps it mix a little better and pulls more of the sage-y goodness out of the leaves and into the honey.  If you are doing a double take and reading back to make sure you read what you thought you read, yes I do give this to my children.  When administered in tablespoon doses, there is more alcohol in an over-ripe banana than there is in this medicine.  Probably.
 It is also a great addition to a warm tea when you or your youngsters are feeling sick. 

The same concoction can also be made with thyme.  I believe I was told that sage is more for lower respiratory congestion, while thyme is more upper-respiratory. 
I will be sharing more of our herbal experiments, but these are great stapes to start with.
And don't forget to eat some dirt.


  1. WOW! This blog just brought me back 13 years, to my Naturopathic/Herbalistic days! Great advice here...I whole heartly agree with the advice on a fever...dont panic people its your body doing its job! I am so going to make the sage honey (may have to borrow some brandy tho...Not thinking I could handle the fire cider, I dont even like pepper! You are an amazing women Janelle, so greatfull we met.