The seasons have changed and today is the first official day of winter! No discussion of the winter season is complete without talking about the dreaded f-word (no, not that f-word!) I’m talking about the flu. The nasty virus that zaps your energy and gives you body aches, chills, cough, fever, sore throat, runny nose, congestion, and a general sense of feeling awful.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu activity really peaks between December and February. But why?
Contrary to popular belief, the flu is not caused by cold temperatures, but there are several factors that might make colds and flu more common in winter:
- People spend more time indoors with the windows shut, so they’re more likely to breathe in the respiratory droplets of a person infected with the flu.
- There is less sunlight in the winter, which causes us to have lower levels of vitamin D and melatonin. Deficiencies of vitamin D and melatonin reduce our immune response, which then reduces our ability to fight viruses.
- The flu virus survives better in cold, dry climates, which means it can hang around longer to infect more people.
Of all of these theories, #3 has become the most accepted and has science to support it. If you love science like I do, and you’re interested in the exact mechanisms behind why the flu virus survives better in cold, dry air than it does in warm, humid air, then check out this article.
Okay – so we’ve already established that flu season is coming. How can you protect yourself? As a naturopathic doctor, I am a huge fan of herbal medicine. Herbs can be used to support our health in so many ways, including helping us prevent and recover from viral infections.
Today I’m sharing my recipe for homemade herbal antiviral tea. This tea is delicious and easy to make with regular ingredients from the grocery store. The flavor is strong because tea needs to be quite potent in order to truly have a medicinal effect. A fair warning: if you don’t like the spicy taste of ginger, then this tea is not for you!
Let’s take a look at our botanical superstars, shall we?
The seeds of these little green pods contain a compound called 1,8-cineole, which is antiseptic (anti-infective) and expectorant (helps to break up and expel mucus from the respiratory tract).
This popular cooking spice contains a compound called cinnamaldehyde, which is anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antiviral. It also has anesthetic and tranquilizing effects (which is great because you need to REST when you have the flu!) **Note: cinnamon can have profound blood sugar-lowering effects, so use caution if you are on insulin or oral hypoglycemic medications.**
Clove buds contain eugeniin, which fights viruses by blocking the bug’s ability to replicate. Clove also contains eugenol, which has demonstrated antiviral effects against foodborne viruses.
I’ve saved the best for last. Ginger is one of my favorite medicinal and culinary herbs of all time! It is a powerful anti-inflammatory, soothes sore throats, stimulates the immune system and reduces aches and pain. Like cinnamon, it is a very warming spice. The key to ginger being effective for the flu is to use the freshly juiced root. Dried ginger will not be effective here. The ginger will make this tea quite spicy, but it’s worth it because it can truly knock out an infection within a few days! **Note: High doses of ginger can have blood-thinning effects, so use caution if you are on Coumadin, Warfarin or other blood-thinning agents. Ginger also increases the motility of the GI tract, so it may cause looser or more frequent stools in some individuals.**
Before we get to the tea recipe, here are some more tips for staying healthy this winter:
- Maintain adequate levels of vitamins A, C, D3 with K2 and zinc through food or supplements. **Don’t take vitamin A supplements without consulting your healthcare provider!
- Don’t pick your nose, rub your eyes or put your hands in your mouth unless your hands have just been thoroughly washed. The nose, eyes and mouth are entry points for infections.
- Wash your hands thoroughly and often.
- Get at least 8 hours of sleep every night. Sleep deprivation causes immune system suppression and a lot of other bad things, too.
- Don’t stress out! Emotional stress suppresses your immune system. Try deep relaxation breathing, gentle yoga or meditation.
- Exercise regularly
- Cut refined sugar out of your diet because it suppresses your immune response.
- Take probiotics or eat cultured foods like kimchee and sauerkraut to help stimulate your immune system.
Okay – without further ado, here’s the tea recipe!
Homemade Antiviral Herbal Tea
Makes 4 (8-ounce) servings
- 3 (3-inch long) cinnamon sticks
- Seeds from 15 crushed green cardamom pods
- 10 whole clove buds
- 1-2 lbs. fresh ginger root (or enough to yield 2 ounces of fresh juice per 1 cup of tea)
- 4 1/2 cups of water
Add the 4 cups of water to a medium pot and bring to a boil. Add the cinnamon sticks, cardamom seeds and cloves. Reduce the heat to keep the tea at a gentle simmer.
Cover the pot and continue to let the tea simmer for 45 minutes.
While the tea is simmering, make the fresh ginger juice by running the ginger through your juicer. Set the glass of ginger juice aside. (If you do not have a juicer, you can add the ginger to a blender with just enough water to allow the ginger to be blended into pulp. Strain the ginger pulp through a piece of cheesecloth, a nut milk bag, or a clean linen cloth into a cup or bowl.)
When the tea has finished simmering for 45 minutes, strain it through a fine mesh trainer or sieve into a clean bowl. Measure out 8 ounces of the tea into a large mug. Add 2 ounces of the ginger juice to the hot tea and stir.
Pro Tip: To make this tea even more effective and tasty, add the juice of a lemon or lime for vitamin C, plus 1-2 teaspoons of manuka honey (I recommend this brand) to each cup for extra antiviral and immune-boosting power!
Drink 2-6 cups daily. This tea will help to break up mucus, soothe your sore throat, and reduce the spread of the virus in the body. Leftover tea can be refrigerated and reheated on the stovetop as needed, but the ginger juice should be consumed within one day to maintain its effectiveness.
Bharat Aggarwal and Ajaikumar Kunnumakkara (2009). Molecular Targets and Therapeutic Uses of Spices: Modern Uses for Ancient Medicine. World Scientific Publishing Co.: Singapore.
Stephen Buhner (2013). Herbal Antivirals: Natural Remedies for Emerging and Resistant Viral Infections. Story Publishing: Massachusetts.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for the professional advice of your physician or other licensed health care provider. Never avoid, disregard or delay seeking professional medical advice, or change any of your prescribed medical treatments because of something you have read on this blog. If you try any therapies or recommendations discussed on this blog, you do so at your own risk.
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