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Self Care during a cold/flu

Updated: Nov 29, 2021

No matter how well we care for our bodies, sickness is inevitable. You go to bed feeling fit as a fiddle, only to wake up congested/feverish etc. Or maybe your partner/roommate is beginning to get sick, and you fear you'll be the next victim. While the symptoms of a flu or cold can feel unbelievably horrible, on the bright side, coming out the other end always leaves me feeling mentally lighter, paradoxically stronger, and so excited to get back to the land of the living. Sickness has a funny, diabolical way of cleansing us.

I take the remedies below at the first sign of sickness- lethargy, a throat tickle etc., and swear by them for either warding off coming down with something, or at least shortening the duration and severity of the illness. When traveling or around large groups of people, I take vitamin C, vitamin D3/K2, and a single dose of elderberry syrup daily for immune system support.

Having a little "sick day(s)" kit on hand is key, there's nothing worse than feeling sick and not having your tried and true remedies on hand. Going out shopping for remedies while you're sick is really not the plan.

Please know that I'm not a doctor, and none of the following should be taken as medical advice. These are simply some things I employ when I feel I'm coming down with a cold or flu, and for the duration of the sickness.


-Elderberry syrup- elderberry syrup is antiviral, and is known for reducing the duration of the flu, thanks to elderberry's ability to increase cytokine production in the body (basically, it sends your immune system into high gear.) I take a tablespoon full of elderberry syrup daily if I'm around anyone sick, and when I'm traveling. If I feel I'm coming down with a cold or flu, I take a tablespoon of syrup every few hours, and it does seem to prevent major symptoms from taking hold, while shortening the duration and intensity of illness.

-Fire cider- a popular folk remedy, fire cider contains can contain a wide range of ingredients. My fire cider contains raw honey, raw apple cider vinegar, fresh garlic, onions, ginger root, onion, lemon, orange, jalapeno, rosemary, hibiscus, and lemon verbena. Fire cider can also aid with digestion when taken around a meal. I love to add a splash of fire cider to a hot mug of bone broth when I'm feeling run down, or just craving warmth and simple nourishment.

-Fresh ginger, lemon, honey tea- I keep fresh, organic ginger root on hand for cooking, which comes in handy when I or someone I know is sick. To make a delicious ginger tea, simple grate (I like using a microplane) fresh ginger into a small pot with a few cups of water. I leave the skin on, since the ginger will be strained out after infusing. The amount of ginger to use is up to you- I tend to use a 1/2 piece about the circumference of my thumb. Simmer the grated ginger and water for 5-10 minutes, then strain through a fine mesh strainer, and add fresh lemon juice and raw honey to taste.

-Raw garlic- Garlic has antimicrobial, antiviral, and antibiotic effects, as well as being a decongestant and expectorant, making it a great remedy for colds and flus. To get the maximum benefits from garlic, consume it raw, and crushed/minced, which activates the allicin in the cloves. Allicin has antibacterial properties, and is present in the highests concentrations in a freshly crushed, raw clove.

To consume raw garlic, I like to mince a clove and mix in a little softened butter and/or raw honey, then spread on a cracker. I also love raw garlic mixed into mashed avocado if I have one around, the fat in the avocado tempers the garlic's bite.

Alternatively, you can also make a simple vinaigrette with a few cloves of raw, minced garlic, olive oil, lemon juice or fire cider, toasted sesame seeds and a little soy sauce or coconut amino acids.

-Lymph moving herbs like calendula- especially towards the end of an illness. Dried or fresh calendula can simply be brewed as you would tea, strained, and sipped throughout the day. I also like to add a handful of calendula flowers (fresh or dried depending on the time of year) to a pot of bone broth in the last 20 minutes of cooking, it's a simple way to help aid your body's lymphatic system as it works to move toxins and waste from your system.

-Herbal Tea- Herbs such as echinacea, elderberry, oregano, rosemary, peppermint, cinnamon, mullein, yarrow, licorice root, marshmallow root, tulsi, sage and thyme can all be helpful when dealing with various maladies. To learn more about each herb, and the appropriate herbs for specific illness, I love to turn to Plants for the People and Plant Magic.

-Zinc- some research seems to indicate that zinc can shorten the duration of colds, so I like to supplement with zinc or ensure I'm getting enough daily in my diet while sick, as the body does not store zinc. Some foods that contain zinc in significant amounts are red meat, eggs, dairy, oysters, potatoes (both regular and sweet), legumes such as chickpeas and lentils, hemp seeds, pork and chicken.

-Vitamin D3/K2- research shows that supplementing with D3/K2 can aid your immune system year round, but especially when you're sick. I take 2000 IUs daily, and double the dose to 4000 IUs when sick. I like this one!

-Probiotics- I take daily probiotics made by Seed as a safeguard, and to boost my gut health. I've tried many different probiotic brands, and Seed truly has made a noticeable difference in my digestion/bowel movements. Sometimes, I forgo the probiotic if I feel I ate enough fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kefir etc. I also enjoy this supplement for gut health.

-Vitamin C- lyposomal vitamin C seems to be the most bioavailable, meaning the vitamin is able to be easily absorbed and used by the body. Another supplement option is powdered acerola cherries. Whole food sources are the holy grail, such as guava, passionfruit, citrus, kiwi, papaya (are you seeing the tropical fruit theme here?) colored bell peppers, brassicas such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, kale, and cauliflower, tomatoes, kohlrabi, and potatoes.

-Homemade chicken and beef broth- I keep my freezer stocked with homemade broth. If you're unwell and all you can stomach are liquids, warm broth with some good sea salt and maybe a squeeze of lemon juice or fire cider is nice.

-Soup- an easy to digest meal is perfect for when you're sick. Your body is working hard to fight whatever virus or bacteria has you down, so give your digestive system meals it won't have to work too hard on. The broth in soup makes it easier to stay hydrated while sick, as a bonus.

-Rest- this one's easy! Sleep as much as possible, and at the very least, try to stay recumbent and focus on relaxing things like a movie you love or a good book. I love light hearted movies when I'm sick, Hugh Grant movies are always lovely. Audio books are great if a headache is preventing you from reading, and when you can't sleep any longer. David Sedaris is a perennial favorite for me, all of his books are great.

-Lots of water- I know gatorade and pedialyte are often recommended, both options for when you're dehydrated from sickness, but pure coconut water is also an excellent source of potassium, magnesium, and vitamin C without unnecessary additives like food coloring and artificial flavors. Another good option is pure spring water with a little lemon juice, honey and sea salt.

-Sunshine, baby!- If you're well enough to get outside (distanced from other people, of course), sunshine can be extremely beneficial, both for your mood, and your immune system.

-Gentle walks- moving your body gently, especially towards the end of an illness, can help your lymphatic system flush out collected waste from viruses, germs and bacteria. A gentle massage can also be helpful for this purpose.

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