Warding Off Winter Woes

Natural Remedies as Alternatives for Cold and Flu Season

Photo Amy Halloran

With the dread of sneezing and coughing that’s often synonymous with winter, the first instinct is often to stock up the medicine cabinet with the strongest pharmaceutical drugs.

Often overlooked are the amazing preventative properties of certain natural remedies, which come without the unwanted side effects pharmaceutical drugs can incur.

According to naturopathy student Laurence Couture-Dubé, the biggest advantage of taking natural remedies as opposed to antibiotics is that these plants respect the homeostasis—the maintenance of balance and stability—of bodily functions. They strengthen and nourish the body so that it can heal itself through its own resources.

On the other hand, antibiotics, while often necessary in cases of emergency or chronic illness, kill all bacteria, some of which are good and strengthen the immune system.

Advil and Tylenol are also widely used as a response to the first symptoms of a cold or flu. However, these drugs take a toll on our liver and can prevent the body’s natural defense mechanism of raising its temperature to kill intruding germs.

Some common conditions that the winter months bring are colds, the flu, sinus and ear infections and whooping cough. More serious infections include bronchitis and pneumonia.

Couture-Dubé, who is finishing her degree at L’Ecole d’Enseignement Supérieur de Naturopathie du Québec, is also a trained massage therapist and yoga teacher. She cites three categories of medicinal herbs key to naturally staying healthy in the winter months: toning, stimulating and pectoral.

Toning plants, such as cordyceps and astragalus, strengthen the immune system and can be taken all winter long.

Stimulating plants may be the ones most associated with cold prevention and include echinacea, elderberry and usnea. When taken, they activate the body to fight an oncoming cold. They should be taken upon the first appearance of symptoms and for a maximum of one month, in order to avoid exhausting the immune system.

The three stimulating plants mentioned above are particularly effective in tincture form.

Photo Amy Halloran

Pectoral plants heal the respiratory system. Thyme, marshmallow root and mullein are known to strengthen and soothe irritated respiratory tracts. They also kill germs, reduce coughing and clear up mucus.

Any medicinal plant must be taken often and diligently in order to fight infection. In order for them to be most effective, Couture- Dubé recommends taking them every day at the same hour. There are also other ways to stay healthy at this time of year.

“Sleep, plenty of water, warm feet, eating frugally and consuming the occasional vegetable broth are small things that we can do to get back on our feet as quickly as possible,” Couture-Dubé said.

Beside teas and tinctures as recipes for a healthy winter, essential oils can do wonders for congested lungs.

Eucalyptus, balsam fir and ravintsara are antiviral, warming and can act as an expectorant. Mix a few drops with water and spray around the room, or take one or two small drops and gently rub them on the affected area.

A workshop about alternative ways to survive the winter was held on Jan. 20 at the Concordia Greenhouse. Speaker Lisa- Francesca Lewak spoke extensively about healing the body by changing diets.

“If we warm ourselves from the inside, we will be hot on the outside,” she stated.

She encouraged consumption of warming foods, such as ginger, and the importance of avoiding raw, “cold” foods, such as salads, to stay healthy at this time of year. Also, she stressed that properly functioning kidneys are vital for good energy levels and are particularly under attack during the cold season.

Lewak recommended taking astragalus, nicknamed “the Great Protector,” for kidney health.

To explore these natural alternatives to conventional drugs, Le Frigo Vert has many interesting medicinal herbs and supplements in stock, as well as l’Alchimiste en herbe and Carrefour Santé. Quebec-based companies Clef-des-champs, Botanica and St-Francis make blends of herbs to treat specific illnesses.