Friday, January 30, 2015

We are all Healers ~ Creating Enhanced Winter Immunity with Diet not Drugs!

I wish I'd taken this gorgeous photo, but I did not. It's true origins are unknown.
In the 18th century, there wasn't much recourse against a horrid epidemic of influenza, staph or plague except for holistic methods of keeping the body as strong and resilient as possible. Herbs, spices,onions, garlic, barks, tinctures, soups and distillations were the medicines of the day. Steam to open the sinuses and lungs, poultices, plasters and teas were used as first line medical defense and many of these are still methods that I and many other herbalists and aromatherapists use today.  

Jump forward into the 21st century and once again it’s flu season.  This year it’s taken on a whole different meaning as we face the possibility of so many of the dangerous new strains of influenza that are emerging. I’m no different than any of you reading this and I worry endlessly about my families health and wellbeing. I work hard during these months to make sure that everyone's immune system is  as strong as possible. 

I really avoid most drugs, unless its imperative that I take an antibiotic for my very survival! Instead, I prefer to hedge my bets by strengthening my immune system through the foods that I eat and the supplements that I use. I'm a firm believer that real health is inextricably linked to good digestion and elimination. Keeping those systems healthy is truly your first line of defense against most virulent strains of staph , strep or influenza. You owe it to yourself right now to begin to eat foods that move quickly through you, strengthening you and helping you fight off infection powerfully  as a result of the natural ability that our bodies have to fend off disease. 

During the winter I’m constantly replenishing my stores of Echinacea and goldenseal, Vitamins B and D , elderberry tablets and  essential oils.  Oil of oregano is a must for any medicine cabinet as it's not only a vital germicide, but can help to control a stubborn candida infection. I’ve discovered that if I begin to take elderberry tablets at the beginning of the flu season that I feel very well protected, no matter who I come in contact with. Drinking steaming mugs of green tea sweetened with honey instead of my usual coffee always helps me to replenish the much needed moisture robbed daily from my skin by the bitter dry winds and artificial heating sources found in my home.
I also make a fragrant yet powerful blend of oils that I love, equal parts clove, cinnamon, lemon, eucalyptus, rosemary, white thyme and oregano to use in many ways.  This is my own variation of the famed 4 Thieves Vinegar, which is legendary  among herbalists and perfumers! Rumor has it that during the Black Plague,  the most successful corpse robbers were the perfumers who figured out that the essential oils that they used rendered them impervious to the virulent germs.  They were later caught and hung, but not before they were forced to give up their secrets!
Try to make this for yourself because mixed with white vinegar and put into a spray bottle it will become a potent antibacterial to use either as a room spray or surface spray for your entire home. Used in a diffuser, this oil blend creates a continuous line of defense against most airborne viruses that it comes in contact with. It’s a little too strong for most forms of personal use, but I will mix a few drops with some fresh vitamin E oil and massage the bottoms of the feet with it and then putting a pair of clean cuddly socks to help the oils soak in.  That treatment coupled with a bowl of garlic miso soup with a bit of tofu and a warm mug of cayenne, cinnamon, honey and lemon tea can have me up and out again in a day! Speaking of cinnamon, I love to keep a pot of honey that I've literally stuffed with powdered ceylon (not cassia) cinnamon in the pantry. Just a spoonful of this delicious nectar can help soothe a scratchy throat or a cough very quickly and stirred into some hot water can provide simple nourishment when you're just not feeling like eating much.  
Because there is so much temptation to overindulge during the holidays, our bodies can become very overloaded with sugar and complex carbohydrates, the end result being an overload of yeast that builds up in the body, causing some very difficult problems including skin rashes, joint aches and pains and a heavily compromised immune system that is even more susceptible than usual to the nasty bugs that are generously present in our daily environment.
Now is the time for a good cleansing, but generally not of the fasting sort. If you’re anything like me, the bitter chill of the winter winds make that nearly an impossibility.   Instead I prefer to treat my body to simple meals based upon mostly seasonally available foods and herbs that are designed to gently cleanse and invigorate .  For example,  I love to poach leeks and serve them with homemade mustard sauce and I make a homemade raw beet borscht with fresh dill, diced onions, cooked turnips and rutabaga that is a surefire remedy for adding iron to your diet and  cleansing the blood. 
Vegetarian curries with cumin, ginger, garlic and tumeric  can provide the warmth needed to rebalance the digestion and hot spicy salsas and moles made with chiles , dark chocolate, cinnamon and chipotle are another winter treat that those of us north of the border can use to fend off the blues of seasonal affective disorder and stay warm as toast all winter!  I love a simple roasted chicken  or  vegetarian cutlet   dressed with a spicy mole sauce and  served with cumin scented black beans and a salad of fresh blood orange, jicama, pomegranate seeds with a red wine vinegar and oil dressing.  A meal like this can bring the sunshine back to me in an instant!
Soups are really easy to make and a good homemade bone  broth is a wonderful foundation for creating all kinds of foods that promote healing. To make a good bone broth, start with fresh spring water or chicken broth and either a chicken cut into pieces or a pot roast (bone in). Organic  and free range please! Then add onions, garlic, carrots, celery , beets, leeks, root vegetables, garlic, kale…you get the picture. It doesn’t have to be pretty to be delicious and fortifying.  Quite often depending upon my mood I’ll add a bottle of red wine or some fresh apple cider.  Many times I’ll use a chicken and pot roast together and sometimes I won’t use meat at all choosing instead several varieties of seaweed, seafood and shellfish. 
The rest is simple.  Put it all into a stockpot and simmer for at least 6 hours. Making a good meat based broth does take some time but its well worth the wait. You’ll have to skim what is known as the “scum” off of it several times, but this added step will result in a clearer stock. I love to add healing herbs and spices to mine, particularly cinnamon sticks, ginger root, cayenne and star anise for warmth.  When it’s done remove the meat and the vegetables and put them aside to reserve for a later meal. Serving either the chicken or beef with a sauce of fresh horseradish or mustard is another way to raise the digestive fires needed for warmth at this ever so chilly time of year. Then strain the stock and give yourself the pleasure of putting some of the hot broth into a mug with a bit of salt and a squeeze of fresh lemon. Bon Appetit'! The end result after refrigeration of the broth will that the stock will be jellied...a sure sign that all of the nutrition, has been taken from the bones and put into the stock! So delicious and so good for you! 
 Vegetarian broth will cook faster and you won’t have as much foam to remove but the end result will be just as delicious and fortifying! Add a bit of miso, green onion, cubed tofu and shitake mushroom to a vegetarian broth to make a satisfying tonic to revitalize and replenish the vitamins and minerals that are lost through the simple stress of everyday living.  Either of these stocks can be used as a base for many different delicious soups like a spicy chicken chili, lentil or white bean with kale, squash and sweet potato.The only other thing needed  for either of these meals could be a simple green salad with a bit of lemon juice and oil and a lovely glass of red wine.  
If you’re really cleansing, avoid heavily processed cheese and bread for now and any other complex carbs like rice or pasta that can really clog up your system. During this time I try to stay away from regular white fleshed potatoes because they convert to sugars so quickly and without the more complete nutrition of  yams or sweet potato. You won’t regret abstaining from them for a week or two and you might discover that your body doesn’t rely on them as much to create energy after a time. See if you can avoid coffee or black tea for this time period and allow your body to begin to rest and heal for a bit without artificial stimulation. Your stress may even go away, enabling your body to begin to relax,heal and regenerate.  
 For some, green tea may even be too much, so instead drink a cup of hot water with a teaspoon of good olive oil, honey or agave,  with some lemon squeezed into it to cleanse, nourish and revitalize your liver.  I would be willing to bet that after a week or two of eating  clean , nourishing meals that you begin to find renewed stores of energy and creativity as well as vastly improved immunity and health. 
 Eating simple wonderful food that you've prepared brings you in contact with your native wisdom and intrinsic needs. Although I don't eat much meat anymore because it depletes my energy, it may be the very thing needed to help you heal. Listen carefully to your body, feed it well and it will reward you with many years of balanced energy and health!

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