It’s not too often that I get sick with a cold or flu, but when I do I take it as an opportunity to practice what I preach and take note of what actually works. I basically study myself in the process of illness so I can learn from it.
A few days ago I came down with a very painful sore throat, fever, and typical symptoms of a head cold – stuffed sinuses, foggy head, and general low energy.
I asked myself what made me susceptible to being sick in the first place. Was I underslept? Over taxed? The answer to this question provides a clue as to what medicine may be appropriate for the illness. I reflected that I went for a hike down by the ocean and was freezing cold in the unexpected winds. I was exposed to the chill for too long being underdressed for the weather. Cold weather itself doesn’t cause illness – but it does stress your body leaving your resistance low so once you are exposed to viruses your chances of surrendering to them is higher. Just because someone you are around is sick, doesn’t mean you will be. It’s the combination of lowered resistance plus exposure to infectious agents that makes one sick.
The first thing I did was take two doses of homeopathic Aconite. I instantly felt an improvement. Aconite alone usually nips my acute illnesses in the bud as it's fast-acting when taken within the first 24 hours of an acute respiratory illness. However this time, I went to bed and had a very restless sleep (my cats decided to run around all night long) so I didn’t have a good sleep which weakened my resistance even more. Nothing Aconite could resolve.
So what did I do next?
I had some beautiful fresh organic Turmeric and Ginger that I bought at the health food store which I was planning to prepare as a tincture. Instead, I chopped the roots up in chunks and simmered them together for about 20 minutes (this is called a decoction) sweetened with a little honey and drank a total of 2 cups throughout the day. It felt ( and tasted) amazing. The colour is a stunning deep red/orange that is a feast for the eyes. I knew I needed the nourishment, warmth, and comfort of herbs. These just happened to be the fresh herbs I had in the house that day, so I used them. My favourite herbs to use are the ones on hand - in the backyard, spice cupboard or fresh produce drawer such as onions, garlic, parsley, ginger and fresh turmeric root. It’s true kitchen magic.
Turmeric and ginger are both powerful anti-inflammatory herbs that have anti-infective activity. They are soothing and warming makeing them a great choice for sore throats. They look similar and have similar bioactivity as they belong to the same botanical family, the Zingiberaceae.
I also took a few days off while sick. It’s important to rest so the immune system can work effectively for a successful recovery. Deep rest along with fluids and warmth speeds recovery time and allows your system to regain its strength preventing secondary infections (think of those folks who push themselves through a cold or fever only to eventually get a bad case of bronchitis afterwards that goes on for weeks). Unfortunately in our culture, there’s a heroic mindset that encourages people to work through and push through illness, which inevitably creates problems later. This is contributed in workplaces where employees, sadly, do not have sick time.
I didn’t have the energy to think or move very much so I laid by my sunny window to soak up vitamin D. I did this for hours, as sunshine & vitamin D is excellent for the immune system and uplifts the spirits. The warmth was wonderful for the deep chills.
In the evening, I simmered the same chopped Turmeric and Ginger from earlier in the day and this time added the decoction to a hot bath. It was exquisite! I haven’t done this in years. Ginger baths are an old hydrotherapy technique to stimulate circulation and pull chills out of the body restoring inner heat. I felt deeply warmed. I jumped into bed with my hot water bottle, and then sipped on a cup of water heavily dosed with fresh Cleavers tincture that I made last spring. Cleavers have lymphagogue activity, they stimulate and clean up the lymphatic system easing swollen glands.
Finally, I could feel the throat mostly getting better, however I had pain radiating up to my left ear. I took the homeopathic remedy Lachesis - a great remedy for sore throats and swollen glands with the specific modality of pain radiating to the left ear.
I slept really well that night. By the next day I was mostly better. However, I continued the cleavers for 3 more days, and also did three more evenings of Ginger baths.
I typically recommend that for however many days you experienced sickness, spend that many days after recovery taking good care to nurse yourself back to health. Even if you think you’re all better. So, I didn’t feel well for two days, and by the third day felt normal. But I spent an extra 2 days taking cleavers, Ginger baths, and getting lots of sleep to fully recover.
Sometimes people jump right back into their life and stop taking nourishing herbs and foods after they are symptom free – only to get symptoms of another illness a few days later.
With proper care, and the help of herbs and homeopathy you can shorten the duration of illness, prevent complications, and ensure illness doesn’t drain your vital force.
Even more significant than drugs or natural remedies, I believe our mental attitude makes a huge difference in recovery. I’ve learned to view a minor illness not as a nuisance, but rather an opportunity to pause in the bustle of the everyday, reflect on how I’m doing in all aspects of my life, and give myself a break. After several days in bed and slowing down, I felt a sense of renewal and vigor once I went back to my daily life.
Many traditional systems of medicine view fevers as a biological event that occurs not just to burn off invading viruses but to burn off unwanted patterns. Acute illnesses have been viewed as opportunities to reset the immune system but also reset habits. This is an interesting perspective that is empowering and considers health events as even purposeful, rather than viewing sickness as a failure. Many parents have remarked how their child has a growth spurt or developmental jump in growth markers or even emotional maturity after they recover from an acute illness. Naturally, chronic and serious diseases require a different conversation. I would never want to minimize the stressful and seriousness of chronic debilitating disease.
How do you experience acute illnesses? Do you stop and take care of yourself, or do you push youself through it? What self-care techniques work for you, and where did you learn them? Join me in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you!