Navigating the maze-like hallways of a new school year’s social and physical well-being can be a bit tricky. Our favorite young scholars face more than just new academic challenges and social experiences as they walk through the doors of a new school year. They also face new illnesses. And, not only are they forced to go toe-to-toe with some of the school’s latest bad bugs, but they’re also kindly bringing home everything they come into contact with for the whole household (young and old) to share - how kind. Luckily, there are ways to prepare for this inevitability. Medicinal herbs hold multitudes of preventative functions but can also be used as therapeutic treatments for when we need a little extra help fighting off a sniffle or two.
First, let’s look at the most common back-to-school bugs:
Though we’re a few years out from the onset of this viral game-changer, it’s still amongst us, just waiting for the worst possible time for you to get sick. One day you’re in a meeting discussing deadlines and the next day you're asleep on the couch with Shrek 2 on in the background and soup EVERYWHERE. Though we now have vaccines and are pretty much used to wearing masks when outbreaks get really bad, we will still come into contact with this germy jerk virus just often enough that maintaining our own arsenal of medicinal herbs is purely commonsensical.
In fact, in places where the medical community uses herbal medicine alongside modern medical treatments, patients were shown to present enhanced immunity against COVID-19.
The Common Cold (virus):
With the word “common” in the name of this infectious disease, it sounds like it should be a piece of cake. But dang if I don’t feel like I’m on the verge of crawling up the stairs and laying on my bed like the pile of laundry that I refuse to fold, every time I have a cold. The common cold continues to be common enough to not surprise you when you get it, yet annoying enough that you blame every person you came into contact with the previous week for probably being the culprit who gave it to you.
The Flu (virus):
According to a MyVision.org poll of 1,055 parents of children 2-17, more than half of the parents interviewed said that their children had already been sick during the new school year by mid-October 2022. These bugs aren’t playing around! And one of the worst offenders basically goes on a nationwide tour every year during the fall and winter - influenza. You can tell it’s the flu and not just your average cold if your child has a fever, chills, aches, and especially complains of a headache. It’s important to note that flu-related illnesses are one of the main causes of chronic absenteeism (15+ days absent in a school year) in children as well as teachers. A 2009/2010 study found that being taught by a substitute for 10 days a year has a larger impact on a child’s math scores than changing schools. And, according to the US Department of Education, chronic absenteeism is a hidden educational crisis in our country and leads to not only higher dropout rates but also poorer outcomes later in life. Don’t let all of this happen just because of a flu epidemic!
The Stomach Bug (both virus and bacteria): One of the more dreadful back-to-school bugs for students as well as their families is the stomach flu. Having one child with the stomach flu is bad enough, but that thing spreads and before you know it the whole family is wading through the fog of war with symptoms like pain, diarrhea, and of course, vomiting. Unfortunately, this illness is extremely contagious and the majority of cases (around 80%) occur around the fall and winter months - which means you’re more likely to be running to the bathroom while “Run Rudolph Run” plays in the background. That’s fun.
Strep Throat (bacteria): Sore throat, fever, swollen glands: Strep doesn’t sound too different from the flu or Covid. However, unlike influenza or COVID-19, strep is caused by a bacterial infection and can easily be treated with old-school, natural remedies (in conjunction with what your doctor recommends). While strep is relatively commonplace, it can still have a big impact on rates of absenteeism. In fact, schools in Kentucky had to cancel classes already this year by late August due to high rates of what they’re calling the “tripledemic” - COVID-19, Influenza, and strep.
The Best Herbs for Boosted Immunity:
Cayenne has the active ingredient known as capsaicin, which has a warming effect on the circulatory system while it also aids in digestion. It’s also packed with vitamins A and C so it helps boost the immune system. Additionally, it’s been well-known to prevent infections and break up congestion.
Ginger contains several enzymes that reduce inflammation and help repair joint damage and cartilage tissue. It’s also long been known for its warming ability and is used to help break up congestion.
Yarrow is a beautiful flowering herb that comes in many colors. Pound for pound the most medicinal variety of yarrow is the white flowering variety (Achillea millefolium). It’s known for its ability to reduce fevers, colds, and flu symptoms by boosting your immune system while also helping to stimulate sweating.
Echinacea - More than just a pretty flower, echinacea (or coneflower) is a powerful immunomodulating and immunostimulating herb. This means that it not only helps regulate your immune system but that it also helps kick it into high gear. Because of this, most people use echinacea to help fight off and prevent colds and the flu. Additionally, it has powerful anti-inflammatory properties that may help relieve cold and flu symptoms.
Thyme is part of the mint family. And as such, it is absolutely delicious. Beyond delicious, thyme is also a highly medicinal herb. It’s been known to help with acne, blood pressure, alleviating coughs, and boosting immunity.
Elderberry is now a household name - and for good reason! It’s long been used in the treatment of colds, and other acute infections with fever, headache and nausea, rhinitis, asthma, croup, hay fever, conjunctivitis, rheumatism, pharyngitis, tonsilitis, and stomatitis. Phew! In fact, studies have shown that using elderberry supplementation has shortened the duration of flu symptoms by 4 days!
Garlic, not only is it delicious, but it’s also hands-down one of the best herbs to use when treating cold and flu symptoms. This tasty bulb stimulates the production of white blood cells while also acting as a powerful antiseptic, antibacterial, and antimicrobial.
Sage is highly anti-inflammatory and has plant chemicals known as flavonoids that help inhibit the body’s production of inflammatory markers such as histamine. In addition to its anti-inflammatory properties, sage has also been found to be antiviral, antioxidant, immunomodulatory (helps your immune system run more efficiently), antiseptic, and bronchodilator (helps alleviate lung inflammation).
The following are some of my favorite herbal remedies for some of the biggest germ baddies out there. They are all recipes from world-renowned modern herbalist, Rosemary Gladstar.
Cold Care Capsules
● 1 part echinacea root powder
● 1 part goldenseal root powder
● ½ part marshmallow root powder
● ¼ part cayenne powder
● Size “00” vegan or gelatin capsules
Directions: Mix the powders together in a small bowl. Scoop the powder into each end of the capsule, packing tight, and recap. It takes only a few minutes to cap 50 to 75 capsules, a winter’s worth for most families. Store in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid.
To Use: At the first sign of a cold or flu coming on, take 2 capsules every 2 to 3 hours until the symptoms subside, or up to 9 capsules a day. This is a therapeutic dose and shouldn’t be continued for longer than 2-3 days, at which time you should decrease the dose to 2 capsules three times a day.
● 4-6 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
● 1-2 lemons
● Honey to taste
Directions: Combine the ginger with 1 quart cold water in a saucepan. Cover the pan tightly and bring just to a boil. Remove from the heat and let steep for 10 to 15 minutes. While the ginger is steeping, squeeze the juice from one or two lemons. Strain the ginger from the tea, if you like, and then stir in the lemon juice and honey to taste for the finishing touch. Drink warm or hot.
Good Gargle For a Bad Throat
● 1 tablespoon dried sage leaves
● 1-2 tablespoons salt
● 1 teaspoon goldenseal root powder (organically cultivated)
● 1 pinch of cayenne powder (optional)
● ½ cup apple cider vinegar (preferably unpasteurized)
Pour ½ cup boiling water over the dried sage. Cover and let steep for 30 to 45 minutes, then strain. Add the salt, goldenseal powder, and cayenne, if using, to the still-warm tea and stir to dissolve. Stir in the apple cider vinegar.
Gargle a teaspoon or two of this mix every ½ to 1 hour. The longer you can stand to gargle, the better. Don’t swallow; it won’t be harmful, necessarily, but it sure won’t taste good.
Rosemary Gladstar’s Fire Cider
● 1 medium onion, chopped
● 4-5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
● 3-4 tablespoons freshly grated ginger root
● 3-4 tablespoons freshly grated horseradish root
● Apple cider vinegar (preferably unpasteurized)
● Local raw honey
● Cayenne powder
Combine the onion, garlic, ginger, and horseradish in a widemouthed glass quart jar and add enough warmed apple cider vinegar to cover them. Warming the vinegar allows it to more actively draw the properties out of the herbs. Place in a warm spot (near a sunny window works) and let sit for 3 to 4 weeks. Strain, then discard the spent herbs. Add honey and cayenne to taste. The finished product should taste lively, hot, pungent, and sweet.
Take 1 to 2 tablespoons at the first sign of a cold and repeat the dose every 3 to 4 hours until symptoms subside.
Most of the ingredients can be found fairly easily on the internet. Our favorite shop for safe and reliable medicinal herbs is Mountain Rose Herbs. Ellwood Thompsons or Good Foods Grocery are great local sources of these items.