by Pam Broekemeier of theHerbal Cache
It's that time of year again...
It never fails, there is always some kind of epidemic circulating in our communities during this time of year. We all know someone who is ill, and who can't participate in all the festivities. Bummer!
A few years ago, I was out sick, big time, for the holidays, and it was not fun at all. My stomach ached from coughing so much, and my mind was mush. My boyfriend finally talked me in to go and see a doctor (I do hate going to see doctors). Come to find out, I had strep throat, even though I didn't have the normal symptoms for it.
So, how do you prevent you and your loved ones from catching any one of those dreaded, sneaky epidemics? Education and prevention.
the bad guy...
Let’s focus on the norovirus, because of the new strain that just entered Minnesota this season.
Norovirus is the most common cause of stomach bugs, affecting all ages.
Norovirus is a very contagious virus that can be contracted from an infected person, contaminated food or water, or by touching contaminated surfaces.
The virus causes abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, which usually last 1-3 days. Patients can also remain contagious for up to 3 days after the acute symptoms resolve.
Since there are many different types of noroviruses, anyone can be affected by the norovirus, and, one can have multiple episodes of norovirus gastroenteritis during a lifetime. It can be serious, especially for young children and older adults, because it can cause serious dehydration.
Common symptoms include low fever, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain and mild to moderate diarrhea.
Vomiting and diarrhea are the body’s natural way of eliminating toxins and it is best to allow this process but with careful monitoring so you do not become dehydrated.
Serious symptoms include blood in vomit or stool, vomiting for more than 48 hours, fever is greater than 101º F, and swollen abdomen and abdominal pain. Seek professional medical attention if these symptoms occur.
how norovirus works...
Viruses are very clever and mutate rapidly. This is why the flu shot changes every year and is why it often doesn’t work.
Viruses are primitive organisms which cannot replicate themselves. They must use DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid, a self-replicating material present in nearly all living organism as the main constituent of chromosomes) from living cells to reproduce.
Flu viruses invade cells by puncturing the cell walls with little spikes called hemagglutinin. These spikes are coated with an enzyme called neuraminidase, which helps break down the cell walls.
“At the moment there are relatively few antiviral drugs and they tend to target enzymes that the virus encodes in its genome. The problem is that the drugs target one enzyme initially and, within the year, scientists are identifying strains that have become resistant. Individual proteins are extremely susceptible to this mutation…” – Dr. Roman Tuma 10/19, 2012.
There are several ways you can help yourself and your family from getting the norovirus.
Washing your hands and cooking food properly, are the best ways to prevent from getting the virus.
Stay away from anyone who you know to be infected.
self-help at home ...
Drink plenty of fluids. Vomiting and diarrhea are natural ways to eliminate the virus from the body, but too much can leave you dehydrated.
While sick, limit what you eat. Only take in food that is easily digestible, such as crackers, plain dry toast, rice, applesauce (without minimal sugar), and broths only after vomiting and diarrhea have stopped. Do not eat dairy products, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and fatty or highly seasoned foods for a few days.
Allow your body to get rid of toxins, and you can use herbs to help support your immune system kill the invading microbes, reduce gastric irritation and inflammation and ease symptoms of nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Use essential oils of herbs with anti-viral properties in your oil burner: lavender, tea tree, sandalwood, thyme, clove, oregano.
Get plenty of rest. It is while you are sleeping, that your body can make the most effort in building up your immune system and fight the virus.
Herbal medicines can help ease symptoms. An herbalist can suggest suitable anti-viral or anti-bacterial herbs for most infections, uniquely tailored to the individual.
For doses, follow directions on over-the-counter purchases or if in leaf form, drink as a tea.
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)
Take elderberry for prevention. If you already have the virus, it’s too late for elderberry.
Elderberry appears to break down the spikes and stops the virus — thus preventing flu viruses from invading cells. What is most significant, is that the elderberry is able to be effective against mutations as well, but how it does that, we don’t know at present. It is possible, herbs being intelligent beings, that elderberry anticipates the mutation or that it is so effective against so many enzymes that it acts very broadly, unlike the flu vaccine which targets individual enzymes.
“In 1992, a team of Israeli scientists headed by Madeleine Mumcuoglu set out to study the effect of elderberry on flu patients. During a flu epidemic at an Israeli Kibbutz, half of the flu patients were given an elderberry syrup, the other half a placebo. The results: within 24 hours, 20% of the patients receiving elderberry had gotten significantly better. Within two days, 75% of the elderberry group were much improved; within 3 days 90% were completely cured.
Among the placebo group, only 8% of patients improved within 24 hours and it was a full 6 days before 90% of the patients were cured.
Do NOT take elderberry on a continual basis, as it will have a reverse effect. Take only when needed.
Angelica (Angelica archangelica)
Angelica is a good remedy for colds, coughs, pleurisy, colic, rheumatism and diseases of the urinary organs.
Angelica is an expectorant, which means it helps clear mucus out of your lungs and airways. It also helps to stop coughing.
Elecampane (Inula helenium)
In herbal medicine, it is chiefly used for coughs, consumption and other pulmonary complaints, such as bronchitis. It has been used for many years with good results for chest affections, such as lungs asthma and bronchitis. It helps to relieve respiratory difficulties and assists expectoration (clear out mucus).
Elecampane is a true lung ally. Use this herb when you start to get that congestion feeling in your lungs, a flu symptom. Many of the people who die from the flu, die from the infection moving into their lungs.
Echinacea, also known as Coneflower, increases bodily resistance to infection. As noted earlier, the chief danger in influenza is bacterial infections in the lungs which can lead to pneumonia and can cause death.
Echinacea is also anti-viral and anti-microbial, thus one of the primary remedies for helping the body rid itself of microbial infections and toxins. It is often effective against both bacterial and viral attacks.
In conjunction with other herbs it may be used for any infection anywhere in the body.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
When the first acute phase of diarrhea and vomit have passed, use fennel.
Its soft heating activity will alleviate some nausea and cramping, and help with the digestion of food once you began to eat again.
Fennel is also an effective treatment for respiratory congestion and is a common ingredient in cough remedies.
It also increases urination, so drink plenty of fluids so you don't become dehydrated.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe)
A common, extraordinary herb no kitchen should be without.
Ginger will help alleviate spasms and can cause an anti-inflammatory activity to occur inside of your stomach.
It’ll also help to reduce vomiting and stop nausea (what it’s most famous for).
Lobelia is anti-asthmatic, anti-spasmodic (relieves muscle spasms), expectorant (clears out mucus), emetic (causes vomiting) and a nervine (calms nerves).
Lobelia is one of the most useful systemic relaxants available to us. It has a general depressant action on the central and autonomic nervous system and on neuro-muscular action.
It may be used in many conditions in combination with other herbs to further their effectiveness if relaxation is needed. Its primary specific use is in bronchitic asthma and bronchitis.
Lobelia acts as a catalyst for other herbs, helping to direct them and increasing their effectiveness.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
Peppermint will help to ease nausea and vomiting, and cut back on spasmodic pain. Grown organically, it’s also a great supply of potassium and magnesium, minerals that will help to balance your pH and activate digestive enzymes.
Peppermint can also be used as a replacement for chamomile for kids who might not be used to the flavor of chamomile, but like the deliciousness of mint.
Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra)
Slippery elm has a calming effect to the liner of the belly. It also supplies food for the good bacteria inside your body, and is great for kids with diarrhea.
An incredibly nutritive herb that is therefore extremely valuable when recuperating from any bug that affects your stomach.
“I rely on stinging nettle infusion. Nettle gives me the energy of the earth: strong, solid, endless energy. Nettle infusion supplies me with enormous amounts of electrolyte minerals, lots of protein, and astonishing amounts of vitamins. And it tastes great iced on a hot day. Yum, yum.” – Susun Weed
Please share your comments or any experiences you've had with norovirus or influenza. I'd love to hear about it!
1. "Influenza and the Norovirus: protecting yourself with herbs", The Philo School of Herbal Energetics; July 9, 2013
2. "The New Norovirus from Down Under", SpaceCoastDaily.com; June 4, 2014
3. "9 Natural Remedies for Norovirus", Natural Alternative Remedy
4. "New Strain of Norovirus Hits MN", KARE11 News; Dec. 22, 2015
5. "Herbal Home Help for the Tummy Bugs", KelliOHalloran.com; Feb. 16, 2010
6. "Fennel", HerbWisdom.com
Please note that the advice given in these notes is not intended to be a replacement for professional medical advice and treatment. Always visit a fully qualified Medical Herbalist or G.P. for diagnosis. If you are pregnant, have an existing condition or are currently taking medication consult a medical herbalist to see which herbs are appropriate for you to take.
Pam is a budding herbalist who loves learning about plants and sharing that information on her website, theHERBAL Cache. Her goal is to build an awareness within her community about the power of plants, by teaching and living the life. She also loves to garden, read, go camping and watch movies.