Norovirus - meet the HERBS

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!

Image 1.jpg

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.

very contagious...

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.

Image 4.jpg

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.

helpful herbs...

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 (Echinacea)

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 (Lobelia

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

Image 15.jpg

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

your thoughts...

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",; 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",; Feb. 16, 2010

6. "Fennel",

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.

Smreka! A Simple Fermentation Recipe

by Mason Hutchison

Looking for a new fermentation recipe? Look no further than the tasty Bosnian beverage, smreka! Smreka is a Bosnian word that translates to juniper berry, and could not be easier to make as it only has two ingredients (three if you count the wild yeast on the berries). The only difficult part is waiting the month that it takes to reach peak fermentation.

I first heard about smreka from Sandor Katz’s book (where else?) The Art of Fermentation. The recipe I use is identical to the one found in his book, except I quartered everything.

Here’s the ingredients:

½ cup of juniper berries

Quart of water

Here’s the supplies:

Quart Mason jar with lid

Sprouting screen (or any liquid straining device)

Cheesecloth (optional)

1/2 cup of juniper berries

1/2 cup of juniper berries

Here’s what to do:

Pour the ½ cup of juniper berries into the jar and then fill it with water. You have a couple of options for capping it. For a more carbonated beverage, cap it tightly, but be sure to release the pressure every few days. Alternatively, place cheesecloth on top, or cap loosely with a lid for ease of pressure release. Either way will work. I chose to cap tightly and release the pressure every few days for the carbonation effect. You’re going to need to stir or shake the smreka every day or so. Allow it to ferment for approximately one month. By then, most or all of the juniper berries should have sunk to the bottom of the jar. This is when your smreka is ready to be imbibed. 

Here's the smreka after one month. Notice all of the berries have sunk to the bottom of the jar. Capped with a band and a sprouting screen.

Strain that fermented goodness. Try not to spill!

The last step is to strain the fermented beverage into a drinking vessel. The way I do it is super simple: I screw a sprout screen onto the mason jar with a regular lid-band. I then tip the drink over and strain all of the contents into a separate mason jar. Then I’ll cap the strained smreka and compost the remaining juniper berries. 

A note on what juniper berries to use:

Sandor says that smreka can be made with fresh or dried juniper berries. However, if you make them with fresh, you need to be certain that the juniper berries are edible, as some of the species are toxic. I buy mine from Mountain Rose Herbs as I know the ones they sell are the edible species. However, if you know your junipers, making smreka with your own wildcrafted berries would be outstanding!


The smreka is quite tasty.

The smreka is quite tasty.

Juniper berries from  Mountain Rose Herbs

Juniper berries from Mountain Rose Herbs

Mason is the creator of HerbRally and the Event and Outreach Coordinator for Mountain Rose Herbs. He studied herbalism, wildcrafting and botany at the Columbines School of Botanical Studies in Eugene, OR.

Online Herbalism Courses for all levels

Wild Woman Hair Serum

It took me a loooooooong time to embrace my wild, out of control, thick, curly hair. I used to actually cry because I didn't have "normal" straight hair like most of my friends when I was little. Throughout high school and college I either straightened it or just threw it up because I didn't know what to do with it or even how to take care of it.

After trying out SO MANY products - supposedly for curly hair - and years of frustrated, wanting-to-pull-my-hair-out moments, I eventually learned what my hair needs to be healthy (i.e. curly sans frizz). So even though it's still crazy, in the best way possible, my hair's now softer curls rather than dry and frizzy. It's becoming more common knowledge now that our hair, and the rest of our skin for that matter, needs oil just like our bodies need fat. Curly hair especially needs A LOT of oil because it's naturally drier and because of that it's more prone to breakage which leads to even more frizz. In order to care for our locks we need to nourish it with oils that not only smooth our hair but also repair damage that happens as a result of everyday elements (wind, heat, water, etc.)

When I first started adding oils to my morning ritual (yes, getting ready is a ritual) I was worried it would leave my hair greasy or weighed down, but my hair literally drinks this stuff up! This combination of oils is my favorite...and it's not an exaggeration to say it has changed the way I relate to my hair.

For women who run with the wolves...

Some of my other favorite essential oils, are rosemary, jasmine, lavender, cedarwood, peppermint, bergamot, and sage. Think fresh and perhaps a bit floral. I get all of my ingredients from Mountain Rose Herbs because I know I'm getting the highest quality organic oils and herbs.

In a small mason jar, blend your carrier oils and give it a little swirl. Then add your essential oils, if you're using them. This is when you can get creative and play with different scents and combinations of oils. Once you're happy with your oil, use a little funnel if you have one to pour your serum into a 2 oz. bottle. I use a dropper bottle because it looks cool and it keeps your bottle from getting oily when you use it. Make sure to label it in some way! I generally find that if things aren't labeled, I won't use them because I forget what it is.

To use your hair serum, rub a few drops between your palms, flip your hair upside down, and "scrunch" your hair from the ends with your oily hands. I find doing it this way keeps the roots from feeling too oily and it adds enough moisture to all of my hair to keep it curly and not frizzy. If you have thick hair don't be afraid to use a whole dropperful of oil. It's like a leave-in conditioner and your hair will love you for it!

Katie is the artist, writer, witch, teacher, mystic, daughter of the moon, and rebel of Wild Grace. She loves to read bones, craft potions, work with plant and animal energies, and teach people how to connect with and listen to the messages of their wild bodysoul. She can usually be found walking barefoot in the moonlight between worlds with bits of flora and feathers hanging in her hair.

Choose Your Own Adventure: Conferences as One Path to Herbal Education

Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference, 2015. Photo compliments of Howie Brounstein.  


Do you remember the choose your own adventure books? Getting an herbal education  is a lot like one of those books.  We all start off at the same place, an interest in herbs  and a desire to learn more. From this jumping off point, there are many divergent paths...self study, apprenticeship, immersion programs, full and part-time schools, internships, herbal communities, farms. The list goes on. If you enjoy learning in community like I do, attending an herb school is a logical place  to start. Thanks to the internet and some amazingly dedicated people, like Mason from Herbrally and the folks over at the American Herbalist Guild (Thanks guys!) it’s easier than ever to  find and research herb schools. Most have websites, and the few that don’t are easily  contacted through email, phone, or social media sites. But let’s face it, as a new or aspiring herbalist, it’s a daunting task to make sense of a  school’s style, curriculum, and the type of herbalism each teacher practices, from  reading the ‘about us’ section of their websites.  Nor is it always feasible to travel  around the country visiting schools until you have that ‘ah ha’ moment. One great way to choose an herb school is to do your research, compile a list of  herbalists you are interested in studying with, and find a conference where most or all of  them are teaching. 

I’ve always attended local herb conferences and this year I was blessed with the ability  to attend a few larger events.  Not only did I get to meet and take classes with a ton of  herbal rock stars; for the first time I felt connected to the wider herbal community.  It was  inspiring. Like, crazy life and career affirming inspiring.    Attending an herb conference will allow you to learn from many potential teachers.  A lot  of schools have booth space in the vending areas and most teachers are open to  answering questions if you catch them at the right time.  You will also have the  opportunity to interact with students from herb schools you’re interested in.  It’s always a  great idea to ask current students about their personal experiences with schools and  teachers. You might also have a crazy fun time dancing to live music and end up laying on the floor laughing, dressed up as your favorite flower.

Mel Kasting is the administrator and a graduate of the Columbines School of Botanical Studies in Eugene,  OR. In addition to Columbines, Mel has taken online classes through the North American Institute of Medical  Herbalism. She spends her off hours seeing clients, working as an herbalist with Occupy Medical, a free  integrated mobile clinic, taking photographs, wildcrafting, and medicine making for her business,  Artemis  Herbs .

Mel Kasting is the administrator and a graduate of the Columbines School of Botanical Studies in Eugene,  OR. In addition to Columbines, Mel has taken online classes through the North American Institute of Medical  Herbalism. She spends her off hours seeing clients, working as an herbalist with Occupy Medical, a free  integrated mobile clinic, taking photographs, wildcrafting, and medicine making for her business, Artemis  Herbs.