The Teacup Chronicles

Month: January, 2011

Fending off winter illness

You’ve made it through a week of sick co-workers, sneezing grocery store clerks and sub-zero temperatures seemingly scotch free. But just as you begin to congratulate yourself for having such an extraordinary immune system, that unmistakable sign appears out of nowhere – a subtle scratch in the back of the throat – the sensation of a lump every time you swallow. The sign is different for all of us, but for all of us portends the same thing: we are getting sick.

But before you start waving your white flag of surrender and bunker down with the Kleenex box, comforter and a stack of old movies, it’s worth putting in a good fight. With a little attention and care, you might find that the “unmistakable sign” sentencing you to a week or more of debility becomes more of a helpful warning, allowing you to subvert illness before it starts. Indeed, you might even come to appreciate the sign. Here’s how you can go from getting sick to getting better without ever having gotten worse:

1. Take Immune Stimulants

When illness is lurking right around the corner, herbs that stimulate immune function, enhance cellular resistance to infection and inhibit viral activity are just the thing – like your own personal team of immune body guards. Echinacea, Elderberry, and Sacred basil are always at the top of my list for these activities, and have been well researched for their effectiveness at preventing illness. At the first sign of symptoms, take a good teaspoonful dose of echinacea or elderberry tincture, and follow with a 1/2 teaspoon dose every two hours thereafter until symptoms subside (I like to alternate the two each dose). Sacred basil can also be taken as a tincture, but tastes so delicious that I prefer it as a tea (made with 1 tablespoon herb to 1 cup hot water), sweetened with elderberry syrup for a truly powerful and extra delicious immune boost. (Be sure to check out Brigitte’s post on Echinacea honey over at My Herb Corner – might make another delicious addition to the tulsi immune tea!).


2. Avoid immune depleting foods

When the body is grappling with an illness, the last thing it needs is to be handicapped and subverted at every turn by your diet. Cut out all forms of refined and processed foods (sugar, flour products, alcohol) – which can impair immunity up to 75% after consumption by interfering with vitamin C absorption. Also avoid any foods that promote dampness and cold in the body (sweet fruits, nuts and dairy). These foods exacerbate symptoms such as congestion by facilitating the energetic imbalance of the illness.

3. Warm the body

In Chinese medicine, winter illness is viewed as an invasion of cold and damp into the body. By enhancing warmth and moving bloodflow and vital energy to the periphery, the body can restore balance and squelch illness before it takes hold. (Indeed, a low grade fever is actually a good thing as the higher temperatures prevent viral replication.) Take a hot bath or foot bath; drink hot teas made with ginger and cinnamon; eat warming soups made with garlic, ginger and cayenne and bundle up with scarves, hats and mittens.

4. Eat soup

Soup really is the perfect immune food – full of nutrients and warming, immune boosting spices in an easily digestible, warming and hydrating form. Add beta-carotene rich orange vegetables to strengthen tissue barriers and strengthen immune response, as well as vitamin C and mineral rich greens like kale and collards. Best of all, you can add immune tonifying herbs and spices like echinacea, astragalus, garlic, ginger and burdock right to the broth. See my Medicinal Chicken Soup recipe or my post on Soup Stocks for more ideas.

5. Drink Tea

So often, people want a pill or a dropperful of something so they can get it down and continue on their way. Fair enough. But drinking tea does something a pill or tincture can’t – it continually washes your upper respiratory membranes with anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and tissue strengthening fluid. This washes away pathogens to a sure death by stomach acid and soothes and heals raw, tender membranes. The warmth heats the body and stimulates natural defenses. So drink that tea – use warming spices and aromatic herbs like ginger, cinnamon, thyme, rosemary and sage found in your kitchen cabinet, and soothing anti-inflammatories like licorice, calendula,  and marshmallow for raw, painful membranes.

6. Gargle

Most viruses take 2-3 days to proliferate after initial infection before symptoms occur. By gargling frequently with warm salt water, you can dramatically reduce viral load and prevent full fledge illness from occurring – especially if your water is infused with anti-microbial herbs like calendula, sage, thyme, echinacea, myrrh, propolis and bee balm.  A very effective gargle can be made by combining:

  • a strong tea of sage and calendula (made by infusing a tablespoon of each in 1 cup water for 30 minutes)
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2-3 teaspoons salt
  • a pinch of cayenne
  • 1 drop each thyme and myrrh essential oil.

7. Use a neti pot

Using a neti pot helps to cleanse the sinuses and upper respiratory tract, protecting us from infection for the same reasons stated above. Daily use also tonifies the sinus membranes and can dramatically improve conditions like chronic sinusitis, and post-nasal drip.

8. Stock up on vitamin C

Vitamin C and bioflavanoids work synergistically to boost immune activity and strengthen tissue barriers. Vitamin C is absolutely imperative to immune function as it is a potent antioxidant used by all immune cells. Add Rosehips to your tea, take Elderberry syrup, and eat non-sweet Citrus fruits, chile and bell peppers, dark leafy greens and berries.

9. Support your lymph

The lymphatic system is responsible for cleansing cellular debris and waste products from the body fluids, and houses the immune punching powerhouses called lymph nodes – where immune cells are concentrated to survey for intruders and clean up wastes. When fending off illness, the lymphatics can become sluggish due to the overload of immune cells and waste products, leading to tender and swollen lymph nodes. By supporting lymph flow, this stagnation can be remedied, ensuring a speedy clean up crew and the delivery of fresh immune players to the area of infection. Echinacea is a great lymphatic, but if lymph stagnation is evident, add Calendula, Cleavers or Burdock root to your immune teas and soups.

10. Inhale essential oils

Essential oils have strong immune supportive properties – being anti-viral, anti-microbial, decongesting and anti-inflammatory. Place a few drops on a scarf to inhale throughout the day; diffuse into your environment with a good heat-less vaporizer; add to baths and foot baths (dilute by adding 15 ml to 1 oz of carrier oil for using this way); add 1 drop to a steam or gargle or add to chest rubs. My favorites include eucalyptus, thyme, frankincense, peppermint, spruce, rosemary, lavender, lemon and ginger.  (Lucinda over at Whispering Earth has a really informative article on using essential oils for immune health, so be sure to check that out if you’d like to learn more.)

Even if you do end up sick, following these tips will ensure that you’ll be feeling better faster with less severe symptoms, which is always good. But if you pay attention to that “unmistakable sign” and start supporting your body ASAP, I think you’ll find that the illness might never set in at all, which is great!

P.S. For more information on supporting immune function, check out this article. If you do find yourself under the weather, be sure to also check out this great article by the lovely Lucinda on dealing with illness when you do find yourself in for the long haul.

Brighten your winter days with citrus

The thing that I dread most about winter is the lack of fresh seasonal produce to inspire my kitchen and color my palette.  I envision myself eating shriveled carrots and mushy apples all winter, staring dejectedly at my plate under a single flickering candle as I curse myself for not moving to California while I still could.  I suppose I ought to let my imagination know that it is not the 1880’s and I am not a starving pioneer, because I end up finding just as much to be excited about in the winter as I do in the summer.

But at least  my overactive imagination affords me the thrill of pleasant surprise. When the Clementines, Blood oranges, Meyer lemons and tangerines start filling up the produce section at the store, I am overtaken in the sort of glee that one might feel when walking unsuspecting through the door to find all their favorite people yelling “surprise!” with party hats on. (Life is all about small pleasures, right?).  I fill up my cart with a glutton of citrus, as though I might never have such luck to come across it again, and hurry home to awaken my taste buds with the beloved sour flavor and citrusy aroma.

Slicing into a citrus fruit is like  whisking yourself off to the Mediterranean. All of that sunshine and warmth is contained within that little round  jewel, and when cut open, it fills the air with all the brightness of a citrus grove on a sunny day. You can smell the heady floral fragrance, feel the warmth on your skin. Who needs to vacation in the South when one can bring the South to them with the slice of a lemon!

And of course, the scents of all citrus fruits – lemon, lime, orange, bergamont and grapefruit – have been found to uplift the spirits and reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. The acid stimulates digestion and aids liver function, actually enlivening our bodies and hoisting us out of the winter stagnation that can start setting in about this time. They are also bursting with vitamin C, bioflavanoids and antimicrobial essential oils that bolster the immune system. And they just taste so good – enlivening our winter pantries with a fresh zeal (those shriveled carrots become an entirely new thing with a bit of lemon zest!).

So, if you find that winter stagnation settling upon you – if your head is filled with daydreams of sunny beaches and sunbathing and you can’t bear the thought of eating another root vegetable casserole, then get out there and get some citrus. Here are some ways it can bring some much needed brightness to your winter days:

Add zest to your cooking

Aside from a grated piece of citrus peel, zest is defined as:

Something that gives or enhances a pleasant taste, or the taste itself; an appetizer; also, keen enjoyment; relish; gusto. [1913 Webster]

And adding a little zest to your cooking really does just that!  Add lemon zest  to roasted carrots or parsnips, a little lime zest to a sweet potato soup. Add orange zest to baked goods. Using zest is one of the single most transformative cooking secrets I’ve learned, and since I discovered it, I keep a good supply of lemons, limes and oranges in my larder simply for the purpose of zesting and juicing into my cooking. You can also infuse olive oil with some fresh citrus zest for a quick flavor boost to salads, soups or roasted vegetables.

Refresh with a citrus salad

I try not to eat much salad in the winter, as the raw greens are so cooling. But occasionally, I get such a craving for some fresh vibrant greens that I just have to indulge.  And I think there is some sense to these cravings:  the greens that manage to hang around in the cold weather – plants like  arugula, mache, radicchio, chicory and endive – have a digestion stimulating bitter flavor, which along with digestion stimulating citrus, makes them perfectly suitable in small amounts as pre-meal appetite stimulants and digestive aids. I think they also uplift the spirits.

Try sliced blood oranges, crumbled feta cheese, pomegranate seeds and toasted pumpkin seeds on bed of arugula, sliced up radicchio and endive. Drizzle with the juice from one orange and an equal amount of walnut oil, a sprig of fresh rosemary, black pepper and a spoonful of honey. Top with some sprouts. I call it: Winter Revival Salad.

Make marmalade

This past year I’ve gotten quite fanatic about jam making. To me, it is an almost magical way to capture the essence of a season in a jar to enjoy later. Eating jam is like tasting the past.  When I spoon blueberry jam onto my morning toast, I am filled with sensations of the August day that I picked them – rain laden grass under my skirt as I leaned to grasp the lower berries, heavy clouds overhead filling the air with warm humidity.  It’s all there in each bite. So marmalade, then, is full of cold snowy days spent warm in the kitchen, inhaling the lovely citrus scents as I stir the pot and steam up the windows. Here is a good recipe that I often refer to as a base. Try Meyer lemon with vanilla, pink grapefruit with candied ginger, blood orange with rosemary…so many delicious options!

Clean house

Citrus makes a wonderful addition to any homemade cleaning spray because of its highly antimicrobial essential oils. In fact, a half of lemon makes a perfect cleaner in itself for counter tops, cutting boards or other surfaces needing a little brightening! Here’s a recipe for an all-purpose cleaning spray that makes washing windows and counters almost therapeutic and leaves your house smelling fresh and divine:

  • 3 cups water
  • 1 part white vinegar
  • juice of 2 lemons (or about 1/4 cup)
  • 30 drops orange essential oil
  • 30 drops lemon essential oil
  • 30 drops lavender essential oil
  • 15 drops bergamont essential oil

Brighten your complexion

Citrus oils are highly rejuvenating to dull winter skin, giving your complexion a much needed boost. The acid helps to loosen dead cells from the top layer of your skin while the ground peel helps slough it off, and the vitamin C and bioflavanoids reduce inflammation, tonify and smooth, and protect against the effects of aging and oxidative damage. Here’s a recipe for a honey-orange scrub with ingredients likely already in your kitchen:

  • Fresh peel of a medium sized orange, chopped
  • 2 tbl organic plain yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons cornmeal

Pulse the peel and yogurt in a food processor until the peel is finely minced up. Add the honey and cornmeal, and mix well. Apply to face over a sink (to catch the drips), and rub in circular motions, always moving upwards. Let sit for a few minutes, then rinse off and follow with a toner such as rosewater and a good moisturizing oil such as coconut oil or shea butter.

Inhale the sunshine

I think if sunshine we’re to have a smell, it would definitely be citrusy. The essential oils of citrus are a way to bring a little much needed brightness into our winter days, cheering the spirits and brightening our moods. Simply slice open an orange and inhale. Try a few drops of orange essential oil on your scarf to inhale throughout the day, combine 15 drops of a citrus oil into a oz of carrier oil (like almond, jojoba or sesame) and add to the bath to soak in that warm orchard fragrance. Or make your own mood uplifting  perfume by combining 30 drops orange essential oil, 15 drops grapefruit, 15 drops lavender or jasmine and 10 drops frankinsence into 2 oz of sunflower oil, and apply to your wrists and neck to exude the  brightness of sunshine throughout the day.

Make Candied Peel

Check out my candied peel post for directions on how to make this decadent, citrusy candy.

And don’t forget, if the world hands you lemons, you are in possession of a wonderful gift of which lemonade is just the beginning…

Inspiration short #12: Create an inspiration board!

I must admit that January can be a somewhat challenging month for me. I call it the “January slump.” After all the festivity and cheer of December, January can seem like one great big come down. Back to work, decorations down, bills to pay and increasing waist lines to deal with. The magical dream-like spell of December gets quickly broken, and reality seeps back in.

To save myself from this annual January ennui,  I try to pull my mind back into the excitement of dreaming and visioning for the year ahead. I start planning my garden, I begin creating intentions for things I hope to manifest in the coming months, and I work on my inspiration board.

“What on earth is an inspiration board?” you ask. Basically, it is a composition of images, objects and words that inspire you. They might capture the essence of your dreams and visions; ignite your imagination; encourage you; bring you joy or remind you of things you love . Placed where you will see it everyday (ideally several times per day), it fills your consciousness with all of the magic of your passions, dreams and joys in life.

To create your own, you really only need a good-sized space on your wall, a cork-board and push pins (which you can find at most craft stores) and a little time to be inspired. You can frame it, cover it in fabric or do whatever takes your fancy. Cut images out of magazines, find quotes you love, hang up objects that are significant to you – whatever inspires you or captures your dreams!

I seek things that really capture what I hope to manifest in my life. The subconscious mind is such a powerful tool, and just imagine what might happen when you subconsciously remind yourself each day of the things you hope to create in your life…

So here’s to finding our way back to that little trickle of excitement within us, nourishing it and tending it until it floods us with delight and January suddenly seems like it isn’t so bad after all.