I became an acupuncturist for many reasons. First and foremost, I needed to take my health back into my own hands. The natural impulse to modulate our own well-being runs deep in our memory, when our mothers knew just what plant helped which kind of ache. Most of would have grown up with contextual herbal education, embedded in the feedback loop of our own vital bioregions. Divesting this power to an authority figure for everyday health concerns is a relatively new dynamic that offers few empowered solutions.
Now, mothers, including myself from time to time, lovingly give our kids drugs forged in well-lit laboratories, which are different from the whole plants that arise from the rich, black laboratories of loam. Some commonly-used pharmaceuticals, like Acetaminophen, can compromise organ function, greatly increase risk for developing asthma, or trap heat/fevers in the body for years, to be slowly expressed in a different way, such as acne.
We can all remember and wield some basic medicines to take our health back into our own hands. Local plants can have a big impact on our health as "individuals" and as a reciprocal experience with our native or adopted terrain. We are larger than our bodies. Researching the medicines of the indigenous peoples of our lands gives us a healthy sense of our bioregional body. Recovering the indigenous medicine of our own genealogical heritage will make our ancestors glow with pride, and bring health on many levels.
Physiology also extends into dreams. Diagnostic dreaming is not a new tool, either. Classical literature from all over the world provides cultural and cross-cultural portents of health. Dreams can enable early detection of health concerns, which can enable early treatment. A dream scenario that came up several times this past week among me and my co-conspirators involved home invasions and car break-ins. In this case, the dreams signified viral invasions in the body. This is great information because we can respond before the biology of a virus takes root in our physical form. We can work together to dispel a habitat in which the pathogen can thrive, and we can boost our immunity.
To boost our immunity, it helps to have some basic knowledge of plants, foods, and herbal formulas. Sourcing herbs is very important to ensure quality, safety, and proper processing techniques. Many natural pharmacies or grocery stores now carry traditional Chinese herbal formulas in tablets or tea pills. I am including only formulas that can commonly be found out and about, and formulas you can make yourself, because that's the whole point. You can do this!
That said, even basic colds and flus are incredibly nuanced. Viruses can manifest differently in different climates, for example. If we live in a cold, damp area, cold and damp types of illnesses can be more prominent. Common colds also manifest differently in our unique and fluid constitutions. Seeing a well-trained herbalist ensures that our formula will be tailored to our presentation. While skilled herbal practitioners play an important, collaborative role in helping us navigate our heath concerns, everyone can be their own doctor with a broad-stroke pharmacy for colds and flus.
Medicine You Can Buy
Four good traditional Chinese herbal formulas to have on hand include:
1 a. Yin Qiao San / 1 b. Gan Mao Ling
These two popular formulas have very similar indications. Use the recommended dosage at the first sign of a sore throat. These medicines clear heat, so take it if you have a fever with slight or no chills, and if you have no sweating or difficulty sweating.
You may not notice a change in the appearance of your tongue. (Take note of what your tongue looks like when you're feeling well.) When you're catching a cold, it may become slightly redder, or have a red tip, or have a slightly yellow coat. You would typically not take this formula if you feel very chilled, are sweating, have profuse, clear nasal discharge, a scratchy throat, or have a thick white tongue coat. (These indicate a cold condition rather than a heat condition, and store-bought remedies for "cold" colds are sorely lacking. Fortunately, making medicine for "cold" type colds is easy, empowering, and fun. See "Enchanted Garlic Syrup" and "Fire Cider" below.)
2. Bi Min Gan Pian (or Pe Min Kan Wan)
This formula differs from the first two because it addresses phlegm and nasal congestion specifically. Its heat-clearing function isn't as strong, so its impact on the rest of the body is milder. (It will not injure your digestion as much, for example.) We can also take it for allergies. This is a more appropriate choice for clear, copious nasal discharge.
3. Yu Ping Feng San (or Jade Windscreen)
Use Jade Windscreen before you have any cold symptoms or after you've gotten over your cold. This is a great preventative formula to take at the onset of cold season because it boosts our immunity. We (typically) do not want to take this formula while we're in the middle of a cold because its strengthening quality can also make the virus stronger.
Medicine You Can Make
Enchanted Garlic Syrup (From A Kid’s Herb Book by Lesley Tierra)
“This syrup is especially good for stubborn coughs, bronchitis, pneumonia, mucus, and lung congestion due to coldness (when there is clear to white mucus).”
Mix together thoroughly:
1/2 cup lemon juice (freshly squeezed is preferable
1/2 cup water
5 large cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 tsp grated ginger or 1/4 tsp ginger powder
a dash of cayenne powder
1/2 cup honey
Take in teaspoon doses every two hours or as needed.
Ingredients: Garlic, ginger, onions, horseradish, cayenne, mustard seeds, black pepper, honey.
Mix together in equal parts (or adjust to your liking):
Lots of garlic
Lots of ginger
Lots of onions
Lots of horseradish
Optional ingredients: Cayenne powder, mustard seeds, black peppercorns.
Chop, mince or grate all the fresh herbs. Fill into a glass jar.
Add additional ingredients.
Cover with apple cider vinegar.
Sit in a cool dark place for one month. Shake daily.
Strain, add one part honey to 3 parts of the vinegar mixture to help preserve.
Drink 1 tsp daily as a tonic. Increase to 3x/ day when feel first signs of a cold.
Can be taken when you have a cold with cold symptoms (feel cold, clear runny mucus). Not recommended when you have fever and signs of heat (yellow mucus).
Food as Medicine
Some old medicines still thrive in our kitchens. Chicken soup is great for colds and flus. Chicken broth is a powerful natural expectorant. Add ginger and green onions (especially the bulb), which are anti-viral and anti-bacterial.. I imagine the generational momentum of chicken soup also has a healing impact. Grandmas make good doctors. We already practice their medicine in so many ways that we may not even notice. And even though colds kind of suck, it's fun to tend the garden of our own health, and recover an old-school arsenal.