Our friend Kate Briggs is an exceedingly humble herbalist with an incredible amount of knowledge. We interviewed her about how to avoid, deal with and get over the bugs that can accompany the change of seasons. She's a gem, Kate. And she really knows her shit.
1.What herbs and practices do you use to help you avoid getting colds and flus in the first place?
I'm all about medicinal mushrooms these days for supporting the immune system to help prevent sickness. The star players are reishi, shiitake, maitake, chaga, cordyceps, turkey tail and lion's mane but others are emerging. Almost all medicinal mushrooms have complex polysaccharides that modulate the immune system as well as build and strengthen the body overall. They are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory too. Each medicinal mushroom is unique and often has an affinity for a particular physiological system. Reishi mushroom, for example, is my favorite medicinal mushroom for the respiratory system. If colds tend to settle in the lungs consider reishi mushroom as a tonic to both support the immune system as well as strengthen the respiratory system. I like to take breaks from all herbs but medicinal mushrooms as an almost food-based medicine with nutritional and protein-rich content, is appropriate for consistent use.
2. What do you do when you feel the first hint of infection? Is it different for cold and flu symptoms?
At the first sign of infection I use immune activating herbs in high doses every few hours. This is a good time to use tinctures because it's easy to regulate the dose and the medicine is accessible to use every several hours. My favorite immune stimulating herbs are nothing new but they work so I keep using them. Echinacea angustifolia is my personal preference among the echinacea species for acute cold and flu symptoms. Spilanthes (Spilanthes acmella) is another immune activating herb similar to echinacea. I also love using red root (Ceanothus americanus) for its blood cleansing action and added lymph moving support. In addition to immune activating herbs it's important to consider certain lifestyle decisions that can save you from fully manifesting a cold or flu. First realize that rest and relaxation is crucial for allowing the immune system to do it's protective work. Don't push yourself; decide to sleep in, limit activity, and consider using gentle adaptogenic herbs along with immune activators for extra support.
3. Let's say you lost the first battle but not the war. You are sick. It happened. How do you expedite the healing process? Are those herbs the same for cold and flu? or different for each?
This is my favorite time for teas. Check your herbal arsenal at home to make sure you have a few options to negotiate a unique symptom picture. First consider the quality of the cold - is it wet or dry? is the cough productive or stagnant? These determinants will call upon on different herbs but be prepared for changing symptoms as the cold progresses. Sage (Salvia officinalis), for example, is a fabulous anti-microbial and astringent remedy for a wet sore throat with difficulty swallowing but other herbs may be more appropriate for the sore throat as it changes. Switch to marshmallow (Althea officinalis) and licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) if the sore throat is dry and irritated because these herbs are moistening and anti-inflammatory to mucus membranes.
It's important to consider specific symptoms with the flu as well. In addition to the specifics, however, I generally combine diaphoretic herbs - herbs that modulate the body's innate fever process to help fight off infection - as well as herbs that are specifically anti-microbial for the flu such as elderberry (Sambucus nigra) and hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis). It's particularly important to drink tea hot while recovering from the flu as well as limit consumption of normal foods and beverages so the body can focus on getting over the infection.
4. Are there any practices or herbs you use to tuck your body into health at the very end of a cold?
While the worst may be over, it's still important to support the immune system. Drink the same herbs used while fighting off the infection for several days after symptoms lessen. Gradually bring back medicinal mushrooms and consider making an invigorating, immune modulating chai mixture with appropriate adaptogens and liver strengthening herbs to cultivate vitality and wellness. My favorite blend has aromatic and anti-microbial chai herbs like cardamom, cinnamon, clove, and star anise as well as codonopsis, ashwagandha, dandelion root, burdock, and a little rose.
Kate Briggs pursued botanical medicine studying herbal sciences at Bastyr University in Seattle. After graduating she began a clinical internship at a holistic wellness clinic called The Evergreen Center in Boulder, Colorado. Currently, Kate works as a Certified Clinical Herbalist at an herbal apothecary in downtown Boulder. She is planning on gaining a Doctorate in Naturopathy at Bastyr University starting in fall 2016. One day she hopes to combine botanical medicine and vitalistic healing tenets into a integrative practice.