We are now hitting the tail end of flu season… thankfully! And after taking a look at the popular Echinacea and Ginseng its time to consider two herbs that can be found in most kitchens: garlic and ginger. My mother used to combine them in her personalized concotion to help beat a stubborn cold or flu. Her recipe went something like this:
1x Fresh Grated Ginger Root
1x Fresh Garlic Bulb Peeled and Crushed
1x Lemon Sliced
Honey to Taste (preferably organic, manuka honey)
Pinch of Cayenne
Instructions: In a pot add 4-6 cups (depending on how much you wish to make), the garlic and ginger. Bring this pot to a boil. Then turn the stove to simmer and remove the lid. Allow the garlic and ginger to simmer for 20-30 minutes. Then add the lemon and allow to simmer for another 10 minutes. Add the honey and cayenne to taste.
Garlic is one of the world’s most ancient remedies. Its wide range usefulness in various healthconditions makes it difficult to classify. It is a wonderful remedy for the cold and flu with its broad spectrum antimicrobial and anti-septic activity. Its halts the proliferation of bacteria (bacteriostatic) at low doses and kills bacteria all together (bacteriosidal) at high doses. It has traditionally been used to treat a range of bacterial conditions from typhus to tuberculosis to E. Coli. It is often the first remedy thought of in any infection related to the ears, nose, throat, bronchi, lungs and gut. However it has also been used for the following conditions: Systemic Infection, Seasonal sinusitis and hay fever, Digestion, Parasites/Worms, Cardiovascular Health (cholesterol, triglycerides, hypertension, atherosclerosis), Heavy Metal Burden and Cancer.
With infection, research has shown the effectiveness of garlic in both gram positive and gram negative bacteria. The main active constituents of garlic are allicin and alliin. These constituents have been found to play a role in building up resistance in cancer cells. Dr. Mitchell felt it was because garlic decreases bacterial and viral load in the body and decreasing the strain on the immune system.
In the gut, garlic is used to treat infection as well as to increase secretion from the mucosa to help with digestion and lubricate the passage of mucus. This digestive quality of garlic stimulates metabolism and attacks microbes by changing the environment or terrain that they thrive in. However, garlic does not wipe out all of the intestinal flora like antibiotics or strong antimicrobial herbs; it is selective and maintains the integrity of healthy intestinal flora. It is noted that it can cause digestive upset (most likely in those with a weak liver).
From a homeopathic perspective, garlic is best indicated in upper respiratory infections where the nasal discharge is dry. There is a sticky feeling in throat with dryness, tickling, heat, and raw feeling in larynx. There is a sensation as of something cold rising in throat. There is a further sensation as if a hair was on the tongue or in the throat. Garlic is best suited in individuals where there are features of anxiety and impatience. There is fear that recovery is impossible and that medicine is unbearable. The patient often wants many things but is never pleased. There is weak memory and sadness with weeping during rest.
There are some cautions with the use of garlic:
- It can cause sympathetic excess of hyperadrenalism;symptoms such as anxiety, nervousness, high blood pressure, sweating and rapid heart beat have been seen as a result of garlic use in hyperadrenalized states.
- Peptic ulcer
- Hiatal hernia
- Anticoagulant and antiplatelet drugs, discontinue 10 days before surgery. It can bring on gas an discomfort in certain conditions.
- From a TCM perpective it is contraindicated in conditions of deficient yin, fluids and blood conditions and in all hot conditions. It is contraindicated in those who spontaneous bleeding, premature ejaculation and spematorrhea. Use in high doses is cautioned in pregnancy and lactation due to its dispersing qualities and ability to bring on menstruation.
Consumption: Fresh vs. Dried? Organically grown garlic bulbs contain several more times the antiseptic properties than chemically fertilized ones. Oral intake of the garlic bulb is the easiest way to ingest. It is important to crush the whole clove before ingesting for the medicinal benefit. An alternative to this are the odor free allicin capsules if taken in high enough dosages. If you are going to use allicin releasing solid doses instead of the fresh bulb they should be enteric coded and tested for enzyme activity. Fresh garlic is more dispersing in nature and better for promoting surface sweating at the the onset of respiratory infections. Dried garlic is less dispersing and more appropriate for promoting internal warmth and drying damp in internal cold and damp conditions.
Another ancient dietary staple with health benefits – ginger helps to warm and stimulate during a flu. It is best used at the onset of respiratory infections presenting with chills, sneezing and coughing. It helps to expel mucus and to promote sweating. It is best used in its fresh form. However, the fresh or dried root are frequently used. The fresh root is placed in boiled water and simmered. It has the best effect for treating respiratory conditions when drunk warm. It is best suited to the individual who is is cold, depressed, cramped up or inactive. The pulse will tend to be slow and the tongue pale.
Ginger is thought to influence the cold and flu by having an antibacterial, anti-viral and immune stimulant. The active constituent, gingerols, have been shown to reduce leukotrienes, and prostaglandins that stimulate inflammation in immune response.
Ginger is also known for the following:
- Stimulation of digestion and reduce nausea. It increases bile secretion, improves fat digestion and movement of food through the tract reducing stagnation, irritation and gas.
- Blood sugar regulation
- The dried rot is classic for warming the interior more than the exterior. It will address weak or atonic conditions of the digestive tract such as chronic gastritis that frequently involves microbial infection.
- Stimulation of the peripheral arterial circulation to promote warmth to the body’s surface and extremities. In this capacity it can act as a muscle stimulant and can help with aches and pains. It is useful in arthritis and other disorders of the joints.
- Reduces platelet aggregation and thins out the blood (this increases circulation and is cooling)
- Helpful in menstrual disorders presenting with cold.
- It has also been suggested that ginger assists other remedies in reaching there tissue destination and may be included in other formulas in small amounts when appropriate.
Caution is warranted in peptic ulceration, gallstones and with Warfarin. Ginger acts as an antispasmodic but is contraindicated in the acute phase of an injury or wherever there is inflammation. It should be avoided in conditions of stomach and lung heat. Caution in hot, dry or yin deficient patients.
Hoffmann, D. Medical Herbalism, Healing Arts Press; 2003
Holmes, P. The Energetics of Western Herbs. 4th Ed., Snow Lotus Press; 2006
Mitchell, W.A.. Plant Medicine in Practice: Using the Teachings of John Bastyr. Churchhill Livingstone; 2003
Wood, M. The Earthwise Herbal. Berkely, California: North Atlantic Books; 2009