Unlike taking a pill to address a symptom, herbs are more about supporting your body’s own healing abilities, allowing your body to bring itself back into healthy balance. This is the time of year when I ensure my kitchen cabinets are stocked with herbal staples that will see us through a hopefully illness-free winter. In addition to elderberry syrup, I always have echinacea at the ready.
Echinacea boosts your white blood cell count, making it easier for your immune system to fight off an infection. You should still take care of yourself by getting enough rest and eating foods that are good for you, so you are not just always revving up your immune system. (People who have a compromised immune system are better off using herbs that systematically re-build the immune system rather than “punching it up” with Echinacea.)
At the first sneeze or back-of-throat tickle, we take echinacea tincture (which is powerfully zingy) followed by elderberry syrup (which is more sweet and soothing). It’s a one-two punch that few nascent colds or flu can overcome. A tincture is just a liquid extract of an herb. They are convenient, but can be expensive if you don’t make them yourself. And if you do make them, you need to plan well ahead since they take about 6 weeks of steeping before they’re ready for use.
One easy alternative to echinacea tincture that you can find at the grocery store is Traditional Medicinals Echinacea tea. This awesome line of teas was co-founded in 1974 by Rosemary Gladstar – often referred to as the godmother of modern herbalism – and the company still uses her original herbal formulas. They also use pharmacopoeial-grade herbs (an extremely high standard for effectiveness!) that are sustainably and ethically sourced so you can feel good about feeling good.
Most grocery stores carry the Traditional Medicinals line which offers dozens of tasty, effective herbal brews. In addition to Echinacea Plus, our medicine chest is stocked with these other great teas: Throat Coat, Breathe Easy, and Gypsy Cold Care.
The Throat Coat tea is just that: soft and soothing. Its ingredients are helpful for sore throats, whether they result from nasal drip or yelling at football games or political TV commercials. Breathe Easy has a number of ingredients that will help clear a stuffy nose, including bi yan pian, a traditional Chinese formula comprised of 11 different herbs. Gypsy Cold Care is perfect for those days when you are sickly and feel like wrapping yourself in a warm blanket in front of the fireplace but instead you’re stuck at work. Hypothetically, of course. (Don’t go to work when you’re sick! Stay home and take care of yourself, for pete’s sake. Plus, offices are like a giant petri dish and no one wants your ick!)
Herbal teas work best when you follow the directions. A couple of tips for maximum effectiveness:
- When the package tells you to drink “x” cups per day, do it! It isn’t like shampoo bottles that tell you to wash, rinse, and repeat so that you use up the product faster and have to buy more. Your body needs regular doses of the herbs, so drink several cups a day if you’re fighting something. It’s not a hassle – it’s self-care!
- Make sure you steep the teabag for the amount of time it says (usually 10-15 minutes), and cover the cup with a saucer to capture essential oils for optimum effect. Caffeinated teas like black, green, oolong and even white tea can taste bitter when over-steeped. For these herbal teas, steeping longer allows more of the plant’s potency into your cup before you drink up.
Traditional Medicinals also has a fun nine-question Plant Personality Quiz that takes general personality traits and matches them with plants that they use in their teas. At the end of the quiz, you are matched with three plants and discover the plant’s personality, its herbal powers, and their related products. This was one of those rare times when I was not annoyed by the product pitch. Unnecessary disclaimer: I’m not a shill for Traditional Medicinals (although I wouldn’t mind if I were because I am a firm believer in their mission and products).
According to Traditional Medicinals, I have dandelion in my blend because:
You Are: Scrappy and tough, you’re a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps kind of person. You don’t give up easily and you often thrive in situations that others would find discouraging. You have an instinct to serve others and see yourself as most useful in times or places of crisis, but you may over rely on your toughness and forget how sensitive you really are.
Hmmm – interesting. I won’t spoil the fun by writing about the other ones (plus a girl needs some privacy!).
Actual disclaimer: Your answers don’t necessarily point to herbs you should be taking. The herbs that best support your body will depend on your constitution (physical makeup) and current circumstances. However, you can always enjoy a cup of herbal tea whether or not you “need” it. Fully accessing the herbs’ medicinal properties requires longer steeping and more frequent doses (ergo the helpful tips above).
What is your plant personality? Do your plants describe you well? Do you have a favorite go-to herbal tea?