Last month I talked about gut health, immunity and how to boost our natural defences with pre- and pro-biotic foods. From this month I’m going to take you through a few of my favourite anti-infectious herbs, starting with antivirals.
But first, another cautionary note on antibiotics.
Viruses & antibiotics
One of the main issues with the overconsumption of antibiotics is that these drugs are often given to people with undiagnosed viral infections.
Antibiotics treat bacterial infections - they will do nothing for a viral infection. If anything, they’ll lower your defences and make you feel worse. Always ask for confirmation that you have a bacterial infection before taking antibiotics - you may need to run some tests before you can be sure.
Antibiotics treat bacterial infections - they will do nothing for a viral infection.
If your doctor suspects a viral infection, you’ll be told to go home, rest and drink lots of fluids. The great news here is that there are some potent antiviral herbs in your kitchen that can really save the day.
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Sage tea is traditionally used as a gargle to soothe sore throats, mouth ulcers and inflamed gums and tonsils, and is taken internally as a nervous system and memory ‘tonic’. It is also oestrogenic - one explanation for its use in hot flushes during the menopause.
Along with its other culinary siblings - thyme, rosemary, oregano and basil - sage comes from the botanical family Lamiaceae, and they all share similar chemical properties. Rosmarinic acid is a strong antioxidant and anti-viral, while thujone and carnosol are two potent anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory compounds found in these herbs.
Sage’s strong anti-infectious properties combined with its soothing effect on the throat make it my go-to remedy for viral tonsillitis and pharyngitis - but in fact it works just as well for bacterial infections too.
For acute viral or bacterial tonsillitis, I give my patients a mixture of sage, propolis and echinacea tinctures (more on echinacea next month), with instructions to gargle and swallow 4-5 times a day. This usually knocks things on the head pretty quickly.
The fresh herb tea is also delicious and effective. I like to make it really strong – about 6 leaves per cup. Lightly bruise the leaves before pouring on hot water, cover and leave for 15 minutes before drinking. For dried sage, I use about 1 heaped teaspoon per cup.
Ginger (Zingiber officinalis)
The best way to treat a bad head cold is ginger tea, ginger tea and more ginger tea. Fresh ginger contains antiviral compounds called gingerols, which are converted to the more anti-inflammatory shogaols when dried. Crush whole fresh ginger pieces, add to boiling water and simmer for as long as you dare. I use three or four good thumb-sized pieces to about 3 mugs of water and leave it to simmer for 10 minutes before leaving it to soak in another 15 or so. My general rule is the stronger the better. If you have hot flushes however, it’s probably best to stick to the sage!
Ginger works not only by providing antiviral compounds, but also by stimulating the circulation and recruiting more of our natural defences. It is also a powerful anti-inflammatory, found to be as effective as ibuprofen in a recent study.
Ginger has been shown to be as effective as ibuprofen in reducing inflammation.
Garlic (Allium sativum)
Garlic alone has the potential to save the world from the threat of antibiotic resistance. Don’t believe me?!
In 2015 a brilliant piece of research was conducted by Nottingham University in which they studied the antibiotic effects of a medieval remedy containing onion, garlic and ox bile. They found the concoction to be more effective than standard antibiotics on a range of bacterial colonies, including MRSA.
The amazing thing about garlic is that it’s effective for all kinds of viral and fungal infections too, whether it’s the common cold, flu, bronchitis, tonsillitis, gastroenteritis, intestinal fungal overgrowth, cystitis or pelvic infections. In my practice I mainly use it as part of a 6-week regimen for patients with chronic gut flora disturbances, along with other plant-based antimicrobials.
And it’s so easy to prepare - for adults, simply crush the fresh garlic before chopping into smaller pieces – this releases the enzyme alliinase, which converts the sulphurous compound aliin into its active form, allicin. Leave the crushed, chopped garlic open to the air for a couple of minutes to allow this conversion to happen, then add to food or mix with some olive oil or butter and swallow.
Take half a clove of garlic a couple times a day whenever you feel run down. In full-blown infections, take up to 3 cloves a day and continue for a couple of days after all symptoms have abated.
Crushing fresh garlic releases the enzyme alliinase, which converts the sulphurous compound aliin into its active form, allicin.
For little ones, you can harness the power of fresh garlic in the age-old recipe below for Onion & Garlic syrup. This is a wonderful, fast-acting recipe for coughs and colds which can be whipped up and ready to use in a few hours.
Don’t use garlic for more than a week without a break, and if you are sensitive to sulphur-containing vegetables or high FODMAP foods, it is probably best avoided altogether. Next month I’ll be writing about more great herbs for bacterial infections, so stay tuned for that :-)
Onion & Garlic Syrup
Add the crushed and minced garlic in layers with chopped onion and sugar to a jar. Layer the onion, garlic and sugar until the jar is filled and leave for a few hours. The sugar will draw water from the onion and garlic and create a potent medicine that is ready to use within hours.
Top up the mixture as needed with more onion or sugar, then strain, bottle and refrigerate after 24 hours. The mixture will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days.
Note: Due to the imminent arrival of my first child, I am not accepting new patients until January 2019. If you have a burning question about a specific issue, drop me an email and I will try to be as helpful as possible. In the meantime, I will keep posting monthly articles and news, so stay in touch by joining the mailing list at the bottom of the page. Have a wonderful autumn and Christmas!