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Nature's Pharmacy

Understanding Holistic Medicine

If the cold and flu season is getting the best of your health, don't despair: Nature has placed a veritable pharmacy at your fingertips.

Keeping Well With Echinacea

A familiar sight in local gardens, Echinacea, or purple coneflower, is a hardy, daisy-like perennial. One of the finest stimulators of the immune system, Echinacea (ek-i-NAY-shuh) is a valued herbal medicinal for colds and flu and their prevention.

Its chemical constituents – polysaccharides, fatty acids and glycosides – stimulate the functions of helper T-cells, important in the production of antibodies, and killer T-cells, responsible for anti-viral activity.

One of the most popular yet most misused herbs, a few pointers will give you enough information to make it an effective part of your herbal repertoire:

Find the Right Form

Always use Echinacea in the liquid, alcohol extract form #&150; even for children. The capsules, teas and glycerine extracts are not the most therapeutic ways to use it.

An alcohol and water-soluble herb, Echinacea requires the medium of alcohol to give its best performance. When diluted in a little water (for kids, use juice since Echinacea doesn't taste great), the alcohol content becomes negligible.

If in doubt about the importance of an alcohol extract, consider this: Peppermint is 100 percent water soluble and will release all of its chemical constituents when steeped in a cup of boiled water (great for digestive upset, sinus congestion and headaches, by the way).

Osha root, 100 percent alcohol soluble will yield none of its chemical constitutents in a cup of boiled water #&150; it needs 100 percent alcohol.

Echinacea, water and alcohol soluble, will perform best if prepared with water and alcohol. Why get only part of an herb's benefits? If I'm hoping to prevent something, I want the best and I want it all!

Give the Correct Dose

When a family member comes homesick, give a dose of Echinacea every two hours for a day or two, then reduce to three times a day. Be sure to give the rest of the family a dose two to three times a day to keep their immune systems stimulated.

This is how to prevent illness from running through the entire family. See my book, Gentle Healing for Baby and Child (Simon & Schuster), for dosing instructions for adults and children. For sore throat, a diluted solution of the liquid extract can be gargled.

Use Only When Needed

You will build an immunity to Echinacea if you use it every day. Use it for a maximum of 10 days then stop using for a few days (during flu season, for example).

A Tool for Prevention

If a family member is going through stressful times, they may find themselves picking up everything that's going around. This would be a good time to put them on an alternating cycle of Echinacea (several days on, a few days off) to get them through the challenging situation. Or taken two weeks out of every month, three times a day, Echinacea will provide valuable protection.

If taken every day without a rest, the efficacy seems to wane. Do be aware that stress (emotional, mental, physical, environmental) is a known immuno-depressant. In addition, children in daycare often succumb to repeated colds. Keeping a child on an alternating cycle of Echinacea may help to guard against this.

Clearing a Cold With Eucalyptus

Often, when a child returns to school after a bout with a cold or flu, the discomfort of a stuffy nose continues. Eucalyptus makes a wonderful sinus opener.

Add a few drops of the essential oil of Eucalyptus to cotton in a small plastic vial, and you've created a safe, head-clearing inhaler your child can take to school. Every time they're feeling clogged, they can open their inhaler and take a whiff.

Herbal Cough Syrup

When a cold goes to the chest, check out the local health food store for herbal cough syrups containing elderberry, licorice root, mullein and marshmallow root. They won't contain the unpronouncable chemicals, preservatives and dyes that you'll find in the pharmaceutical brands. When your child's immune system is already challenged, why give their bodies an additional load to process?

Don't Leave Home Without It!

Fall and winter is a great time to carry herbal protection with you. A small, 1-ounce dropper bottle of Echinacea fits nicely in the purse or pocket and is a potent ally for getting through the winter healthfully.

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