Meadowsweet — by any other name?

Erin asks “Can Spiraea Alba) (also known as white meadowsweet) be used in the same herbal manner as Filipendula ulmaria (Queen of the Meadow/Meadowsweet)? Or are they greatly different in any distinctive herbal applications? After researching high and low, it seems as if Filipendula ulmaria is the only “meadowsweet” used in herbal applications today.

This is a great question because this is a very confusing plant! Although there are websites that say Spirea Alba has been used as a traditional medicine, I simply could not corroborate, in the over 15 books I have on herbal medicine, any medicinal use of Spiraea alba. In addition, ,I have searched the American Botanical Council database and nowhere, in its vast database, can I find anything on the use of ,Spiraea alba,. Of course there is so much literature on ,Filipendula ulmaria,, also known as ,Spirea ulmaria,, and commonly known as Queen of the Meadow, or meadowsweet as you pointed out.

,,Filipendula rubra,.

There is some information on Filipendula rubra, however. According to Daniel Moerman, author of Native American Ethnobotany, Filipendula rubra was used as a heart medicine and as a love potion. It’s interesting to see that in Native American culture, as well as other cultures, the physical heart and the emotional heart are linked.

Spiraea tomentosa.

Yet another relative, Spiraea tomentosa was also referred to as meadowsweet in the King’s American Dispensatory (Felter/Lloyd). The uses here were for summer diarrhea and as a tonic in cases of dysentery and diarrhea. It was thought to improve digestion as well so extremely similar to the uses of Filipendula ulmaria. (Page 1809, Vol II).

Finally there are some other spiraeas mentioned in A Modern Herbal by M. Grieve. Here is the link:

,Filipendula ulmaria,.

For those who aren’t familiar with meadowsweet (,Filipendula ulmaria,), it has long been used as a digestive aid and is often blended with chamomile and peppermint for a general upper and lower GI tonic. It too, has been used in acute cases of diarrhea or dysentery very similar to the above mentioned ,Spiraea tomentosa,.

Thanks for the interesting question! Jayne Tamburello, RH(AHG), LDN, CNS

An Herbalist’s thoughts on botanically-induced abortion

An ATH reader recently inquired about “herbal remedies that may help induce a miscarriage” because “I want to take care of womb space and have this experience not be so unnatural as it would be at the clinic.”

This is a sensitive and controversial topic that, as an herbalist, has been brought to my attention three times in as many months by potential clients. As such, recently I have spent considerable time pondering this topic. What follows is my personal position.

First, and most important, because something is considered “natural” does not automatically mean that it is “safe”. I reached out to my herbal peers for wisdom, and their general consensus is that using herbs to induce a miscarriage/abortion is particularly dangerous and requires proper training and experience by the practitioner.

While most of us learn about herbs that were traditionally used by indigenous or slave populations to terminate unwanted pregnancy, a method of safely doing so is not generally taught in modern curricula. A quick check for “herbal abortion” in my treasured, trusted resources (See References) came up dry in terms of direction on how to safely induce an abortion. There was only discussion on how to use herbs to prevent a threatened miscarriage or support the body and mind post-abortion.

When asked if I could assist herbally with an abortion, I knew from a training standpoint that I was not qualified. But the question opened up a greater, ethical question of whether I would be comfortable assisting even if I could. In the general sense, I am strongly pro-choice as I just cannot fathom having someone make a deeply personal, heartbreaking decision for someone else.

As a woman, I also get my own choice. Personally, I would not choose abortion. But the question of whether I would help facilitate abortion in another has never come up until now. To answer that question I searched deep into my heart and spoke with fellow herbalists. Ultimately, I determined that I would not, on personal belief, assist with this process. Every woman and herbalist are free to make the decision that is best for them; this is where I stand.

Having said that, it’s important to mention another point that came up in my peer conversations. In recent months, the legality of abortion is being threatened in some areas of the United States. Historically, women turned to herbalists and other alternative practitioners when the medical system had failed them. In the case where a botanical option facilitated by a trained herbalist was the ONLY option, perhaps that would change the landscape in terms of who would be willing to assist.

Not long ago the idea of abortion being illegal in the United States would have been farfetched. In today’s uncertain, turbulent times, it seems that anything could happen. But for now, the best, safest means of having an abortion is to consult with your doctor or abortion clinic for properly trained, safe assistance.

In closing, I offer up a few herbs that may be beneficial post-abortion:

Uterine tonics:

1. Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus)

2. Red raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus)

Female hormone balancers:

1. Black cohosh (Actaea racemose)

2. Chaste tree berry (Vitex agnus-castus)

Nervines (calming in stressful times)

1. Milky oats (Avena sativa) – see my

2. Scullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)

3. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) – another prior

Finally, for overall women’s health, chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is a nurturing herb that calms the mind, digestion, reproductive organs, skin (topically).


McQuade Crawford, A. (1997), Herbal Remedies for Women, Three Rivers Press.

Romm, A. (2010), Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health, Churchill Livingstone.

Trickey, R. (2003), Women, Hormones, and the Menstrual Cycle (Herbal and Medical Solutions from Adolescence to Menopause), Second Edition, Allen and Unwin.


Donna Koczaja, M.S., RH(AHG) graduated from Maryland University of Integrative Health (formerly Tai Sophia Institute) with a Master of Science in Therapeutic Herbalism and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Clinical Herbalism. She earned Registered Herbalist status from the American Herbalists’ Guild in 2018. Originally educated as a mechanical engineer, she combines the rigor of her original scientific training with the traditional healing art of herbal medicine to partner with her clients to uncover the root cause of their underlying health issues. Also a Master Gardener since 2008, her primary interest is in inspiring others to improve their health and sense of wellbeing through the joys of gardening and the power of natural medicine.

Donna currently practices at the MUIH Natural Care Center in Laurel, Maryland and also does virtual consultations.Read more about her, what she does, and why she does it at

Can Cabbage Juice Heal an Ulcer?

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An ATH reader asks if cabbage juice can heal a medication-induced ulcer.

Before we get to cabbage, it is important to be under the care of a qualified health professional if you have an active ulcer, and I encourage you to seek care if you have not already done so. And be sure to avoid caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods during your healing process.

With that said, let’s talk about cabbage juice.

Studies conducted from the 1930s through the 1950s demonstrated that the juice of cabbage leaves prevented the development of new ulcers and healed existing ulcers faster than the standard therapy of the time.

The healing effect of cabbage juice was attributed to an unidentified substance in cabbage leaves that, at the time, was dubbed vitamin U. We now know that “vitamin U” is actually s-methylmethionine, a derivative of the amino acid methionine that prevents damage to, and promotes healing of, the lining of the digestive tract.

These studies wouldn’t meet the rigor we expect today, nevertheless they do provide convincing evidence that cabbage juice does indeed speed the healing of gastric ulcers. The main difficulty in the human trials was compliance. Most patients found the cabbage juice unpalatable, even objectionable. The treatment required drinking a liter of juice in divided doses each day and many patients did not complete the trials.

Fortunately, cabbage juice is not the only option to support healing of an ulcer. Here are a few herbs that can help.

Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) Due to its anti-inflammatory, astringent, and antacid properties, meadowsweet helps protect and heal the upper GI mucosal lining. Meadowsweet was traditionally used to treat upper GI maladies, including ulcers and gastric reflux and while no human trials exist, contemporary animal studies support traditional use.

Calendula (Calendula officinalis) has anti-inflammatory and vulnerary properties; It promotes regeneration of the epithelial tissue that forms the outer layer of our skin and the lining of hollow organs, like the stomach. Numerous contemporary studies confirm this activity.

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) also has anti-inflammatory and vulnerary properties. Its antispasmodic and sedative properties soothe tension and anxiety and it is especially helpful when tension affects the digestive tract. Animal studies have demonstrated a protective effect against gastric ulcer formation.

Spearmint (Mentha spicata) Gentler than its cousin peppermint, spearmint is gently astringent and relieves nausea, which can sometimes accompany gastric ulcers.

A blend of 2 parts meadowsweet, and 1 part each of the other herbs should do nicely. You can blend a large batch and store it in a glass jar out of direct light. For daily use infuse ½ cup of the herb blend in 1 quart of covered, just boiled water for 20 minutes. Strain and drink in 8-12-ounce portions throughout the day. These herbs can be purchased in bulk from

Deglycyrrhized licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) Licorice has protective and healing action on the upper GI mucosal lining through increasing the levels of compounds that promote mucous secretion and tissue regeneration. Deglycyrrized licorice (DGL) is available in capsules. You might be able to find it at your local health food store and it can easily be ordered online. Take as directed on the bottle.

Safety note: Higher doses and long-term use of licorice can lead to water and sodium retention, loss of potassium and elevated blood pressure. The compounds responsible for these effects have been (mostly) removed from DGL though a small amount remains.

Hope this helps!

Have a question?


Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy. (2013). Elsevier.

Renata is a clinical herbalist with a private practice in Greenbelt, MD. She helps women build a solid foundation of wellness while working together to address their unique health concerns so they can live life with vibrance and vitality. She has a BS in Chemistry from University of Maryland, a MS in Therapeutic Herbalism, and a Post Masters Certificate in Clinical Herbalism from Maryland University of Integrative Health. Find her online at

Fire and Ice, Livermore.

Question submitted by Edwin,:

,Asking for suggestions for liver cancer.

The liver is the largest solid organ of the human body and a powerful organ that performs numerous functions for our body. It is the principal blood filtering organ and a powerhouse for the conversion nutrients, production of bile for digestion, storage of glucose, management of blood clotting, clearance of metabolic biproducts and toxins. As such, the liver is exposed to the best and the worst compounds and must sort them out to maintain good vitality. The very redundancy of the organ makes it resilient to repeated cellular damage until it reaches a tipping point. Only approximately 2% of liver cancer originates in the liver. In most cases the liver cancer it has started somewhere else in the body and has taken hold in its secondary location through metastasis. This is generally an indication of an aggressive cancer.

Liver cancer is a serious and life-threatening disease. You have to take take appropriate measures in strict consultation with your doctor, be it conventional therapy or herbal remedies. Taking any herbal supplements should be vetted through your medical team to be sure not to cause adverse herb-drug interactions. Great care must be taken to not potentiate medical therapies by use of herbs that have similar mechanism of action as pharmaceutical drugs (conventional therapies).

Ideally, herbs should only be taken after peak levels of drugs have passed; this information can be provided by your medical team. It helps to have the support of family and friends. Get the prognosis of your case from your doctor and plan for all eventualities.

As the liver is the main organ of filtration and digestion, many strong hepatic herbs are contraindicated in the case of liver cancer as the bile duct may be compromised. That means avoid strong bitter herbs. ,Presented here are a list of single herbs that could be used in an herbal protocol.

· Mild hepatic support herbs: Burdock root, dandelion root, turmeric, diet rich in brassica family (cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts), caraway seeds.

· Hepato-protective herb: Milk Thistle (,Silybum marianum,), Artichoke leaf (,Cynara)

· Hepato-detox support herb: Buplurem, Danshen (,salvia miltiorrhiza,) Baikal skullcap, schizandra berry, globe artichoke, diet rich in vitamin B3, B1 & C, citrus fruits, rosemary, St. John’s wort.

Generally speaking, follow these recommendations:

· Collaborate & communicate with your physician(s).

· Introduce dietary changes: increased brassicas, increase citrus and legumes.

· Herbal supplements may need to change during treatment to address therapeutic side-effects. Starting at low dosage. Take milk thistle capsules at off peak times. Changes include dietary changes, reduce animal protein, increase legumes.

· Only introduce herbs at off peak of drug therapies.

· Hot or warm water infusions may be best way to take herbs.

In addition, a review of 876 journal publications on herbal supplements and treatment for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) found 100 articles worth including in a therapeutic summary. Briefly, the most successful phytochemicals used in the treatment or in vitro studies against HCC include: Curcumin (derived from turmeric), Resveratrol (derived from grape peel), Silibinin (derived from milk thistle) and Tanshinone (derived from ,salvia miltiorrhiza,). See reference 4 below from Yi and Martin.


1. Hoffmann; Medical Herbalism, Healing Arts Press, 2003

2. Mills & Bone; Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy, Churchhill Livingston, 2000

3. The Complete Natural Medicine Gude to Breast Cancer, Robert Rose, 2003

4. Li & Martin; Herbal Medicine and Hepatocellular Carcinoma: Applications and Challenges; Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011; 2011: 541209. Published online 2011 Feb 20. doi: 10.1093/ecam/neq044

,Judith Fox Smith, MS, is the founder of Foxsmyth Herbal, in Stoneham, MA. Judy is a biological research scientist and clinical herbalist. She is the founder and past president of the Eastern PA chapter of American Herbalist Guild, the Herb Gatherers of Lansdale, PA and past Vice President of San Antonio Herb Society. She combines her knowledge of biology and botany with her passion to provide practical herbal and lifestyle recommendations for a holistic balance in today’s techno-driven world.

At Ask The Herbalists, your questions are answered for free by professional herbalists, with advanced degrees. Ask us a question! Tell your friends about us! Donate to support our work to create an online space for reliable information on herbal medicine.

,Before I came to know you, love,

,Little my life was worth to me.

,I prize it now all things above,

,And wish long in this world to be.

,Fujuwara-no Yoshitaka

Herbal Supplements and Birth Control

We’ve received a few questions recently about interactions between herbs and hormonal birth control, so I’ll address them all here.

Erica would like to use Shakeology but wonders if some of its herbal ingredients – ashwaganda (Withania somnifera), reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), and chaga (,Inonotus obliquus) – are safe to use together and if they might interfere with the Xulane patch she is using since an ashwagandha-containing supplement interfered with a birth control pill in the past.

Rachel would like to use a supplement called Mental Clarity but has read that the rhodiolia it contains will decrease the effectiveness of the birth control pill that she is taking.

And Lori is concerned that the ashwagandha supplement she uses will interfere with the progesterone only birth control pill that she takes.

The main types of interactions that hormonal contraceptives are vulnerable to are with substances that affect detoxification enzymes in the liver and substances that affect levels of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), a protein that transports hormones through the bloodstream.

The relevant interaction for botanicals is the one related to liver detoxification enzymes, so let’s focus on that. Hormones are broken down through detoxification pathways in the liver, which employ a family of enzymes called cytochrome P450 or CYP for short. The specific enzyme that breaks down hormones so they can be excreted is called CYP3A4. Any substance that affects the activity of CYP3A4 can interfere with hormonal contraceptives. If CYP3A4 activity is inhibited the result is too much drug in the bloodstream, if CYP3A4 activity is induced the result is too little drug in the bloodstream. The main concern with herbs and hormonal contraceptives is St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), which is a potent inducer of CYP3A4 activity.

Ashwaganda, reishi, chaga, and rhodiola are not known to interact with CYP450 enzymes or SHBG, so I wouldn’t expect them to interfere with hormonal birth control. A quick internet search suggests that these concerns stem from a misunderstanding of herbal adaptogenic activity in the body. Adaptogens have a general normalizing effect, primarily resulting from modulation of the neuro-endocrine stress response. This can have an indirect, normalizing effect on the reproductive system and other body systems but is not known to alter the levels or activity of birth control.

An important caveat: Every body is different. If you and/or your physician believe that an herb has interfered with your birth control in the past it is reasonable to think it could interfere with your current prescription and it would be advisable to avoid it.

You may also be interested this

Renata is a clinical herbalist with a private practice in Greenbelt, MD. She helps women build a solid foundation of wellness while working together to address their unique health concerns so they can live life with vibrance and vitality. She has a BS in Chemistry from University of Maryland, a MS in Therapeutic Herbalism, and a Post Masters Certificate in Clinical Herbalism from Maryland University of Integrative Health. Find her at

No period? No problem!

ATH thanks Theresa for asking: “What is the best herb for a 24 year old female for amenorrhea due to low body weight, low body fat, with very poor eating habits?” “Amenorrhea” is a fancy word for a woman (of childbearing age) not having her period over at least several months. As noted in the question, sometimes low body weight/fat can cause this condition because resources are being conserved. Still, there are many other potential causes of amenorrhea, and Dr. Aviva Romm reminds us in her excellent book that it is a symptom of an imbalance and not a disease in itself. From an herbal medicine perspective, to select an appropriate strategy one must do a little detective work to uncover potential causes. For the purpose of the rest of this discussion, I will assume that pregnancy and/or a serious medical problem is NOT the cause of amenorrhea and focus on low body weight. If a serious medical issue is suspected, please seek assistance from a trusted medical professional. I appreciated the note in the question about ‘poor eating habits’, because it provides an opportunity for the young woman to be empowered to take personal action toward improving her condition. Unfortunately, there is no herb to compensate for ‘poor eating habits’, so my first recommendation would be to review the diet and perhaps work with a certified nutritionist or dietician for an appropriate food plan. In conjunction with reviewing the diet I would explore why this woman has low body weight/body fat. Is stress, anxiety, or depression involved? Is she an athlete? Is there suspected (reproductive) hormonal imbalance? An eating disorder? Some other medical condition such as hyperthyroidism? The latter two possibilities require assistance from a medical practitioner to diagnose the cause, but the remainder can be explored with an herbalist directly. If stress is a possibility, refer to this ATH post by my friend and excellent herbalist Renata that provides plenty of diet, lifestyle, and herbal strategies to balance mood. For an ‘undernourished’ scenario, in conjunction with a robust diet strategy, there are some particularly nutritive herbs that can build vitality and strengthen the body as a whole. Burdock root (Arctium lappa) – contains polysaccharides and inulin which are nutritious energy sources. Burdock is also known as a ‘blood cleanser’ that can help remove toxins as well as support digestion and absorption of fats Milky oats spikelets (Avena sativa) – also rich in polysaccharides, oats is known as an overall body tonic as well as for general or nervous exhaustion (I like to call it a “hug in a cup”) Stinging nettles herb (Urtica dioica) – high in several essential minerals, including magnesium, calcium, potassium, iron, and manganese Yarrow herb (Achillea millefolium) – another body tonic, with an affinity to balance blood in the body (either over or underproduction) All of these herbs would be lovely in a tea format, so steep up and drink up! Finally, if other disorders can be ruled out or the above diet, lifestyle, and nourishing herbs are insufficient, there are several herbs that are known to encourage reproductive hormone-balancing to assist in recommencing menses. Please note that this is not where I would start, as a whole body solution will be most effective in restoring balance in the long term. Black cohosh root (Actaea racemosa) – a traditional hormone modulator used to relieve symptoms of menopause. Aviva Romm indicates that while black cohosh is NOT an estrogen, it does appear to exhibit estrogenic activity. This may be useful in normalizing the menstrual cycle. Chaste tree berry (Vitex agnus-castus) – another traditionally-used hormone modulator which is shown to influence prolactin as well as progesterone production over time. Dong quai root (Angelica chinensis) – used extensively in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), dong quai is indicated for conditions of ‘blood stasis’ (deficiency) and has been clinically noted to increase blood flow during menses. Reference: Romm, A. (2010), Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health, Churchill Livingstone. BIO: Donna Koczaja, M.S., RH(AHG) graduated from Maryland University of Integrative Health (formerly Tai Sophia Institute) with a Master of Science in Therapeutic Herbalism and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Clinical Herbalism. She earned Registered Herbalist status from the American Herbalists’ Guild in 2018. Originally educated as a mechanical engineer, she combines the rigor of her original scientific training with the traditional healing art of herbal medicine to partner with her clients to uncover the root cause of their underlying health issues. Also a Master Gardener since 2008, her primary interest is in inspiring others to improve their health and sense of wellbeing through the joys of gardening and the power of natural medicine. Donna currently practices at the MUIH Natural Care Center in Laurel, Maryland and also does virtual consultations. Read more about her, what she does, and why she does it at, or contact her directly at or 240-353-8754.

Under active thyroid in mother.

Missy writes: My mom has an under active thyroid. I have purchased ashwagandha, brahmi, and bladderwrack in powdered form. I’m looking for advice on dosages, & any other suggestions. She is not currently on any other medications. Thanks for your question. An under-active thyroid is not uncommon in post menopausal women; however, I am not sure how you’ve determined that her thyroid is under-active nor what symptoms she might be experiencing thus making your question difficult to answer. If she has not been seen by her doctor this is where I would start. They should recommend that she have a complete blood panel done as many factors can influence the thyroid and cause secondary hypothyroidism. Her doctor will also check to see if there is a lack of iodine in her diet and do a physical exam to see if she may have a goiter. Some hypothyroidism is due to an autoimmune issues, so it’s very important that she consult her doctor to find the root cause. Next I would ask if she is under a stress. Stress can definitely affect all aspects of the body and could indirectly affect the thyroid. Herbs known as adaptogens might be helpful in this case. This would include (as you mentioned), but not limited to ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum), a/k/a tulsi. There are two wonderful books on adaptogens which I’ve listed below. (1) Weight gain can be a function of an underachieve thyroid. She should make sure that she eats a nutritious diet and gets daily exercise if possible. Again, I have listed several helpful books. (2) Good luck. (1) Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief by David Winston and Steven Maimes Adaptogens in Medical Herbalism by Donald Yance (2) The Thyroid Diet Revolution by Mary J. Shomon Menopausal Years, the Wise Woman Way, by Susan S. Weed Is Your Thyroid Making You Fat? by Sanford Siegal, DO, MD Jayne Tamburello has a master’s degree in Herbal Medicine from Maryland University of Integrative Health (MUIH) and is the founder of Invibe Herbal, THE one-stop shop for healthy, organic herbal tea blends. Please visit our website at: Jayne is also a licensed nutritionist (LDN), a certified nutritionist specialist (CNS) and a registered herbalist with the American Herbalist Guild, RH(AHG). She can be reached

A different type of weight loss “pyramid”

With all the choices out there, eating healthy and losing weight can be a challenge. Therefore, I have put together a food pyramid to help make sense of it all. I’ve added my name to this one in order to differentiate it from the one the USDA (US Department of Agriculture) puts out. If you follow this pyramid, you most likely will lose weight and support proper blood sugar levels. I would also recommend consuming herbal teas depending on your goal (weight loss, stress reduction, etc.). One of the benefits of this pyramid is that the longer you stay on it, the more you will find that your desire for sweets, alcohol and baked goods will decrease. Good luck!! Jayne Tamburello has a master’s degree in Herbal Medicine from Maryland University of Integrative Health (MUIH) and is the founder of Invibe Herbal, THE one-stop shop for healthy, organic herbal tea blends. Please visit our website at: Jayne is also a licensed nutritionist (LDN), a certified nutritionist specialist (CNS) and a registered herbalist with the American Herbalist Guild, RH(AHG). She can be reached

Kitchen Medicine for Immune and Respiratory Support

Most of us are preoccupied with COVID-19 right now, and for good reason. We’ve had to drastically change the way go about our day to day lives in order to protect each other, slow the spread of the virus and avoid overwhelming our healthcare system. Here in my state of Maryland we’re currently under a ‘shelter at home order’. We’re getting new information all the time, and there is so much uncertainty… Naturally there has been a lot of discussion about herbal medicine in relation to COVID-19 and many of my colleagues have weighed in, there’s a lot to talk about. So, what are herbalists saying and doing? We are approaching this in the way that we approach viral respiratory infections in general, informed by what has been learned from working with SARS in the past, and in relation to the current virus, from TCM treatment in China and case reports here in the US. It’s important to remember that, as herbalists, our work is not trying to prevent or treat a disease. That’s not what herbalists do or what herbal medicine is. We work with people and support body systems and functions. What does that mean? It means that we help the body to its many jobs, first by making sure that it has everything it needs in terms of nutrients, hydration, sleep, movement, fresh air and sunshine. To this end we would examine diet, lifestyle, and environment – in this case with a particular focus on immune and respiratory health. See this ATH post by my friend Donna of Green Haven Living for more on that. In relation to nutrition and lifestyle there are two things that particularly stand out for me right now: Vitamin D status plays many important roles immune function, modulating inflammation, interfering with viral replication and lifecycle, and more. This recent review published in the journal Nutrients examines these roles. Exercise, aerobic exercise specifically, stimulates the production of and important antioxidant, extracellular superoxide dismutase, that recent research suggests plays an important role in reducing the risk and decreasing the severity of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Read a summary of the research here. Once nutrition and lifestyle are sorted out, we would turn our focus to herbs that support immune function and respiratory health, and to manage fevers. Obviously, we’re hoping to stay healthy and avoid getting sick, but if you do get sick herbs can help your body do what it needs to do to work through that. An important word of caution. While the majority of people experience mild to moderate illness with this virus, another feature of this illness is that it can take a quick turn and a person’s condition can deteriorate rapidly; sometimes even after they seem to be recovering. So be sure to read the section below titled “When to seek medical help”. With that said, here are some of the properties of herbs that can give us better chance of staying healthy and to support our bodies in moving through a viral respiratory infection if needed: Thin mucus, loosen phlegm, and move congestion up and out of the lungs Ease spasmodic coughs and make them more productive Help manage fevers should the need arise Enhance immune function Stimulate anti-inflammatory activity Stimulate antioxidant activity There are actually a lot of herbs that that can support us in accomplishing these goals and in considering the way in which I could best be of service in adding my voice to this very robust conversation, and in light of recent issues in the availability of many herbs and delays in shipping, I decided to focus on a few herbs that should be widely available and familiar to you. In fact, these herbs are so familiar that you may be tempted to take them for granted, but you shouldn’t. Your greatest allies for respiratory and immune support are probably already in your kitchen; and if they’re not you can probably get them easily, even now. Herbs that you may already have on hand or can probably obtain easily, even now. Garlic Ginger Cinnamon Fennel Thyme Sage Peppermint Chamomile Mushrooms A common feature of the COVID-19 illness seems to deep lung congestion. Garlic, ginger, cinnamon, and fennel all have in their repertoire of herbal actions an activity called warming expectoration. This means that they bring warmth to the lungs, help to thin mucus, loosen phlegm and move congestion out of the lungs. These herbs have been worked with in this way historically, and contemporary studies show that garlic can enhance immune function and reduce the severity and duration of cold and flu symptoms. Cinnamon and fennel also have demulcent properties which means that they are moistening and soothing; this might seem counterintuitive in the case of deep lung congestion, but this action is one of the ways that mucus gets thinned and loosened so it can be expelled. Ginger is a potent, systemic anti-inflammatory and it also has antispasmodic activity so it can help ease spastic coughs while encouraging more productive ones; and it is a terrific helper in managing fevers, as is peppermint. More on that below. Thyme and sage both have antispasmodic properties as well and are powerful anti-inflammatories and gentle astringents for mucus membranes so they can help ease irritated, spastic coughs and soothe sore throats. In addition to having immune modulating properties, mushrooms also stimulate immune response to the presence of pathogens. Maitake and shitake are well known medicinal mushrooms that are widely available, and it is highly likely that all mushrooms exhibit these properties so get what is available. How to work with the herbs To support and enhance health Integrate these herbs into your daily routine. Incorporate them into every meal and have tea in between. Here are some ideas: If you like to have oatmeal for breakfast add some cinnamon and fennel. If you prefer a savory breakfast include sautéed onions and garlic and add some thyme, sage and rosemary, these work really well with sweet potatoes. Have a chai blend tea that includes ginger, cinnamon, and fennel. You can blend this yourself (look for a recipe below) just use fresh ginger instead of dried. Avoid the premade chai beverages that come in boxes, they usually contain a lot of sugar. Prepare a broth with garlic, mushrooms, and herbs like thyme, sage, oregano and rosemary. Make soup with it or have a couple cups of it as is each day. You can make the broth from chicken or beef bones if you like or you can buy boxed organic broth and use that if you don’t happen to have bones. Mild to Moderate Illness Coughs and Congestion Coughs serve an important function when they are productive and bring mucus and phlegm up and out of the lungs. Sometimes though, mucus gets thick and sticky and feels stuck. This situation calls for the warming expectorants and demulcents mentioned above. Sip on a tea prepared from combinations of these herbs throughout the day. Alternatively, if you don’t have the energy to simmer the herbs, have a couple spoonsful of garlic-honey syrup that you’ve prepared ahead of time several times a day. You can also stir the syrup into warm water with some lemon and have it as beverage. Spasmodic coughs, where involuntary muscle contractions seem to be driving much of the coughing reflex, call for antispasmodics and demulcents like ginger, chamomile, cinnamon, and fennel. Fevers Fevers are an important part of your body’s immune response and, in the vast majority of cases, are not cause for fear. There are two main categories of fevers and generally, both are experienced during the course of an illness. One type of fever, often experienced in the early stages of illness, is characterized by chills, tension, and an inability to get warm. These are indications for a warming diaphoretic like ginger. Another type of fever is characterized by feeling to hot and is often accompanied by tension and irritability. These are indications for a cooling diaphoretic like peppermint. Chamomile can be combined with either of these to help ease tension. For a more nuanced discussion of herbal fever management check out this Herb Mentor Radio podcast featuring herbalist Jim McDonald. Sore Throat Sore throats usually accompany viral respiratory infections, and this calls for herbs with demulcent, anti-inflammatory, and gentle astringent properties. You can gargle with these or sip them through the day. Cinnamon, fennel, cardamom with honey for gentle moistening and soothing. Thyme with lemon and honey for sore throat caused by irritation from mucus and phlegm. Sage with lemon and honey for a hot, dry sore throat. Lemon and honey in water by themselves will help in a pinch. Immune Support Keep drinking your mushroom, garlic and herb broth, only now have more of it – more like 4 -6 cups per day. Recipes A note on preparing herbal beverages: Hard plant parts like roots, barks and seeds need to be simmered; this preparation is referred to as a decoction. Soft plant parts are prepared by boiling eater and then pouring it over the herbs; this is referred to as an infusion. If you want to combine soft and hard plant parts in one preparation simmer your hard plant parts, remove from heat, add your soft plant parts and cover. Scale these recipes up or down, according to your needs. Garlic, Ginger, Cinnamon decoction ½ tablespoon grated fresh ginger 1 cinnamon stick 2 cloves garlic Simmer 20 minutes in 2 cups water add a slice of lemon and a little honey. If you are feeling overly warm omit the ginger and replace with coriander seeds. Peppermint Chamomile Infusion 1 tablespoon loose chamomile or two chamomile teabags 1 tablespoon loose peppermint or two peppermint teabags Infuse, covered, in 2 cups boiled water. Strain. Thyme/Sage infusion 1 teaspoon dried herb Infuse in 1 cup boiled water. Strain and add lemon and honey. Ginger Chamomile Tea ½ tablespoon fresh grated ginger 1 tablespoon loose chamomile or 2 chamomile teabags Simmer ginger for 20 minutes in 2 cups water. Add chamomile, cover and steep for 10 minutes. Strain Garlic Honey Fill a glass jar ¾ full with sliced garlic and cover with honey. This draws the water from the garlic and will naturally make a syrup. This can be taken a few hours after preparing but will be stronger after a few days. Chai Spice Tea ½ tablespoon fresh grated ginger 1 tablespoon cinnamon chips or 1 cinnamon stick 1 tablespoon dried orange peel ½ tablespoon fennel seed ½ teaspoon peppercorns ½ teaspoon cloves Simmer gently in 4-6 cups of water for 30 minutes. Add honey if desired Immune Support Broth Crush several cloves of garlic (I often use an entire bulb) Mince 2 tablespoons of ginger Chop 2 to 4 handfuls of mushrooms into bite size pieces Sauté 2 minutes in a 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot Add 8 cups of broth or broth-water mixture Add herbs like thyme, sage, oregano, and rosemary to taste. Use fresh herbs if you have them, dried if you don’t. Cover and Simmer gently for 2 hours When to seek medical attention While most people infected with the novel corona virus develop mild illness or remain asymptomatic, it is important to remember that there are some of unusual characteristics this illness, including: It can take a rapid turn for the worse It is possible to feel like you’re breathing comfortably yet still not have enough oxygen in your blood If your symptoms worsen don’t hesitate to seek medical attention. In addition to herbal support, you can check out this website for CDC advice for caring for yourself at home, and check out this podcast on herbal home nursing from Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism. Monitor your symptoms and seek medical attention immediately if you develop any these symptoms that the CDC considers emergency warning signs. Trouble breathing (I would add shortness of breath, just for clarity) Persistent pain or pressure in the chest New confusion or inability to arouse Bluish lips or face Renata is a clinical herbalist with a private practice in Greenbelt, MD. She helps women build a solid foundation of wellness while working together to address their unique health concerns so they can live life with vibrance and vitality. She has a BS in Chemistry from University of Maryland, a MS in Therapeutic Herbalism, and a Post Masters Certificate in Clinical Herbalism from Maryland University of Integrative Health. Find her at and on Facebook @renatalynnclinicalherbalist and sign up her newsletter here.

Top 20 foods for immune health

Your body’s immune system is a remarkable machine designed to protect you from harmful threats that may arise from outside or inside your own body. Overall, the immune system generates an inflammatory response that can be specific to a certain area (think infection) or a generalized area (think fever), and targets the threat with various defense cells. Although our immune system always strives to rid us of foreign invaders, what makes people sick is a combination of environmental exposure and their level of resilience. Although you can’t always control exposure, you can make dietary choices that give your disease-fighting cells some serious support. Many people don’t realize just how significantly our diet can influence our immunity. The following 20 science-backed foods provide various benefits to immune health. 1. Elderberries The berries and flowers of elderberries, from the plant species Sambucus nigra, are fully loaded with immune-bolstering anti-oxidants and vitamins. Elderberry, a strong anti-viral, is particularly effective at fighting upper respiratory infections. 2. Chocolate Not all chocolate is equally healthy. Milk and white chocolate, for example, have relatively few, if any immunity perks. The darker the chocolate, the greater the health benefits. Dark chocolate contains much higher levels of flavonoids, anti-oxidants that protect our cells from damage and inflammation. Dark chocolate contains high levels of flavonoids, antioxidants that protect our cells from damage and inflammation. Did you know? A recent pilot study found that among participants who ate one dark chocolate bar every day for a week, the chocolate boosted immune-supportive white blood cells and activated certain pathways involved in cellular immune response. 3. Turmeric This golden yellow, bitter spice is a key component in curry dishes and has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine to address a range of inflammatory conditions, such as allergies, diabetes, and ulcers. Studies have shown that curcumin, the primary active compound in turmeric, may modulate the immune system by activating certain immune cells and targeting proinflammatory cytokines. These effects may contribute to the benefits of curcumin seen in certain immune-related conditions, including allergy, asthma, and arthritis. 4. Fatty fish The star components of fatty fish—omega-3 fatty acids— have long been appreciated for lowering the risk of coronary disease, heart failure, and death from heart disease. The specific omega-3s eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) exert many of their health benefits thanks to their anti-inflammatory properties. For example, EPA and DHA from oily fish have been found to reduce levels of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids involved in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Wild salmon or smaller fish such as anchovies, herring, and sardines are high in omega-3s, while flaxseed, walnuts, and chia seeds provide certain plant-based omega-3s, which are converted to small amounts of EPA and DHA in the body. 5. Ginger Ginger is widely consumed worldwide. It has been used for thousands of years in folk medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Ayurveda. A pungent spice for both savory and sweet dishes, ginger boasts strong anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects, the cornerstones of a healthy immune system. Research has shown that ginger may inhibit certain inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, and other immune-related conditions, including allergies, asthma, and colds. Ginger has strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that are crucial for a healthy immune system. 6. Garlic Garlic is the edible bulb from a plant in the lily family, traditionally used for many health reasons by people the world over. Garlic’s immune-boosting properties come from a high concentration of sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin. These compounds have been found to significantly reduce inflammation and protect against certain bacteria, such as Helicobacter pylori. 7. Cruciferous vegetables Cruciferous vegetables, also known as Brassica vegetables, include cabbage, collards, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, and mustard greens, among others. Similar to garlic, these plants provide sulfur-containing compounds, as well as vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytonutrients. Research suggests that cruciferous vegetables may support immune health by reducing the risk of certain cancers, such as gastric and prostate cancers, as well as by exerting anti-microbial activity, which may protect against gastrointestinal infections. (32) Some studies have found that cooking brassicas reduce their levels of certain nutrients, such as carotenoids, vitamin C, and polyphenols. Try to consume these veggies raw, steamed, or lightly cooked. Kale, spinach, and broccoli are top choices for fighting off colds and the flu. 8. Matcha green tea Matcha, produced when young green tea leaves are steamed and then ground into a fine bright-green powder, has a lush, almost sweet, vegetal flavor. Green tea supports the immune system by providing antioxidants that protect against free radicals and oxidative damage. Whereas both green and black teas are packed with anti-oxidants called flavonoids, matcha provides an abundance of a specific type of flavonoid called catechins. A study at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs shows that catchetin concentration in matcha is 137 times greater than the amount found in China Green Tips green tea and roughly three times higher than most green teas. 9. Kefir Probiotics are friendly microorganisms, including certain bacteria and yeast, thought to play a direct role in immune function. Probiotics are found in foods such as yogurt and kefir, a fermented beverage that can be made from dairy or non-dairy liquids, including sweetened water. The probiotics in kefir may alter the gastrointestinal microbiota by increasing beneficial microbes and reducing certain species of pathogenic microbes. A plethora of studies suggests regular consumption of dairy kefir can help with fighting gut-disruptive bacteria. (5) Plain, unsweetened kefir is a better choice than flavored varieties, which come loaded with sugar. If desired, you can flavor unsweetened kefir yourself by adding fruit or natural sweeteners such as honey. 10. Chili peppers Chili peppers provide an alkaloid known as capsaicin, which demonstrates anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties. This compound may modulate immune function and prevent tumor development by reducing the secretion of certain signaling compounds, including tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) and several interleukins. 11. Apples Apple skins contain the flavonoid quercetin, a pigment that can help regulate the immune system and allergic reactions. Quercetin, also found in berries, grapes, broccoli, and tea, is known to decrease inflammation and demonstrates anti-allergic activity. In a study that examined the food consumption of children living on the island of Crete, researchers found that children who ate apples, along with other fresh produce, as part of their core diet had greater protection against both allergies and asthma. 12. Citrus fruits Most people instinctively turn to citrus fruits if they feel a cold coming on, whether it’s hot water with lemon, orange juice, or slices of fresh grapefruit. Citrus is rich in vitamin C, an anti-oxidant and immune-supportive nutrient. When consumed in high amounts, vitamin C may decrease the severity and duration of the common cold. Citrus is also high in phenolic compounds and terpenes, which exhibit anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory effects. Citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits increase the production of white blood cells, fortifying your immune system to help fight infections. 13. Cranberries Cranberries, a seasonal superfood, are crammed with nutrients linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, neurodegenerative conditions, and urinary tract infections. (28) Cranberries contain high levels of anti-oxidant proanthocyanidins (PACs), which can prevent certain types of bacteria from adhering to the urinary tract walls and causing infections. Traditionally eaten at Thanksgiving, it’s worth expanding your cranberry repertoire to include dishes year-round. Try drinking cranberry juice or adding dried, unsweetened cranberries to salads, oatmeal, muffins, and trail mix. 14. Fennel A culinary herb and medicinal plant with a flavor similar to licorice, fennel is a lesser-known immune-boosting herb but is worth adding to your staple of home remedies. Fennel boasts high amounts of fiber, vitamins, and minerals including calcium, potassium, and phosphorus. Research has shown that fennel has anti-microbial and anti-viral activity. The literature also suggests that fennel has the potential to protect against infections and various gastrointestinal conditions. 15. Sage The botanical herb sage, which can be made into tea, has been used for centuries as a traditional herbal remedy for sore throats, coughs, and colds. (12) One study found that drinking sage tea twice a day for four weeks improved participants’ lipid profile (the blood levels of cholesterol and fats) and anti-oxidant reserves, both key markers of a robust immune system. Did you know? Free radical damage and oxidative stress have been associated with weakened immune function. Sage contains various anti-oxidant compounds which protect against this damage, including rosmarinic acid and carnosic acid. 16. Shiitake mushrooms Shiitake, one of the most popular culinary and medicinal mushrooms, contain specific polysaccharides which have shown anti-viral activity. Further, in one study, participants who consumed either 5 or 10 g of mushrooms daily for a month had improved immune markers and reduced inflammation. Shiitake mushrooms add a rich, earthy, savory taste that makes a great complement to stir-fry, soups, and stews. 17. Nuts Nuts are among the best sources of vitamin E, a fat soluble anti-oxidant involved in immune function. Vitamin E has immunomodulatory effects which include stimulating the activity of natural killer (NK) cells, white blood cells involved in the innate immune response. The vitamin may reduce the risk of certain infections, including respiratory infections. Furthermore, vitamin E deficiency may result in an impaired immune response. Ensure you are getting enough vitamin E in your diet by consuming nuts, including almonds and hazelnuts, and other vitamin E-rich foods regularly. 18. Oats Whole oats contain beta-glucans, compounds that increase the activity of immune cells such as macrophages, natural killer cells, and neutrophils. Several animal studies show that beta-glucan enhances the immune system’s ability to ward off a wide range of pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. However, clinical trials are needed to establish the effect of oat beta-glucans in humans. To glean the most benefit from oats, consume them in their whole grain form, such as whole grain groats, thick oats, and steel-cut oats. The whole grain provides immune-supportive nutrients including selenium, zinc, and vitamin E. Oats are a great source of selenium and zinc, two key ingredients for a hardy immune system. 19. Olive oil This tasty oil, a core component of the Mediterranean diet, contains oleocanthal, a phenolic compound that has anti-inflammatory properties comparable to ibuprofen, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication. Two or three tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil each day, drizzled on salads, vegetables, or grains, does wonders for immune health. When possible, choose extra-virgin olive oil, which has a high concentration of anti-oxidants, including vitamin E and phenolic compounds. A study that compared the effects of daily consumption of olive oil to soybean, corn, and butter mixture found a significant increase in virus-busting white blood cells amongst participants who consumed olive oil. 20. Beans Beans, a staple protein source in many parts of the world, are also high in soluble fiber, which is fermented in the gut by microbiota. Certain soluble fibers act as prebiotics, which may support gastrointestinal health and immune health in various ways, including reducing symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease and reducing the risk and duration of infectious diarrhea. Beans also have an abundance of folate, a B vitamin required for the production and regular cell cycle of certain immune cells. The bottom line A wide variety of diverse foods, especially fruits and vegetables, can have a huge impact on your immune system’s resilience. Foods may support immune function in various ways, including regulating inflammation, increasing resilience against infections, and by exhibiting anti-microbial and anti-cancer effects. To reap the most benefits, try to regularly incorporate a variety of the top immune boosting foods listed above. This article has been brought to you by Fullscript. For the full article and references, please go to: