During this time of year, we talk a lot about allergies: what we can do to up the body’s defenses, mitigate symptoms, and so on. But what we often seem to forget about are all those opportune viruses that flourish in the spring.
Obviously, spring is the perfect time for deep cleaning — inside and out. The body wants to slough off the debris of winter, and sometimes that means carrying around a nasty virus for what seems like ages (and ages).
Unlike bacterial infections, there’s no quick cure (like antibiotics) for viruses. They just hang on and on until we finally fight them off or they’ve run their course. What we can do is allow them to do just that — deal with the runny nose, the coughing, the aches and pains — and realize that the body is using this virus as an evacuation system. All those cruddy, mucky, wintertime hitchhikers that have taken up residence in your system? Viruses are a means of flushing them out.
But sometimes the virus just hangs out for so long that you wonder if you’ll ever be rid of it. Also, some serious conditions (think chronic fatigue, eczema, some forms of arthritis) can be caused or exacerbated by a lingering virus.
If this is the case, take heart. There are some seriously hardcore herbs out there at your disposal.
1. Prickly ash bark.
This is one mother of an antiviral, good also for chronic infections, depression, and digestive complaints (all which seem to tag along with long-term viruses). Go for the tincture and disregard the package directions. According to the ever-illuminating herbalist Matthew Wood, an effective and therapeutic dose is 1-3 drops of tincture three times a day, no matter your age, weight, or size. Note: prickly ash bark can affect lactation, so use cautiously if you're breastfeeding.
2. Apple cider vinegar.
Mix two tablespoons of raw apple cider vinegar with eight ounces of water and a splash of lemon juice (sweeten with stevia if you like) and drink on an empty stomach three times a day. You can also apply vinegar to any affected areas of the skin, covering the area with a soft bandage (this is more easily done before going to sleep).
3. Oil of oregano.
Another serious antiviral and antioxidant, you can take oil oregano internally (1-4 drops in water twice a day), or externally on affected skin. Use cautiously if pregnant.
Eat as much garlic as you can stand. Seriously. A lot. And then eat more. If you can’t stand to eat it, get the capsules (you can find odorless ones) and take lots. Lots and lots and lots. For viral infections on the skin, you can pulp raw garlic and wrap it in gauze. Apply the poultice to the affected area (but don’t use for longer than two weeks). If you have a serious condition such as AIDS or cancer, avoid garlic if there's also a fever present.
5. Goldenseal or Oregon grape.
Goldenseal is a fantastic antiviral, but can be expensive as well as endangered and over harvested. If you can find it, take Oregon grape, the much less expensive, much more abundant cousin to goldenseal. Since both of these herbs contain berberine (which can kill off too much of your natural intestinal flora), take this for one week, then take a week off before resuming. Avoid it if you're pregnant.
6. St. John’s Wort
St. John’s Wort not only offers relief from depression, but it also helps fight viruses and boosts the immune system. Take the recommended dose, following bottle directions. Avoid if you’re currently taking an MAO or protease inhibitor.
Otherwise, all the usual general health stuff applies — fresh fruit and vegetables, exercise, fresh air (especially fresh air). But listen to your body. Viruses can sap our energy and if we exhaust ourselves, then it’s just an invitation for them to hang out longer.
In other words, no matter how much you want to go on that really long bike ride, don’t hop yourself up on caffeine just to get it done. Rest when you have to, exercise when you want to. Sleep, nourish, and get a little sun. Even though it seems like the trees leaf out overnight, we all know that it takes a long, dark winter along with a few slow weeks of sun to prepare the blossoms to open.