‘Tis the Season…

February 11, 2014

You survived it…the summer of beach time, barbecues, block parties, late nights. ‘Tis a new season as we face the reality of head colds and flu…and surviving that!

Simple colds and flu are, in my humble opinion, a blessing, although an uncomfortable one, as I sit here, writing while nursing one of my own. Our bodies crave balance, a state that we rarely achieve. When we lose touch with that balance, we accumulate excesses in the body and energy stagnates, making organ function sluggish with overwork. A cold or the flu can be thought of as the body’s way of getting rid of some of that excessive build-up…through sneezing, coughing, fever, sweating and chills. It’s not pretty, but it can be very effective. Think about how great you feel in the weeks after a bout with the flu or a particularly nasty cold. You feel lighter, more alert, stronger. You think you can take on the world…and this would be the best time to do just that!

When we are healthy and strong, colds and flu are inconvenient and knock us out for a few days, but if we are philosophical, we can look at them as an opportunity to catch up on some rest and recharge our batteries. When we are not in good overall health; are compromised in our immune function, we suffer a lot more with simple colds or the flu.

What compromises our day to day immune function and how can we maintain our strength for the cold and flu season ahead? It begins, not surprisingly, in the kitchen. Eating a diet based in whole, unprocessed, seasonal foods works wonders for keeping our bodies strong and healthy. Eating a diet largely based on plant foods makes us even stronger. It will come as no surprise that a diet rich in saturated fats, simple sugars, preservatives and additives, junk food, fast food and food that is devoid of life all compromise our immune function on some level, making it harder for our body to protect itself.

So am I saying that if you eat a healthy diet, you need not worry about cold and flu season? I love happy thoughts as much as the next guy, but…most likely, you will not escape these little illnesses just because you eat well. But before you put this article aside and run to the drive-through window, consider this. If you are healthy and strong going into the cold and flu season, it is very likely that you will not suffer as much with the symptoms…the duration and severity can be much less taxing than if you are already compromised.

How do we help fortify ourselves in this season? Eating lots of veggies, particularly the dark leafy green varieties, will keep us strong, as they are rich in vitamin C, a potent source of immune-enhancing, virus-destroying vitamin. Also a rich source of zinc and other minerals, greens can really help to ward off colds and flu. Sure, you can take these compounds as supplements, but the body can use them so much more efficiently as food. But it is your choice…both will be effective.

I have found that taking Echinacea can be quite helpful in preventing colds and flu. I take it whenever someone close to me shows the first symptoms and it has been pretty effective at keeping my own symptoms, if I get them at all, pretty minimal. Astragalus is also a brilliant immune booster to consider during cold and flu season…anything to boost your reserves of strength.

Okay, but suppose you have done all you can do and wham! You don’t just have a cold or the flu…you are hammered by it. First and most important, go to bed! Rest; stay warm and drink plenty of water. Just like our mothers said, it will be the best thing for you. Next, try this simple tea for relief. French herbalists believe that thyme contains volatile essential oils that promote freer breathing. Simply take 1 teaspoon of dried thyme, steep it in one cup of just boiled water, covered for 5 minutes. For a stronger brew, add 1 teaspoon of fresh ginger juice to the tea (but not if you have a fever). Take this tea once a day for 3 days.

You can also make a tea from fresh lotus root to dry out sinus cavities and ease breathing. Simply grate 4-5 tablespoons of lotus root and squeeze the juice into 1 cup of water. Add a pinch of salt and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Drink while hot. You can repeat this tea once a day for 3 days.

To open your breathing topically, try adding 5 drops of essential oil of eucalyptus to a basin of warm water. Tent a towel over your head and breathe deeply over the warm basin for about 7 minutes. It is not only effective, but immensely comforting.

And then there are the tried and true homeopathic cold remedies, Cold Calm, being my personal favorite. Two of these little white tablets and relief is minutes away. And for the aches and pains of flu, go with Oscillococcinum (say that three times fast with a fever). It works like a charm and helps you feel less lousy so you can rest. You can find either of these in a natural food store and some pharmacies.

As for food? Well, you may not be all that hungry and that is perfectly fine. It is more important that you drink plenty of water than eat. Skip the orange juice…too much sugar, which will only suppress immune function. Should your appetite be intact, remember that spicy foods will stimulate circulation and speed up the process of discharge. Add garlic, ginger, chili spices, black pepper and cayenne to comforting foods like soups, stews, casseroles…all easy to digest, but hearty enough to keep you nourished and prevent weakness. Oh, and skip the mucous-forming foods…dairy products…at least for the duration of your cold.

And remember, should your cold or flu last more than 2 weeks; should you have a persistent fever; if nasal discharges are green or thick…see a doctor.

Enjoy the season…with all its gorgeous challenges! And here are a few recipes to keep you comfy should a cold strike.

Simmered Tofu and Vegetables
There’s nothing like a warm and cozy stew when you are not feeling your best. This combination relaxes tension in your achy shoulders and helps you get rid of toxins quickly.

Makes 3-4 servings

miso broth:
3 cups spring or filtered water
3-inch piece kombu
2 shallots, diced (or one half red onion)
1 carrot, diced
1 cup diced daikon
1 cup small cauliflower florets
1 tablespoon barley miso
2 stalks broccoli, small florets
extra virgin olive oil
1 package extra firm tofu, cubed
1-2 fresh scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

Place water and vegetables (except broccoli and scallions) in a medium soup pot over medium heat.

Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, add tofu and cook until daikon is tender, about 15 minutes. Remove a small amount of broth and puree miso. Stir miso back into broth with broccoli.

Simmer 5-6 minutes, until the broccoli is crisp tender. Take care not to boil the miso as this will destroy the enzymes.

To serve, spoon vegetables, tofu and broth into individual bowls and sprinkle with scallions. Serve hot.

Lemon-Scented Oven-Roasted Winter Squash
Sweet and comforting, roasted squash relaxes the spleen, pancreas and stomach and settles down upset.

Makes 3-4 servings

3 cups 1-inch cubes of winter squash
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt
brown rice syrup
grated zest of 1 fresh lemon
juice of _ (one half) fresh lemon

Preheat oven to 375o.

Place squash cubes in a mixing bowl. Drizzle generously with oil, sprinkle lightly with salt, drizzle with rice syrup and add lemon zest. Stir well to coat squash. Transfer to a shallow baking dish, avoiding overlap. Cover tightly and bake for 45 minutes. Remove cover and return to oven and brown the edges of the vegetables.

To serve, simply sprinkle lightly with lemon juice and serve hot.

Burdock Kinpira
I call this dish ‘rocket fuel’ because it gives you so much energy…the perfect dish for getting back on your feet after a bout of the sniffles.

Makes 3-4 servings

extra virgin olive oil
4-5 slices fresh ginger, fine matchstick pieces
2 cloves fresh garlic, thinly sliced
1 cup fine matchsticks burdock
sea salt
generous pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup fine matchstick carrots
soy sauce
2-3 sprigs fresh parsley, finely minced

Place about 2 tablespoons oil in a cast iron skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, stir in ginger, garlic, burdock, a pinch of salt and red pepper flakes and sauté for 2 minutes. Stir in carrot, season lightly with soy sauce and sauté until veggies are tender, 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in parsley. Serve hot.