Herbal Ideas about Fevers

How do you use herbs with fevers?

This discussion will not go into the causes of fevers in detail, as it is a very basic outline. But you can look at 4 things:

·         History: What has led to the fever? Heat from the outside (External causes) such as outside heat and humidity, exercise?  Heat from an infection or reaction (External going into the Internal core of a person)? Ask about recent colds, sniffles, drugs, foods, cuts and scrapes, even things like ingrown toenails and dental problems. You are certainly not going to medically diagnose or treat fevers. But knowing even a little history helps you know what fevers are safe to take care of at home and which need to have hospital care.

·         Course: How long has the fever been going on, and how fast did it appear? How fast did it rise?

·         Person’s state (assessment): pale cool and dry or flushed warm and damp? Talkative or listless and withdrawn?

·         What related things are going on? This article is just focusing on fever, but you always look at the whole person. That way when you make a combination of herbs you can choose the least number of herbs that do the most in overlapping, complementary ways.

Gentle support of a person with a fever…is the main thing to remember. Don’t force sweating, don’t overheat by wrapping or bundling, don’t try to chill a person. Provide comfort, prevent shivering and dehydration. Again, more details about assessment and when to call the doctor are part of a separate article, in order to keep this reading outline simple and the information in smaller more digestible amounts!

A few “regular medicine” facts and ideas about fevers and the risk of dehydration…

Adults generally have 5 or 6 liters of fluid in their circulatory system. Think of about 3 of those large plastic soda bottles (2 liter size). From heat and sweating you can lose up to 1 liter of fluid/day. If a person also has vomiting or diarrhea you can easily deplete your circulating fluid volume by another 1-2 liters within a few hours. If your kidneys do not receive adequate fluid volume, they begin to shut down. This is the beginning of shock, and it is not to be taken lightly, especially with children, who have much less fluid volume to lose. This is why you need to help a feverish, sweating person keep their fluid volume up.

Fluid check and replacement:

·         A good urine output means you have enough volume to circulate through the kidneys. Producing 1 milliliter per kilogram per hour is a very general rule. That means a 50 Kg (110 pound) person should make about 50ml of pee per hour. So if you go to the bathroom after 4 hours you should put out 200ml at least, or about 1 cup’s worth.

·         If you haven’t produced any urine within 8 hours, you need more knowledgeable assessment and possibly treatment also.

·         Even if someone is vomiting, you can give 1 to 2  teaspoon of fluids every 15 minutes and they can get 100 to 150 mls of fluid per hour.

·         Learn to keep track of Intake and Output in a person, especially a child, with a fever.

Herbs and things used with fevers:

·         Peak fever times are around 6am and 4pm…so time herbal materials to an hour or two before these times to help smooth out possible temperature increases.

·         Hot, red appearance, fast-rising fever….warm dilute liquids, assist sweating with cooling diaphoretic herbs. Teas to sip with lemon balm, peppermints, elder flower, basils, yarrow. Boneset tea for aggressively rising fevers…I have used this as a very dilute tea, ½ teaspoon dried leaf per cup of hot water, given ¼ cup every hour for 4 hours.  It can cause stomach upset and diarrhea so don’t overdo it. Generally teas should be equal amounts of the above herbs in a concentration of 1 teaspoon per cup. Adding a little honey, rosehips and mint does wonders.

·         Pale, weak with nagging low grade fever….avoid cold foods, use hot teas, broths, seaweeds, dilute chicken soup, use warming diaphoretic herbs: garlic, elecampane, cayenne, thyme. Add deeper strengthening herbs to help overcome deficiency, such as spikenard, sarsaparilla, astragalus, burdock roots. Note these deeper supporters are roots rather than leaves and flowers.

·         Avoid salicylate-containing herbs especially in children, teens, folks recovering from viral illnesses particularly chicken pox, or people with a known aspirin allergy. Some of these include willow, linden, and violet. This is due to the possibility of Reye’s syndrome, a poorly understood but very serious reaction that can cause seizures and organ damage.

·         Warm baths with bath herbs such as hops, oatstraw, lavender and mint can smooth out fevers as well as soothing aches. This is less stressful to the body than over-bundling or sponging.

·         Think: a little salt, a little sugar, a little potassium, a little protein. Bone broth or seaweed broth, with a little onion, garlic, thyme, and very cooked potato or carrot, includes these essential fluids, nutrients and fever-mediating herbs as well.

World Health Organization oral rehydration recipe:

3 teaspoons sugar          ½ teaspoon salt          4 ounces orange juice or mashed banana 

1 liter (4.25 cups) of water 

I have made an “herbal version” of this recipe using cooked mashed raisin and apple, honey and canning salt (rather than table salt).

Some references:

Uphold, C. and Graham, M. Clinical Guidelines in Family Practice, 4th edition 2003 Barmarrae Books Inc, Gainesville Florida

Hoffman, D. The New Holistic Herbal 1990 Element Inc. Rockport MA

Teachings from Barbara Klokkvold, Sierra School of Herbs and Health and Candace Cantin-Packard, Evergreen Herbal Ministry

11 Apr 2014    "Flu" Information

Best wishes for health and happiness as Spring approaches…hard as that may be to imagine sometimes in this season! There are a lot of news articles reporting increased numbers of people becoming ill with “the flu”.  I hope I can provide a little information that helps you sort out what might be going on and what you can do about it.

People call a lot of illnesses “flu”. Influenza is caused by a specific group of viruses (in the family Orthomyxoviridae) and is NOT caused by any of the other viruses running around making you sick. Other things like rhinovirus cause really nasty colds, which would more correctly be called “influenza-like illness” or ILI. It is good to realize there is a difference. Why? Because the influenza vaccine will only work to protect you from that particular virus, and the anti-viral Tamiflu only works against that same influenza virus.

In Wisconsin for example, designated Region 5 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 58.4% of “flu” patients examined at the end of December 2012 had the influenza virus. Wisconsin is virus vacationland; they love the dry cold weather.  There is some conjecture that the lack of Vitamin D due to the long nights and grey days also makes them frisky.  So this area has the highest incidence on average of this particular bug. The incidence  throughout the country is around 23 to 45%. Guess where the lowest incidence is? California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii, and Guam (Region 9). Remember though, this is just the influenza virus, not the incidence of the total “influenza-like illnesses”: Even during the highest influenza time of year, February, in the highest-incidence area of the country, the likelihood of you having the real flu is 60% or less. In other parts of the country it is considerably less.

Every year the CDC samples thousands of folks all over the country to estimate what influenza vaccine to make ahead of time for next year’s strains of influenza virus. It may or may not be a good match. Some years there is hardly any benefit at all, according to the CDC itself. This year seems to be a moderately good match with estimates of protective benefit from 30 to 60%. There is also less benefit from the vaccine in children under 2 years old and adults over 50 or 60 years old, because their immune systems are not quite as responsive as those of older children and younger adults. They are not as likely to respond to the vaccine by identifying the influenza virus within the vaccine, and then producing enough numbers of influenza antibodies to protect them when they are again exposed to that virus.

This is not an article discouraging you from getting vaccinated. I have my opinions about that which I would be glad to argue with you over a nice mug of hot spiced cider. The point of this information is this: many of the people in the “flu epidemic” areas being reported, may not have influenza. They have an influenza-like illness. And even if they do have influenza, the vaccine is not 100% effective, and it only works really well in older children and younger adults. The anti-influenza Tamiflu is not effective against other viruses. And its effectiveness is not established if you wait 48 hours or more after getting sick to start taking it. You can get vaccinated against influenza, and take prescribed treatments, and you can still get sick with a different virus. You can even still get influenza if you become infected close enough in time to when you receive the vaccination. And finally, antibiotics do not do much to viruses; they kill bacteria. So antibiotics will not help you get over influenza or other viral “flu’s”. They may help you with a secondary bacterial infection, which is part of the confusion about taking antibiotics for “flu”.

So whether you get vaccinations or prescribed medicines or not, the best way to decrease your chance of getting sick, and of limiting the severity of illness if you do get sick, is still to take care of yourself and the people you love. Fortunately, there are many nurturing and savory things in the natural world that subdue or kill influenza and other viruses, and that support appropriate immune responses. I will focus on those subjects here, but there are many other aspects to supporting a person with influenza-like illnesses, such as handwashing and providing good nutrition, rest and adequate fluids.

Elderberry (sambucus nigra), black currant, green tea, juniper berry, propolis…thyme, rosemary, sage, ginger, citrus peel, cinnamon, garlic, and yes, chicken soup….these are just a few of the hundreds of herbs, foods and spices that have been used for centuries to prevent and treat viral illnesses, including influenza. There are now hundreds of studies within the last 10 years validating these effects.  Calendula flower, Echinacea purpurea leaf and flower, wild indigo and false indigo root, leaf and flower, astragalus root, and the mushrooms reishi and shiitake, are further examples of plant medicines shown to be both broadly anti-viral and immuno-modulatory. Much of what these things have in common are anti-oxidant polyphenols, both water- and lipid-soluble. The problem is not what to take but how to narrow down the huge selection to what is convenient, inexpensive and effective for you and your family.

First, prevention. Modern medicine estimates that January and February are going to be the worst months for getting a bad cold or influenza bug. In Ayurveda and other healing traditions, this is the time of year when the energy stocked up by all living things is at its lowest, and we are at our most vulnerable. So start your prevention program in September, and start stocking your immune pantry. Just as importantly this also means not doing all the things we do that severely deplete that pantry, so that by January any virus can just waltz right into your body. As a guideline, remember that viruses like cold and dry weather. They enter your body mostly through the nose, and settle in your larger airways.  So you need to provide warmth, and moist intact airways. You need to stay hydrated so your mucus is thin and can trap and carry away infectious agents of all kinds. Here are some things you might include in your daily and weekly health program:

·         Green tea with added spices such as ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, citrus peel

·         A weekly soup pot with ginger, garlic, thyme, rosemary, bay, basil, and a variety of colors and textures…kale, onion, beet, collards, mustard greens, squashes, chicken with the bones thrown in, beef knuckle bone

·         Avoid respiratory irritants as much as you can…including cigarettes

·         Get plenty of fluids and don’t overdo the alcohol…sips of wine actually help prevent colds

·         Vitamin-C and zinc-containing foods and herbs..I like elderberry, rosehips and sumac flower heads, fresh dark green leafies for Vitamin C, and pumpkin or squash seeds for zinc, but there are many, many others

·         Vitamin D- even in the Winter, get out in the sun; 15 minutes on face and forearms a few times a week can be enough to get you the activated Vitamin D you need. Yummy cod liver oil in those low-light areas, a teaspoon a few times a week is all you folks need!

·         Cultured foods that contain the beneficial bacteria your intestines usually keep in good supply; these produce vitamins, help absorb nutrients and protect the front-line immune system troops of white blood cells within your intestinal lining

·         If you feel particularly susceptible, include more specific materials such as local propolis. Include more specific measures such as use of a neti pot with soothing and anti-viral herbs once or twice a week. Take a hot shower and use small amounts of aromatic essential oils such as eucalyptus on a cloth to provide a refreshing and anti-viral steam to breathe.

·         One of the nice things about Ayurveda is its system for evaluating the unique needs of each person and individualizing the materials and foods used. A Dosha (constitutional) analysis can help you pick out materials best suited to your area, season and personal needs.

·         Do your best in this busy world to get enough sleep. You simply do not make the immune factors you need to kill viruses of any kind, when you are sleep-deprived. I know I sound like your mother; well, she is right!

I have not provided specific doses or more specifically diagnosis-related herbs, since this is an article providing general information and guidelines. More specific herbs and supplements vary depending on the person and their unique combination of health strengths and problems. In the next article though I will provide more recipes that you can make and describe more things you can do at home simply and inexpensively, both to prevent and treat influenza and influenza-like illnesses. I will also review what are the “yellow flag” signs and symptoms to report to your medical practitioner. Part of taking care of yourself naturally is knowing when to get help.

            A final word…the world can be a troubling, stressful, heartbreaking place. I can’t find the double-blind study to back this up, but any practitioner can tell you that when your spirit is worn down, you are more likely to get sick and have a longer time bouncing back. It is more important than you may think, in preventing and limiting that influenza or viral cold, to take the time to smile, to read, to sing, to help others, to pray and to wonder.


References (not in alphabetical order, or APA format, because I can!)

Wang, C. et al. 2001. Advances of research on anti-viral activities of polysaccharides Progress in Biotechnology; abstract retrieved from en.enki.com.cn/Article_en/cjCJFDTOTAL-SWGJ20000104.htm

Zakay-Rones, Z. et al. 2007. Inhibition of several strains of influenza virus in vitro and reduction of symptoms by an elderberry extract during an outbreak of Influenza B Panama. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine Vol.1, Issue 4, August 27 2007

Schutz, K. et al. 2010. Immune-modulating efficacy of a polyphenol-rich beverage on symptoms associated with the common cold: a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, multi-centric clinical study. British Journal of Nutrition Vol. 104, Issue 8 October 2010 pp 1156-1164

Shimizu, T. et al. 2008. Anti-influenza activity of propolis in vitro and its efficacy against influenza infection in mice. Antiviral Chemistry and Chemotherapy 19: 7-13

Website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Seasonal Influenza. www.cdc.gov/flu/slash

Tamiflu website; www.tamiflu.com


Urushima et al. 2010. Randomized trial of vitamin D3: supplementation to prevent seasonal influenza A in school children. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition May, Vol. 91 no. 5, 1255-1260

Gorton, H. and Jarvis, K. 1999. The effectiveness of Vitamin C in preventing and relieving the symptoms of virus-induced respiratory infections. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics Vol. 22, Issue 8, October 1999 p 530-533

Hobbs, Christopher. 1995.Medicinal Mushrooms: An Exploration of Tradition, Healing and Culture, 2nd ed. Botanica Press, Santa Cruz, California

14 Sep 2012    Peeling the Onion: An Outline for Treating Seasonal Allergies
1 Aug 2012    Cinnamon and Diabetes

Hi again herbal enthusiasts! 

After getting an herbal question about cinnamon, I found out that cinnamon does indeed lower the blood sugar. 
There is one kind of famous study, done in 2003, that is often referred to. It shows with some reliability that cinnamon lowered the fasting blood sugar 18 to 29% in subjects with Diabetes Type 2. This study also looked at the effect on triglycerides and cholesterol. Triglycerides lowered 23 to 30% and total cholesterol decreased 12 to 26%. This was done using an extract containing 1,3 or 6 Grams of cinnamon per day. This study is easily and freely found on line if you search “cinnamon + blood sugar”.

Khan, A. et al. (2003) Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with Type 2 Diabetes, Diabetes Care vol. 26 No. 12, 3215-3218

However! Another study was only able to achieve a 3 to 10% reduction in fasting blood sugar using a similar 3 Gram cinnamon extract. That’s science, folks! It’s an ongoing, amazing investigation. The subjects in this study were Type 2 Diabetics already on oral hypoglycemic medication (pills to lower the blood sugar) so it makes you wonder if there was some interaction with the cinnamon or some such thing. Makes you go hmm..and make another hypothesis and do another study! 

Mang, B. et al. (2006) Effect of a cinnamon extract on plasma glucose, HbA1c, and serum lipids in Diabetes type 2. European Journal of Clinical Investigation vol.36, Issue 5, p. 340-344 May

   I recommend reading this next study because it first gives a nice summary of recent and related research. Then it explains the actual biochemical mechanisms and compounds in cinnamon that cause the blood sugar to decrease. So if you are a fan of biochemistry you will be happy to learn that the water-soluble polyphenol type A polymers show insulin-like activity. Cinnamon also improves insulin receptor function, and appears to increase circulating insulin levels as well. So it works from a variety of angles. 
   I like this study because it observed the effect on blood sugar of 6 Grams of cinnamon sprinkled on rice pudding. Doesn’t that sound nice? I could volunteer for a study like that. 

Hlebowicz, J. et al. (2007) Effect of cinnamon on postprandial blood glucose, gastric emptying, and satiety in healthy subjects. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Vol. 85, No. 6, 1552-1556

What is the short useful take-home on this one? 
If you are in that almost- or pre-diabetic, or newly diagnosed type-2 diabetic range, I think the research supports trying cinnamon in small amounts daily or several times a week. You could have tea or put it on your oatmeal; it doesn’t have to be in a little extract bottle. It has been shown to work in all those forms. I didn’t find a study that compares sprinkles on pudding to powder in capsules. Maybe they couldn’t find volunteers for the non-pudding group ?
How much it will lower your blood sugar could be 3 to 10%-ish or up to 30%...you would have to coordinate with your doctor and make all the nutritional, rest and exercise changes that help recover your body’s ability to make and use insulin and process sugars and fats in a healthy way.

Next installment…….cinnamon in Ayurveda….a little cross-reference across cultures and millennia to help your health investigations…

Be well!

30 May 2012    Healthy Bones and Women