Undoubtedly you have been hearing a lot about the H1N1 virus otherwise know as the Swine flu. There is so much information flying around it is hard to know what to do about it. I have recently come across some good information by various herbalists that I trust so I thought I would pass it along. Much of my information comes from Heather Nic an Fhleisdeir known as Mrs. Thompson in Eugene where she runs The Academy of Scottish Herbalism and Mrs. Thompson's Herbs, Gifts, and Folklore shop. This information came from a radio interview on HerbMentor radio which can be found through HerbMentor.com. If you are interested in herbs and herbal medicine I suggest you check out Learning Herbs and HerbMentor. John Gallagher and his family are putting out some great resources and information in a very easily accessible and practical way. Another source of information came from David Crow at Floracopeia's, In the Garden of the Medicine Buddha, herbal retreat I attended in September.

About the H1N1 Flu and Flu in general

Flus in general have symptoms like fever, cough, sore throat, aching, bone pain, headache, chills and tiredness. The swine flu also has these symptoms. Some people have reported lowered temperatures or low level fevers, diarrhea, vomiting, difficult breathing and painful breathing as additional symptoms with the swine flu.

What makes this flu different than regular seasonal flus is that it tends to affect those with strong, healthy immune systems rather than the old and young. The H1N1 virus creates an overreaction of the immune response to the area of infection which tends to be the lungs. What happens with this flu is known as a cytokine storm. This results when the immune system sends too many infection fighting proteins called cytokines into the infected area. It is an intensive anti-inflammatory response. The way the body responds to inflammation typically is to flood the area with fluid (blood and lymph). In this case because of the virus creates an over reaction this can result in filling the lungs with fluid.

So when you are treating such a situation you don't want to stimulate the immune system. You don't want to reach for the echinacea or astragalus in this case. The immune response is already in overdrive so you don't want to do anything to increase that response but you do want to support your immune system so it is not weakened to other kinds of infections. You also want to use anti-inflammatorys to decrease the reaction.

The best approach, however, is prevention. It is a virus that spreads quickly and easily so avoiding situations where you might pick it up and doing a few simple things to prevent yourself from getting it in the first place is a good line of defense. If you have the opportunity to get the vaccine talk with your doctor about it and do what you think is best for you and your family. Many of the suggestions below are simple preventative measures that can be done in conjunction with the vaccine.

Viruses do not like heat and sunlight. So one thing you can do is to keep yourself and your house warm and spend time in the sun even if it is just sitting in a sunny window. Spend time outside. Many plants are aromatic. This means they are expressing essential oils into the air around them all the time. If you can smell them then you are breathing in the essential oils of these plants. The plants produce these oils as part of their immune response. It helps them to fight off infections and keep bugs at bay. If you spend time around plants that are vaporizing essential oils you are benefitting as well. So walk in the woods. Evergreens and Eucalyptus produce many of the essential oils that are beneficial for the lungs. Surround your self with pot herbs - basil, cilantro, rosemary, oregano, thyme, sage, lavender, lemon balm, catnip, peppermint - these are all very strong anti-virals so smell their fragrances, make teas with them use them in your foods.

This virus spreads by coughing and sneezing. It's in the air and then lands on surfaces where it can survive for a day or two waiting for someone to come along and pick it up by touching the surface and then rubbing their eyes or nose.

So, first of all stay away from people who are sick and places that have lots of people in closed spaces in as much as that is possible. If you get sick as a favor to others stay home. Next, keep your hands away from your face as much as possible - don't rub your eyes or your nose. If you sneeze or cough try to do it in a kleenex and then throw it away. In this case you don't want to use handkerchiefs and carry it around with you. Third, wash your hands using mild soaps and anti-viral essential oils such as hyssop, marjoram, lemon balm (melissa), lavender, ravensarra, peppermint, pine, basil, bay laurel, rosemary, sage, thyme, yarrow, orange, lemon. Dr. Bronners lavender or peppermint soap might be an easy way for you to do this.

Clean household and office surfaces regularly with anti-viral disinfectants and when possible use gloves when you do this. A simple mixture for this is:

1 pint (16 oz) of white vinegar

add a 1 1/2 teaspoons of mixed essential oils (or for a smaller amount: 1 cup vinegar and 3/4 tsp. essential oils) .

Don't use the same blend all the time. Mix it up. Make a couple of different combinations like lavender orange, lemon basil, or bay marjoram.  If you don't want to mix your own Greensong's 4 Theives Remix is perfect for just this sort of thing. It can also just be sprayed onto your hands to disinfect them and then cup your hands around your nose and mouth and breath it in. I often spray it in my face and onto my neck where lots of lymph nodes are then rub it in.

For those of you who want more information here are a couple of references that tell you more about using essential oils for flu and for general health care.

You can also mix essential oils with a carrier oil such as olive, sunflower, coconut, grapeseed or sesame and use them as massage oil, after bath or shower oil, or as chest rubs. To do this mix around 10 drops per ounce of carrier oil. Use essential oils that are not irritating to the skin such as lavender, eucalyptus, chamomile, rosemary, ravensarra for the major part of the blend then add in just a few of drops of stronger oil such as oregano, thyme, cinnamon, clove, or sage. The citrus oils are really nice but some people may find them irritating so see how they work for you. They can also be photosensitizing which means that when exposed to the sun, they can react with your skin, making it burn more easily. Not that this should prevent you from using them just make sure those areas where you used the oil are covered if you are going out in the sun and use them in low concentrations. 1 or 2 drops in an oz of carrier oil should not be a problem for most people.

A simple gentle, effective formula which could be used even with children (over the age of 6) is:
4 drops Lavender,  3 drops  Ravensara, 2 drop Eucalyptus, and 2 drops Bay Laurel in 1 oz of olive oil.

Essential oils are very strong and concentrated. They should be used with knowledge, respect and caution. Many studies today are finding them to be as effective or more effective as pharmaceuticals for some things. In the case of viruses, they work in a different, more broad spectrum way and so are often able to be more effective against viruses because the viruses can't become resistant to the complex composition of the oils. There are many safe and simple ways ways to use essential oils in your home but please inform yourself about the safe use of oils before using them. Please have a look at the safe use of essential oils page on this site. If you are pregnant, on medications, have liver or kidney problems or high blood pressure please consult your physician and do some research before using oils. Also for children under 6 please consult your doctor before using any essential oils.

Because this flu targets the lungs as it's site of infection essential oils are a very good way to strengthen and support the respiratory system. Taking the oils into the body through inhalation allows the  aromatic molecules to go directly into the lungs and sinuses and in as little as 15 minutes they can influence all the body systems. In general, their effects last around 2-3 hours so it is necessary to use them repeatedly during the day. The Greensong Respiration aromatic botanical inhaler is a good and easy way to bring these healing oils into your lungs.  Steams, using herbs or essential oils, are another good way to bring these herbal allies to your defense. Steams are especially beneficial to those who are already under the weather as they help to warm you up, drain your sinuses and go deep into your lungs.

Other simple and easy things you can do are:

Use elderberry. Elderberry has been found to deactivate the H (stands for hemagglutinin) part of the H1N1 which weakens the virus. You can get elderberry teas and syrups at your health food store or you can make your own. You can infuse the berries fresh or dried in boiling water for a delicious tea. You can cook them down for longer and add honey to make a syrup. You can steep them in alcohol for a few weeks to make a tincture. If you don't know where to find elderberries Mountain Rose Herbs has dried ones available. See the recipe page for specific recipes for syrups tinctures and other things. You may also purchase elderberry syrup here.

Teas are also a good thing for both prevention and when you are sick. As a general rule of thumb you want to use 1-2 tsp of dried herb per cup of water. Boil the water, pour it over the herbs and let them steep for 5 -10 minutes then strain. Drink these teas 3 times a day.

Hers that are useful for clods and flus: Elderflower, catnip, yarrow, willow bark  (helps reduce aches and pains), meadowsweet, boneset, calendula, and peppermint.

Willow and yarrow are a bit bitter so you will want to mix them with peppermint or you could use cinnamon or ginger as well. Tumeric and licorice are good antiinflmmatory herbs. Elderflower, catnip, peppermint would be a nice combination to promote sweating, reduce fever, aid breathing and promote relaxation. Tumeric, ginger, licorice makes a lovely blend that is warming and anti-inflammatory. Most of these herbs can be found in the bulk herb and spice sections of your health food stores. If this is not the case you can purchase any of these herbs from Mountain Rose who won the green business of the year award from Coop America. Pacific Botanicals is another good company to get bulk herbs from.
Other herbs that are good to use for colds and flus are:
St. Johns Wort, Rosemary, Sage, and Thyme. You can make infusions of these and add garlic to make a savory broth maybe mix in a little miso or bouillon.

It is important to stay hydrated especially when sick with a fever. Water is good but you need to keep your electrolytes up. Emergen C is one way to add electrolytes to your water and it also provides Vitamin B and C and various minerals. Coconut water is a good natural source of electrolytes. But for those of you who don't live next to a coconut tree your can easily mix your own electrolyte filled beverage. Make it by the quart, keep it in the fridge and drink it frequently.

4 oz water
1 tsp honey
1 tsp lemon or apple cider vinegar
pinch of sea salt

Good luck to all of you. May you stay warm and healthy.