Topics in Colds Flus Allergies

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At the farmer’s market this weekend I came across this year’s first batch of Stinging Nettles, or Urtica dioica. Nettles are one of those plants that remind me how miraculous the planet is. Just when everyone is suffering from allergic rhinitis (stuffy nose) the plant that treats that symptom is ready for harvest. Nettles have many uses, but allergic rhinitis is what they are famous for. In Chinese Medicine we say that Nettles clear heat and leach dampness, making them suitable for treating phlegm-damp obstructing the nasal passages. Dry them and add them to your Chrysanthemum infusion for a great allergy treatment. They should be used with caution, however, in those with a yin deficient presentation, as they are diuretic (make you pee) and can be quite drying. Another use of the herb is Wind-Damp Impediment, such as arthritis, and historically they were applied topically as a counter-irritant for this purpose. Taken internally, they also treat arthritic conditions or painful, stiff joints.

The whole arial parts can also be cooked as a delicious spring vegetable. They have a very high mineral content making them an ideal food for those with anemia or for those concerned about developing osteoporosis. Here is a recipe for sauteed stinging nettles that I found on

  • 1 pound stinging nettles
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, sliced lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Zest of 1 medium lemon
  • Juice of 1/2 medium lemon
  • Wearing thick rubber gloves, clean the nettles by soaking them several times under cold running water, then drain. (Do not touch raw nettles with your bare hands. If you do not have rubber gloves, use tongs to handle the nettles.) Separate the tender leaves from the tough stems, discarding the stems. (Use scissors for this process if you don’t have protective rubber gloves.)
  • Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the shallots and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until the shallots have softened, about 2 minutes more.
  • Using tongs, add half of the nettles and the water to the pan. Cook, stirring often, until the nettles have begun to wilt, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining nettles and cook, stirring often, until wilted, about 3 minutes more. (Add more water a tablespoon at a time if the pan becomes too dry.)
  • Remove the pan from heat. Stir in the lemon zest and juice. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and serve.

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A couple of years ago I posted this about Chrysanthemum tea. I wanted to revisit the topic, as I have been seeing so many patients lately suffering from Spring allergies which are causing itchy, watery, sometimes burning eyes. Chrysanthemum is the perfect herb for this symptom. It clears windheat (itching, burning) and enters the Liver channel, directly affecting the eyes which are ruled by the Liver. It is also useful for headaches caused by allergies. To brew a medicinal-strength infusion of the herb, put a handful of the dried flowers in a mug with about 8 oz hot water. Steep, covered, for a minimum of 10 minutes, preferably 15. This tea will be bitter and adding honey is fine. Another option is to infuse a larger pot of the flowers, then let cool and put in the fridge. Enjoy as a cold tea on warm spring days when allergies are in full effect.

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This time of year I hear a lot of patients talking about how their kids are coughing constantly. When children catch colds, they often get coughs, sometimes dry, sometimes phlegmy, and especially at night. These episodes are miserable for everyone. Western cough syrups are very strong drugs and many parents don’t want to use them but resort to them so that everyone can get some sleep.

There is a wonderful Chinese Medicine alternative. Blue Poppy Herbs makes a pediatric formula called Lung Qi Jr. that works wonders on those pesky coughing fits. I have been giving it to my children since they were infants whenever they had colds with coughs. Not only does it help to calm the coughing, it has several herbs in it that fight the infection at the source of the cough. It is one of those formulas that I think anyone with kids should have in the medicine cabinet. It comes in a liquid form and contains vegetable glycerin to sweeten it up so that it is more palateable to young tongues. I squirt it directly into my children’s mouths, but it can also be added to juice, milk, yogurt, or anything else.

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Postcard front fall 2009

Until January 31, 2010 I am offering 10% off cough syrups, Yin Chiao, Yin Chiao Jr., and Gan Mao Ling to current patients and to new patients who make an appointment for acupuncture.

Don’t forget that acupuncture increases immune function and that these and many other formulas can be used preventatively during this cold & flu season. I have a pharmacy full of herbal remedies to stop colds and flus in their tracks, and at the very least, shorten their duration and the intensity of many symptoms including cough, chills, fever, nasal congestion, headache and fatigue.

There many things we can do to help support our body’s natural immune function. Certainly getting enough rest, fluids, and quality fresh food is essential. Acupuncture is also a good option, since one of the proven effects of this therapy is increased immunity, even when this isn’t the focus of treatment. Regular acupuncture helps bring our bodies back into balance, and a body in balance has the ability to fight foreign contaminants such as bacteria and viruses. In Chinese Medicine terms “expel uninvited guests” such as wind cold, wind heat, wind damp, etc.

Aside from acupuncture, many Chinese herbs, including mushrooms, have been proven to increase immune function in several ways. There are herbs that are simply antibacterial and antiviral, helping our bodies to stave off infection when we come in contact with these agents. There are also herbs which increase the number of Killer T and Natural Killer white blood cells which attack microbes preventing us from getting sick, and helping us to recover from illness.

One of the key immune enhancing herbs in Chinese Medicine is Huang Qi, or Astragalus. The root of this plant tonifies the qi and blood of the entire body, especially the Spleen and increases the Wei, or Protective Qi. There are several classic herbal formulas that contain Huang Qi which can be used to prevent illness. There are also formulas, which when taken at the early stages of illness help the body recover quickly and decrease the severity of an illness. These formulas are important to have on hand in order to provide a quick means of protection. That way if you find yourself around people sick people, or if you will be traveling on airplanes, or simply have a tendency towards decreased immune function, you can give your body as much support as possible to keep from getting sick.

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stamets_7_extractMedicinal mushrooms have been a part of the Chinese Materia Medica for several thousand years. These mushrooms, including reishi, oyster, maitake, shitake, and many more, have a strong effect on increasing immune function.  For instance, Ling Zhi, or the reishi mushroom, has been studied for its immune enhancing effect, and has been found to increase T cell function. Classically, it is said that Ling Zhi tonifies Lung qi, transforms phlegm, and stops cough and wheeze. Additionally, it has been found to have a carcinostatic effect, meaning that it stops the growth of cancer cells. Nutritionally, mushrooms provide fiber while being low in fat and contain several groups of vitamins, particularly thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, biotin, ascorbic acid and Vitamin D.

Eating raw mushrooms is not advised, since some are toxic uncooked, and most do not break down enough in our digestive systems to offer much benefit this way. Mushrooms should always be cooked when used as food. A stronger concentrated extract (either capsule or liquid) will give you the most benefit for immunity.

Fungi Perfecti is a locally based producer of medicinal mushrooms and is considered the best source of organic, high quality mushroom extracts by most experts, including Bastyr University and Dr. Andrew Weil. Fungi Perfecti has a number of extract combinations that address a number of immune issues. A popular, general immune tonic is their Stamets 7 formula.

fungi perfecti

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Several years ago Jake Fratkin, OMD (Oriental Medicine Doctor), made waves throughout the pediatric community by declaring on a radio show that the cause of ear infections was antibiotics. Since that time, several studies have been done which indicate that he was right. The likelihood of a recurrent ear infection during the first six weeks after taking antibiotics is significant. Not only is a child more likely to get another ear infection within six weeks if they are given antibiotics, but the recovery time from an infection is the same whether antibiotics are given or not. Even the Washington State Department of Health has issued a statement that most ear infections clear on their own and that overuse of antibiotics leads to drug resistant bacteria. So why are medical doctors still giving antibiotics to children with ear infections? In some cases, they no longer are. More and more doctors and medical institutions are reserving antibiotic administration for extreme cases of infection as a last resort. Here in Seattle, Dr. David Springer of Wallingford Pediatrics received an award from Premera Blue Cross for his use of “evidence-based best practices” in avoiding and limiting antibiotic use for ear infections.


So if antibiotics aren’t the answer, what do we do for ear infections? Chinese Herbal Medicine is an excellent choice for the prevention and treatment of ear infections. There are two key formulas which, when administered correctly, can alleviate pain within hours and eliminate the infection within only a couple of days. They are safe, they are effective, and they are easy to administer. Several companies have created liquid extracts of these classic Chinese formulas adding a touch of glycerin or stevia to mask the bitter flavor of the herbs so that they are more palatable to children. I have used them with my own children and have avoided any antibiotic use so far. In addition to Chinese formulas, I have used garlic ear drops, which kill microbes and dry fluid when placed directly into the ear canal, and probiotics which help the immune system fight the infection. All three can be combined and your Chinese Medicine practitioner can help you determine the best course of treatment so you can avoid unnecessary, and potential harmful antibiotic overuse in your children.

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While the name “wind gate” refers specifically to a point on the Bladder channel of the upper back, we often use this term to talk about the entire back of the neck and upper back. This area is particularly vulnerable to invasion by wind leading to symptoms of colds and flus such as chills, body aches, nasal congestion, and cough. In the Springtime when the weather starts to turn warm we can be too quick to pull off the winter layers. Exposing the back of the neck and upper back to the elements, particularly the wind, we increase the likelihood of falling ill. Protect your “wind gate” by wearing a scarf, a high collar, or a turtle neck, and you will increase your chances of making it through the spring in good health.

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Scallion and Ginger Tea

1 T sliced scallions (cong tou)

3-4 slices fresh ginger root (sheng jiang)

Brown sugar (hong tang) or honey to taste

Place scallions and ginger into pot and sprinkle with brown sugar. Cover with 1 cup water. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes. Strain the liquid. Drink while warm.

 Traditionally, this tea is taken at the first sign of a wind-cold pattern. It is used to promote sweating and resolve exterior symptoms such as headache, chills with an aversion to cold, body aches and sinus congestion with clear mucus. It is best to drink this formula after taking a hot bath, just before going to bed, so that you can cover yourself with blankets to induce sweating. Be sure to stay warm and away from cold drafts.

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The main reason that fish and fish oils are so important is because they contain two fatty acids that do not occur naturally in any foods other than fish.

These fatty acids are called EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). Together with ALA (alpha linolenic acid), they are known as omega-3 fatty acids.

They are highest in oily fish such as mackerel, herring, sardine, tuna and salmon.

The average intake of EPA/DHA in the US diet is only 11-20% of the recommended amount.

These two fatty acids from fish oil have been shown in hundreds of studies to be beneficial in a wide spectrum of human health including:

Heart Health

including all types of cardiovascular disease by reducing triglycerides (fat levels) in the blood, reducing VLDL (bad) cholesterol and raising HDL (good) cholesterol, Reducing inflammatory markers, which are now known to be very important in the progression of cardiovascular diseases, and by regulating (smoothing out) the rhythmic beat of the heart.

Arthritis, inflammation and allergy

including rheumatoid arthritis, Crohns disease, seasonal and food allergies, and eczema.

Child Development

both before and after birth. DHA and another fatty acid (arachidonic acid) are essential for the correct development of the fetal brain and mental ability. Neural development and eye function may be adversely affected by inadequate supply. 11% of the weight of the brain is the fatty acid DHA. Supplementing DHA in breast fed or formula fed infants has been shown to increase cognitive function including vocabulary and comprehension in 18 month olds.

Mental alertness, cognitive function and mood

due to the fact that EPA and DHA are the building blocks of neural cells. Those suffering from depression have significantly lower levels of DHA and other omega-3 fatty acids. Populations with higher consumption of fish have lower rates of depression than those with lower consumption. Studies have shown that Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly is more common in people with low blood levels of DHA.

So eat your wild caught fish!! Wild caught fish have a significantly lower levels of metals and other contaminants than farm raised fish. If wild fish is unavailable, or unappealing to you, take a fish oil supplement daily. Be sure you get your oil from a reputable source to ensure purity and high potency. High quality oils are tested for mercury, other heavy metals and PCBs. Consider a fish oil with the addition of the fat soluable vitamins A, D and E.

Since Copper River Salmon is in season right now, I highly recommend splurging and treating yourself to a delicious meal. I made this recipe last night from and found it to be outstanding!!

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