Friday, October 2, 2009

His Bark is Worse

Coughing appears to have become a seasonal sport. Dog has applied for Olympic consideration in the activity. Bug, as younger siblings are wont to do, has shown a reluctance to be left behind and has joined in the bark-fest. As I was dialing our doctor's number, I looked at the date on the inhaler in my hand and realized that it was exactly a year ago that we'd been in this exact same fix, looking for the exact same solution. Clearly this isn't going to be a one-off situation. When I asked our doctor what to do to avoid these respiratory infections, he glanced at Dog's chart and shrugged, "He has seasonal allergies, doesn't he?" as if that explained and dismissed it all in one fell swoop.

I realized that once again I was reading the menu at McDonald's and hoping to find Chinese food there. I walked out of the office with a handful of prescriptions--that included steroids this time--and a deeper resolve to find a way to avoid doing this again every year. I was bemoaning to Tool Guy that I appear to be constitutionally incapable of being satisfied with mainstream solutions, but upon reflection, I concluded that I wasn't necessarily a wild-eyed, radical, jerk-knee reactor. Regular dosing of antihistamines such as diphenhydramine and cromolyn sodium have reduced the difficulty, but not eliminated it and didn't help us avoid the ultimate infection anyway. Even loratadine was momentarily helpful, but eventually disappointing.

Limbering up my Google-fu, I dove into the internet to gather a consensus of what would be effective treatments for this kind of infection and what would prevent it from occurring in the first place. My first big gun suggestion came from someone who was asthma-free for the first time in years. She'd taken andrographis upon a CAM doctor's recommendation of it as an alternative to echinachea for colds and found that she was so asthma-free that she's not needed to use any of her conventional asthma medications this year. Turns out that andrographis is much more than just an option for ameliorating colds:

  • Scientific Name: Andrographis paniculata (Burm.f) Nees
  • Family: Acanthaceae
  • Other Common Name: Andrographis, Chuan Xin Lian, Kalmegh (Bengali, Hindi), King of Bitters.
  • Andrographis, is a shrub that is found throughout India and other Asian countries. It is sometimes referred to as “Indian echinacea”.
  • Andrographis contains, as its primary chemical constituents, diterpenoid lactones (andrographolides), paniculides, farnesols and flavonoids
  • Andrographis was used historically in the Indian flu epidemic in 1919, during which it was credited with reversing the spread of the disease.

Impressive, no? I made it my business to get my hands on some. It's going to be a "must have" herb for my garden in the spring, I can tell you. And not only is it good for respiratory stuff, as a bitter, it's good for digestive things, too.

At this point, I knew that my windfall of elderberry was not for nothing and poked around for applications. Kami McBride offered an obliging recipe. I tweaked it for the items that I had on hand, namely elderberry, pine needles, and rose hips. My neighbor had happened to notice me low-crawling around my yard and the neighborhood for plant matter and approached me with an offer: "Would you be interested in rose hips?" he asked. Would I! Here I'd thought that he had a persimmon bush that bristled with all of those little orange fruits. Nope. Rose hips. Does it get any better than that? The white pine in my back yard didn't mind yielding a few of their needles and I had just stocked up on a large jar of local honey. (Yes, Virginia, there do exist beekeepers who don't feed their hives with high fructose corn syrup!) The rest of Kami's ingredients I just ignored and set about making up the syrup.

Elderberry Syrup

  • 6 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons elderberry
  • 2 tablespoons pine needles (Okay, I'm not gonna lie to you. I grabbed a handful off of the tree and threw it in because I'm too lazy to snip up a bunch of pine needles and measure them out by the spoonful, all right?)
  • 2 tablespoons of rose hips (Ditto on the rose hips. A handful.)
  • 2 tablespoons of raw honey, added to the syrup after it is cooled. (Don't want to lose all of the raw honey goodness, right?)

In a stainless steel or glass saucepan, add all ingredients, except the honey and simmer for fifteen minutes. Turn off heat and cover, letting the ingredients infuse for a few hours. Later, strain out plant matter and return liquid to saucepan. On simmer burner or with a diffuser, allow liquid to simmer without boiling until the amount is reduced to half. Let cool and add honey. Two tablespoons, three times a day.

My next big gun herbal idea was ginger. Ginger, upon closer examination, yields some very promising potential for lung support. "Ginger also decreases the activity of plate-activating factor (PAF), a clotting agent that creates the clot that can result in heart attack of stroke. Ginger's ability to reduce PAF activity also makes the herb effective against allergies and asthma." There was a bag at the local HFS waiting for me to pick up from the previous vegetable co-op order and I kept forgetting to go and get it. What can I say? I've been forgetting to take my gingko. I had earmarked these for pickling for kimbop, but this was more timely.

Ginger Syrup

1 ounce fresh ginger, sliced
1 pint water

Similarly to Kami's instructions, I put the ginger into boiling water and simmered for about 20 minutes. Turning off the heat, I then covered the pot and let it steep overnight, since roots and bark are sturdier plant materials than berries. After steeping, I strained out the root and reduced the liquid by half, adding raw honey when cooled. Two tablespoons, three times a day or when they started coughing.

Fenugreek and anise seeds came up frequently in searches as effective against coughs. As those were also readily on hand, I added them to my arsenal, preparing them in the same ratios as the ginger. Seeds are more delicate than roots or leaves and so are not simmered, but merely steeped for 20 minutes before straining out. Decoct the liquid as usual and add honey when cooled.

If honey is off the menu, these can be sweetened for the palate with whatever is acceptable, whether glycerin or stevia or the like. Syrups such as these will last a week in the fridge with honey. An alcohol, such as vodka or brandy, will preserve it longer. If freezing is necessary, separate it into smaller amounts so that these can be thawed in more usable batches.

Anise and fenugreek didn't disturb the Hobbit tranquility much, but the elderberry syrup didn't match commercial varieties for comestibility in their opinion. Quelle domage. They took it anyway. Heh. Ginger was decidedly no contender for favorite status, since it "burned all the way down." Hmmm...must be that PAF activity thing. Nonetheless, coughs are almost gone and breathing is decidedly improved. Even Doctor McDonald would be happy with that outcome.


Rosie_Kate said...

I'm currently dealing with this with my husband. He gets a terrible chronic cough and wheeze this time every year. Our current line of defense is a very strong decoction of ginger root infused with a huge handful of fresh thyme. We add fresh lemon juice and some honey after it cools. A shot glass of this stuff stops wheezing almost immediately (not, however, if it isn't strong enough, we've found). The first time he used it, he was surprised that it works as well as the inhaler.

Thanks for the other ideas. I will look into Andrographis as well. I was very sad not to have landed any elderberries this year though. We're using mullien, though, to try to build up his lungs. We're also trying the regional allergy antigen from Progena in hopes of avoiding this problem altogether in the future.

Loztnausten said...

Thanks for the thyme recommendation, Rosie Kate! Are you using fresh or dried? I am starting to cough now and am taking my own medicine...LOL! I've got dried thyme on hand, so I'll try that as well!

Jenn B said...

this was great! thanks for doing all the 'heavy lifting' here! :) We do ginger tea a TON, but i've never made a decoction. will be filing this info for 'cold season' for sure.

Loztnausten said...

Glad it's useful, Jenn! From what I've been reading, ginger tea is good for nausea, but not much else. To deal with bacterial and viral stuff, it needs to be at least a decoction. Asthma symptoms need ginger tincture. Still trying to find out if dried or fresh is better for a tincture...

Rosie_Kate said...

My understanding is that dried is best for infusions/decoctions and fresh is best for tinctures.

However, I find that fresh ginger root and fresh thyme are most powerful for the asthma tonic. I grate the ginger root and simmer it gently for 15-20 minutes and then turn it off and throw in a big handful of fresh thyme sprigs and let it sit until cool. I'm going to have to try dried thyme, though, as I've pretty much done in my poor thyme plant... Thyme has powerful respiratory benefits, so it should work dried.

Loztnausten said...

Precisely what I needed to know! In desperation, I've got some ginger tincturing and all I had on hand was fresh. Nice to know that I won't have to settle for second best. :)

I appreciate the input about thyme, too. As you posted your comment, I was steeping some ginger, which was still hot. I tossed in an ounce of thyme with it. It will be in tomorrow's syrup regimen. Thanks for sharing from your experience!

Ladybug said...

Whoa, back up a second. There are beekeepers that feed their bees HFCS?! I shouldn't be surprised. So how does one go about finding a raw honey from bees that didn't get fed that crap?

Loztnausten said...

Most of them do. Including ones who call themselves "organic." I know of one in particular. It's safer to assume that they do rather than not and ask each keeper you intend to buy from. I always ask nonchalantly, "Oh, what do you feed your bees?" My favorite keeper says, "Nothing. They take care of themselves."

Jenn B said...

well stink! i thought ginger was a great anti-viral even as a tea.

good to know. :)

kanishk said...

I appreciate the input about thyme, too. As you posted your comment, I was steeping some ginger, which was still hot. I tossed in an ounce of thyme with it. It will be in tomorrow's syrup regimen. Thanks for sharing from your experience! Work From Home

Muddled Mawkishness and Murky Musings said...

In your elderberry recipe, did you use dried berries or fresh? We have some berries but not enough for the medieval recipe I found. Yours sounds doable, if the berries don't have to be dried. Also how long will this recipe last? And how should I store it? Thanks for any help. :)

Muddled Mawkishness and Murky Musings said...

One other question: Will any kind of pine needles do? I don't have a clue what kind of pine trees are standing in our yard...

Loztnausten said...

I've done it both ways and found either way to be satisfactory. The doctrine for keeping syrups is just a few weeks in the fridge with honey. They keep longer with alcohol added as a preservative. I think I had some stored for a couple of months with only honey as a preservative and still used it to good effect.

Loztnausten said...

The needles are from white pine. HTH!