One of the ways East Asian Herbal Medicine differs from other systems of herbal medicine is that herbs are almost always given in formulas or combinations of herbs. Chinese herbal formulas are becoming more widely utilized in the US and found to be as effective or more effective than some pharmaceuticals in clinical trials. In Asia, it is not unusual for hospitals to have an herbal medicine department. Two commonly used formulas for the winter months are listed below, however, see your local East Asian herbalist (ie. acupuncturist - make sure they have been trained in herbs), to find the right formula for you. If you move beyond the preliminary stages of cold or flu, neither of these will be effective. There are a whole host of herbal formulas that are used for upper respiratory infections.
1. Yu Ping Feng San (Jade Windscreen Formula): To understand the colorful name of this formula and its function, it is helpful to know about the metaphor the ancient Chinese used to describe acute infections. In Chinese medicine, the term "wind" was used to describe such illnesses which came on quickly.
In the modern world, we are easily over-taxed from working long hours, eating processed foods, and not getting enough rest. The extra energy needed to warm the body from a chill can significantly weaken the body and its immune system. Jade Windscreen is wonderful formula to prevent colds in those that are run-down or have a weakened immune system.
‘Jade’ denotes the value and high regard of the effectiveness of this formula and ‘wind screen’ can be translated in to immune protection.
Astragalus (huang qi): Supports the immune system and strengthens the body's defenses.
White atractalodes root (bai zhu): Increase the body's digestive function to ensure that the body has the energy it needs to fight off infection.
Siler (fang feng): The name of this herb means "dispel wind," referring to acute illnesses. It is one of the herbs in its class that is safe for long term use, making it the perfect fit in this preventive formula.
When to use it: During cold season, before you begin to get sick, it is much less effective once your cold has started. If you think you are currently getting sick, use Gan Mao Ling instead. This formula is worthwhile if you have the tendency to get multiple colds during the winter season.
2. Gan Mao Ling (Effective Common Cold Formula): This is actually a relatively modern Chinese formula and contains herbs which have strong anti-viral activities. It is meant to be taken at the first sign of a cold, as soon as possible after initial symptoms appear. In many cases, a few doses can prevent a full blown cold from manifesting and cut recovery time by days.
Ilex (Mao Dong Qing) and/or Isatis (Da Qing Ye/Ba Lan Gen): Anti-viral herbs which traditionally relieve toxicity.
Chrysanthemum flower (Ju Hua) and/or Vitex seed (Man Jing Zi): Both clear heat from the face, relieve congestion, soothe red eyes, and detoxify.
Japanese honeysuckle (Jin Yin Hua): An anti-microbial herb.
Gan Cao (licorice): Soothes the throat and calms cough.
When to use it: Every few hours, at the very first sign of a cold (for instance, a scratchy throat, slight runny nose etc.) If you already have several full-blown symptoms, a stronger formula may be more appropriate. It is best to continue taking until symptoms resolve.
Prevention is the best medicine!
One of the best things you can do to prevent illness is to wash your hands frequently. Increase the frequency during cold season. (Note that anti-bacterial soap has not been proven more effective than "normal" soap for this. It is the scrubbing and the lather that does the trick, not the chemicals.)
2. Keep your hands away from your eyes and face as much as possible.
3. Stay hydrated and eat a rainbow of colors to get fresh micronutrients and antioxidants.
In addition to having preventive formulas on hand, you can always stop by Rutland Integrative Health for cold and cough herbs when you are feeling under the weather. In addition to our holistic acupuncture treatments, we do herbal consults. These can be scheduled as a separate appointment or we can can discuss herbal therapy during an acupuncture session.
Call or email us to schedule.