DIY Remedies for Avoiding Colds and Flu

Feeling a bit out of sorts now that it’s cold and flu season? An “ounce of prevention” is said to be “worth a pound of cure,” something we at the Spiral House totally believe. Most people who regularly maintain a healthy, plant-based diet, which is naturally anti-inflammatory and low in mucous-producing substances, report their immune systems are stronger and less susceptible to those pesky germs.

A cold begins when a virus attaches to the lining of our noses and throats. As our immune systems send out white blood cells to attack the invaders, much of our energy is directed at fighting the cold and we are left feeling tired and miserable. The scientific community is in agreement that we are more likely to catch a cold when we are fatigued, under emotional stress, or suffer from asthma or allergies with nose and throat symptoms. Whether or not we get sick appears to depend more on the strength of our immune systems than the rhinovirus that is responsible for the common cold. Antibiotics only combat bacteria from secondary infections in the lungs, sinuses or ears; they are not effective against the virus itself.

In a totally random and unscientific sampling of our Spiral House regulars, we asked these quirky individuals about their go-to remedies for preventing winter colds and treating these illnesses once they do take hold. While no one is quite hanging garlic on their front doors or burning smudge sticks to purify the air, the various members of our little group appear to follow protocols ranging from the standard to the downright curious. We’ll let you be the judge of their efficacy, remembering that none of us are medical doctors, naturopaths, or health practitioners of any stripe. Patty adds even another caveat. “Herbal and alternative products can be very strong and counteract other medications or cause their own set of problems,” she cautions. Please consult your health care professionals about anything you choose to take.

“Actually, I don’t get sick very much,” notes Tom Gottsleben, who sometimes takes a daily dose of 1000 mg. of Vitamin C as a preventative during flu season. But just as often, he does not. If he or Patty do get a cold, they immediately begin following the so-called “master cleanse,” a protocol a friend in yogic circles introduced them to some 25 years ago. “It works brilliantly,” he says.

The cleanse, which started with Stanley Burroughs’s book, The Master Cleanser in the 1940s, has had many variations since then. Tom and Patty’s version consists of a tea made from:

      2 tablespoons lemon juice
      2 tablespoons organic grade B maple syrup
      ⅛ teaspoon or more of cayenne pepper
      10 ounces hot water.

Patty is a little more proactive. “If I feel like I’m getting sick or have been around someone who is ill, I might try elderberry juice and/or olive leaf extract,” she says. “But when I actually feel myself getting sick, I do the master cleanse immediately.”

Our chef, Diane Hagedorn, prefers to “stay in bed, drink miso soup and take aspirin.” Adds Diane, whose miso soup recipe in our cookbook, For Goodness Sake: Plant-Based Recipes from the Spiral House Kitchen, is perfection itself, “That’s not to say I don’t do all the teas and other soups. I do. But mostly, I just stay in bed.” Diane also thinks it’s imperative to use a different toothbrush, or at least sterilize the old one, and change your bedding daily. (Note that the medical community advises people under the age of 20 not to take aspirin because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome.)

Sous chef Val Augustine tries a different approach. “My fiancée makes me 50 gallons of vegetable broth filled with kale, carrots, veggies and all that good stuff,” she says, referring to Kevin Vines, the head of Tom’s sculpture crew and Diane’s son. She also likes a stiff drink of Black Velvet whiskey in ginger ale. And when her nine-year-old son Tanyon gets a cold? “I treat him like a baby,” she coos. “Tea with lemon, ginger ale for the bubbles, lots of rest on the couch, and I cover him with big, fluffy blankets that I put in the dryer first so they are nice and warm.”

When she feels herself getting sick, Ronnie Shushan, our editor/designer, who is completing a book on the design and construction of the Spiral House called Spirit in Stone, will amp up the amount of the fresh garlic and ginger that are already mainstays of her regular diet. Guna-flu, a low-dose homeopathic solution, and the over-the-counter zinc remedy Zicam are standard treatments in her house. During flu season, she takes half a vial of Guna-flu twice a week as a preventive measure. If she becomes ill, she takes a full vial three times a day. Ronnie also whips up a batch of author/chef Deborah Madison’s Delicious Dieter’s (or Sick Person’s) Soup, a recipe from Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen (Clarkson Potter/2006). The basis of the soup is cabbage, celery, onions, carrots, large amounts of garlic and ginger, plus chili, lime juice, white miso, and a few drops of roasted sesame oil.

Her other tried and true remedy is a mug of miso soup to which she adds two teaspoons of fermented black beans (a Chinese condiment), cayenne, lemon juice, miso and scallions in hot water. Although some of us are convinced illness would be preferable, she insists that both this tea and the soup are “really delicious”. After drinking the tea, she soaks in a hot tub, wraps herself in a terry robe and sweats it out under warm covers. A glass of warmed liquor will also soothe a sore throat, she says.

Maria Santamaria, our office manager and bookkeeper, makes a spoonful of mashed ginger, lime juice, and honey when she is sick. As we pointed out in our cookbook, we recognize that honey is controversial among vegans. Some will eat it and others won’t because it is an animal product. We are so concerned about the collapse of bee colonies everywhere, however, we now have our own beehives on the property and ensure our bees are cared for humanely. Therefore, we will eat their honey if they have enough to share with us. You may want to search out a local and humane supply in your own region if that feels comfortable. After all, without bees to pollinate our plants, how would there be enough vegetables for vegans to eat?

Our precious garden and Spiral House angel, Carie Salberg, regularly takes 500 mg. of Vitamin C and a probiotic daily as a safeguard. She also drinks lots of ginger tea, making it with “at least a full tablespoon of grated ginger per cup.” Like the rest of us, Carie keeps her ginger in the freezer so that it will last longer and grate more easily. When she is sick, she adds lemon juice, honey, and grated turmeric root to the tea.

This friend of the family brought her cure with her all the way from Georgia, in eastern Europe. And she claims it never fails her. Here it is.

Just before going to sleep:
Cover the inner side of one large clean cabbage leaf with local honey. Place on the chest, honey side down and put a warm towel on top. Put on an old T-shirt and go to bed. In the morning, the cabbage leaf will have shrunk to a tiny shadow of its former self and there will be no stickiness or honey residue. Voila!

Andrea Barrist Stern, head gardener, photographer, etc. at the Spiral House, swears by zinc to fend off a cold and boost a flagging immune system. She always keeps a bottle of Zicam, a homeopathic remedy with zinc, in her purse. And like others at the Spiral House, she relishes the daily shots of Elena Zang’s Health Juice first prepared for Tom several years ago by his Woodstock, New York friend, gallery representative and co-owner of the Elena Zang Gallery because of its anti-inflammatory properties.

Here’s the recipe. In our heavy-duty Omega Fruit and Vegetable Juicer, Val juices together:

      1-inch fresh ginger root
      1-inch fresh turmeric root
      5-6 big stalks of celery
      2 medium carrots
      1 apple with its skin
      a quarter of a sweet orange or red bell pepper
      the juice of ½ lemon

Many of us at the Spiral House also take probiotics such as lactobacilli and bifidobacterium, which are increasingly recognized for their importance both in maintaining a health digestive system and boosting the body’s natural defense mechanisms. We wash our hands regularly and try to remember not to touch our faces more than necessary. We sneeze into a tissue when possible and into the crook of our elbows when nothing else is available. Washing keyboards and doorknobs also prevents the spread of germs.

And given all of this — not the least of it her fermented black bean potion — Ronnie is the first to acknowledge, “At the end of the day, you will have your cold for as long as your body needs it.”