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Herbs and Food as Medicine

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There are many uses for herbs that can replace the use of many over the counter medicines (OTC) without the side effects. Food also can be considered medicine. Many people today have forgotten how to cook, but making one’s own food can boost the immune system, recover faster, and even prevent illness.

In the Chinese herbal system, there are many herbal formulas that have been used successfully for literally thousands of years. A few of the formulas that I recommend that you have in your medicine cabinet to boost the immune system and/or to help with colds or flu symptoms include:

  • Yu ping feng san wan (jade screen tea pills). This formula boosts the immune system and improves energy. It is good to help prevent colds and flu during flu season.
  • Gan mao ling. Boosts the immune system, helps prevent colds and flu, helps with symptoms when sick with a cold or flu, as well as helps recover from colds and flu faster. It may be taken preventatively when around sick people or when feeling run down.
  • Yin qiao (aka yin chiao). This formula is especially helpful with the sudden onset of a very sore throat. The throat feels hot, and it may be very difficult to swallow. With this formula, as with gan mao ling, the dosage needs to be tapered down slowly as the symptoms subside. In other words, do not just stop taking or the symptoms may return. Instead, slowly lower the dose and frequency of the intake. 
  • Bi yan pain. Allergies, common cold, nasal or sinus congestion – use this when there is an excess of sinus drainage.
  • Pe min kan wan. Sinus disorders, nasal congestion, and runny nose from colds/flu (can take with gan mao ling when there is an excess runny nose with a cold)

Using food as medicine

For boosting the immune system and supporting the body’s own healing abilities, here are a few tips and a recipe for hot ginger tea.

  • Add garlic and ginger to your food daily boosts the immune system as both are anti-microbial (fight both bacteria and viruses).
  • Add cinnamon to food not only enhances the flavour but it balances blood sugar.
  • Add turmeric to the food has anti-inflammatory properties, natural antiseptic and antibacterial agent can be used to disinfect cuts or burns), a natural liver detoxifier, a natural painkiller, aids in fat digestion, anti-depressant. Adding a dash of pepper with the Turmeric increases the absorption (bioavailability).
  • Apple cider vinegar reduces allergy symptoms (including from pets, food as well as environmental), sinus infections, acne, high cholesterol, flu, chronic fatigue, candida, acid reflux, sore throats, contact dermatitis, arthritis, and gout. 

General remedies using food for colds and flu 

  • Colds. Those suffering from common or severe colds should take one tablespoon of lukewarm honey, with a quarter teaspoon cinnamon powder daily for three days. This process will help eliminate most chronic coughs, colds, as well as clear the sinuses. Bonus: it’s delicious too!
  • Immune system: Daily use of honey and cinnamon powder strengthens the immune system and protects the body from bacterial and viral attacks. Scientists have found that honey has various vitamins and iron in large amounts. Constant use of Honey strengthens the white blood corpuscles (where DNA is contained) to fight bacterial and viral conditions.
  • Influenza. A scientist in Spain has proved that honey contains a natural ‘ingredient’ which kills influenza germs and may prevent the flu. A word of warning: Never give honey to children under the age of 2 years old as their immune system is not able to tolerate it as yet. For older children and adults it is perfectly safe.

Hot ginger tea 


  • 6–8 tablespoons of freshly grated ginger root
  • Pinch of cinnamon (optional)
  • A squirt of lemon juice (optional)
  • Dash of honey (optional)
  • Cups of freshly boiled water
  • Glass jar (at least litre)


  • Place the ginger in a 1-litre jar and sprinkle in some cinnamon if you are using it. 
  • Bring the water to a rolling boil, and then carefully pour it into the jar to cover the ginger. 
  • Steep for 30–40 minutes and be sure to cover your jar-this is important because it keeps all that evaporating essential oil goodness right where it belongs: in your cup.
  • Strain (use hot mitts or a towel as the jar may still be quite warm) and then pour yourself a piping fresh mug. 
  • You may find that you want to reheat the tea slightly. 
  • Add honey and lemon if you are using them, sip and savour, and be sure to breathe in the steam. 
  • Store the rest of the tea in the fridge for up to 24 hours, reheating and drinking three times throughout the day.

Final words 

Remember if symptoms persist or worsen be sure to contact your health care provider right away. This information is mainly for prevention and mild symptoms only.

Beverly Lawrence, PhD is a licensed acupuncturist, who has been in practice since graduation in 2008 from the Phoenix Institute of Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine.

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