Mind & Body | Natural Defense

This cold season, let food be thy medicine


By Linda Koffman

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Winter is coming. With the threat of sickness looming, you might be surprised to find that your pantry or local farmers market are already armed with plenty of natural soldiers to help you ward off attacks on your immune system. That means you can keep the pharmeceutical concoctions at bay and take some preemptive measures against seasonal colds and flus simply by cultivating everyday ingredients.

Santa Cruz herbalist Dr. Darren Huckle, L.Ac., of Roots of Wellness, and Dr. Lonna Larsh, MD, of Holistic Family Doctors, recommend a balanced regimen of hydration, herbal remedies, healthy foods and sleep—because when the temps drop, it doesn’t mean you have to. Here are their top tips for fall and winter wellness.


Fresh Ginger

Fresh ginger is an effective diaphoretic, meaning it causes perspiration. “Sweating is a very traditional way to clear early-stage colds, quite the opposite of our modern tendency to take things like Aspirin [or] Ibuprofen, which help us feel more comfortable for the moment but actually may prolong our suffering by dampening our immune response,” says Dr. Huckle. Follow these easy steps:

Grate 1 tablespoon of fresh ginger

Pour 12 ounces of boiled water over ginger, cover, and let steep

Bundle up and drink the ginger infusion

Enjoy the light sweat that the beverage induces, enhancing your immune system and decreasing the rate of virus replication.


Raw Garlic

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“Garlic is amazing at fending off more than just vampires,” says Dr. Huckle. “It activates the immune system, decongests the lungs, and your off-gassing of garlic breath is actually fumigating your lungs, throat and sinus, making it hard for viruses and bacteria to establish themselves.”

Combat early-stage colds with this recipe:

Crush or finely chop 6 cloves of garlic

Add garlic to 1 tablespoon of honey or 2 tablespoons of olive oil

Consume over the course of the day. Raw garlic can be irritating to an empty stomach so be sure to have some food in your belly before ingesting the mixture.


Bone Broth

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Hydration via water and warming soups is a must during fall and winter. “Bone broth is great any time, even on its own, because it’ll keep your gut healthy which is so important in maintaining overall immunity,” says Dr. Larsh. “I love to add astragalus and turmeric to soup for immunity boosting in the fall and winter.”.


Dr. Huckle recommends cardamom as a warming mood-lifter for dreary days: Deeply inhale the aromas as you drink 1 teaspoon of ground cardamom in a cup of hot water.

Gourmet Mushrooms

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“Mushrooms like shiitake, oyster and all the gourmet edible mushrooms like porcini and chanterelle help activate our immune system to be more effective at preventing the colonization and proliferation of cold and flu viruses,” explains Dr. Huckle.


Canning Salt

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Dr. Larsh relies on canning salt “because it dissolves best” when gargling with warm water to soothe a sore throat, and for use in warm water via a Neti Pot for nasal washes.


Orange or Tangerine Peels

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Dr. Huckle says adding these citrus peels to hot water can help strengthen digestion and decongest the lungs and nose. Try this recipe:

Finely chop or grate 1 teaspoon of organic orange or tangerine peels

Finely chop or grate 1 teaspoon of grated ginger

Pour 16 ounces of boiling water over the grated ingredients, cover, allow to cool, and add a teaspoon of honey.


“Rest is second only to love as the best healer,” says Dr. Larsh. “Sleep deprivation is a sure way to get sick.” At the end of the day, a comfy bed and pillow remain keys to good health.

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When it’s cold and you’re craving cheesy warm comfort foods, try nutritional yeast as a healthy substitute. While cheese is fatty, nutritional yeast is a vegan-friendly topping that’s only about 30 calories per tablespoon. Packing a big punch, the yellow flakes boast protein, fiber, folic acid, and Vitamin B12 in flavorful form that adds salty, cheesy appeal to your fireside meal.



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