Beauty & Wellness
Beyond Chicken Soup: Herbal Remedies In Our Own Backyard
By Sarah Todd
When it comes to cures for colds, flus and other winter maladies, most people go in for a bit of folk medicine. An old roommate of mine made a pot of garlic tea whenever she felt an ominous tickle in her throat; another friend rubs eucalyptus oil on her chest to battle congestion. But to truly harness the power of herbal remedies, it helps to get an expert opinion.
Happily, herbalists are abundant throughout Dutchess, Columbia and Berkshire counties. Take Germantown’s Lauren Giambrone, who came to alternative medicine by way of professional burnout. In 2008, Giambrone’s full-time job at a Brooklyn non-profit and long hours at an activist newspaper were taking a toll on her health. “At that time, within activism and community organizing, there was not a culture of self-care,” Giambrone says. “It was like, ‘No time to take care of yourself, we need to change the world!’”
But after years of feeling run-down, Giambrone realized she needed to take health off the back burner. She began studying at the Northeast School of Botanical Medicine in Ithaca. On her 30th birthday, she founded Good Fight Herb Co., now approaching its fifth growing season.
Today, she’s dedicated to making community wellness a priority for social justice. “Herbalism is known as the people’s medicine,” she says. “Really the intention is autonomy. It’s about being the expert of your own body.”
To that end, Giambrone has plenty of DIY recommendations for staving off viruses that run riot in winter. “Fire cider is a recipe people can make at home,” she says. “It stimulates the immune system and brings a lot of warmth to the core of the body, where colds tend to instigate. It also clears your sinuses.”
To prepare it, Giambrone says, chop up equal portions of ginger root, garlic and horseradish. Then toss them in a jar with cayenne pepper and cover the batch with apple cider vinegar. After steeping the mixture for two to four weeks, take a teaspoon to a tablespoon as a daily preventative or at the first sign of sickness.
Another one of Good Fight’s standbys is an herbal throat spray that combines calendula, sage, thyme, propolis and anise hyssop. “That’s a great go-to once the throat tickle starts,” Giambrone says.
For maximum effectiveness, Giambrone says it’s important to take herbal remedies throughout the day. “We’re used to taking one dose of over-the-counter medicine and we’re done for eight hours,” she says. “But with herbs you’ve got to keep up on it.”
As a mother of 10, herbalist Jean Pollock knows all about that kind of healthful vigilance. “When you’re a young mother, you panic when your kids get sick,” she says. Herbal medicine offered the New Marlborough mom a way to keep her brood in fine fettle. In 1997, she took the fruits of her knowledge — and her herb garden — public with Mystical Rose Herbals.
Pollock says that elderberries are one foolproof way to banish colds. “If you’ve been hanging onto a runny nose or a cough,” she says, “get yourself an elderberry tincture. Just take four droperfuls of it three times a day.”
To wage further war against cold and flu season, Mystical Rose Herbals offers a therapeutic bath salt blend. Mineral-rich salt from the Dead Sea is married with boneset, feverfew, ginger, horehound and eucalyptus for what Pollock describes as “a kind of whole-body tea.” The bath salts loosen phlegm, while hot water and herbs reduce stress and restore electrolytes.
For those who prefer to drink their tea rather than soak in it, Pollock offers a health tea packed with 15 herbs — from alfalfa to red raspberry leaves. “It’s loaded with vitamins and minerals,” Pollock says. “If you drink it on a regular basis, you’ll keep yourself in top running order.”
Terri Lundquist, owner of The Village Herbalist in Millerton, has a lifetime of experience with alternative medicine. “Growing up,” she says, “my mom believed that you could cure anything with apple cider vinegar and clay.”
Lundquist went on to study at the Vermont Center for Integrated Herbalism. There, she learned how herbal treatments could complement Western healing methods. “They build us up to be balanced and strong,” she says, “so that we don’t get sick in the first place.”
But sometimes it’s too late for prevention. When fevers wake the flu-ridden in the middle of the night, Lundquist recommends boneset tea — an herb named for its power to stop chills in their tracks. She also suggests fever tea, made with yarrow, peppermint, catnip and elderflowers. “Those four have been used together for thousands of years,” she says.
With the pollen-saturated winds of spring just around the corner, Lundquist adds that now is a great time to head off allergies. “You should start six weeks in advance,” she says. Nettles, sage, and goldenrod can all be used in preventative teas. Lundquist also recommends reishi mushrooms, which are available at her store.
If the prospect of spring — allergies and all — still seems woefully remote, Lundquist has a few antidotes for cabin fever. Nettle tea and lemon balm are both mood-lifting tonics. Lundquist is also a big believer in the healing power of food. She suggests keeping onions, garlic, turmeric and curries simmering on stovetops throughout winter. With ingredients like that, she doesn’t mind getting a taste of her own medicine. “In fact,” she says, “I’m having curried chicken tonight!”
The Village Herbalist
Products soon to be available online.
28 Main Street, Millerton, NY