As the cold, wet season wears on, we all hope to avoid catching whatever airborne pox is floating around, or at least to heal quickly if we don’t dodge the bullet. Whether you’re holding the line against the microbial invasion, or you’ve caught something and want to bounce back, herbs can help!

For prevention, I take a two-tiered approach.

One level of defense is the preventative tonic, which I start as soon as the rainy season kicks in. For this layer, I want herbs that are gentle and balanced, with more tonic than specific action. This is because I plan on taking Spagyrics of these herbs day in, day out for a few months, and so I need allies that will shore up my defenses without activating anything too strongly in one direction, or causing a new imbalance in the process.

In our experience, medicinal mushrooms are the best fit for this approach. Their immune systems are a great match for ours, since they have many genetic similarities to us, and are subject to many of the same diseases. Most medicinal mushrooms are able to powerfully boost immunity, vitality, and energy without causing depletion or overstimulation.

Our most versatile Spagyric of mushrooms is our Five Mushrooms Somalixir. Shiitake is an excellent all-around support for the immune system, while Turkey Tail is more specifically anti-bacterial and anti-viral. Cordyceps has an affinity for the respiratory system, boosting its health and oxygenation. Reishi and Spirit Poria are  like emotional adaptogens, keeping our minds and hearts peaceful and stable so that our energetic defenses hold together.

These mushrooms and several more are found in our Shroomtastic Somalixir. This extra-earthy Spagyric is also an immune tonic and support for may body systems, and it adds mushrooms that modulate immunity in ways that are helpful if you tend towards allergies or overactive immune response. Particularly in the Autumn and Spring transition seasons, I can bounce back and forth between allergies and infections, each feeding the other, and I find Shroomtastic brings both of those swings back to a balanced place.

A non-fungal herb that acts in similarly intelligent ways is Astragalus root. This sweet, delicious herb is traditionally used in chicken soup, which is a recipe I rely on, and it also extracts very well as a Spagyric. In Chinese medicine, Astragalus is said to boost the body’s defensive “wei qi”, which surrounds the physical body like a shield against “external pernicious influence”. That can refer to pathogens, allergens, toxins, or even negative energies from other people. If you tend to pick up anything you’re exposed to, from colds and food poisoning to bad moods and emotional states, our Astragalus Spiritualized Essence is a great choice.

Once you’ve got your long-term defense team lined up, it’s also helpful to have a more active set of Spagyrics to rely on for more immanent threats. These are what you’d reach for if someone around you gets sick, or if you get run down and are worried about having an opening in your defenses. These are herbs that act fast but are best used for short periods in response to specific threats, after which you can go back to the tonics to keep on course.

Echinacea is one such first-response herb, useful as soon as the sniffles or throat tickles set into your system or anyone you share airspace with. Our Echinacea Essence gives the tongue a nice tingle that shows its immune-boosting alkylamides are present. These compounds interact with the cannabinoid receptors in the immune system, boosting the function of killer cells, and also helping with pain and discomfort.

The other Spagyric I rely on when it seems illness is stalking me is Propolis. Propolis is a resin collected by bees and transformed into an anti-pathogenic lacquer that they use to line their hives. Bees do not have individual immune systems like we do- their hive is the body of their superorganism, and propolis is their immune defense.

Our Green Propolis Spiritualized Essence always makes me feel invincible when I take it, firing up my inner heat and sending it to my energetic perimeter like a force field. It’s a strong anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral, cleansing the mouth and respiratory system with an aromatic cloud of pungency. I like to use it just one drop at a time, every few hours for a few days.

If, despite all your best efforts, you do succumb to a germy invader, what next? Chinese medicine makes the wise point that tonic herbs are not suited for this phase, they call it “locking the thief in the house”, and teach that he must be first driven out, and then defenses can be shored up again.

In the case of flu, Elder is the classic helper to reduce both severity and duration of illness. Our Elder Essence is made from both the flowers and berries for the widest spectrum of action. The flowers are calming, helping with rest, while also stimulating sweating and the reduction of fever. The berries are specifically active against influenza, helping the body kill the virus and keep it in check.

When you’re not sure of the nature of the invader, Oshá is a great choice. Active against viruses, fungi, and bacteria, it brings more moisture to the lungs and sinuses so that phlegm is thinned and can clear out. Our Oshá Essence is stimulating and warming, and clears out mucus within a few moments of using it. I like to take it and then have a hot bath, followed by bundling up in bed to rest.

Usnea, a symbiotic pairing of fungus and algae, is a step further along the germ-killing continuum. As I wrote a few months ago, it has a signature of air energy, and is connected to respiratory health by many cultures. Active against even serious pathogens such as strep and pneumonia, Usnea does not affect the good bacteria of the gut, and so may be a more balanced choice than pharmaceutical antibiotics. Usnea extracts well in alcohol, and our Usnea Essence is a great addition to the winter response kit.

Once the acute phase of illness is past, but before returning to tonic therapy, a few herbs can be helpful in restoring balance.

Yerba Santa is an herb of the dry California west, and its aromatic and delicious leaves are a wonderful tonic to the structural health of the mucus membranes. Our Yerba Santa Essence helps the respiratory system heal after the irritation of infection, and it combines well with Oshá and Usnea for that transition. It’s also useful as a tonic during allergy season, to help the sinuses be less reactive to pollens and irritants.

codonopsisLicorice is another Chinese herb, used as both a tonic and a specific. It has affinity for the respiratory system, soothing irritation and inflammation there and throughout the body. It is considered harmonizing and detoxifying to the actions of other herbs, and improves the taste of formulas, too. Our Licorice Essence is a balanced representation of all these actions.

Finally, if illness is long or especially depleting, the Chinese root Codonopsis can be a very nourishing and rebuilding tonic. To build Qi without over-stimulation, our rich, food-like Codonopsis Spiritualized Essence builds energy back up to full health in a nutritive way.

We hope this tour of Spagyrics for the season is helpful, and that your winter has been, and remains, a healthy one!