Season change makes us vulnerable to ‘transient illness’

Today, there was stillness on my morning walk though the field and small forest. The grey clouds hung low in the sky.

Today, there was stillness on my morning walk though the field and small forest. The grey clouds hung low in the sky.

Green has been replaced with yellows, reds and browns. I tucked my hands in the pocket of my jacket, protecting them from the cool air. This evening I will rummage about finding mittens, gloves, hats and scarves.

Last week, two clients came in with runny noses, scratchy throats and feeling bummed out. It’s the change of season cold.

In traditional medicine, the change of season is the most vulnerable time for developing transient illnesses like cold or flu.

In Tibetan medicine, when a patient comes down with such a illness they are advised to rest, stay warm and take hot fluids like soups and teas.

Patients are cautioned that if they do not attend to a transient illness with appropriate measures, they risk the illness moving deeper into their body.

For example, a cold is followed by a sinus infection, followed by bronchitis, pneumonia and chronic illness.

People really do not like to rest for a week while recovering from a cold; few take this advice and continue to struggle through the day.

This not only includes Western culture, but any culture. Even in remote societies which have little technology, few vehicles and live beyond the 9-5 day, children still need to be fed, elders cared for, roofs thatched and goats tended to.

Since the logical solution of rest is so difficult to do, herbal medicine offers a second option: the herbal tonic. Tonics assist the body with adapting to the changing season.

Spring tonics were popular when winter food was root vegetables and heavy meat.

The eruption of green plants in the spring offered renewing chlorophyll, vitamins and minerals energizing the body, preparing it for spring planting. Young nettle (Utcara dioica) plants, poking up behind the barn, are a perfect spring tonic. Nettles provide the body with the nutrition absent throughout the winter.

In the fall, the tonic has a different purpose. They are used to transition the body from the heat (and possibly dryness) of summer, to the cool dampness autumn brings.

In many cases, fall tonics target the respiratory tract as it is most vulnerable at this time of year with airborne viruses and the irritants stirred up by harvest.

My favourite tonic for the respiratory system is astragulus (Astragulus membranaceus). This is an exceptional plant.

Astragulus comes from the apothecary of the Chinese herbalist where she uses it to raise vitality after sever loss of blood in post partum haemorrhage. In North America numerous clinical studies demonstrates astragulus’ remarkable ability to build both white and red blood cells. For this reason, western herbalist uses astragulus to build blood in those under going chemotherapy.

As a fall tonic, astragulus strengthens the immune system.

It eases the itchy eyes and wheezing for those suffering with allergies and asthma. Although conventional medicine suppress the immune response to relives the symptoms of allergies and asthma, traditional medicine from around the world strengthen the immune response.

This lowers the immune system sensitivity to non-threatening irritants while boosting its efforts against real threats to health, reflecting a normal immune response. Astragulus limits the allergic response.

Boosting the immune system with astragulus also helps the body over come cold and flu viruses before they get hold and result in the advised, “take time off.”

I like to combine astragulus with siberian ginseng (Eleuthrococcus senticosus) and/or ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). Both these herbs are considered adaptogens. Adaptogens help the body adapt to stress.

The change of season, with dramatic shifts in temperature and moisture are considered stressful on the body. Both herbs increase the body’s endurance while lowering the effects of mental strain. For example, both herbs have been used successfully to ease classroom stress while increasing concentration.

To top off the fall tonic, I add ginger (Zingiber officinale). This warms up the body.

To use astragulus, siberian ginseng and ginger as a fall immune tonic take one teaspoon a day for six to eight weeks. Then give the body a rest from the tonic for six weeks. Take it one more time for six weeks, one teaspoon a day. This will build immunity for winter.

Herbs for Life is written by Abrah Arneson, a local clinical herbalist. It is intended for information purposes only. Readers with a specific medical problem should consult a doctor. For more information, visit Arneson can be reached at