By Michael Tierra L.Ac., O.M.D., founder of the American Herbalists Guild
In my opinion, there is no need to find herbs that are specific for a specific strain of flu -- I don't think herbs work that way. Determining the best course for prevention is of first importance and secondly treatment is secondary will always be far more difficult in my opinion because unless one catches and treats external diseases like colds and flu at the very beginning of onset with a formula such as the traditional Chinese Yin Chiao, the most one can expect from non-heroic herbal treatment is to lessen the impact, shorten the duration of the ailment.
The most specific Chinese formula for protection from external diseases is called Jade Screen (Yupingfeng San). The reference to jade means something that is valued and precious and in this case, because it protects.
It consists of the following: Astragalus 10-15 grams, White Atractylodes 9-12 grams, Ledebouriella 9-12 grams. It is a near miraculous formula for preventing and treating colds, flus and allergic rhinitis.
It is interesting to me that one of the herbs in the formula, Ledebouriella (also known as Saposhnikovia divaricata, or, in Chinese, Fang Feng, literally translated "guard against wind," meaning "external contagion" in this case), is in the same family as Lomatium dissectum which, during the 1918 pandemic, was widely recognized to be effective against that flu in regions where it was locally harvested and picked. I think it's also related to Osha (Ligusticum porteri; See "Notes on Osha" below). I don't favor using the wild strains of either of these local species, but I believe the Chinese have been able to cultivate favor using Fang Feng.
Ledebouriella is classified as acrid, sweet, slightly warm and more moist and balanced than other herbs that are used for treating external cold wind (meaning airborne and able to stimulate strong histaminic reactions). So it is a more balanced herb for these kinds of conditions. It's known as the most moist of the wind herbs. It can be used for all wind patterns, hot or cold (this is the hardest aspect of treating these external diseases!). It treats both the upper and lower body as well as the exterior and interior. It's commonly used for headaches as well as diarrhea. It is effective for general body aches and spasms as well as relief of muscular tetany. It stops bleeding from the bowels which as I understand it, bleeding is one of the signs of severe flu strains.
So the resemblance of Ledebouriella to North American Osha and other species (Ligusticum porteri and Lomatium dissectum) known by Native Americans and white settlers to be effective for the flu, is of particular interest. This way people don't need to desperately yank out existing environmental species, when a cultivated Asian species may be just as effective.
The combination of Ledebouriella with Astragalus, a well-known and powerful herb for the prevention of colds and flu is of great interest. According to Bensky (Materia Medica 3rd edition), an herbalist named Chen-Shi-Duo observed:
"Surprisingly, Saposhnikoviae (Fang Feng) can be used when pathogenic wind is not present [my interpretation is in other words before one catches the flu or cold]; if used with Astragalus it can shut out wind from entering the skin [my understanding: which would include the nasal, eye and mouth cavities]. HOWEVER IT CANNOT BE USED ONCE THE WIND PATHOGEN (VIRUS) HAS ALREADY ENTERED.'
He goes on to say,
"There is a deep significance when the ancients name something. By pondering the name [in this case "Jade Screen" or "wind protector"] one obtains comprehension.'
Now, Astragalus is THE primary herb for tonifying the "wei qi," or exterior defense system, and according to Bensky, "it is a very powerful substance for strengthening the qi and stabilizing the exterior. It tonifies the superficial or exterior aspects of the lungs and spleen."
White Atractylodes tonifies Spleen qi and in that way works synergistically with Astragalus, but it also stabilizes the exterior, and stops sweating, especially due to qi deficiency.
Jade Screen formula is ideal for taking daily to prevent colds and flu, but is not useful when the cold or flu has begun. Unfortunately, it is difficult for most of us to motivate ourselves to take something for prevention, but to paraphrase an ancient Chinese saying, "To treat disease after it has begun is akin to trying to build armaments after the war has started."
I recommend taking 2 to 4 tablets once daily for prevention. If a pandemic is underway, repeat this two or three times during the day. In this case I favor the lower dose since Jade Screen is warming and drying which may not be suitable for individuals with what is known as "yin deficiency." Jade screen works best when taken with fresh ginger tea.
Notes on Osha: Osha Root is known by many names, including Bear Root, Mountain Ginseng, Nipo, Indian Root, Empress of The Dark Forest, Bear Medicine, Wild Lovage, Porters Lovage, Mountain Carrot, Colorado Cough Root, and Chuchupati. It is native to the Rocky Mountains of North America, and can be found at altitudes of up to 10,000 feet. Osha is a relative to Lovage, which is an herb found in Europe that is helpful in treating stomach and urinary problems. Osha Root was originally used by western Native Americans to treat colds, flu, and upper respiratory infections. It was also used as a digestive tonic and as a toothache remedy. Osha Root is purported to be an immune builder, that is, it helps the body ward off viral infections. As word gets out about Osha's positive action on the immune system, it will undoubtedly become as popular as Echinacea, Astragalus, and other well-known herbal immune boosters. It has also been used to lower blood pressure, to stimulate menstruation, and in the improvement of blood circulation.