Japanese honeysuckle by William RaftiEach spring, the honeysuckle flowers gather at the end of their stems to trumpet their sweet, gentle scent of purification and renewal. When I lead an herb walk in my backyard, I always pause with my students in homage at the woodbine (honeysuckle vine). After a discussion of the powerful antibiotic, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and not least, anticancer properties of this gentle herb, I facetiously tell my students to pick a dry weight pound of honeysuckle blossoms as part of their initiation into the world of herbs.

The painstaking task I suggest to my students is something I've never personally undertaken. Generally, I don't pick honeysuckle flowers myself, with the excuse that it's too much work. Probably it is for this same reason that despite the herb's fantastic properties of purification and detoxification, it is seldom used by Western herbalists. (This moment does not pass with a feeling of silent gratitude for some poor Chinese peasant who invested hours of time and patience to pick a pound of jin yin hua for a pittance so that I could in turn purchase the flowers at a cost of just a few U.S. dollars.) It's impossible to only use herbs I personally grow or harvest in my clinic, but in an attempt to complete the cycle from nature to nurture, I always try to harvest some part of the herbs I use every year. This spring, I could not resist the temptation to pick some fresh honeysuckle flowers for personal use and for some clients in my clinic.

Honeysuckle flowers tend to grow in small clumps of up to eight or more blossoms. At first, they are luminescent white; then, as the heat of the sun bears down on them, they begin to yellow with age. I don't know it for certain, but I imagine that the white flowers are more potent. I single these out for harvest.

Well, in the space of 30 minutes I probably harvested eight to 10 ounces, that is fresh and wet, not dry! Still, the effort is worth it. I think of ascetic monks who charge themselves to the repetition of a mantra counted on a rosary (mala) of hundreds to thousands a day, how much more transcendent and connecting of heaven and earth would it be, if they were put to the task of picking honeysuckle flowers while quietly repeating their prayer? Imagine the even greater healing spiritual energy prayer-picked honeysuckle blossoms would take on!

Medicinal Applications of Honeysuckle Flowers and Leaves

Jin yin hua, the most common species of honeysuckle used in Asia, is Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica). With over a hundred species worldwide, ranging in a wide arrange of sizes and colors (including red!) the plants are all in the Caprifoliacea family along with Sambucus (elder). According to herbalist Christopher Hobbs, elder has chemistry and properties similar enough to be used interchangeably with honeysuckle flowers. Lonicera fruit can be red, blue or black and contain several hard seeds. In most species the berries are regarded as mildly poisonous with the notable exception of L. caerulea whose berries are edible. Nevertheless, it is not the berries, but the flowers and leaves that we are after when we look to honeysuckle as a medicinal.

Jin yin hua, which aptly translates as 'golden silver flower,' is one of the first herbs considered for the treatment of infections, inflammation, fevers and toxicity. It is an herbal antibiotic effective against a broad spectrum of bacteria including Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Bacillus dysenteeriae, Vibrio cholera, Salmonella typhi, Diplococcus pneumonia, Diplococcus meningitides, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Chlorogenic acid and isochlorogenic acid in the herb has the strongest antibiotic effects. According to Chen and Chen (Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology, 2004, Art of Medicine Press Inc.), the fresh herb only soaked in water has a stronger antibiotic than an herbal decoction, with the leaves having an even stronger antibiotic properties than the flowers.

Honeysuckle flowers are classified as sweet and cold and enter the Lung, Stomach and Large Intestine meridians. They are effectively dosed anywhere from 10 to 60 grams and are used for the common cold with symptoms of fever and thirst, upper respiratory tract infections, boils, furuncles, enteritis and dysentery. For diarrhea and dysentery with watery stool, honeysuckle is taken dry fried and carbonized.

One of the most common formulas using honeysuckle is the famous Yin Qiao San, widely used for treating colds and influenza. However, its broader detoxifying and heat-clearing properties makes it useful for inflammatory skin conditions, inflammations of the upper respiratory tract and is taken both internally and externally for mastitis as well as lung and breast cancer. Several studies have shown that extracts of honeysuckle promote apoptosis and inhibit tumor growth. For more on the anticancer uses of Lonicera and other herbs, I recommend my book Treating Cancer with Herbs published by Lotus press.

The flowers are not the only part of Lonicera that are useful medicinally. While not specifically designated, the leaves have even stronger antibiotic effects than the flowers. This may inspire herbalists to personally harvest and try using more generous doses of Lonicera aerial parts for all infectious diseases. In this regard, though I've not tried it, one might consider the use of strong honeysuckle tea, perhaps with added fresh ginger and a little licorice for recalcitrant infections like Lyme's disease.

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has a specific through similar anti-inflammatory use for Lonicera stems which are called jin yin teng or ren dong teng. This part of the plant has milder anti-toxin effects but is specific for arthritic and rheumatic conditions, described in TCM as bi pain or 'wind-dampness.'

While many contemporary western herbalists regard honeysuckle as exclusive to the domain of Chinese herbal medicine, the Roman naturalist writer Pliny recommended it mixed with wine for the treatment of 'disorders of the spleen.' This may suggest yet another possible use for honeysuckle: depression. In ancient Greek humoural medicine, the spleen is associated with the black bile humour which in turn is associated with melancholy, or depression. To my knowledge there is no contemporary use of honeysuckle flowers for the treatment of depression unless one considers its use as a homeopathic Bach flower remedy for a certain kind of depression associated with nostalgia.

I've always been eager to incorporate and use any herb or healing principle so long as it is safe and effective. This is why I came up with my own approach to herbalism, Planetary Herbology embodied in the East West Herb Course. If I were an Ayurvedic herbalist or a curandero living in the Amazon jungle, if I learned about the fantastic uses of an herb like Lonicera, I'd have a hard time not wanting to put it to immediate use. If you've got a honeysuckle vine giving its profuse blooms over a fence or trellis in your yard at this time of year, I hope you're inspired to snip some leaves and flowers for medicine; it'll come in handy later this year!

The cold and flu season is still upon us. Michael wrote about treating flu last fall, especially the swine flu, but I want to address a different approach here.

Cold/flu treatment usually falls into two main categories: wind-chill and wind-heat. Most flu formulas commonly available, western and Chinese, address wind-heat conditions as their symptoms are the most common: slight chills, stronger fever, thirst, sweating, restless, desire for cool drinks, mucus and phlegm that's yellow and a yellow-coated tongue with a redder body, especially the front third.

Wind-chill has different symptoms: stronger chills and little to no fever, no thirst or sweating, dull headaches, body aches, tight neck and shoulders, desire to be covered and still can't get warm, mucus and phlegm that's copious, runny and white to clear-colored and a white-coated tongue with a paler body.

To treat wind-chill, one uses warming and pungent herbs. Samuel Thomson's notorious Composition Powder works perfectly here (its equal in Planetary Formulas is called Ginger Warming Compound, which contains spicy herbs such as ginger, bayberry and cayenne).

Expellin_ExtractA great Chinese patent equivalent that clears the chill but also treats the wind component beautifully (manifesting in the stuffy nose, tight neck and shoulders and body aches) is Chuan Xiong Cha Tiao Wan. It contains the following: mint (bo he), ligusticum (chuan xiong), schizonepeta (jing jie), notopterygium (qiang huo), licorice (gan cao), angelica (bai zhi), ledebouriella (fang feng) and asarum (xi xin). If taken at the first signs of chills and body aches, dull headache and tingly-ache along the nape of the neck and shoulders, it can knock it right out.

If a virus invades along with the wind-chill, take the above with a lower dosage of any cooling anti-viral herbs such as elderberry, isatis or olive leaf. The combination is quite effective and quickly knocks out these nasty conditions.

If there are signs of both heat and cold, it's possible to take the typical western herbs for colds and flu along with adding strong ginger tea (or a smaller dosage of Ginger Warming Compound). Be sure to add in an anti-viral herb, as that is often the key to quickly knocking out any cold or flu.

The cold and flu season is still upon us. While Michael wrote about treating flu last fall, especially the swine flu, I want to address a different approach here. Cold/flu treatment usually falls into two main categories: wind-chill and wind-heat. Most flu formulas commonly available, western and Chinese, address wind-heat conditions as their symptoms are the most common: slight chills, stronger fever, thirst, sweating, restless, desire for cool drinks, mucus and phlegm that's yellow and a yellow-coated tongue with a redder body, especially the front third. A great Chinese patent equivalent that clears the chill but also treats the wind component beautifully (manifesting in the stuffy nose, tight neck and shoulders and body aches) is Chuan Xiong Cha Tiao Wan. It contains, mint (bo he), ligusticum (chuan xiong), schizonepeta (jing jie), notopterygium (qiang huo), licorice (gan cao), angelica (bai zhi), ledebourilla (fang feng) and asarum (xi xin). If taken at the first signs of chills and body aches, dull headache and tingly-ache along the nape of the neck and shoulders it can knock it right out. If a virus invades along with the wind chill, take the above with a lower dosage of any cooling anti-viral herbs such as elderberry, isatis or olive leaf. The combination is quite effective and quickly knocks out these nasty conditions. If there are signs of both heat and cold it's possible to take the typical western herbs for colds and flu along with adding strong ginger tea (or a smaller dosage of Ginger Warming Compound). Be sure to add in an anti-viral herb, as that is often the key to quickly knocking out any cold or flu.

garlicNo matter what name you give it (or what animal you name it after), we're now full swing into the flu season. Michael's written on the great benefits of onion poultice; how can I pass up touting one of my favorite flu/lung/cough herbs '" garlic? So while you're plastering your chest with an onion poultice, eat or drink some form of garlic as well. 

Garlic is said to be a cure for every ailment but the one it causes: bad breath! Its delightful fragrance comes from the presence of sulfur compounds, nature's own antibiotic (but if you eat parsley after the garlic, much of its undesirable odor is eliminated). Garlic is a rejuvenating herb because it both stimulates metabolism and detoxifies. In fact, the body absorbs it so quickly that if you were to rub a clove on your feet, you would be able to taste it within seconds! 

Garlic is one of the very best herbs for respiratory conditions, colds, flu, sore throats, infections and earaches. Because it so powerfully heals lung ailments, I recommend it to most all patients with coughs or mucus (especially white or clear mucus).

I have found two methods to be particularly effective for lung ailments: garlic juice or garlic appetizer.  

Once when I visited my parents I developed walking pneumonia (and didn't know it). I tried a variety of different herbs but had no results. Finally, I purchased a bottle of garlic juice at a chain grocery store and drank one teaspoonful every two to three hours. Within the first day I was well on the road to recovery and by the end of the third day, completely healed. 

Another time I had a terrible debilitating cough on Mother's Day. My son and husband wanted to take me out to lunch to celebrate and since I didn't want to disappoint them, I went along thinking I would keep them company but not eat. Luckily we found an Italian restaurant where, as we waited to order, a large appetizer of bread with raw garlic in olive oil sat on our table. Knowing garlic would help me, I coated several pieces of the bread with masses of the raw garlic dipped in olive oil and ate them with relish. By the time our meals had arrived, my cough was nearly gone and the next day I had fully recovered. I have seen had many a patient experience similar results using garlic juice or appetizer. 

Of course, garlic has TONS of other great medicinal uses. It's a specific for regulating blood pressure, both high and low, and lowers blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels and plaque in vessels, thus treating atherosclerosis. The deodorized garlic capsules work well in this case, which is a blessing, for it is quite convenient and of course, odorless (in fact, the aged garlic may be superior for these actions).  

As well, raw garlic effectively improves weak digestion, stimulates circulation and treats arthritis, rheumatism, lower back and joint pains, genito-urinary diseases, nervous disorders, cramps and spasms and heart weakness. For any of these eat the raw cloves, or drink the juice or syrup. It may also be used in food poisoning due to shellfish.  

The Chinese use garlic as a preventative and treatment for parasites and intestinal worms, particularly hookworms, pinworms and ringworm of the scalp. Either insert an oiled garlic clove in the rectum, use garlic enemas (made from garlic tea), eat 3-5 raw cloves of garlic, 3-6 times daily, apply the paste (mashed garlic in sesame or olive oil) topically for ringworm, and in general, use heavy doses for these indications.  

Garlic is also good for amoebic dysentery, and an effective antibiotic for staphylococcus, streptococcus and bacteria resistant to standard antibiotic drugs. It is effective for vaginitis and leukorrhea (coat cloves in oil, wrap in muslin, saturate in olive oil and directly insert into vagina) and anti-fungal for the treatment of Candida albicans and yeast infections. 


Allium sativum; Liliaceae;  da suan; Sanskrit: lasunam

Part Used: bulb

Energy, taste: hot; spicy

Organs affected: Lung, Spleen, Large Intestine, Stomach

Actions: expels parasites

Properties: stimulant, diuretic, diaphoretic, hypotensive, alterative, digestant, carminative, expectorant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, parasiticide, antibiotic, antibacterial, antifungal, anticoagulant, lowers cholesterol

Biochemical constituents: volatile oil (about 0.2%) including allicin and aliin, B Vitamins, minerals

Dose: 6-15 gm; Since the volatile oils hold its active ingredients, garlic must be taken fresh for acute ailments rather than deodorized in capsules. For acute conditions, take 1 tsp. every hour of syrup, oil or juice; 3-5 cloves, raw, toasted or as paste/day; 30-60 drops tincture, 1-4 times/day

Precautions: avoid in high doses during pregnancy; do not use with Excess Heat or Yin Deficiency with Heat signs, acute inflammations, or take with problems of the mouth, tongue or throat; prolonged direct contact to the skin of fresh garlic can cause irritation; excessive use can irritate the stomach

Other: purple-skinned garlic has a stronger effect against parasites; eat with food as a preventative

Indications: respiratory conditions, colds, flu, sore throats, infections, earaches, cough, high and low blood pressure, high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, atherosclerosis, weak digestion, poor circulation, arthritis, rheumatism, lower back and joint pains, genito-urinary diseases, nervous disorders, cramps, spasms, heart weakness, parasites, intestinal worms (particularly hookworms), pinworms, ringworm of the scalp, amoebic dysentery, staphylococcus, streptococcus, vaginitis, leukorrhea, Candida, yeast infections

Have you ever had one of those lingering, deep-seated coughs (often the last hanger-on symptom after a cold or flu) that just continually and gradually wears down your reserves of strength?

No matter how long or hard you hack, regardless how many pints of cough syrup or handfuls of pills you swallow, despite all the sessions of acupuncture you sign up for, it's the cough that just refuses to budge. That nasty little wad of phlegm that managed to drain from your sinuses and slip down deep into your bronchioles just won't come up. It's annoying and downright exhausting!

What to do? 

onionsThis is where my favorite home remedy comes to the rescue. It is the time-honored onion poultice --  or if you wish to add garlic for extra antibiotic effect, it's the onion-garlic poultice.

Whenever I think of onion poultice I think of one of my favorite movies, "Where the Lilies Bloom" (1974), about four suddenly orphaned backwoods kids who have to fend for themselves and call upon all their ancestral knowledge about herbs. There is a pivotal scene where some authority figure is stricken with something like pneumonia with a severely debilitating cough, and the children literally encase the stricken person in a bath of finely chopped (and I presume steamed) onions. The patient recovers, which adds greatly to the esteem of the kids who are trying desperately to conceal the fact that they are without parents but want to remain together.

The point is that this remedy really does work like a charm. It's the best treatment for pneumonia and stubborn coughs like the ones that seem to stick around after a bout of cold or flu.

There's any number of variations on how to prepare it, but I'll share mine which works for me:

  1. Finely chop two or three onions (you may also add a few cloves of chopped garlic for increased antibiotic effect).
  2. Steam these for a short while in a steamer.
  3. Remove from steamer, place in a large bowl, and add a half cup of corn flour and a couple of tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to help hold the poultice together. Mix well.
  4. Place the entire mash in a natural fiber cloth, large enough to wrap and keep the entire mash over an area roughly the size of your patient's chest.
  5. Apply the wrapped mash to your supine patient, as hot as can be tolerated without burning, over the chest, from the base of the neck down as far as you wish.  If the cough seems more on the back then apply it over the upper back. (If you are putting the poultice on yourself, you might need assistance from a friend or family member.) 
  6. Place a hot water bottle or heating pad over the top of the poultice to maintain heat for greater penetration.
  7. Rest with the poultice on for at least 20 or 30 minutes. 

This treatment can be repeated once or twice a day until relief is obtained. Applying the hot onion poultice before bed will help allay the cough enough to produce a more restful sleep. If you want to accompany it with a simple homemade antibacterial internal medicine, you can blend several cloves of garlic in olive oil and take a teaspoon to a tablespoon at least every hour. You can also make a tasty instant cough syrup by grating raw ginger and mixing it in warm liquid honey with the juice of a lemon.

The antibiotic and antiviral sulfur compounds of onion and garlic, when applied directly over the lungs, will ease inflammation, loosen and break up hardened mucus, and help expectoration. You may experience immediate benefit from even one application, but for some this may be accompanied with shorter bouts of somewhat more aggressive coughing fits as the hardened phlegm is loosened and gradually works its way out. 

This simple folk remedy is golden and should never be forgotten! Best of all, it requires no exotic ingredients -- just items you probably already have in your pantry. I know of no pharmaceutical drug, medical treatment or internal herbal formula that is more effective. 

There is mounting fear -- and perhaps even hysteria -- around the H1N1 virus as we usher in the fall and winter, which are the typical flu seasons.

As I try to make sense of the plethora of conflicting information about H1N1 and what sort of a threat it really is, I spy the bottle of Astragalus Jade Screen sitting next to my computer and take the day's first dose.

I've spent many hours these past few days trying to come up with the clearest information about Swine Flu, what it is, how to prevent it, and how to treat it. What I've come up with is the following:

The H1N1 Virus

The virus itself is very mysterious in that it is a combination of pig, bird and human genetic particles. No one thus far has been able to explain how all of these are present in one virus giving rise to wild conspiracy theories. (Still, the catastrophic betrayal of Bernie Maydoff ripping off thousands of people's retirement, not to mention banks, lending institutions and Wall Street remind us that not all conspiracy theories are fiction.)

To date, there have been 36 confirmed deaths of children attributed to the current Swine Flu in the US, a number well under the 100 children who potentially die each year from seasonal flu viruses. The Center for Disesase Control (CDC) director Dr. Thomas Frieden told reporters in a telephone briefing, "In two-thirds of those, the child had at least one severe underlying illness or underlying disability ... cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, long-standing respiratory or cardiac problems."


By and large, vaccinations are untested and therefore could be dangerous. Very little data exists that can say definitively whether even garden-variety seasonal vaccines are effective. In light of this, one must ask oneself if any risks involved in receiving the vaccine are justified in terms of possible benefits.

You may remember the 1976 flu scare dubbed 'the epidemic that never was.' The scare was based on the sudden death of one army recruit from a mysterious flu in February of that year. The alarm was sounded and government agencies ordered the stockpiling of anti-flu vaccine for the impending epidemic in the fall and winter. The epidemic never happened.

What did happen was that soon after the inadequately tested vaccine was administered to an estimated 220,000 Americans, thousands of people began coming down with severe reactions to the vaccine, including nerve damage and paralysis. The nation was confronted with 1.3 billion dollars in lawsuits, which could be tripled if this were to happen in today's economy. So to many, including the thousands of health care workers themselves who are at this time refusing to take the H1N1 vaccine because of similar inadequate human testing, the memory of that fiasco is fresh enough to raise a number of red flags.

I and others have found it impossible to come up with any data that clearly substantiates benefit from any flu vaccine. If anyone can point me to studies that strongly attest to the efficacy of the flu vaccine, please send it and I will gladly post it along with a retraction. Considering this lack of evidence, the Center for Disease Control's (CDC) proclamation that our greatest defense against the flu is the vaccine, looks a little like a case of the 'emperor's new clothes.'

There are valid questions being raised concerning the safety of the present vaccine. It seems that along with inactive particles of the H1N1 virus, the vaccine contains a number of other substances that are intended to add to its overall effect. One of these is squalene, which is added to vaccines to further activate the immune system. A substance found in fish liver oil, squalene is harmless when taken by mouth. However, when injected into the bloodstream as it was in the anthrax vaccine, it was seen as the cause of the 'Gulf War Syndrome' that afflicts so many military personnel who served in that war.

I'd like to make clear here that flu vaccines and anti-flu drugs do not prevent the flu. The primary benefit is not to stop people from catching the flu, but to lessen its severity somewhat and to shorten its duration by anywhere from a one half to 2 days.

At this point in writing this post, I walked up to my herb cabinet and popped two capsules of Yin Chiao with Echinacea tablets.

Antiflu Drugs

The CDC claims that antiviral drugs are 70% to 90% effective in preventing viral infections. However, studies show that antiviral treatment of seasonal influenza is most effective when treatment is first administered within 48 hours of flu onset.

It has already been found that the present H1N1 flu virus is immune to two popular antiviral drugs, Amantadine and Rimantadine. Over 20 individuals have developed strains of the virus that are resistant to Tamiflu; so far there have been found no cases resistant to Relenza, the only other antiviral drug found to be effective for the H1N1 virus. Despite recommendations that these antiviral drugs be reserved for the most serious cases, firsthand reports I've heard about H1N1 outbreaks in Southeastern and Midwestern states are that medical doctors are not testing for the virus strain because it's too expensive and it takes too long. Some doctors are simply prescribing Tamiflu to anyone who comes to them with symptoms of flu.

There have been reports of highly significant neuropsychiatric side effects which include impaired consciousness, abnormal behavior, hallucinations and self harm, especially in Japan where the drug is most widely prescribed. This particular concern has been focused on teenagers but there have also been problems reported in children and adults.

Roche, the manufacturer of Tamiflu, maintains that the benefits of the drug outweigh the costs. This reasonable assertion is applied to all drugs, but alas, not to antiviral herbs and health supplements that have far less risks associated with widespread use than drugs such as Tamiflu. The European Medicines Agency also said that the benefits of Tamiflu outweigh the costs, but that it would closely monitor reports from Japan. In South Korea, however there are warnings against prescribing the drug to teenagers except in special cases.

So as you can see, what starts out as a simple and reasonable proposition, which is to use antiviral drugs to combat the flu, something the CDC warns against because of the very real threat that the virus can mutate to a more deadly, drug-resistant strain, has gotten mired in misuse and confusion. It seems that Tamiflu has become the drug of choice by many US doctors for indiscriminately treating every case of the flu that enters their clinics. Because of the widespread press for the availability of this drug, medical doctors often have little choice as they are pressed by their patients to administer the drug.

Flu Fatalities

Well, it seems that there is no clear description as yet how people actually die of the flu. Of the 36,000 deaths a year attributed to any flu (give or take a thousand), some people, fortunately a very few, have a particularly virulent attack that progresses from onset to death within 24 hours. As rare as this is (and if it were not so rare, you'd better believe that we'd be hearing a lot more about this), most of these deaths result from mostly bacterial complications that arise as a result of having the flu. These can lead to serious lung damage, pneumonia and death.

At this point I decided that despite the fact that I was going to be seeing a few clients in the office today and even performing a short piano recital before a small audience at the downtown public library, I'd follow in the steps of my Sicilian forebears and dip a bit of bread in fresh garlic and olive oil and take it throughout the day. Too bad for those who may have to smell my garlic breath all day, but as we've heard several times in this blog already, 'the benefits outweigh the risks.'

If you're interested in learning more about the use of herbs and other safe natural alternative preventatives and treatments for flu that can be taken alone or along with pharmaceuticals, join my webinar next Monday, Sept. 21, 2009, from 6 to 7:30 p.m PST. I tried this last week but I we suffered some technical difficulties including a brief blackout that abruptly shut the program down. Please empower yourself for flu season by attending this rescheduled event!

Note: After posting this blog, a friend sent me this article by Len Saputo, MD, Stacia Lansman, MD, and Byron Belitsos. Entitled "Avoid the Swine Flu -- and Boost Your Own Immunity," it supports my views laid out here and is full of great, clear information. Please check it out and forward it to your community.

Who's afraid of the Big Bad Flu?

I know many of us are concerned about Swine Flu, and as I write this even the World Health Organization has declared a Level 5 outbreak; just one step away from Level 6, the highest, which is reserved for pandemics.

Somehow it all just doesn't compute. Maybe I'm sitting here with my own self-made and self-proclaimed measurement yardstick, but based on all the information so far, it looks like the customary blend of media hype feeding off the public's paranoia.

As of this writing there have been approximately 150 deaths and a little over 2,000 people supposedly infected with H1N1 virus. Even assuming unreported cases with double or triple that number lurking as a possibility, this still doesn't look anything like pandemic. Latest reports today seem to be that the number of deaths in Mexico have leveled off. So far in the US, there is one reported Mexican infant who died of the disease. The head of medicine in Mexico recently asserted that this viral pathogen did not even originate in Mexico but from Southeast Asia.

There are a few scattered cases reported throughout the country and the world but it's still far from anything approaching pandemic proportions. Further, thus far there is nothing that distinguishes the so called Swine flu from any other flu symptoms -- except that it can only be identified by the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

It's certainly not news that some people die from the flu. In fact in the US, approximately 36,000 people die each year from the flu with the worldwide death toll numbering into the millions.

Recently a number of health officials are beginning to cautiously question the growing hysteria around the growing Swine Flu hysteria. Recently on his daily networked radio show, even Dr. Dean Edell, an AMA loyalist if there ever was one, pointed out that over 800 people of all ages die from the flu each week, and he questioned the amount of attention and media hype this latest global threat poses.

So if it's not as bad as it seems, why are we hearing about it every hour like it's going to wipe us all out?

To quote the bard, "something smells rotten in the state of Denmark." As always, when paying attention to such things, consider: who stands to gain? This is what brings one back to the global pharmaceutical industry - the true '˜pandemic' to human civilization if there ever was one.

What is happening is that the European drug maker Roche is greatly increasing its production of Tamiflu with a tremendous boost in stock prices bankrolling millions. GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of the anti-flu drug Relenza, is also an investor boom with a steep increase of its stock prices.

Bottom line: Don't get carried away by alarmist media hype, wash your hands often, and keep it all in perspective.

Herbs for flu prevention (Swine or otherwise)

What can one take to prevent and treat influenza? In North America, an extremely bitter herb known as boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum) was traditionally used for "breakbone fever," as the flu was called in the 19th century.

The traditional Chinese formula called Jade Screen (Yupingfeng San) was first described in 1481 and was used to strengthen the Wei (defensive) energy of the body, otherwise known in modern medical terms as the exterior immune system. Jade Screen consists of three herbs: astragalus (Astragalus membranaceous), white atractylodes (Atractylodes macrocephela), and ledebouriella (Saposhnikovia divaricata). Astragalus root has known antiviral and antibacterial properties. Like astragalus, white atractylodes also tonifies Qi (energy) and serves as an assistant or synergistic helping herb with astragalus. The herb ledebouriellia (fang feng), further dispels pathogens, i.e., invading bacteria and viruses, from the surface of the body (skin, nasal passages, mouth, lungs, etc.).

Interestingly, ledebouriella is in the same Apiaceae family as the native North American species of ligusticum herbs such as osha (Ligusticum porteri) which was used by the native and local people had a noticeable benefit during the 1917-1918 Spanish flu pandemic that killed tens of millions of people. Those who took these native herbs only got a relatively mild case of the flu which was deadly to most others.

There is considerable supportive research that daily intake of supplemental vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin) is effective for preventing colds and flus.

Finally, it is important to not allow oneself to get over tired and adhere to a health supporting dietary and lifestyle regime. I also recommend the regular daily use of probiotics to enhance the body's innate immune wellbeing.

Lemon balm by JoJan

It is well known that oils of aromatic herbs which include all the mints, lemon balm and sage serve the function of putting up a protective barrier to plants against infective agents such as bacteria and viruses. In recent years research has given scientific credence to the possibility that this effect can be imparted to lessening the severity and frequency of viral infective diseases in humans.

Recently I've come across of couple of herb news headlines regarding the use of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) and other lamiaceae (mint) family herbs to treat herpes.

Many herbalists already know that virucidal extracts of lemon balm have been repeatedly reported to effectively treat herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) which are common ulcerative cold sores and type 2 (HSV-2) which is classified as the most common sexually transmitted disease affecting human male and female genitalia.

In one study of 116 people with HSV1, those who applied lemon balm cream to their lip sores experienced significant improvement in redness and swelling after only two days. Other symptoms, such as pain and scabbing, did not improve. Both the patients and their doctors reported that the lemon balm ointment was highly effective in shortening the span and lessening the recurrence of HSV 1 and HSV 2 viral infections.

In my own clinical experience, I have found that stress, emotional as well as metabolic stress induced by the use of sugar, alcohol and caffeine are triggers that will cause herpes outbreaks to occur. By restricting these from the diet and the use of anti-viral herbs internally and externally in the form of ointments, I have had patients experience complete remission of herpes simplex 1 and 2.

Certainly making an anti-herpes salve with lemon balm is reasonable, but the studies that indicate its efficacy use a highly concentrated extract of lemon balm. In other words, harvesting the fresh plant and infusing oil with it to make your salve probably won't cut it. Lemon balm essential oil would be your best bet, but it is incredibly costly: a mere eighth of an ounce may command as much as $50!

If you have the means and materials to make such a salve or cream, best results are obtained when it is applied at the very earliest stages of a herpes outbreak. Frequent application between outbreaks will lessen the occurrence of subsequent ones.

(If you're looking for another anti-herpes ingredient, and a more accessible one at that, research also shows that propolis -- a substance made by bees from tree resin -- may be a good choice for treatment of genital herpes. You can make a propolis salve or cream from scratch or try purchasing some ready-made neem cream and add extract of propolis to it. The 3% propolis extract used in the study linked above is probably a minimum and the effect would be improved if it was higher -- say 6% or so. )

The therapeutic use of Lemon balm extends far back into antiquity. I commonly have used it as a diaphoretic tea for colds and flus of both adults and children. It also is used as a calmative and anti-depression, anti-anxiety herb. The late Dr. Christopher regarded it as the ideal herb for children in the sense that it has potent effects for treating the most common childhood diseases. Its calming and centering effects aid in settling the jitteriness that is an impediment to a healthy attention span. Finally, last but not least, most children do not object to its pleasant '˜lemony' aroma and flavor.

While we're on the topic of lemon balm, check out this herbal proving conducted and reported by East West School of Planetary Herbology graduate Mara Ribbin for a closer look at this wonderful herb.

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