Practical tips for facing Canberra’s Winter head on

Michelle Kirby 11 June 2014

Are you one of those people who seem to be constantly fighting colds? This year as usual there are a variety of flu strains arriving from overseas as well as bacterial infections. Most recently, the news reported on a particularly nasty strain of virus named MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome). If you don’t already have a plan now is the time to think about it as well as refresh some practical tips.


Keep your natural barriers strong. This includes skin and mucous membranes.

1. Regular hand washing avoids transferring infections from hand to mouth. I am constantly surprised to see how many people in a bathroom do not wash their hands after using the toilet! It’s also essential when cooking and handling raw meat. Kids need to be educated too. This is how nasty infections can be avoided. Use a natural soap with olive leaf, tea tree or eucalyptus oil as an alternative to nasty chemical hand washes containing triclosan or benzakonium chloride. I’m not a fan of using anti-bacterial hand wash on a daily basis. Instead just use it if someone around you is sick and get them to use it too.

2. Keep a saline nose spray with tea tree oil added in your purse or in your pocket. When in public, spray 1 spray up each nostril to protect the mucosal lining in your nose.

3. Hold your breath!!! Did you know that a sneeze from a nearby person travels fast and contains 40,000 droplets of fluid and travels up to 40 meters? It is understandable why sneezing is one of the best ways airborne infections are spread. When you hear a sneeze, if you can, move away quickly while holding your breath for a few seconds. I know this sounds a bit silly but it works! Not so easy in an open plan work-space though.

4. Prepare food at home. Bacteria and viruses can last a while outside their host. Food prepared in less than hygienic kitchens or by sick workers can be a plateful of potential sickness. Beware of food halls, fast foods, and eating at major events (sporting etc). Make sure the cafes and restaurants you like have good hygiene standards. People preparing food should wear gloves or masks much of the time.

5. Food as Medicine. Ginger foot-baths are a traditional warming Chinese way to keep the circulation working during cold, damp days. Drinking fresh ginger tea also helps tone the mucous membranes in your sinuses and chest. Licorice tea soothes sore throats. This is in the easy to find BlackAdder tea. Aniseed tea is perfect for a chesty mucous rich cough. Kids usually love it! Orange foods like carrots, pumpkin and orange sweet potato contain lots of vitamin A that tones the mucous membranes. This is also why horseradish can be helpful.

6. What if you are sick? At the clinic we dispense a Herbal Throat Spray that is fantastic for sore throats and coughs as well as prescribe individual herbal medicines for specific symptoms. These are also safe for children. Make a time with your Naturopath to get the family sorted out for winter. A lot of my patients get stocked up on herbal mixtures for themselves and the kids before winter hits to be prepared. This works really well.

7. What about Echinacea? This is best for bacterial infections. There is so much research about this plant and I keep up to date with the reputable information. There are many kinds of Echinacea available, but they don’t all use the medicinal part of the plant. That is really important obviously! Echinacea is great to use to prevent getting sick. I’m taking 1 tablet every day as some excellent research showed that after 2 weeks the immune system was armed and ready to fight. This independent research was conducted on people who fly a lot. Those who took the Echinacea 2 weeks before flying and on the plane were less likely to get sick and if they did it didn’t last as long as those on the placebo.

Zinc is great to protect us from influenza. My tip with zinc is to take it a bed-time not with food. Some components in food block effective absorption of zinc. If you’re stressed your zinc levels become depleted. This is when you often see people under long-term stress getting sick a lot.

8. Chicken soup! This really is restorative for the immune system and good for the Soul. It’s not called ‘Jewish Penicillin’ for nothing! Have some brewed up in the freezer for when you need it, or just get into it anyway.

Chicken Soup Recipe

1 1/2-2 L vegetable stock, preferably home made to avoid excess salt. I used the tops and bottoms from celery, fennel, celeriac, carrot, parsley stems + bay leaf to make the stock. 1 free-range or organic chicken cut into pieces, skin and fat removed (or just use pieces), 5 cups of a variety of vegetables. I was clearing out the fridge pre long weekend and used beans, corn off the cob, 1/4 celeriac cubed, 1 fennel bulb sliced, 1 yellow carrot, 1 orange carrot, 2 celery sticks, 1/2 cup barley, 1 cup parsley, 1 chopped chilli (optional), 1 teasp grated fresh ginger, 2 cloves of garlic crushed, 1 bay leaf, pepper.

Poach the chicken, barley & bay leaf in the stock for approximately 20 minutes then turn off heat and leave to sit for 10 minutes. Remove chicken from stock and wait until cool enough to handle. Chop vegies, cut corn and add with spices to stock. Simmer until cooked, around ten minutes. In the meantime remove flesh from chicken and chop. Add back to soup, warm and serve with parsley. The bones in the chicken add much needed minerals to the soup. There is plenty of easily digestible protein from the poached chicken and lots of vitamins & minerals from the vegies, plus 2 whole grains giving fibre and fullness.

Michelle Kirby is a Naturopath and Energy Restoration Specialist at the Canberra Wellness Centre

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