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Stay Well Through The Winter

Snow in Woodland Park

The winter-time is well known for family holiday’s, gift giving and getting, plenty of food….and of course….colds and the flu! Take a few precautions now, and your holiday season is bound to be more enjoyable.

This month, for your reading pleasure, is an essay by Dr. Raman-Caplan on how to stay well through the winter; complete with many tips and a great recipe that will surely keep you warm and healthy through the cold season! Dr. Raman-Caplan (my sister :)) is a Naturopathic Doctor in Portland, Oregon, and has experience and training in many aspects of holistic care; especially in Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of health and wellness.

Read on and enjoy!

Stay Well Through Winter
Natural Medicine for the Common Cold -by Padma Raman-Caplan, ND

Winter is a wonderful time of year. There is so much to experience- playing in the great outdoors, enjoying a toasty evening inside, or celebrating the holiday season with friends and family. No one wants a cold to get in the way. Winter brings with it the start of cold and flu season in many parts of the world. There’s no cure for the common cold- once you have it, it will run its course. That said, we can minimize spread of the virus that causes the common cold and maximize our ability to cope with an infection if we get sick. There are simple things that we can do to help us all be as healthy as possible through the winter season.

Prevention is the best medicine
During winter we tend to stay indoors and that puts us in close contact with people who might be sick. You can prevent the spread of germs and re-infection by practicing good hygiene. Covering mouths while coughing and washing hands afterward, not sharing cups and utensils, and discarding tissues and other germ filled things in closed garbage containers- these are simple, common sense practices that are the first step to preventing colds and staying healthy through the winter. Children are especially good at picking up and passing germs to everyone and everything they touch, so it is important to help them to practice good hygiene, too.

Dress for the season
Cold weather may not cause a cold, but it does make it easier for you to get sick. A lot of body heat is lost from our heads in cold weather, so remember to wear a hat and scarf. Cold exposure causes immediate constriction of blood vessels. This constriction deprives the uncovered area of warm blood and germ-fighting immune cells. Exposing yourself to the cold may temporarily lower immunity and make you more susceptible to infection. Exposure to a cold draft can also cause congestion in the form of a runny nose, and a feeling of stuffiness in you ears, head, and sinuses. Keeping your head covered and staying warm can help to drain this congestion. If not tended to early, signs of congestion, like these, can predispose you to complications such as secondary infection by bacteria. Covering your head, ears, and neck by including a hat and scarf as part of your winter apparel is an easy way to prevent a head cold and its potential complications.

Breath easy by minimizing smoke indoors
Enjoy a cozy fire in your fireplace this winter, but try to minimize the amount of dust and smoke that enters your home from the hearth. To keep warm air inside, modern homes are well insulated against drafts. In the winter, this means that smoke and dust (and germs) stay in the air in a house all season long. Even in its mildest form, smoke can be an irritant to your breathing passages. Particulates in the air, cigarette smoke, second hand smoke, chimney smoke, and car exhaust, can make us more susceptible to catching a cold and it can worsen an existing infection. Smoke is especially harmful for children with asthma and allergies because these illness can be aggravated by both smoke and catching a cold. Minimize the dust and smoke brought into your house, vacuum and dust to reduce existing dust, and take advantage nice day during the winter by open windows and bringing fresh air into your home.

Four Steps to Prevent Winter Back Pain
In the winter everyone gets a new job- shoveling snow (at least in many parts of the world this is the case!). It can be backbreaking work. Minimize muscle strain and back pain while shoveling snow with these tips. Treat snow removal like any other heavy lifting. First, try to warm-up or stretch for a couple minutes before heading outside, especially if snow shoveling is your first activity of the day. Consider doing yoga or working with a massage therapist to help limber your body. Second, use healthy body mechanics- always bend from your knees not from your back. Third, if your health makes it difficult or dangerous for you to shovel snow yourself, prearrange for someone to help you with that task this winter. Fourth, if you feel like you have sprained a muscle, see a health care provider promptly to prevent it from getting worse. Consider seeing a massage therapist, chiropractor, or physical therapist for some hands-on treatment.

Kitchen Pantry Pharmacy:
Use medicinal foods as an easy and cost effective way to both prevent colds and support the healing process if you’re sick. Start by drinking plenty of warm beverages and eating hearty, warm foods, like Mushroom Barley Soup(see recipe). Many common foods and spices can be used as herbal medicines. For example, onion, garlic, horseradish, rosemary, oregano, thyme, sage, pepper, and basil all strengthen the immune system and are helpful for dealing with colds and flus. Look into the medicinal properties of some of your favorite foods or experiment with some of the medicinal foods listed below.

Orange, red, yellow, and dark green fruits and vegetables are loaded with bioflavonoid, antioxidants and related molecules like vitamin C and beta-carotene. They increase immune function and can help to heal inflammation and irritation associated with colds. Try to use fresh seasonal produce. In the winter try produce like carrots, kale, cranberries and yams and in the summer eat foods like berries, watermelon, yellow peppers, and tomatoes.

Mushrooms of all varieties promote immune function. They contain substances called “immune polysaccharides” which have demonstrated immune enhancing and also anticancer effects in research studies.

Barley is a nutritious whole grain. It contains both soluble and insoluble fiber and immune polysaccharides. Traditional medicine systems have used barley as tonic for people who are tired or weak. A high fiber diet containing whole grains, like barley, can help normalize cholesterol, too. Horseradish, onions, and garlic contain sulfur compounds that function as antioxidants in our bodies. Antioxidants protect our bodies against damage due to oxidative stress caused by a viral infection. Horseradish is exceptionally good at clearing stuffy sinuses. Horseradish is used as a condiment and as an ingredient in Chinese-style mustard and wasabi. Onion and garlic improve immune function and improve blood flow. I know one family that drinks a hot tea made of garlic, honey, and ginger at the first sign of a cold.

Ginger is a very useful kitchen pantry medicine. It promotes healthy digestion and appetite. Ginger is an excellent remedy for nausea during a cold and it is safe to use for nausea in pregnancy. Ginger can helps to dry up excess mucous and resolve boggy swelling. Try fresh ginger in food, or as a tea with hot water and honey.

Note: The above recommendations are meant for educational purposes and are not meant treatment for any disease or diagnosis. If you are sick, or have a cold that is not resolving see your health care provider for treatment. Every person is unique; some natural remedies may not be appropriate for your specific condition, please consult with a Naturopathic Medical Doctor for specific natural medicine and herbal medicine recommendations. Large amounts of garlic may not be appropriate if you are using blood thinning medication or if you have a bleeding disorder. Barley is a gluten containing grain and it may not be appropriate if you have celiac disease (gluten enteropathy).

Mushroom Barley Soup
A hearty stew that’s perfect for wintertime and filled with medicinal ingredients. It’s easy to put
together and fast to make, especially if barley and veggies are prepared the day before. Enjoy!


    2 cups whole barley (pearled barley may be substituted, though it has less nutrients than whole barley)
    2-3 large carrots
    1 medium bunch of celery
    1 large onion
    2-4 cloves garlic, crushed (optional)
    1Tbsp fresh ginger, grated
    1 small bunch parsley
    1 medium bunch swiss chard (or lacinato kale)
    1 pound shitake mushroom (or other)
    2 boxes of organic broth, 64oz total (may use vegetarian or not)
    2 Tbsp olive oil or sesame oil
    Salt & Pepper
    Coconut milk, cream, or sour cream


    Large sauce pan
    Large soup pot
    4 storage containers

Prepare the day before:

    1. Soak barley overnight in 4 cups of water. Drain it in the morning store in a container.
    2. Trim and slice the mushrooms store in container.
    3. Cut out and save the center stem from the swiss chard. Chop the leaves store in container.
    4. Chop onion, carrot, celery, swiss chard stem, and parsley and store in container.


    1. Cook the soaked barley with 5 cups fresh water a large sauce pan, cover and simmer until done (20min), barley will be chewy.
    2. Heat 1-2 Tbsp oil in the soup pot; add mushrooms and a pinch of salt. Sauté until brown and cooked through. Set mushrooms aside in a bowl along with any mushroom cooking liquid.
    3. In the same empty soup pot, heat 1-2 Tbsp oil, add the chopped vegetables (not swiss chard), garlic, ginger, ½ tsp of salt, and a dash of pepper, sauté until the vegetables are half-cooked. Add swiss chard leaves and cook 3 more minutes.
    4. Add the cooked barley, its cooking water, and the broth. Simmer until the vegetables are fully cooked (stir occasionally). Add salt to taste (reduce added salt if the broth contains salt).
    5. Gently fold in the cooked mushrooms. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Serving suggestion:
For the best flavor, serve each bowl of soup with a dollop of coconut milk, cream, or sour cream. Garnish with chopped scallion or chives. Change the flavor of the soup by adding 2 tsp of dry herb while cooking. Try sage, rosemary or cumin.

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  1. ultrarunner says:

    Garlic is excellent for keeping off infection in the throat. At the first sign of a tickle (getting rarer and rarer now, see below), I’d eat one or two cloves of garlic. I think it’s best if they are split, held in the mouth for as long as possible, then chewed and swallowed raw.

    That’s not always easy to do (it burns the tongue), so you can just add them sliced raw to a sandwich, etc. If you don’t like the taste of garlic, you can get similar benefits by splitting the cloves and rubbing them on the soles of your feet. Or you can walk around with them in your shoes. You’ll smell it on your breath in a few minutes (lucky everyone else!)

    Doing this, while fighting colds with as much rest and heat (wrap up and go to bed, and sweat it out) as possible, while avoiding all medications (even over-the-counter remedies and aspirins, etc.), completely or as much as possible, will help to re-strengthen your possibly pharma-weakened immune system.

    Breathing through your nose most of the time probably helps also.

    Link that immune system strengthening, which may be assisted by endurance exercise, rest and a lifestyle of moderation (plus, I’d suggest that you don’t eat anything that used to get around under its own steam), to a mental attitude that strictly denies the existence of illness FOR YOU (don’t expect others not to get sick, although those near you may get less sick), and you might, as I did, eliminate all illness, including unexplained aches and pains, from your life.

    Obviously, if you drink so much as to have a hangover, or if you run a marathon, etc., you’ll still have aches and pains. What you’ll eliminate are the unexplained ones. You can then choose whether to have the explained ones or not.

    Just start now to deny the existence of what you formerly called minor illnesses and aches and pains. Even while the symptoms appear to be still present. Even if you’re ‘supposed’ to have them, due to your age, or sex, or medical or family history. Especially if you’re ‘supposed’ to have them! Form an image of your immune system’s white cell army that relates to something YOU consider to be strong or invincible or impenetrable. I like to imagine a tough and ugly Roman legion that’s not about to let anything get past it. No mercy for the invaders!

    You can also use NLP techniques that link more psychological ‘pain’ to owning a less-than-perfect immune sytem, than the ‘pleasure’ you used to get from being ill and having someone look after you (poor baby). You can find out more about that by web searching for NLP.

    You can still go to a doctor (never say “my doctor”) for check-ups and various preventative tests, and consult about suspected and actual serious conditions. You can. I don’t and won’t. I haven’t consulted a doctor of any description for about 10 years. I haven’t had a “my doctor” for about 30 years. I haven’t had any kind of medical insurance in 10 years, even though I’m not what you’d call “young”, I live in the “third world”, and I occasionally travel to even thirder worlds. I would never submit to a test – looking for something I don’t want. I don’t expect to consult with a doctor ever again. Why would I? Illness is not normal, in humans. I also don’t expect to ever be involved in an accident. Again, why would I? I’m just not prone to accidents.

    The downside to succeeding at this is that you’ll lose all opportunities for wallowing in self-pity and discussing how bad you feel with others. And you’ll have less chances to indulge any penchant for participating in medical or pharmaceutical rites and rituals (although you can have garlic and health rituals – make a meal of tying your running show laces). You’ll also have far less excuses for not meeting your responsibilities, fulfilling your promises, or cancelling or postponing ‘difficult’ situations or commitments.

    The upside is that you get to honestly tell people the stunning news that you’ve eliminated illness from your life… and, of course, a life free of pain and discomfort.

    Now, the question of mortality…

  2. Thanks for sharing the tips about sustaining health in winter. Up here in Duluth, MN, our winter can plunge into the depths. I’ve put a link to this article in my eNewsletter for my business – A Peaceful Touch Healing Arts, and will link to it on my blog!

    Scott Schumacher, Massage Therapist and Reiki Master

  3. jdpolson says:


    I’m currently researching various weight loss programs and courses.

    So, if you don’t mind please answer in this topic: What’s your single most important question about weight loss?

    Cheers, JD

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