Don't be fooled by the weather, friends! We're having a warm spell here in the DC/MD/VA region, but it's still cold season. Keep washing your hands, taking your vitamin C, drinking lots of water, and supporting your immune system however you can. (Though you really should be doing those things all the time...)
Today's recipe has the immune system in mind. Here is the best-kept secret in herbal medicine, just for readers of this blog: There is absolutely a cure for the common cold. That's right; one of the most common maladies in the world, which has flummoxed conventional doctors for centuries, has a cure -- or rather, a whole bundle of cures. Plant medicine is incredibly well-equipped to keep colds away, and to shorten their duration when they do sneak their way past our best defenses. We could dedicate an entire website to cold prevention and treatment with herbs! But we'll start with a perfect recipe to whip up in the early stages of infection: Dragon Tea. This is the tea for you if you've been around other sick people, or wake up one morning feeling that familiar tickle in the back of your throat. The earlier you can brew up a cup of Dragon Tea, the better chance you have of kicking that potential illness to the curb. And the best part of this recipe? You probably have everything you need in your kitchen right now.
Dragon tea has just three elements (aside from the mug and the boiling water, which I don't know the Latin names for): Garlic (Allium sativum), Cayenne (Capsicum annuum), and Ginger (Zingiber officinale). The powdered version of any of these herbs will do, but fresh is best, especially with garlic. Before we get cooking, let's dive into why these three common culinary herbs are such potent secret (not so secret anymore!) weapons against infection.
Let's start with our dear friend and fearless ally, garlic. Garlic deserves entire love sonnets written to it, y'all. This is one of our best plant medicines, for a huge range of ailments. That unmistakable garlicky smell comes from hydrocarbon sulfides, a chemical compound with antidiabetic, antihypotensive (prevents hypotension), and antibiotic actions in the body. This is why fresh garlic is best, if you have it- the more smelly it is, the more medicine it contains! Garlic also contains quercetin, a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound the conventional medicine community is starting to single out for its health benefits. Whole garlic is also antispasmodic, which means it soothes spasms in the body that may cause pain, tension, coughing, or cramping. What makes garlic shine as a cold remedy, though, is its intense antimicrobial and antiviral actions. It will fight the rhinovirus, or cold virus, directly, and at the same time it will bolster your body against the bacterial infections (sinus infection, bronchitis, laryngitis, etc) that often attack while our immune system is busy fighting a cold. Garlic, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways...
Next up is ginger, the sweet and spicy root herb many of us associate with Asian cooking and holiday cookies. Ginger is a fabulous carminative (helps relieve intestinal gas) and digestive tonic due to the its chemical constituent Zingiberine, but that's not what makes it so wonderful for a cold. Ginger is stimulating to the body's systems - it's a wake-up call for the entire system. It will jump-start sluggish digestion, spark activity in the immune system, and increases circulation. It's a diaphoretic, causing your body to heat up and sweat. Where there's heat and sweat, there's an infection being conquered! And like garlic, ginger is also an antispasmodic, so it will soothe the smooth muscles of the body, mostly found in the gut.
And finally, our kicky pepper ally, cayenne. In this recipe, powdered cayenne is fine to use - it's much easier to find than fresh peppers, and the powder is used often in cooking. As is the case with any hot pepper, cayenne is a circulatory stimulant, so it will get your blood flowing, which gives a boost to the rest of your body's systems. It contains phenolics, which are universally antimicrobial chemical compounds. It also contains quercetin, so it will double up on our garlic's anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities.
So now we know the chemistry, let's get to cooking!
Dragon Tea / Cure for the Common Cold
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, chopped finely (don't worry about peeling)
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1/2 tsp cayenne powder
Add all ingredients to a mug, then cover with boiling water. Steep for 5-10 minutes, strain, and drink.
Disclaimer: This tea is SPICY. It is not your typical, relaxing cup of tea. Think of the burn you'll feel drinking it as a torch, sizzling cold germs right out of you. It's tough to drink, but is amazing medicine. Drink, and be well!
Phytochemistry and herbal actions taken from Medical Herbalism by David Hoffman. Tea recipe taken from Teany Book by Moby and Kelly Tisdale.