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Colds and flus seem to be part of every fall and winter for a lot of people. For most of us most of the time colds and flus represent no much more than some discomfort and inconvenience, although for the elderly and for people who are already ill or who have compromised immune systems even these garden variety cold and flus can be of considerable concern.
A great many of the more serious flu pandemics (an epidemic that affects many countries) over the last century seem to have arisen from China. Some scientists believe that this is because traditional Chinese food raising practices involve close contact with certain farm animals that also carry the influenza viruses. Whether or not the almost ubiquitous presence of pigs, chickens and other smaller farm animal in most Chinese peasant households contributes to the history of severe flu epidemic in China, it is certain that there have been many severe epidemics and that traditional Chinese doctors have accumulated a great deal of experience in treating them.
When we are ill we want some guidance as to which herbal formulas are most likely to be helpful to us. There are some basic guidelines available in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
When we become ill the first distinction we want to make is, is this a 'cold type' or a 'warm type' condition.
Catching a cold or a flu is considered an exterior condition and it is useful to distinguish between 'exterior cold' and 'exterior warm conditions.'
Exterior cold conditions may have fever or chills but the chills predominate, one may actually be chilly or have what we call "fear of cold," a sense that one wants to stay warm and avoid cold air or drafts. There is the common tight achy feeling in the shoulders and upper back (often made worse from exposure to cold), clear or white nasal discharge or sputum. There may be no fever or a very low fever, no sweating and no increase in thirst. For those familiar with Chinese medical pulse taking the pulse in the early stage of the condition will be floating and tight (the type of tight which feels like a broad rope being twisted) and the tongue coating (the fur on the tongue) is thin and white especially in the early stages.
The next big category of colds and flus is the external heat type. Wind heat conditions are more likely to have fever or a sense of feeling too warm, there may be shivering but generally the sense of heat is greater than the sense of cold. Mucous, whether from the sinuses or the lungs tends to be yellow, there may be sore throat, swollen tonsils and thirst.
For those somewhat familiar with traditional Chinese medicine the pulse is floating and rapid (especially in the very early stages) and the tongue body is redder than usual with a thin white or thin yellow fur coating.
For both of these conditions there are many formulas addressing the different manifestations seen in different people.
For the wind cold type cold and flu the formula that I have found most generally helpful is the Xiao Qing Long Tang (The Small Blue Green Dragon Formula). If you know that when you catch cold you generally feel chilled then use this formula when you first get that "I'm getting chilled, I'm catching a cold" feeling.
Xiao Qing Long Tang (The Small Blue Green Dragon Formula)
Traditional use: Fever and chills (but the chills or cold feeling predominate). There is no sweating, there may be cough, wheezing, tight chest, a lot of phlegm and sputum which is generally difficult to expectorate.
For those familiar with Chinese medical diagnosis the pulse will be floating and the tongue coating may be moist or white.
Servings: Coarse of use:
One of the most commonly used formulas for external wind heat in the:
Yin Qiao Pill (Honeysuckle and Forsythia Formula)
Traditional use: Fever with no or very little chills, thirst, cough, headache, sore throat. Many people find that taking this formula the first sign of getting a cold is helpful but as the cold symptoms become more established pay attention to whether this is wind heat or a wind cold illness.
For those familiar with Chinese medical diagnosis the pulse will be floating and rapid , the tongue may have a red tip and the coating white or thin and yellow.
Zong Gan Ling
Herbs are also helpful for coughs and chest colds.
Qing Qi Hua Tan Wan Traditional use: This formula clears heat from the lung and helps to loosen phlegm in the chest, for this reason is helpful for coughing and wheezing.
The pulse will generally be 'slippery' and full and the tongue coat is likely to be thick and greasy.
As with all health problems if symptoms persist be sure to consult a licensed health care provider.