For a week I’ve been in and out of (mostly in) bed suffering from a rattling chest cold.  It has felt like I’ve been trying to cough up phlegm from the depths of my stomach.  Just breathing produced a snortling sound in my chest.  And I’ve been so tired, probably mostly because of low oxygenation in my poor lungs.

I’ve been resistant to take antibiotics and have been applying homeopathic remedies in earnest.  All of it has worked to make me feel better except for the stubborn thick phlegm in my chest which simply wouldn’t budge.  On Friday I thought, “I will give it the weekend and then if I don’t feel any relief I’ll go get some antibiotics.” Feeling terrible all day Saturday I regretted my decision and somberly resolved to get antibiotics first thing on Monday, but on Sunday I found the magic bullet!

First, let me share some of my get well regimen which has definitely helped boost my immune system and energy level and enabled me to keep doing the things that a homemaker and hiking guide have to do every day, namely get up at 5:30 am, prepare all the meals, clean up all meals, drive kids around, help them with everything, spend social time with them, help at school, pay bills, deal with laundry in some manner (e.g., wash it and then leave it in a pile to be folder later), and guide wilderness treks twice a week with my hiking group.  Lying in bed being sick has to fit around these activities, period, hence the need to have energy and get well pronto.  My energy and immune boosting remedies helped with generally feeling better and alert, but still didn’t deal with the stubborn infection plaguing my upper respiratory system, that would take something more, but what?

My friend Liz advised that even though I’m outside in the sun a lot I could still be deficient in Vitamin D because I protect my skin from the sun when I’m out.  She made that discovery in herself by getting her Vit D levels checked and suggested I take between 2000-2500 IU Vitamin D per day.  I started doing that and washing the pill down with an Emergen-C, because Vitamin D and C when taken together don’t compete with body systems for absorption.


Again, Liz to the rescue.  She recommended manuka bioactive medicinal honey (buy it at natural foods stores in the honey section).  Its magical stuff with antibacterial, anti microbial, antiviral, antioxidant, antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and anti fungal properties and is known to be good for healing sore throats and to treat wounds.  I’ve been stirring a tablespoon of this into Echinacea Tea.


I’ve been taking garlic capsules.  I know that eating a clove of raw garlic is supposed to be tremendous for the immune system, but I just can’t make myself do it.  Pills it is.

Surprisingly, moderate exercise gave my lungs some relief.  You know how elderly people in hospital beds frequently end up dying of pneumonia?  That is because fluids pool in their respiratory system because of lack of movement and massage offered by the musculoskeletal system in motion.  The more I lay in bed, which I needed to do to rest, the worse my cough would get.  As soon as I would get up and start moving around I would have a little relief from the that heavy fluid feeling in my chest.

Family portrait. Why be normal?
With movement in mind, and also boredom from being under self inflicted quarantine for most of the week, on Sunday my family and I made a visit to The Autry Museum of the American West to see the new “California Continued” exhibit about native americans and their relationship to the land and fire to tend the landscape.  We also took a tour of The Autry’s photography exhibit.  Here is the family photo we took at the photobooth to commemorate our visit to the Ansel Adams collection.

While strolling through the ethnobotanical garden, which features 60 medicinal plants used by California natives, one of the kiosks said, “Do you have a cough?”  Holy mole!  I jumped on that one.  “Yes!  Oh, ethnobotanical garden, yes I have a terrible cough.  What can I do about it?!”  I opened the little secret door on the kiosk and it revealed that I should make tea from Yerba Santa.  Joy!  Just the thing I needed to know, a natural remedy specifically to treat a nasty upper respiratory infection without antibiotics.

eriodictyon-californicumI have a book called, “Healing With Medicinal Plants of the West” that was co-written by Chumash Healer, Cecilia Garcia and Associate Professor of Pharmacology and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the USC, School of Pharmacy, James D. Adams, Jr.  In that book it says that the Chumash use Yerba Santa for lung problems including asthma, tuberculosis and pneumonia.  Specifically, they used it as an antibiotic to treat bacterial pneumonia before pharmaceutical antibiotics where even heard of.

As soon as we finished eating a delicious lunch at the Crossroads West Cafe at The Autry, we bungled our brood straight over to Whole Foods to see what they had in the way of Yerba Santa Tea.  We combed their extensive tea collection.  Nothing.  We searched their herbal supplements section.  Nothing.  I was about to give up hope, thinking that perhaps this herb was too exotic or geographically specific to be carried by a nationwide chain like Whole Foods.

Finally, I located the attendant of the homeopathy section and asked him if he had any tea or supplements made from yerba santa.  He tucked a long strand of greasy hair back under his headband and slunk slowly and casually over to one bottle in the cold and flu section.  The bottle was labeled, “Old Indian Wild Cherry Bark Syrup: with Echinacea Support for Seasonal Health”.  He said, “I have this one,” as he quietly turned the bottle over and pointed to the first ingredient on the list, “Yerba Santa Leaf”.  He said, “This is the only one I have.”


Well, if I wasn’t impressed!  This guy knows the ingredients of every bottle of potion on his shelves and exactly where they are in the department.  Long live hippies and all who love their jobs and take them seriously!

As soon as I got to the parking lot I downed a dose of my “Old Indian Wild Cherry Bark Syrup” and my husband started cracking up at the face I made.  I had pretty high hopes for this elixir being delicious to my 21st century tastebuds, so the taste that hit my tongue was a surprise.  I’ll try to describe the indescribable.  It tasted like cherry cough syrup mixed with burned tree bark that had been soaking in a mud puddle full of pine needles, but not unpleasant.  It tasted like eating a forest in the springtime.  While laughing at me, my husband asked, “How does it taste?”  I said, “It tastes exactly like what it must taste like to be a chipmunk.”

With that flavor in my mouth I had a revelation that to be a native american in the pre-contact years, flavors would have been totally different.  Our modern sense of what tastes palatable is completely foreign to what it would have been like to always eat from the land and prepare food over small, laboriously prepared fires.  There was no hollandaise sauce or butter or sugar or shakers full of exotic spices to mitigate the flavors of smoke, bark, earth, or the acrid taste of leaves.  Even chili, for example, didn’t exist in the North American native diet until comparatively recently, and any salt that could be acquired was used for food preservation, not flavoring.  This crazy syrup is what the world might have tasted like 2,000  years ago or more.

But what was the result of drinking this Old Indian cure?  First of all, it instantly suppressed my urge to cough, which was nice, then it proceeded to loosen up what was in there, so my coughs became more productive.  After about four hours, as the dose started to wear off, I had the bad luck to choke on a tiny piece of meat from my dinner taco and this initiated a gagging, coughing, wretching scene in the bathroom that was exacerbated by the heavy phlegm in my chest, making it impossible for me to get any relief from the urge to cough.  After all that settled down and my husband fed me a soothing cup of Throat Coat tea, I took another dose of Old Indian syrup and laid down on the couch.  Again, that comforting cough suppressant feeling took over my chest and I went to bed soon after feeling like I could breath clearly without the urge to constantly clear out my chest.

I woke up this morning and, for the first time in a week, could breath clearly and easily.  I still feel some chest congestion, but I would say that the Old Indian syrup cleared out 50% of it overnight!  This is a big deal for me.  I’ll add an update to this as the week progresses to let you know if this magical Yerba Santa cure keeps doing its good work.  While I don’t tend to have much passion for botany, this episode is turning me around.  Next time there’s an ailment in the family, I’m going to crack open my medicinal plants books and see what more good can come from using natural local plants as medicine instead of pharmaceuticals.

***UPDATE 1: 40 hours after my first dose the congestion in my chest is 90% gone and my breathing is clear. No urge to cough. Old Indian Wild Cherry Bark Syrup with Yerba Santa works like a dream. My 10 year old drank a small spoonful and declared, “It tastes like the ground,” but he liked it.

***UPDATE 2: My first dose was on Sunday at 4pm. Today, Wednesday, at 6:30am my lungs are totally clear.


One thought

  1. I love Manuka Honey. I am going to have to try the Old Indian Wild Cherry Bark syrup. All the cough syrups and lozengers I have tried have never worked.

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