Updated: Feb 24, 2020
Fever, chills, sore throat, aching all over, oh so tired - sound familiar? It seems to be a common topic everywhere I go the past few weeks. The miserably sick that end up at the clinic in desperation are sometimes prescribed Tamiflu (oseltamivir), a prescription antiviral medication, which has been shown helpful in reducing the symptoms and longevity of influenza and other viral illnesses. It does this by blocking the enzyme activity of the influenza virus, preventing the release of new virus particles into the body, thereby limiting the spread of infection.
The caveat is that it is best to take Tamiflu within 2 days of the symptoms appearing or if you have been exposed to influenza. The skeptic in me questions, "How can I possibly know if I've been exposed to the influenza virus - I work in the school system, I go shopping in grocery stores," And if I feel miserable, I don't typically resort to a visit to the clinic until it's a choice of either the doctor’s office or the funeral home.
Here comes the good part. The active ingredient in Tamiflu is shikimic acid, which is extracted from Chinese star anise fruit, a traditional spice and medicinal plant! Star anise comes from an evergreen tree, Illicium verum, that is native to parts of Vietnam and China. It is an eight sided, star-shaped spice that is used for cooking and medicinal purposes in Asian cultures and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for hundreds of years. It has a strong taste similar to black licorice and can be a great natural sweetener.
Medicinally, along with having powerful antiviral properties, star anise may help with digestive issues such as gas and bloating. It is also a decent antifungal as well as a great antibacterial, showing effectiveness against 67 strains of drug-resistant bacteria. I could go on and on, but Kerry tells me I go on and on too much...
So during this time of viruses and bacterial infections running amuck, why not proactively boost your immune system while enjoying some star anise tea? Simply pour 1 cup of boiling water over 2 star anise seed pods, cover, steep for 15 minutes, sweeten with a little raw honey if desired, and enjoy. Feel free to tweak the taste by adding a cinnamon stick, tulsi, lemon juice, ginger, etc.
While I wouldn’t recommend using star anise tea as your only treatment if you are suffering from the flu, it can make a good addition and will help keep you hydrated.
Star anise is a key ingredient in my chai blends, along with cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, and cloves. It's also great added to turmeric based golden milk. Through flu season, it is in pretty much every batch of kombucha I brew as well as in the fire cider and elderberry syrup that I make. Powdered star anise is a great addition to sweet roll dough as well as added to filling for cinnamon rolls and to ginger cookies. I also like adding it to winter squash and sweet potatoes. Here again, I could go on and on... Do a quick google search and get many more good ideas.
One more tip - research shows that the effects of shikimic acid as an antiviral is greatly enhanced when used in combination with quercetin, a plant pigment (flavonoid) found in many plants, including capers, grapes, elderberry (thus great to add to elderberry syrup), blueberries, broccoli, kale, onions, apples, green tea, I could go on and on again. Suffice it to say, eat a rainbow of fruits and veggies along with some star anise in some form and boost your immune system. As I tell my kids, "It's not gonna kill you and it just might help".
(For more tips on dealing with winter health challenges, check my blog posts from January 2019)