Competition brings with it a host of challenges, not the least of which is staying healthy. For my family, the days leading up to a tournament are rarely relaxed and coupled with good nights of sleep, which taxes our immune systems. At the tournament, we give it our all, further exhausting our bodies, and we’re exposed to a host of new germs from all over our region or country…sometimes from the world over. In all honesty, competition is a hotbed for colds and flus. One of the most popular herbs for preventing illness in years past for children and adults alike is echinacea. Also known as Purple Cone Flower, echinacea is included in many popular flu and cold remedies as well as blends designed to prevent illness.

Echinacea can be a powerful herbal ally in both preventing and driving out illness, but you’ve got to use it correctly to get the benefits for which it’s become famous. Echinacea stimulates your immune system for a quick attack, but doesn’t fortify you for the long haul. A day or two before you expect to encounter new germs, before your competition for instance, begin taking echinacea in whichever form suits you best. Continue taking it through the competition and for another two or three days afterward or up to about two weeks. Then, give your system a break. Echinacea’s ability to stimulate your immune system will decrease significantly with more than about two weeks or so of continuous use. The rest time allows your system to reset itself so the next time you enlist echinacea’s help your body will respond with vigor.

If you want to enhance the effects of echinacea in your system, especially as a preventative ally, be sure to include vitamins like A and C when you’re taking it. I keep vitamin C tablets in the house as well as a multi-vitamin blend specifically for use when we’re ill or being exposed to more illness-potential than usual. I’ll often choose an herbal tea blend that contains echinacea and take the extra vitamins with it, but if I’m using a supplement blend, like the commercially available Airborne, I’ll skip the extras. Many of the supplement blends are loaded with extra vitamins, and it’s important not to overdose on some, such as Vitamins A, D, and E. Be sure to read labels and make good choices when you’re using Echinacea.

If you want to make .your own Echinacea tea or supplement blend, include at least a few herbals known for their vitamin content. Nettle, oat straw, rose hips, and elderberry are all terrific examples. Nettle is a multivitamin supplement in itself. It’s one of my favorites, even if it does taste a little milky-grassy. Nettle contains a truck load of nutrients, including calcium, vitamins A, C, and D, and electrolytes including potassium, sodium, and chlorine in relatively high concentrations. Between the taste and nettles’s mild laxative action, I’m especially appreciative of just how much nettles packs into her leaves. A little goes a long way with nettle.

Oat straw offers magnesium, calcium, and vitamin B complex. Plus its gentle nervine qualities help to counteract some of the effects of stress on the body. Especially in a competition, oat straw helps you stay calm and focused while it nourishes your system.

Rose hips and elderberries are both filled with vitamin C, making them each a natural addition to any echinacea blend. Plus, they’ll greatly improve the flavor of your blend, making it easy medicine to take.

Try this:

Keep a few echinacea supplements in your workout bag or locker. The next time one of your fellow athletes comes to the gym mat sick, pop one into your water bottle. Follow up with echinacea tea or supplements at home, too. Most colds and viruses take three or four days to manifest outwardly, so keep up the echinacea until you’re reasonably sure you’re in the clear.