Today I was reminded that many people are confused with the saying “Feed a Fever, Starve the Cold”, and some even say “Starve a Fever, Feed a Cold”, or “Feed a Fever, Feed a Cold”. To say the least, this is one of the most confusing things for many people to remember from folk medicine practices, partially because they are likely trying to remember it while they have a fever or cold.
So, this is one of the ways how I remember it: “Feed and Fever both start with ‘Fe’ and cold does not.” Though, that is only a superficial way of remembering it. For me to really remember it, I go into my Ayurveda teachings. Simply, the immune system is a type of Agni. Agni is an aspect of “Fire”. So, the fever is some fire from the immune system. Why is it so hot? We know through western medicine that a fever generally indicates some type of infection that the immune system is trying to fight off, which generally is a good thing as long as the fever isn’t so hot that it boils your brain (brain damage happens at over 107.6°F/42°C). We know from camping that in order to have a fire, you must have kindling and wood… things that feed the fire so it is able to do its job… give off heat so we are warm, fight off predators (you think of an infection as a predator), and transform food into something more usable for our body.
Next, let’s look at “Cold”. Colds generally are thought of as being mucusy, filled with congestion, gooey. We feel heavy, drained, and often experience body chills. We often literally feel “Cold” when this is going on. Now, we all know “starving” is not a good thing… but what if you could starve just an aspect? This is what this part of the saying is hinting to… “Starve the Cold.” We also know from Ayurveda that opposites heal. What’s the opposite of cold? It is warmth and heat. For a cold, you want to starve the cold by ingesting things that are not going to feed the cold, instead, you need to provide the opposite so it doesn’t have what it needs to sustain itself. The opposite of heavy, congestion, and mucus is light, clear, and hot.
So, it is, “Feed a Fever, Starve the Cold”. For fevers (as long as they are not too high), hotter and spicier foods, and warmer baths are a welcome treat to help the immune system fight off what it is battling. For colds, avoid literal cold foods, dairy, and other things that will make you colder, and instead focus on those foods that are light, clear, and hot… like broth with some spices that will break up the congestion and provide some warmth like garlic, onion, thyme, red chili flakes, turmeric, and ginger, or Hot Apple Cider with ginger, cinnamon, and clove.
Always remember: You ARE literally what you digest. What you digest are the basic building blocks to your entire physical makeup. If your body does not have the building blocks to make something, it either cannot be made, or it uses sub-standard materials to create something.