Well, here we are at the beginning of 2012, a new year and a new start! With the festivities behind us often people feel sluggish and generally over-indulged. The body is still working hard to deal with the animal protein and fat rich foods we all love to eat over Christmas and the New Year. Not to mention the alcohol!! From a Medical Herbalists point of view, the sharp increase in illnesses such as coughs and colds we see at this time of year comes as no surprise.
Whilst the liver is busy recovering from an overdose of rich foods and alcohol its attention is taken away from its role in the body’s immunity. This can leave us more open to picking up the coughs and sneezes associated with the winter months. You can help protect your body and combat the symptoms with herbs. Echinacea spp. (echinacea), Sambucus nigra flos. (elderflowers) and Sambucus nigra fructus (elderberries) all help assist the immune system. Cynara scolymus (globe artichoke), and Carduus marianus semen (milk thistle seeds) are both stimulant and protective to the liver aiding detoxification and digestive processes. Achillea millefolium (yarrow) and Eupatorium perfoliatum (boneset) are diaphoretic (sweat promoting) herbs which can be helpful to reduce fever in colds and flu. The latter helps the body fight viral and bacterial infections as well as loosening and expectorating phlegm.
And, on another note… I have been asked lately about the small number of news stories published recently questioning the efficacy of herbal remedies. It is helpful to understand the distinct difference between buying herbal remedies “over the counter” from health shops, supermarkets and online and receiving herbal medicine following advice from a Medical Herbalist. If you want to buy herbs “over the counter” it is vital to seek proper, professional advice from a fully qualified Medical Herbalist. Medical Herbalists are the recognized experts in prescribing herbs and have Bachelor of Science degrees (at least!) in Herbal Medicine (or Phytotherapy). We have a full understanding of how the body works, which herbs are suited for use alongside pharmaceutical drugs, and which herbs are contra-indicated in particular health conditions. Just as importantly, Medical Herbalists fully understand dosage. I often find that patients say they have taken an “over the counter” remedy with no effect only to find that the preparations dosage suggestion to be totally inappropriate. Herbal medicine is very safe, and very effective when advice is sought from a fully qualified Medical Herbalist.
Many of us grow herbs in our garden and only use them for cooking purposes – which is great, but wouldn’t it be wonderful to know which you can safely use to help common and simple ailments? I thought I’d share some information about things that you may find useful in these cold, winter months! Please do remember that the suggestions I make are intended as guidelines only and should not substitute medical advice, if in doubt then please contact your chosen health professional.
Many people wouldn’t class Allium cepa (onion) and Allium sativum (garlic) as herbs, but any plant substance that has medicinal value is classified as such by Medical Herbalists. Onion and garlic, belonging to the onion family, share some common properties useful at this time of year; both are expectorant and antibacterial, helpful for stubborn chesty coughs. A traditional recipe for winter coughs can be made by steeping sliced onion in honey for 48 hours in the fridge. Half a dozen garlic cloves can be added for extra potency if you don’t mind the smell!! The syrup is ready to use after 24 hours but best to leave for the full 48 before you strain it into a sterile bottle. Although not strictly a herb, the honey has its own soothing action to the chest and throat and has anti bacterial action too! The syrup can be kept refrigerated for a couple of weeks and a teaspoon taken up to 6 times daily. As garlic and onion both have hypoglycaemic actions and properties to support the circulatory system, a teaspoon or so taken daily can be a good all round tonic too.
Berries from the Sambucus nigra (elder) tree have been used traditionally at this time of year. Elderberries are proven to be active against the flu virus, are nutritive, have immune modulating properties and are diaphoretic (induce sweating). This can be helpful for chills and fevers. They are anti-viral, anti-oxidant and have been used by herbalists to treat winter coughs, colds and, of course the flu! You can collect your own berries (if you are confident with identification), juice and freeze them to keep a stock at hand. Otherwise bought juice or tincture can be used. Elderberry preparations can be made more palatable (they are sometimes fairly tart!) by adding some warming spices. Heating herbs such as Cinnamomum zeylanicum (cinnamon), Eugenia caryophyllus (cloves), Eletarria cardamomum (cardamom) and Zingiber officinalis (ginger) are all useful for warming up the body to fight the effects of a winter cold. They have the added advantage of being carminative to the digestion too. Try a tasty decoction (simmered infusion) of these warming spices using fruit juice and a little elderberry – you may be surprised, it’s like a non-alcoholic mulled wine – and its good for you too!!!