New Term Challenges

New Term Challenges

A Medical Herbalist’s approach to this seasons’ childhood problems

The summer (what we had of it this year!) is over, autumn is nearly here and our children are returning to school.  Some will be just getting used to starting school, and the parents of these children may be new to the common complaints and ailments associated with lots of children mixing together. How do we deal with head lice, coughs and sneezes, warts and verrucas without resorting to pharmaceutical drugs?

Pediculosis capitas, otherwise known as head lice, are common amongst primary school children, especially those with long hair.  The lice are transmitted from head to head contact and the females lay their eggs (nits) close to the hair shaft.  A balm containing natural insect repellents and insecticides will help destroy living lice without the use of chemicals. Examples of such oils would be Rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary), Lavendula officinalis (lavender), Pelargonium graveolens (geranium) and Eucalyptus spp. (eucalyptus).  It is important not to use essential oils undiluted so always seek professional advice on appropriate preparations.  Regularly rinsing the hair with a cold infusion of Picrasma excelsa cortex (quassia bark) may also act as a deterrent to re-infestation.

Coughs and colds are an inevitable part of a child’s first years at school.  The immune system is still developing and it can seem that some children have an endless cold, cough or runny nose.  Whilst the immune system needs to deal with these bugs so that it gets plenty of practice, herbal medicine can help it on its way, making it more efficient and stronger.  Many people already use Echinacea spp. (purple coneflower) which is a proven support for the immune system. Medical Herbalists know that there are many other suitable alternatives available, protecting the most overused herbs like Echinacea from becoming endangered.  Both the flowers and berries of the native Sambucus nigra (elder) tree are useful.  Elderflowers are diaphoretic (induce heat dispersion via sweating), immune stimulant, anti-inflammatory and anti-catarrhal so can be useful for high temperatures, infections, colds and sneezes.  Elderberries have been proven to be effective against the flu virus!  A gentle tasty syrup, made from Thymus vulgaris (thyme) and Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice) with its expectorant and soothing properties may help ease a tickly cough.  Tussilago farfara (coltsfoot) also has these properties and immune enhancing action too.

We all want our children to learn to swim, but young, or compromised immune systems may lead to verrucas from frequent visits to the swimming pool.  Verrucas are caused by the same papova virus that causes warts and an efficient immune system will deal with the problem itself.  Stubborn, or multiple outbreaks are much better treated under consultation with a fully qualified Medical Herbalist, who can create an individual prescription of herbs aimed at supporting the immune system, considering the patient’s unique medical history/family history/symptoms/diet etc. Simpler cases may respond to frequent use of an emulsion made from Thuja occidentalis (arbor-vitae) which is anti-viral and has a long tradition of use against warts and verrucas.  Similarly, the latex of Chelidonium majus (greater celandine) contains a protein dissolving enzyme which breaks down warts.  Greater celandine, however, is only available through a qualified Medical Herbalist.

Lynda Jones BSc (Hons) Medical Herbalist



The Medicinal Garden

Medicinal GardenIsn’t it wonderful to wander around at this time of year and see the beautiful fragrant plants on display in the gardens and countryside?  The nurseries, garden centres, DIY shops and even the supermarkets have a good range of fresh herbs and flowers in full bloom.

Whilst many people know the culinary uses of commonly sold fresh herbs I thought it would be good this month to talk about their medicinal qualities too.  A word of warning though, do please ensure you have the specific variety to which I am referring – simply check the labels just to make certain.

In the 1500s parsley (petroselinum crispum) was introduced into Britain as a renowned diuretic, digestive tonic and menstrual flow stimulator.  Nowadays, Medical Herbalists still use it in these ways for their patients.  Its also a very nutritive herb containing marked amounts of Vitamin C and Iron.

Sage (Salvia officinalis purpurascens/rubia) has many uses making it an excellent herb to have to hand.  Take a few fresh leaves and rub directly onto bites and stings as a quick anti-inflammatory first aid treatment.  Make an infusion and use hot or cold – its antiseptic and astringent qualities may help as a gargle/mouthwash for throat and gum problems.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is another tasty common garden herb with medicinal actions.  Its antiseptic and astringent properties make it a suitable accompaniment or alternative to sage in problems associated with the mouth and throat.  Thyme is particularly renowned for its antiseptic, antispasmodic and expectorant properties explaining its use in coughs and other problems related to the lungs and respiratory system.  It also has an anti-fungal action which may help such things as athlete’s foot, ringworm and thrush.

Lavender (Lavandula officinalis) is recognisable to most of us and smells brilliant fresh!!  Many people are surprised to hear it has medicinal value beyond its reputation for helping sleep.  It is definitely worth trying the flowers infused as a tea, its taste is delicate and has a number of actions beneficial to health.  The essential oil that gives lavender is wonderful scent has antiseptic, antibacterial and analgesic properties.  Fresh flowers are calming to the nerves and are antispasmodic, helping with spasm and tension, both muscular and in the digestive system.

Finally Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) – a hardy woody herb with characteristic fragrant spiky leaves.  Rosemary has antidepressant properties, is a circulatory stimulant and nerve tonic which means an infusion can be quite uplifting to the spirits.  A pleasant tasting and caffeine free alternative to coffee perhaps?  Its essential oil is carminative and antispasmodic, useful qualities again for digestive or muscular pain and spasm.  Traditionally speaking, a rosemary infusion is used externally to help hair growth – understood maybe by its ability to improve circulation to the head and scalp.  This may also explain its use for memory and concentration.  Overall, it makes a pleasant drink hot, cold or luke warm – especially if you are feeling in need of uplifting and restoring.

As with all herbal remedies please be sensible.  2 – 3 cups of an infusion per day using a teaspoon of herb should be sufficient for most peoples needs.  If you are pregnant, breastfeeding or taking any other medication then please take advice from a Medical Herbalist prior to taking any remedies.  Should you have any questions, or require a private one to one consultation then please do contact me.

Lynda Jones BSc (Hons) Medical Herbalist