Maggie Pope
is a Medical Herbalist

Practising in
Bridgwater, Somerset

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November, 2014

Cold and Flu Season

Colds and Flu Season…

The common cold is a virus droplet infection of the air passages of the upper respiratory tract. There are many hundreds of different viruses that cause a cold to develop, which is why there is no specific ‘vaccine’. You can catch it by breathing in the virus in droplets coughed or sneezed by an infected person, or by touching and object that has the virus on it, left by an infected person, like a door handle or passing books to and fro at school, or toys at a playschool or nursery.  It presents with symptoms of runny nose with clear or thick yellow catarrh, sneezing, slight sore throat, slight ear ache, a feeling of malaise, headache and is usually afebrile.

Many different strains of virus are responsible for the common cold, and they are constantly undergoing mutation. There is of course no point in the patient requesting antibiotics from their GP unless a secondary bacterial infection has taken hold; the most important thing to be aware of when a patient is complaining of a cold is that inflamed mucosa are more vulnerable to infection with bacteria. This can manifest later as sinusitis, bronchitis or ear infections.

The ‘cold’ is ubiquitous, yet there is no fool proof method for dealing with it, either with herbs or orthodox medicine. With herbal medicine though we have many more remedies than your local pharmacist. What can you buy at the pharmacist? Lemsip and honey, paracetomol if you have a headache or are getting a bit of a temperature. Beechams make capsules and powders to relieve the symptoms of colds and flu. Let’s take a look at what they typically contain:

Paracetamol – to relieve head pain and lower temperature

Phenylephrine – this is used as a decongestant. It also comes with possible side effects which include; nervousness, dizziness, insomnia, upset stomach, shaking, tachycardia…just google it.

Guaifenesin – this is used as an expectorant to assist in the bringing up of phlegm in acute respiratory tract infections. Originally from the Guaiac tree the Guaifenesin used now is a synthetic form which has been available from the 1980’s.

In our herbal pharmacy we have decongestants, antitussives and expectorants that have no unpleasant side effects. For a simple cold all we need to do is get the patient to wrap up warm [this helps the immune system and inhibits most viruses as the common cold virus does not survive well above 33°C], give a diaphoretic to help get the temperature to peak, dose with anticatarrhals and anti-virals and advise to keep drinking your hot herbal tea…

What would I give for a common cold?

Yarrow, Echinacea, Elderflowers, Ground Ivy

Cold Tea [drink hot]

Yarrow10g/Elderflowers 10g/Ground Ivy 10g

Place the 30g of dried herb into a cafetiere, pour on one litre hot water and steep 10 mins. This should be kept warm so pour into a flask and sip through the day.

In addition:

Echinacea angustifolia tincture 5ml every hour with water.

The common Daisy is a traditional plant used to subdue irritating coughs that hang on long after the cold has gone. A great way to use the daisy as a cough remedy is to immerse the flowers into runny local honey and leave for several days. You can leave the flowers in if you like, but I strain them out and use the honey, which has absorbed phytonutrients from the flowers, and use the honey straight from the teaspoon as a cough syrup.

12.04.14 Workshop Daisies in Trug

Collect fresh daisies in a trug

12.04.14 Workshop Honey into Jars

Tipping the honey into a jar full of daisies

12.04.14 Workshop Daisy Honey

Daisies in Local Runny Honey



Influenza is an acute viral infection of the nasopharynx and respiratory tract and is caused by a different type of virus to the common cold. It generally starts with fever, aching and shivering, and brings with it symptoms that are much more severe than acute rhinitis and which last for longer. Accompanying symptoms include headache, sore throat and persistent unproductive cough that can remain for weeks, and sometimes patients experience nausea and vomiting. The influenza viruses may also provoke something referred to as the post-viral syndrome, which is a time of debility, fatigue and low mood and which may persist for some months. There is also a greater risk of secondary bacterial infection and complications, some even leading to death, for example pneumonia.

There are only three different forms of virus which cause flu, A, B and C which belong to the orthomyxovirus group of viruses. Influenza B is related to local outbreaks of flu which tends to be seasonal and can be contained, while Influenza A tends to be at the root of worldwide epidemics. It is Influenza A which has the greatest capacity to develop new variants at irregular intervals thus evading the host immune system which may have developed immunity against a previous deviant. The most serious worldwide epidemic of Influenza A was in 1918 and was the cause of approximately 20 million deaths. A later shift in the antigenic profile of the virus was at the root of another outbreak in 1957 causing a worldwide pandemic. Influenza C causes a much milder respiratory illness that is not thought to cause epidemics. Nearly all adults have been infected with influenza C virus and lower respiratory tract complications are unusual. There is no vaccine against influenza C virus.

Most at risk are the elderly, children and the immunocompromised.

A chest rub or poultice is a useful adjunct treatment to a respiratory tract infection, the constituents are absorbed easily through the skin and can start their action on the lung tissue swiftly. In many cases direct action by a topical remedy has more immediate effect than a tea.

Actions that you would anticipate including would be; decongestant, immune cell stimulating and anti-viral.

Decongestant herbs: Eucalyptus or Pine  essential oil. Dilute in a carrier oil and rub onto chest, or include in a chest rub ointment, or use as in a steam inhalation.

Thymus vulgaris. Use dried herb as a hot tea to make a poultice, or use as part of a steam inhalation

The chest rub made below contains local pine tip infused oil, with black pepper and thyme.

12.04.14 Workshop Finished Jars

A great chest rub for chest infections




November 2014
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