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.
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.
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.
The whole point of choosing the name Growing Medicine for my clinic and business was to illustrate both the fact that the medicine I use comes from things that are growing in contrast to things that are synthetically made in bulk in a factory, and that I am actually growing some of my own stuff. Since I started practice here in Bridgwater I have acquired an allotment and have begun a scheme of growing my own medicinal plants, some of which I have made into tinctures and teas and stored in my pharmacy ready to use for my patients.
Years ago, before I started training for my degree in Herbal Medicine, I used to wonder what women did when their children got ill before the NHS was developed. In some social history books I discovered that in rural areas there was a lot of knowledge about medicinal plants, and this wisdom was passed down from generation to generation orally. And people used to just pick tips up from each other. In most villages there would be a certain individual who had amassed a great fund of plant knowledge and neighbours would defer to them in times of illness in the family. If you are interested I can recommend Memory, Wisdom and Healing: The History of Domestic Plant Medicine by Gabrielle Hatfield. The History Press 2005.
Last week one of my daughters had a cough and cold. I was in my allotment that morning and I picked White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare.
White Horehound is expectorant which makes it useful for those productive coughs of a heavy cold, as opposed to those dry irritating coughs that hang around after a cold has long gone. It relaxes the muscles of the bronchus and frees up the mucus that just sits there.
And I picked some Greater Plantain, Plantago major.
Plantain is great for colds. It is demulcent so it helps soothe sore throats and inflamed respiratory membranes, and it has expectorant properties to help get up stubborn mucus from the bronchial tubes.
And some of my lovely aromatic Catnip, Nepeta cataria
Catnip is a traditional cold remedy. It is a diaphoretic, which means it herbs induce involuntary perspiration that helps to manage a fever. It also boasts some nervine properties so it can help relax stressed ill people.
This was what women would have done years ago, instead of going to the pharmacy to by Lemsip and paracetamol.
I took the herbs home, washed them and snipped them into bits. I then added them to an in-cup infuser with some dried yarrow harvested from my garden, and made a hot soothing ‘cold’ tea.
And Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, is another important remedy for helping the body deal with a fever. Your body needs the fever to improve the function of your immune system, and disable those cold bugs. It is brilliant in the acute stages of heavy colds and influenza. It is also supposed to have antimicrobial properties.
Some I picked earlier from the garden and dried for teas;
Growing Medicine Tea: Beneficial for coughs and colds. take with lots of rest and a good book…..
This is Jacqui Apostolides after a very successful Open Day at Broad Oak Farm in Essex. As they say from their website:
Broad Oak Herbs is a totally unique company. We currently farm just over an acre that forms part of a 6 acre organic smallholding in the beautiful Essex countryside, our herb farm specialises in growing medicinal herbs very much in harmony with nature.
Founded in 2010, when Dawn Pooley met local Herbalist Jacqui Apostolides (Fordham). The idea to start a herb farm specialising in medicinal tinctures quickly became a reality as our other partners became involved. This is true pioneering work and the only medicinal herb farm in Essex.
Where possible we use local craftspeople and materials to make anything we need to use on the farm.
Packaging and printing are kept simple and minimal using recyclable materials to reduce our carbon footprint.
Very little electricity is used in making our products, we use a shredder to process our herbs and this is all done in our lovely open sided barn. The brewing tinctures are stored in our makeshift stockroom and then the tinctures are pressed using a hand pumped hydrolic press.
We produce the best tinctures we possibly can. Broad Oak Herb tinctures and other herbal products are produced exclusively from fresh herbs grown here, harvested at their peak.
Processing of the herbs is done on site, where they are made into tinctures immediately after being picked, so that nothing is lost. This is done in such a way as to preserve the whole of the life force, resulting in a product which is still biologically active. Potency of a remedy comes from a whole plant extract, which we know makes all the difference. We use naturally fermented organic grain alcohol and vegetable based glycerine for our products.
Growing organically ensures that the plants are free of any traces of herbicides, fungicides or synthetic fertilizers. The herbs are collected in tune with the rythyms of nature on flower and fruit days, according to when nature herself dictates. Moving towards biodynamics and permaculture, our hands-on, tuned in brand of horticulture ensures individual attention to both the plants and the land.
One of the main elements of growing on this land is the concept of working co-creatively with nature.The idea behind this comes from our herbalist Jacqui. Deeply inspired and influenced by the work accomplished at the Findhorn community in Scotland and Perelandra gardens in the USA, Jacqui felt compelled to try this method within Broak Oak Herbs with a view to exploring the opportunities to cooperate directly with what we understand as nature intelligence. For a definition and explanation of nature intelligence, please read Machaella Small Wrights paper athttp://www.perelandra-ltd.com//PDF/PP11_What_is_Nature_Intelligence.pdf
This means we are on an immense journey with this project, bringing together our vision of working with nature but still using state of the art modern methods to produce very unique tinctures and other medicines.
Phase one commenced in January 2010, with preparation of part of the field and a planting scheme. The first year crops and harvesting from around the farm produced a small yield of exceptional tinctures in 2010. We have erected a polytunnel, where we plan to experiment growing herbs that may not survive our outdoor climate, such as some auyurvedic herbs. We are trialling sacred basil, and ashwaganda. We have also propagated some White Sage that we are quite excited about.
For the future, we plan to establish Echinacea and to introduce Liquorice beds. But this all takes time.
This is such an exciting venture we believe, for students, herbalists and the general public alike as Broad Oak Herbs will become a great living classroom in which to study and observe herbs.
My colleague and I have been so impressed with the quality of tinctures that we buy from them that we went up to view their project. And we took lots of photos.
We were given a comprehensive tour of all the herbs beds. Why they planted in these shapes, why they put what where, etc…
If you compare this photo with one of the early ones on my blog, you can see I have come a long way…
The white greenhouse in the centre background is mine, and marks the bottom limits of my allotment. The photo was taken from the shed where I store my tools, seeds, dry herbs, keep books and chairs, and brew tea and soup [more of which later]. Behind my shed I have a bit more of allotment for the compost heap and 2 red currant bushes.
Not too bad for £17 a year, water on tap, on-site friends and advisors included in the price.
So, I really wanted to grow Althea officinalis from the Malvaceae family. A number of wild mallows grow in waste land and pastures, but only Althea officinalis [Marshmallow] and Malva sylvestris [Common Mallow] are used in herbal medicine. I am surrounded by Common Mallow, so I thought what the heck I’ll dig up a root and plant it in my allotment. I use mallow for irritated mucosa, coughs, gastritis, inflammation of the pharynx etc. A lot of symptomatic relief. So I transposed a Common Mallow plant, but it was a sorry specimen and it didn’t really thrive.
This is the scrappy Malva, or Common Mallow. The leaves weren’t all that soft and flowers were sparse. It had to go….
That’s better; a lot more tidy! You can now see the White Horehound plants coming up around the area.
Fortunately, I was given a couple of Althea officinalis plants by a Herbalist colleague in London after I visited her allotment and felt the soft, downy leaves; much more soft than the Malva, which promises a more soothing medicinal action perhaps.I planted them asap, but they still looked droopy and forlorn. Yesterday though, I saw a couple of new leaves appearing at the bottom of the stem. They may just survive.
So, this is what I call bulk tincture making.
Those of you who work in professional herbal product warehouses may snigger at me but I am just a one-man-band here, beginning to make as many of my own medicines as I can. Making three separate tinctures in one day to me is bulk tincture making…
All these herbs are local, and they are fresh. I went for a walk one early May afternoon by the canal. This time I took the path on the opposite side to the one near my house and followed it as it veered away from the canal edging towards the river on the other side. The path here is quite wide and dusty, fringed with stinging nettles and white dead nettles; I had already harvested quite a lot of both so I passed them by. But when I turned the corner a 14-15′ high Hawthorn tree was in full flower, covered with bunches of creamy blossoms surrounded by bright green leaves. The whole tree was so fresh, so new, and so vibrant I just had to get my bags out. [I always carry bags in my pocket - you never know what you might find...].
I came home with bags bulging and tipped them straight into my straw baskets till I could process them. I don’t keep any herbs in plastic bags for any time at all except to collect and carry home. Anyway, the tree was left with plenty of blossoms so I know where there’ll be berries come the Autumn. I use hawthorn for arteriosclerosis, tachycardia and the prevention of heart disease.
In the area where I live I find masses of Cleavers [Galium aperine] in the spring. Sometimes I juice them, but you don’t get much liquid out of piles of stems and leaves. I prefer to tincture them fresh, or to dry them for teas. The cleavers I picked this spring were mostly gathered from an area close to me [just over the road actually] called Browne’s Pond. It’s a small lake, and what makes it special is that it is only 100 yards from the road, and edged on one side by a residential street. You can’t call it ‘countryside’ but it is a lovely quiet place on the periphery of a small town. We get fishermen here, young families picnicking and feeding the ducks; and the local residents have got together to form ‘Friends of Brownes Pond’ and their aim is to keep it a pleasant, litter-free environment, and to maintain the pond life and water plants around the edges. They have inserted mesh boxes containing reeds and grasses around the edge and are looking after the area well. It’s here I come with my scissors to cut my cleavers. I don’t like to pull them up ‘free hand’ as I always get roots, yellow leaves and clumps of earth.
Cleavers are a native British herb, and is traditionally used as a diuretic and lymphatic. I use it a lot for people with skin problems and enlarged lymph nodes. In the first photo you can see I have made a large jar of Cleavers [Galium] tincture. The photo here shows bunches of cleavers drying to make into teas.
Stinging nettles are all around me, there has never been any shortage of this particular herb. It’s a pity they get such a bad press. Nobody else seems to like them…
They come up each year like clockwork, like old friends. Timing is important for nettles and I gather what I need in the spring then just leave the rest of them alone to do there thing till I want their seeds in the Autumn. I don’t cut the leaves late in summer because of warnings of high levels of calcium carbonate crystals which may irritate the kidneys. I don’t know how true this is but I avoid them just the same. Everybody knows they have to handle stinging nettles with gloves, don’t they. Even then, I always manage to sting myself somehow. One day I want to try the remedy for arthritis the Romans were credited with; that of flaying the joint with the nettles so the skin was stung. This relieved the pain from the arthritis. Perhaps somebody could try it and let me know.
I made a big pot of fresh nettle tincture [Urtica dioica], and still had piles of them to dry for teas. I use nettles as a source of minerals for patients, and have found them useful for some hay fever sufferers.
Sometimes, when a rash of itchy spots springs up your first concern is not to get a correct diagnosis but to STOP THE ITCHING.
You can find out what the cause is later, but if you just want to stop being driven crazy by constant itching, and if you have a patch of chickweed growing near you [lets face it, we all have...] then you can deal with the itching while you wait for an appointment with your GP [or a medical herbalist] for a diagnosis if necessary.
Lots of rashes and spots come and go, and I’m not suggesting that you need a check up. If the spots bother you and they last a good while then mebbe you could get them seen to, especially if you feel ill and/or are running a fever.
HOWEVER, back to common itchy spots and rashes caused by bites or cysts or eczema or something you touched that didn’t agree with you…
First, the chickweed Stellaria media. Grows everywhere – except, annoyingly, not in my garden – so I have to visit my daughter a 10 minutes walk away to gather what I need.
Chickweed Stellaria media
This is the stuff. A low-growing, sprawling plant with lots of tiny tiny white flowers. If you are not sure if your weed is Stellaria then pick a stalk and look closely at the stem. Chickweed has one line of fine white hairs running down one side. Just a line of hairs, not all over the place and the line moves round 90 degrees on the stem each time it is bisected by a pair of leaves. If you see this line of hairs, you have Chickweed.
BTW, if you are hungry you can eat it. This was a healthy addition the the Victorian salad. Wash it thoroughly [think dogs and cats].
If you are still itching you can chop up the washed and drained weed and squeeze the juice out into a bowl with your bare hands and just wipe it on. Even better, you can make a cream to carry around with you, keep in your bathroom or by your bed, or have in your first aid kit.
You will need:
50ml oil. Any cold pressed oil should do. Sweet Almond Oil, Grapeseed, Virgin Olive. [I used a Ribwort infused oil which I had already]
15g beeswax. You can buy pellets from places like Neal’s Yard, Baldwin’s, or www.aromantic.co.uk
50ml chickweed juice
This is the measured out fresh chickweed juice. Look at its vibrant colour! You have to measure very carefully, this isn’t a Jamie Oliver bung-it-all-in cake recipe. When you have measured out the juice you put the dish into a bowl of very hot water to heat it up. The juice and the oil have to be combined at the same temperature.
Tip the beeswax into the oil and heat in a pan of water on a hot plate. Don’t mess with just bowls of hot water here or you will be waiting all evening for the wax to melt, trust me, go in with the big guns…
When the wax has melted and the juice is hot, start to drip the juice into the oil with a pipette or similar and take an electric whisk to it. You are whisking the juice into the oil slowly, till it’s gradually all incorporated. Use the slowest speed, but please, use an electric whisk or it will never come together…
Keep whisking till it is thick and creamy. Difficult to describe, but when you see it you will know. Now, I should have taken a photo of the whisking process, but I was on my own and didn’t have enough hands. I did however take a pic of the finished cream in jars:
This, my friends, is fresh Chickweed cream. It should keep 6 months in the fridge, or even longer if you add a preservative like Borax etc. Look up preservatives on the aromantic website and choose a suitable one.
I will just add that a few days after making this cream an elderly woman came to me with an itchy cyst on her back. ‘Do you have anything for itchy spots?’ she asked. You betcha! She told me it took less than 5 minutes for the itch to disappear. Satisfying.
For comparison purposes the picture below is of a commercially produced chickweed cream: I prefer the greenness of the fresh juice myself..
After breaking my wrist in the summer of 2012 which impacted on allotment life through to the Autumn, and after the wettest Summer and Autumn that I can remember, followed by an extremely busy Christmas with a house full of lovely people, it is about time I got back to the allotment.
I visited today, managing to squeeze an hour in to eat my breakfast and drink my hot herb tea [I have a kettle and hob in my shed!] before the rain fell. All I managed to do was pull up the dead stems from last years Calendula, and mourn over my Spring cabbage – all 30 plants have been eaten by slugs and/or snails, razed to the ground by terrestrial gastropod molluscs.
This year I shall just sow flowers and medicinal herbs and buy in greens from Asda, unless someone, somewhere can tell me how to protect my veggies. BTW, I did put down slug pellets, the non-organic blue ones, loads of them….
I also need to construct, or get someone else to construct, some staging in my greenhouse. This is the time to to sow early seeds, and I have a greenhouse up and glazed, but no shelves or tables to work on or keep seed trays on.
Apart from simple compresses where clean cloths are soaked in medicinal herbal infusions and applied to the skin, it is sometimes beneficial to have a mass of herbal product laid against the skin for 10-30 mins to help heal bruises, reduce inflammations or ease painful joints.
I am making poultices at the moment to help reduce the swelling of tissues behind an arthritic knee. This treatment doesn’t cure the arthritis but may help ease the pain and increase the movement a little. I usually make a pack of three, each poultice can be used for three days twice a day, rolled back up and put in the fridge after each use. I tell the patient to warm them up in the microwave before use then carefully wrap around the leg with the herb resting against the swelling, then rest with the leg elevated for 10 minutes if the poultices contains mustard powder, or 30 minutes if it is just linseed and/or slippery elm.
These are easy to make at home with some clean old sheeting cut into strips. You need about 60gms each of fresh ground Linseed, and slippery elm powder. You mix the linseed and slippery elm then add enough hot boiled water to make a paste which you spread on the strip of cloth. The photos below show how it’s done. I roll them up with cling film so they keep clean and don’t stick or leak. The cling film is removed when the poultices need to be used. The strip of cotton is long enough to be folded over to cover top and bottom, like a linseed sandwich…
By the side of the Taunton-Bridgwater Canal path you can find an abundance of medicinal herbs. Near West Street you can get down to the Canal path, and up until recently there was a beautiful Elder bush which always was loaded with fragrant flowers in the spring time, then later carried bushels of dark purple berries. This year two herbalist colleagues came down from London to help me harvest a few baskets of the flowers which I dried for tea, and made into tinctures.
When I returned in the Autumn to harvest some berries to make into Winter Tonic with cinnamon and cloves, someone had cut the bush down, right to the ground. Although I was disappointed, I knew there were more bushes towards the junction with Taunton Road, but walking along the Canal path all the bushes had a very very poor crop of berries. So far I have only managed to gather enough to make four 200mls of the Winter Tonic, but my its so good I have to restrain the children from drinking it. If you would like the recipe, please email me.
Scroll down to see how we did it….
I strip all the berries from their stalks with a fork or a snazzy little berry picker I bought in Finland where, like Norway, they gather a lot of berries and make jams and stuff.
Then I weigh the berries and bring them up to a boil before simmering them with some sugar.
The simmering will reduce the liquid by about a third, so it is rich and gloopy. Then we have to strain out the berries before we heat again with some cinnamon and cloves thrown in.
After the straining, we put the berries in some muslin and squash through a press to extract all the juice.
Then we add the cinnamon and cloves and simmer a while longer before pouring into bottles and labelling.
After we strain the berries, we simmer the reduced liquid with cinnamon sticks and a handful of cloves.
At Growing Medicine’s allotment June was a very busy time. We had brought seeds on under cover and had planted them out, plus the potatoes and onions were doing very well.
Eating good food is important for your health, as Hippocrates said; “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”
So with that in mind we are growing some veggies as well as medicinal herbs.
The greenhouse is still waiting for it’s glass, it’s all stacked up there ready to go in. By the side of the greenhouse there are some frames waiting to be made into seed beds ready for next spring. All the black plastic you can see there was left dumped by the previous holders of the allotment, we just keep shifting it about.
After the pics of the veggies, I have put up some photos of my first attempt at medicinal herb growing. Calendula.
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