Sunday, 21 February 2016

Herbal help for colds,coughs & flu

It's that time of year when cold & flu bugs are going around, so I have compiled some advice on preventing colds & flu and useful remedies to have in the home medicine cabinet for family & friends.

The first thing to consider is prevention by keeping healthy and able to resist bugs which you are exposed to.  The common cold virus can only thrive when conditions in the body allow it to, when we are run down, under stress and overloaded with toxins.  A healthy diet with plenty of fresh fruit & vegetables is the basis of good health.  Nutritional deficiencies and difficulties with digestion are often found in people who suffer from respiratory problems.  The lungs share responsibility for removing waste with the bowels, the kidneys & the skin, if those systems are not functioning well this can lead to a build-up of catarrh in the respiratory system.  Those who have a tendency to respiratory conditions are advised to avoid or limit mucus-forming foods such as dairy products, gluten, eggs, potatoes & other starchy root vegetables, sugar & junk foods.  It is a good idea to cut down on these foods if you are developing a cold.   Polluted air also adversely affects the respiratory system, particularly the effects of smoking which increases the risk of many serious health problems.  Having a good balance of work, rest & play is also important in keeping our systems strong and able to resist infections.

The next thing to consider is the use of herbs which stimulate the immune system.  Echinacea, Garlic, Thyme, Ginger & Turmeric all have immuno-stimulatory actions as well as anti-microbial actions. Many spices have immune-enhancing, antimicrobial & decongestant actions including Cinnamon, Cardamom, Fenugreek & Coriander, they also improve digestion and balance the gut flora.  Food which contains spices plus onions & mushrooms such as curry & stir-fry and chicken & vegetable soup is good for helping to keeping the immune system strong in the winter months.  A great remedy for fighting colds is Fire Cider Vinegar which combines spicy food such as Horseradish with the healing properties of cider vinegar.  Horseradish root is our native hot pungent food.  It stimulates digestion and helps eliminate waste products of fevers & colds, clears the sinuses & is warming for muscle aches. 

Fire Cider Vinegar

Horseradish root
Fresh root Ginger
A head of Garlic
Several red Chillies

Grate or chop the herbs and cover with cider vinegar to infuse for 3-6 weeks.  I put roughly chopped herbs and vinegar in my nutribullet which chopped them up very finely for maximum absorption of the healing properties into the vinegar.   Strain off the vinegar and cover the herbs with more vinegar to make a second batch.  Take a teaspoon in hot water with some honey once or twice a day during the cold season and more frequently when developing a cold.

 Horseradish, Garlic, Ginger & Chillies

Roughly chopped & covered in cider vinegar

Fire Cider Vinegar

The first sign of a developing cold is often a sore throat.  I find a hot infusion of Sage leaves, root Ginger & Lemon with honey to be helpful for sore throats.  Self Heal is particularly known for being useful for throat conditions, taken as a tea or a tincture.  Honeysuckle is also known for helping with sore throats, the flowers can be used to make Honeysuckle honey.  Swollen glands are a sign of infection, that the lymphatic system is removing waste as the body fights infection, Cleavers tincture is helpful for supporting the lymphatic system during & following an infection.

At the first sign of a cold take 1/2 a teaspoon of Echinacea tincture and 500mg of Vitamin C every 2 hours to help fight the infection.  Also have food which contains Vitamin C and bioflavonoids which help the body to absorb Vitamin C such as Citrus fruit & Rosehips, such as Rosehip Honey (see below). Take a hot infusion of dried Elderflowers, Peppermint & Yarrow every 1-2 hours to reduce fever & clear catarrh.  If you have fluey aches & pains add Boneset to the tea, if available.   Other herbs which are helpful for cold & flu teas are Ground Ivy & Catmint.   Vervain will help a cold to break and helps with convalescence.  Aromatic inhalations or hot footbaths or Rosemary, Lavender, Thyme, Cinnamon or Chamomile can help reduce swelling of mucous membranes and loosen catarrh.
 Lemon, Ginger & Sage tea

 Honeysuckle honey

Echinacea Tincture

 Echinacea Tincture

 Dried Catmint

Elder is a great aid to fighting colds & flu.  The dried flowers are used in the classic cold season tea.  Elderflowers & Elderberries can be used to make various remedies including tinctures in alcohol, elixirs which are made with single herbs or combinations of herbs in a jar half filled with runny honey & half filled with brandy and left for about 6 weeks to macerate then strained (see recipe below),  glycerites using vegetable glycerine to macerate the herbs which are useful for those who can't have alcohol or honey (see recipe below) and herbal vinegars using vinegar instead of alcohol.  Hot Elderberry wine before bed will help you to sweat and throw off a fever.



 Elderberry Tincture

Elderberry Vinegar

Anti-viral Elder Glycerite

6-8 heads fresh Elderflowers picked when in flower
500ml/2 cups vegetable glycerine
Juice of 2 Lemons
6-8 heads fresh Elderberries picked when ripe later in the year

Remove the Elderflowers from the stalks with a fork, put in a bowl & cover with glycerine, add the Lemon juice.  Put into a jar, shaking once a day.  When the Elderberries are ripe, strain the Elderflower mixture through a sieve.  Strip the berries from the stalks with a fork and put them in a jar.  Pour the Elderflower glycerite onto the berries.  Stir well & leave for at least a month.  Strain through muslin & bottle.  Take 1 teaspoon as required neat or in hot water to prevent infection or aid recovery.

 Elderflower glycerite

 Anti-viral Elder glycerite

Elderberry Elixir

1/2 fill large jar with fresh Elderberries
1 Cinnamon stick broken up into small pieces
25g lump fresh root Ginger finely chopped
1/2 Lemon chopped
1 jar runny honey, pour on and podge with a chopstick
Fill to the top with brandy, podge and mix well
Macerate for 4-6 weeks.  Take a teaspoon a day during cold season or more frequently if developing cold symptoms.

Elderberry Elixir

Honey is a great healing substance for colds & other infections.  Honey has anti-bacterial qualities which help rapidly clear infection and will help sore throats & coughs.  Honey can be also used to extract and preserve the properties of herbs.  It is simple to make a herbal honey.  Chop up the herb and fill a jar then pour on runny honey and podge it with chop stick to mix the honey with the herb and release any air bubbles.  Leave to infuse in the honey for several weeks before use.  The herb can be left in the honey and eaten or strained out as appropriate for use.  Caution - do not give honey to children under 12 months of age.

Horseradish Honey

Grate Horseradish roots or use a high speed blender such as nutribullet to finely chop roots.  Fill a jar with grated/finely chopped root then pour on runny honey and podge/mix with a chopstick to release air bubbles and mix well.  Leave to infuse and take a teaspoon when desired.

Horseradish honey

Elecampane Honey

Dig up the roots in the autumn from plants that are 3 years old or more.  Scrub off the mud.  Slice thinly, put in a jar and cover with runny honey.  Leave to infuse for at least a week.  The roots can be left in the honey and pieces of the root can be eaten.  Adults take 1-2 teaspoons and children 1 teaspoon up to four times a day (do not give to children under 2 years), for sore throats, sinus congestion & productive coughs.

Elecampane Honey

Rosehip Honey

Use Rosehips which have been exposed to frost or put them in the freezer to help soften them.  Cut off the stalks & ends.  Chop or put in a blender.  Fill a jar then pour on runny honey, podge and mix with a chopstick.  Leave in the jar to infuse.  Strain when using to remove the seeds & hairs.

Rosehip Honey

Colds & flus are often accompanied by or develop into coughs and chest infections.  The remedies already suggested should help prevent secondary bacterial infections from taking hold which are more serious and debilitating.  Coughing is a reflex action to remove irritants such as dust, toxins, micro-organisms or mucus blocking the throat or bronchial tubes, though sometimes can be caused by nervous tension rather than respiratory irritation.  There are various different kinds of coughs and it is important to choose the right herbs for the type of cough presenting.  Caution - Fever & malaise with green phlegm & breathlessness may indicate acute bronchitis or pneumonia, it is advisable to seek medical attention for these.  It is also advised to seek medical attention for a persistent cough of unknown cause. 

Demulcents such Marshmallow, Mullein, Plantain & Liquorice soothe irritation and inflammation in dry tickly coughs.  Wild Cherry Bark is particularly useful for treating dry irritating coughs including Whooping Cough as it has a sedative action, it can be taken as tincture or as a hot infusion of the dried bark.  Relaxing herbs such as Chamomile, Lemon Balm, Holy Basil & Skullcap are helpful for nervous coughs.  But it should be remembered that the inhibition of a cough does not equate with the healing of a chest infection so other herbs are also needed for treatment of infection.

Expectorants & decongestants  such as Thyme, Ground Ivy, White Horehound, Hyssop, Anise Hyssop, Ginger, Angelica & Sweet Marjoram help liquefy and clear phlegm in wet congested coughs.  Anti-microbial herbs such as Thyme, Elecampane, Hyssop, Garlic & Cinnamon help combat infection and support the immune system in fighting it off.  Elecampane is particularly useful for wet congested coughs & catarrh and for coughs which are due to digestive problems, it is not suitable for dry, irritated coughs. Its properties are well preserved in honey, see above. Some herbs are amphoteric which means they are normalisers with variable actions depending on the need of the body system at the particular time.  Mullein & White Horehound are both amphoterics so may be particularly useful for coughs of different kinds.   White Horehound is very bitter so needs to be combined with something to sweeten it such as in the elixir remedy below.

 Mullein leaf


Anise Hyssop

Cough remedies:

Wild Cherry Bark tincture & cough syrup

Cut twigs in autumn or early spring and scrape off the bark.  The greenish-white inner bark is the medicinal part.  Dry the bark in the shade or in a dehydrator.   Use the dried bark to make a tincture with vodka, fill a jar with bark then fill with vodka, leave in a cool dark place for a month then strain.  The tincture can be combined with Elderberry glycerite to make a cough syrup, using 1 part cherry bark tincture & 2 parts Elderberry glycerite, dose 1 teaspoon 3 or 4 times a day, half this for children, particularly for dry, irritating coughs.  Caution don't use Wild Cherry in pregnancy or for children under age 2.  There is a possible risk of stomach upset or diarrhea, if this occurs use less or stop using.

Wild Cherry twigs

Wild Cherry bark

Dried Wild Cherry bark & tincture

White Horehound, Sage & Thyme Elixir

Roughly chop fresh White Horehound, Sage & Thyme put in a jar and half-fill with runny honey, then fill to the top with brandy, podge and mix well with a chop-stick to release air bubbles.  Leave in a dark cupboard for about 6 weeks, strain & bottle.  Take a teaspoon at a time when needed for a chest infection.

White Horehound, Sage & Thyme Cough Elixir

Hyssop, Elderberry & Marshmallow Elixir

Chop herbs & cover with honey & brandy and leave to macerate and strain as above.  A good general cough remedy.

Hyssop, Marshmallow & Elderberry Elixir

'Bartram's Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine' Thomas Bartram
'Hedgerow Medicine' Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal
'Letting in the Wild Edges' Glennie Kindred
'The Complete Herbal Tutor' Anne McIntyre
'The Domestic Alchemist' Pip Waller
'The New Holistic Herbal' David Hoffmann
'Wild Drugs, a forager's guide to healing plants' Zoe Hawes

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

The call to protect the land from fracking

Like most of you who are reading this I am immersed in the challenges of daily life and trying to work towards living more sustainably.  But there is a bigger picture that we all need to take account of and respond to in our own way.  We are in the midst of an environmental crisis caused by our unsustainable society.  One manifestation of this is the development of extreme fossil fuel extraction methods such as fracking, coal-bed methane and underground coal gasification.   These cause contamination of the air, water and earth around drilling sites, which leads to severe health effects in people living nearby, as well as contributing to climate change.   Vast swathes of Britain have been opened up to fracking & other extreme fossil fuel extraction methods by the current government, so large areas of our precious countryside & the wildlife which lives there as well as many millions of people will be directly affected if this goes ahead.  See for details of the threat.

In August 2013 I was contacted by a friend who asked me to help with organising an anti-fracking ritual on Glastonbury Tor.  The intention of the ritual was to raise awareness and energy for the anti-fracking cause, particularly in the pagan community.   Reverence for the earth is a fundamental part of pagan spirituality so this was a call I felt I had to answer.  Several hundred people participated in the ritual along with hundreds more doing rituals elsewhere round the UK and round the world to send energy in support.   As a result of the ritual The Warrior's Call Pagans United Against Fracking was created as an international network which encourages all of like mind to work both practically and magically to defend the land from fracking. The Warrior's Call has held 3 more international rituals over the past 2 years, in which literally thousands of people have participated.  The intention of the rituals has been to inspire and empower the people participating to work on an energetic level and in practical ways to help protect our land, water and air from the threat of extreme fossil fuel extraction.  

As well as the international rituals there have been many rituals and practical actions organised by local communities affected by the threat in their area.  I participated in a Winter Solstice ritual held last month at Upton near Cheshire on a piece of land that was ear-marked for drilling, that had been occupied by activists for the last 21 months.   As part of the ritual I and my husband called upon the powers of Oak and Mistletoe to protect the land.  We called to the ancient oaks that stood guard round the boundaries of the field and to the power of the bough of Mistletoe that I had brought from a ceremony held in Glastonbury earlier in the month.  Mistletoe has associations of good luck & protection from many ancient cultures, our custom of kissing underneath it is a dim remnant of these customs. 

 Winter Solstice ritual at Upton (photograph by Colin Gong)

Invoking the power of Oak & Mistletoe (photograph by The Chester Chronicle)

Very sadly the protection camp at Upton was brutally evicted by bailiffs accompanied by several hundred police officers last week.  But this does not mean that resistance at Upton and across the UK is over.  Far from it, a solidarity event was held at Upton last weekend, attended by 100's of local people and activists from around the country and there is an ongoing presence at the entrance to the lane leading to the site.  There are scores of No Fracking Way events planned across the UK for Sunday 31st January, to kickstart community resistance around the country in 2016.  Please try to support one of these or organise your own to add your voice to the many who are standing up to defend our land from short-sighted greed which will leave a lasting toxic legacy. 

As my blog is mainly about herbalism I especially invite my fellow herbwives and herbal practitioners of all kinds to answer the call to help protect the land with our particular knowledge and skills.  This may be by providing much needed healing & practical support for the well-being of frontline protectors such as at Upton, please join the group Herbalists Against Fracking to get involved.   Or it may be by doing magical work alone or in a group, calling upon our plant allies for guidance and assistance in our work to change consciousness and help bring about what is needed to stop extreme fossil fuel extraction in the UK and across the world.  Or by spreading the word about the threat of extreme fossil fuel extraction in your community both online and offline.  We can all do something.  Our land needs us all, will you answer the call?

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Herbal gifts & a cupboard full of goodness

Apologies for the long gap since the last post due to various circumstances including being responsible for co-running a week-long camp at  Samhain, at which herbs in various guises played a part including ritual offerings, Mugwort assisted dreaming, cold remedies & a talk about using herbs to help keep healthy over the winter.  I also had my 50th birthday in November, which feels like a major milestone especially as I am in the process of passing through the transition of menopause.  Then in December like many people I was busy with the lead up to the festive season.  I managed to find time to make some herbal gifts of creams & salves for family and friends, using some of the infused oils & tinctures I have made, which was a lovely way to share some of what I have been doing as a herbwife apprentice during the last year.

Skin Cream

I made some skin creams using Christopher Hedley's basic cream recipe:

1oz base cream
1 teaspoon infused oil
2 teaspoons tincture
4 drops of essential oil

- Add the infused oil or oils if using a combination to the base cream and stir until it is all absorbed.
- Then add the tincture or tinctures if using a combination and stir again.
- Add the essential oil & stir in.
- Spoon into small jars with screw top lids & label.

I used Olive Tree Rich Cream Base from Baldwins herbal suppliers for my base cream.

I made a soothing skin cream with 4oz base cream, 1 teaspoon Rose petal infused oil, 1 teaspoon Calendula infused oil, 1 teaspoon Marshmallow infused oil, 1 teaspoon of Elderflower infused oil, 4 teaspoons of Rose petal tincture & 4  teaspoons of Elderflower tincture.  These are moisturising & soothing for dry skin.  I didn't use essential oils, just infused oils.

I also made Rose & Elderflower skin cream using just Rose & Elderflower infused oils & tinctures in equal proportions.

Cream, oils & tinctures for Soothing Skin Cream

Mixing cream

Soothing Skin Cream

Rose & Elderflower Skin Cream

Back & Joint Salve

I made some Ginger double-infused oil by chopping up a large Ginger root into small chunks then dividing into 2 batches and putting the first batch in a small pan covered with Olive oil and heated over a slightly larger pan of water on a very low heat for 2 hours, then removed the first batch of Ginger and put in the second batch into the same oil to heat for another 2 hours, the oil was strained through a piece of muslin over a sieve into a jar and labelled.

I made a salve for soothing back & joint pain using:

3 fluid oz Meadowsweet infused oil - which has pain-relieving properties
3 fluid oz St John's Wort sun-infused oil - which relieves nerve pain
2 fluid oz Ginger oil - which is walming & soothing for inflamed joints
2 fluid oz Marshmallow oil - which is lubricating & soothing
1 oz chopped beeswax - which makes the salve set & has healing properties

This was heated in a small pan in a slightly larger pan of water on a low heat and stirred until the beeswax all melted.  The salve was then poured into small jars and left to set then the lids were put on and the jars were labelled.

 Making Ginger double-infused oil

Root Ginger infused oil

 Back & Joint Salve

To mark the end of my first year of the herbwife apprenticeship and beginning of the next year I have taken stock of the remedies I have made over the past year and listed them all in an inventory.  This will be useful to help me keep track of my growing pharmacopeia of remedies and to plan for remedies I need to make this year.  I also made a list of the books I have read or used for reference over the last year.  I already have some books lined up to read to continue to deepen my knowledge and appreciation of herbs as allies for health & well-being over this coming year.

 Creams & salves in my bathroom cabinet

Oils, salves, flower essences & dried herbs

Herbal vinegars

Tinctures & elixirs

Tinctures, elixirs, glycerites & preserves

Herbal honeys

Herbal books

I look forward to continuing to share my learning and reflections on my journey as a herbwife with my readers over the next year.  Thanks for all the positive comments I have received over the past year, they are really appreciated.  Please do post a comment if you want to know more about anything I have posted, I am happy to share information with others who share my interest in all things herbal.