Essential Oils to Help with Breathing Difficulties and Congestion

Essential Oils to Help with Breathing Difficulties and Congestion

At this time of year there are so many winter bugs. Using essential oils for vaporisation in the home or workplace helps support the immune system. If the dreaded lurgy has already hit select essential oils to help with breathing difficulties and congestion.

The following are some of the popular essential oils to support the respiratory system. Incidentally, many of these are trees.

Frankincense – Boswellia sp.

Boswellia carteri contains approximately 40% monoterpenes. Monoterpenes are antiseptic, bactericidal and antiviral (Clarke, 2002). However, Lawless (1995) notes constituents vary dependent on species of Boswellia used. West (2003) recommends frankincense for mucous conditions like catarrh and bronchitis. Monoterpenes aid in fighting infection.   

Renowned for its ability to slow down and regulate breathing. This is probably why it is often used as incense in meditation. Perhaps this effect on breathing, combined with the anxiolytic action, is why it is frequently found useful for asthma.

This was always one of my favourite oils. It has got quite expensive though so I tend to use it less frequently these days.

Cajeput, Eucalyptus, Niaouli, Ti-Tree – The Myrtaceae Family

essential oils to help with breathing difficulties and congestion.

Melaleuca leucadendron, Eucalyptus globulus, Melaleuca viridiflora and Melaleuca alternifolia are members of the Myrtaceae family. Price describes this family particularly beneficial for the respiratory system and highly antiseptic tonic stimulants.

As mentioned these essential oils tend to be more stimulant in action. Although these are great oils to use when you are under the weather if you find them too stimulating it is best to avoid bedtime use.

Balz (1999) notes 1.8-cineole is found in Melaleuca leucadendron, Eucalyptus globulus, Melaleuca viridiflora and Rosmarinus officinalis ct cineole*. This constituent strengthenairways and is expectorant. Price (2000) suggests the major action of 1.8-cineole is its mucolytic property. This property is beneficial for coughs and congestion in the respiratory tract. Penoel (1992) adds although 1.8-cineole often shows a strong bactericidal action, particularly against Staph aureus, it is generally considered much more effective in the treatment of viruses.  

So oils with 1.8-cineole definitely win a position on the list of essential oils to help with breathing difficulties and congestion.

*Note: Rosmarinus more commonly known as rosemary is a different botanical family. However, dependent on the growing conditions some plants are particularly high in 1.8-cineole.

a little more specifically on … the different eucalyptus essential oils to help with breathing difficulties and congestion

Davis (1996) describes Eucalyptus globulus a purifier and recommends using in a burner where there are negative energies. Some sources (including Price, 2000) suggest Eucalyptus globulus too strong for use with babies and young children and generally recommend Eucalyptus smithii as an alternative. I personally would agree and would add Eucalyptus radiata as another alternative. 

Price (2002) consider both smithii and globulus high in cineole. However globulus is usually a little higher and may be as high as 85%. The smithii type is considered to have better quenching properties for aromatic medicine/ aromatology use but the globulus type is considered an excellent expectorant and antiseptic with the antiseptic property also beneficial for urinary tract infections like cystitis.  

Eucalyptus citriodora has a lemony scent. Frequently added to anti-mosquito blends. This has a very small amount of 1.8 cineole. The chemical composition is predominately aldehydes. Although a useful oil not so beneficial in a winter congestion blend.

Eucalyptus staigeriana has slightly more 1.8 cineole than citriodora but not nearly as much as globulus or smithii. However, it is still useful as it has approximately 30% monoterpenes. However, it will not be just as clearing as globulus or radiata varieties.

and a little more specifically on cajeput…

Melaleuca leucadendron or cajeput contains between 45-65% of cineole (Davis, 1988). Davis believes cajeput clears nasal passages by reducing mucus production and inhibiting bacterial growth in colds, flu, catarrh and sinusitis. In addition, it has a pain-killing action beneficial for the aches and pains associated with flu, head colds and sore throats.

and on to a European pine tree….

Essential Oils to Help with Breathing Difficulties and CongestionMembers of the Pinaceae family are effective for respiratory disorders particularly catarrh. Pinus sylvestris, more commonly known as Scots Pine, is a powerful air antiseptic and therefore beneficial used in a vaporiser or burner. It has been used for this purpose on burns units as a preventative against infection in severe burn patients (Price, 2000).  

A study discussed by Nicholls (1998) highlights its anti-infective action.  The study used aromatograms, 50 essential oils and 175 patients with infectious conditions. Pinus sylvestris was one of the oils in the top 10. Definitely a tree oil worthy of a sniff! It is high in those infection busting monoterpenes. 

It is one of my personal favourite essential oils to help with breathing difficulties and congestion. I like it blended with a little sweet orange essential oil. In addition it blends well with eucalyptus and lavender. In Scotland I liked walking in the pine forests when feeling a little under the weather.

So how best do you use essential oils to help with breathing difficulties and congestion ?

Vaporisation

If travelling, whether air travel or simply the daily commute to work, a handkerchief works well. Simply add two or three drops of your chosen essential oil or blend of oils to a tissue or handkerchief. Ideally keep the tissue in a sealed bag to retain the aroma throughout the day.

Some essential oils will stain so if a favourite cotton handkerchief perhaps add the oil to a paper tissue or handkerchief-sized piece of old cotton sheet instead.

Essential Oils to Help with Breathing Difficulties and CongestionThere are so many vaporisation options for the home. A wide range of electric oil diffuser are now available to purchase. The price range of these varies greatly so shop around. Ideally try to find one in use. Some shops selling them often have a model or two you can try in the shop.

If seeking a cheaper option, ceramic burners using tea-lights to warm the essential oil and water mix work well. The disadvantage, for safety, you must remember to blow out the candle if going out or when going to sleep.

I would also recommend you choose one with a large enough water and oil well bowl. Some are particularly small. If the bowl is too small the mix often evaporates before the candle has had chance to burn down. The result is a gloppy mess on the bottom of the ceramic bowl.

Steam Inhalation

You can also add four or five drops to a bowl of hot water. Lean over this bowl for steam inhalation. Please take great care to avoid stinging eyes or burning your face. Keep a safe distance and keep your eyes closed. Some of the stronger more potent oils may sting your eyes. Steam inhalation is a great way to help clear congestion in the nose and head.

Bathing

Essential oils do not disperse in water. Blend a couple of drops in ether a tablespoonful of oil or full fat milk. Add this to the bathtub for a soak, sit back, relax and breathe.

These days fewer and fewer homes have bathtubs. In these situations use a basin and prepare as a foot or hand bath instead.

Decongestant Salve

A decongestant salve is ideal to rub on your chest when you go to bed at night. Choose an oil you find relaxing to aid sleep in addition to helping breathing. I like frankincense in a decongestant salve with a little drop of warming ginger too. Experiment with blends to see what works best for you.

 

Peppermint or Spearmint so many minty teas

Mentha sp.

I have written several articles which have included mints but have not, as yet written a profile solely on mint. There are so many different mints and so much I could write….

Most people recognise a mint growing. Certainly if not by look, by crushing and smelling a leaf.

Peppermint or Spearmint so many minty teas …

Peppermint and Spearmint are the two utilised medicinally most often. However, there are many others….

The scientific name for peppermint is Mentha x piperita. For spearmint, it is Mentha spicata or, sometimes Mentha viridis. You may also see spearmint called simply garden mint.

Peppermint is actually a hybrid between water mint (Mentha aquatica) and spearmint. Incidentally Moroccan mint is also a hybrid of mints, one of which is also spearmint. You will sometimes see it called Mentha spicata ‘Moroccan’ or Mentha spicata var crispa. This is the mint used in the heavily sweetened tea given in Morocco.

If you enjoy a mojito, this probably would originally have included the Mentha x villosa mint variety. A hybrid between spearmint and apple mint. Mentha x villosa more commonly is known as Cuban mint. Cuba being the birthplace of the mojito. As a result many mojito recipes utilise the easier to source spearmint.

You have probably already guessed… Mints are somewhat confusing. How many mint species are there? Well who knows really. They are a somewhat promiscuous bunch and tend to cross-breed quite easily. Some sources report up to 25 species, while others report as low as 14. Certainly there are hundreds of varieties.

… and the origin of the name …

The word ‘mentha’ is Latin origin. However, the word is thought derived from Greek ‘mintha’. In Greek mythology, Mintha is a female deity or nymph. Nymphs give life to lakes and rivers, sources of fresh water. Places where the mint naturally loves to live! In fact water mint can actually grow in water.

Herbal Articles

Mint is particularly easy to grow in the garden, though probably best in a pot! A wonderful first aid remedy to have to hand. Grow peppermint or spearmint or a selection of mints if you have space, separately of course!

In the first aid article (link above) I mention use for aching feet and as a pleasing digestive tonic tea. And, of course, it is also an ingredient in a winter tea to keep the bugs at bay.

As an aromatic water it is a useful cooling spray, particularly for menopausal flushes or hot feet. In addition I sometimes choose peppermint essential oil for patients with sciatic pains.

Traditional Uses

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In a Modern Herbal, Grieve suggests peppermint first appeared in an English spearmint crop around three hundred years ago. However, there is evidence of peppermint being cultivated in ancient Egypt.

Apparently added to the Pharmacopoeia in 1721. This following identification of its many medicinal properties.

Utilised in a similar method to smelling salts. Also recommended for the head and memory and as a gargle to cure problems of the mouth. Grieve adds in the fourteenth century, it was believed to whiten the teeth. Possibly it was more beneficial as a breath freshener. Certainly it is a popular addition to toothpastes and mouthwashes today.

Bartram adds Dioscorides reputedly wore peppermint on his cloak to raise his spirits.

One of the miracle remedies of the four robbers vinegar.

Anyone for mint sauce with their lamb roast dinner? Mint sauce has long been an important culinary complement with lamb. Why? Traditionally mint sauce is made with spearmint. Was it chosen for its benefit on digestion? This foodie blog, including the comments section, offers a few interesting theories.

Modern Uses

I have never used tincture in my own practice. Preferring tea, aromatic water or essential oil. Some of these uses I have mentioned above.

Peppermint or Spearmint so many minty teas

carminative and antispasmodic, it is an excellent digestive remedy. Take the tea for difficulties or pain on digestion – colic, indigestion, IBS, flatulence, abdominal cramps. Relieves sickness and nausea. The menthol in the tea helps clear nasal congestion. Be sure to brew the tea in a covered container.

Essential Oil

The essential oil is widely in use within aromatherapy. Some uses include inhalations for respiratory conditions. In addition, in a massage blend the analgesic properties ease the pain of neuralgia and also in abdominal massage for digestive upset or painful periods. The anaesthetic action makes it useful for ‘cooling’ inflamed conditions. Utilised as inhalation or in massage on temples for headaches. Although, I find mint particularly useful in this instance, if the headache is due to digestive upset, as an abdominal massage.

Bartram recommended five to six drops of the essential oil in two teaspoons of massage base oil for muscular aches and pains, stiffness or sport injuries.

Outlander Reference

In Season 1 of the television show and the first book, peppermint makes an entrance when Claire first visits Geillis Duncan. Claire was desperate for a young hungry boy to avoid a severe sentence for theft. She convinced Geillis to speak with her husband. Geillis gave peppermint to her husband for his dyspepsia to make her husband more agreeable to reducing the punishment. I assume she brewed him a peppermint tea here.

Herbal Energetics

Energetically peppermint is a herb of Venus. However, I always find it to have a contradictory warming and cooling effect on the body. Most people find small amounts cool and fresh.

Finally, some people, generally those of Choleric or warmer temperament, can find mint tea uncomfortably heating. If you are one of these people try spearmint. It is milder in action and often better tolerated.

Garlic and the Outlander Medicinal Uses

Garlic and the Outlander Medicinal Uses

At Castle Leoch Mrs Fitz brings Claire some garlic bulbs, bags of herbs and cloth strips. Claire has Mrs Fitz peel the cloves. Several cloves of peeled garlic with thyme are added to boiling water to decoct. She is making an antiseptic wash for Jamie’s wounds. Claire drops the cloth strips in the boiling liquid too.

Okay so Mrs. Fitz, Claire and Jamie are fictional characters from the Outlander book and television show. But is this use of garlic so crazy?

Historically garlic does certainly have a long history of medicinal use. However, nowadays Allium sativum (garlic) is the subject of much investigation. Research studies have found our ancestors were right to use garlic. It is indeed anti-microbial.

Garlic Research

A recently published paper in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology actually looked at historical use of medicinal plants. In particular the study investigated the activity of medicinal plants used by the Physicians of Myddvai from the 14th century. Over 67 historical plants had detectable levels of antimicrobial activity against Staphylococcus aureus (Gram-positive) and Escherichia coli (Gram-negative). One of the medicinals tested was garlic.

A study by Roshan et al published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology earlier in 2017 included garlic. They tested twenty products, one of which was garlic juice, against four different strains of Clostridium difficile. In conclusion the garlic juice had the highest anti-microbial activity.

Furthermore a later study by Sheppard et al in the European Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, found garlic effective against multi drug resistant Staphylococcus aureus.

A Kitchen Medicinal

It is a medicinal I always have to hand. The above are some of the benefits. It has many more uses. I have included some of these in Fight Winter Chills with Herbs from the Kitchen.

Plantain though not the banana, the white man’s foot

Plantago major / Plantago lanceolata

Family:

Plantaginaceae

common plantain or ribwortThe Plantaginaceae is a family of 253 species, 250 are Plantago species. Plantago herbs are perennial with small flowers and generally parallel veins (Barker).

Plantago is the scientific name for plantain. Common on bare ground and grassland either as P. lanceolata or major species. The wider leaved variety is major. The P. lanceolata species is more commonly known as ribwort. Mabey describes Plantago major as the broad-leaf or common variety while Plantago lanceolata he calls the long-leaved variety.

Medical herbalists can, and do, use both of these species. A survivor of trampling. Hence, known to Native American Indians as ‘white man’s foot’.

Where does it grow? Everywhere!

common plantain or ribwortPodlech advises the small seeds are spread by feet of animals and people. And we return to the white man’s foot! Distributed throughout Europe although it has spread worldwide.

Barker tells us Plantago major grows on paths and roadsides, in town or country. Also found in gardens and waste grounds on disturbed soils. You are certain to have it growing nearby. It often pops up in my own garden. Generally considered a weed the gardener prefers to kill.

Traditional Uses:

Nicholas Culpeper used plantain for consumption of the lungs, consumption being the old name for tuberculosis. He noted it particularly useful for coughs from heat. He recommended drinking the juice for catarrhal discharges or heavy menstruation. Probably leaves although he utilised roots, leaves and seeds. Root he powdered or decocted. Seed he preferred for dropsy, epilepsy and jaundice.

Finally, he noted any plantain for healing wounds and sores either applied externally or taken internally.

Modern Uses:

Used today by medical herbalists for its wound healing properties and its soothing effect on the body which includes coughs.

Mabey describes a drying action. For wound healing properties he suggests crushed leaves applied directly to skin to stop bleeding. He finds it a soothing expectorant and recommends for many lung conditions.

Barker finds leaf of Plantago lanceolata far more useful for pulmonary conditions than the major variety. However, he prefers the major variety for wound healing, benefiting skin complaints such as acne rosacea, and for its diuretic properties, in treating conditions such as cystitis particularly with associated haematuria.

Personal thoughts and uses…

I find common plantain or ribwort extremely versatile plants. Plantago has an affinity with mucous membranes. Mucous membranes are throughout the body protecting our digestive, urinary and respiratory tracts.

Plantain is particularly useful in many herbal prescriptions. Perhaps with Horsetail or Cornsilk for a urinary tract infection. With Elderflower and Eyebright for hay fever or sinus problems or with Thyme for a chesty cough. Or combined with Meadowsweet or Chamomile to soothe and tone the mucous membranes of the digestive tract. Endless combinations…

I generally find plantain cooling and soothing so in general I would select this for a prescription where someone may have irritated sinuses or a red raw sore throat.

In addition, it makes for a wonderful first aid ointment. A wonderful ally to find immediately after attack by an insect! Rub the crushed, or chewed, leaf directly on insect or bee stings.

… and some constituents in common plantain or ribwort …

Mabey notes a combination of silica and tannin make plantain useful in treatment of varicose veins and haemorrhoids. In addition, he adds silica strengthens the lungs.  

Menzies-Trull discusses the iridoid glycoside, aucubin, as antiseptic particularly for infections of the gastrointestinal tract. In addition he adds antimicrobial saponins, allantoin and the minerals potassium and zinc.  He considers the stimulating effect on the immune system attributable to the polysaccharide content.

Another herbalist, Chevallier, describes aucubin a strong urinary antiseptic linking with Barker’s cystitis use. Allantoin, he describes, a potent tissue healer.

… and some research on common plantain or ribwort …

Research supports use in chronic bronchitis and chronic cough.

A Bulgarian study (Matev et al, 1982) aimed to ascertain if Plantago major had expectorant and anti-phlogistic (i.e. reducing inflammation and/or fever) actions. They reported favourable results following treatment of 25 patients with chronic bronchitis for a 25 to 30 day period with Plantago major.

A German article published in Wein Med Wochenschr reviewed clinical data and confirmed Plantago lanceolata to be anti-inflammatory, spasmolytic and an immune stimulant. They particularly highlighted the use of Plantago for chronic cough (Wegener et al, 1999).

Herbal Energetics

I have already mentioned I personally find plantain cooling. Culpeper believed it a herb of Venus.

Frawley et al suggests bitterness and astringency combine to give this herb its diuretic action. Furthermore, this combination of bitters and astringency, they find better for a Pitta constitution. These actions cool blood and energy thereby reducing Pitta. Finally, Frawley et al describe plantain a cooling alterative.  

How to make… Basic Herbal Tincture Recipe

How to make …

Basic Herbal Tincture Recipe

When making a tincture, alcohol is used to extract the medicinal properties of the plant material. Tinctures are ideal for herbs you may wish to gather in spring time for use over the winter months.

Herbal tinctures are made with either fresh or dried plant material. If using fresh plant the water content of the fresh plant needs to be taken into account. The quantity of marc (plant material) and menstrum (liquid/alcohol) determines the tincture strengthen*. For some herbs a stronger alcohol is necessary. Important to know as a medical herbalist prescribing herbs on a regular basis.

Don’t panic! For the lay person making herbal remedies, for personal use, there are many herbs that can be extracted well with a 40% vodka. Elderflowers being one. You don’t need to worry too much about the menstrum/marc ratio.

Harvesting and Drying Elderflowers

The following tincture recipe uses Sambucus nigra (elderflowers). These are usually in bloom from mid-May to early July. June is often the best time to harvest.

To avoid difficulties with water content, which can ruin your tincture, collect on a bright and sunny morning. Once you have gathered the flowers lay them out on brown paper. This needs to be somewhere which is warm and dry, out of direct sun and with good air circulation. Once the flowers dry out they will easily rub free from the stems.

Ingredients:
  • 25 g chopped dried (Sambucus nigra flos) elderflowers (MARC)
  • 200 ml 40% vodka (MENSTRUM)
other items:
  • measuring scales (to measure out dry plant material),
  • measuring jug or container (to measure vodka),
  • clean sterilised jar with lid and label,
  • and a bottle with lid and label (after decanting)
Method:
  • Place 25 g of chopped dried herb into a jar and cover with the menstrum (in this case vodka). Plant material must be completely covered. If you need to add more vodka do.
  • Seal the jar and label with date and contents.
  • Shake daily for two weeks.
  • Decant and press out marc (plant material), bottle and label with date and contents.

*For information, as a guideline, if you have used the exact quantities above this would make a 1:8 at 40% herbal tincture.

Elderflower is indicated for sinusitis, rhinitis and other respiratory tract infections. A wonderful immune booster. Ideal to make now and keep for the winter or those spring time allergies!

 

Nosey Problems? Hay Fever or Infection?

Natural Advice for Rhinitis

I had the following article published when I was practicing in the UK. I just came across it in my files and thought well hay fever season shall soon be upon us!

Nosey Problems!

Rhinitis is defined as an inflammatory condition of the lining of the nose. It is characterised by nasal obstruction, nasal discharge, sneezing and itching.

Rhinitis may be perennial (all year), seasonal (hay fever) or infective (acute or chronic).

Both perennial and seasonal rhinitis can be caused by allergens. Seasonal rhinitis may be due to grass pollen or certain trees. Perennial allergens could be cats or house dust mites. Nutritional deficiencies and imbalances may also aggravate, or even promote, an allergic response. Acute infections with the common cold or chronic sinusitis are other triggers.

There are other non-allergic and non-infective reasons for rhinitis. In some instances the cause may be emotional or hormonal although there are others.

Herbal treatment begins by considering the cause or trigger. Treatment is tailored to each individual. No two people would present with exactly the same symptoms or trigger(s) and so no two people can be treated with the same herbs.

Symptoms may be dry nose and dry eyes while others may complain of constant nasal discharge. Remedies with moistening or toning actions would be selected accordingly. Other patients may describe congestion as hot or burning requiring cooling and soothing remedies.

Boost the Lymphatic System…

Often, with rhinitis, the lymphatic system requires a boost. This can be achieved by using herbs or alternatively with a course of manual lymph drainage.

Manual lymph drainage (MLD) is a specialised therapy which is designed to improve the functioning of the lymphatic system.

May Violets Spring! Sweet Violets in February

Viola odorata

Family

may Violets springViolaceae

This beautiful little flower is a welcome sight in my garden at this time of year.

Flowering is from February to May (Barker). The photos here taken in my own garden in February.

So why the title “may violets spring”?

Sweet violets do make me think spring is near as they spring up so early in the year. However “may violets spring” is from Shakespeare.

Any reader of Shakespeare, or Hamlet in particular, may remember this on the death of Ophelia.

Lay her in the earth;

And from her fair and unpolluted flesh

May violets spring!

Hamlet, Act V, Scene I – A Churchyard (on death of Ophelia)

may Violets springSweet violet is a flower many will know. They prefer growing in damp woods or shady spots. In my own garden they are flourishing under a tree. Leaves heart shaped.

In herbal medicine leaves either fresh or dried. However, flowers preferred fresh. Harvesting during flowering.

Barker adds the rhizome can also be utilised but points out underground parts are stronger and are more likely to provoke emesis. I have personally only ever utilised aerial parts.

Early in flowering, leaves and flowers make a pretty addition in a wild foraged salad.

Traditional Uses:

The following excerpt is from Harold Ward’s Herbal Manual.

Remarkable claims have been made for violet leaves in the treatment of malignant tumours. The case of Lady Margaret Marsham, of Maidstone, was reported in the Daily Mail for November 14th, 1901. This lady, suffering from cancer of the throat, used an infusion, which was left to stand for twelve hours, of a handful of fresh violet leaves to a pint of boiling water. After a fortnight of warm fomentations with this liquid the growth was said to have disappeared.

The same newspaper, under date March 18th, 1905, told its readers that violet leaves as a cure for cancer were advocated in the current issue of the Lancet, where a remarkable case was reported by Dr. William Gordon, M.D. Such accounts as these, although interesting, should be read with considerable reserve.

Harold Ward, 1936

Barker suggests interest in Viola odorata has maintained due to the plants reputation as an anti-neoplastic.

Indeed in more recent years, research has found a cyclotide from Viola odorata to have antitumor effects. Research in this area continues.

Modern Uses:

may violets springViola odorata has a strong affinity with the respiratory system.

Mabey (1988) suggests the combination of saponin and mucilage make Viola odorata a soothing expectorant. It has a cooling nature used for hot headaches and feverish colds. Finally he adds the mild sedative nature makes it useful where there is accompanied insomnia or anxiety.

Tobyn (1997) notes sweet violet will cool over-heated lungs. Barker (2001) describes it has having expectorant action useful for cough but finds it soothing rather than sedative. I would tend to agree myself and believe it soothing rather than sedative.

Menzies-Trull agrees it is a demulcent expectorant. He also highlights Viola as an anti-neoplastic particularly for malignancy of breast and intestine.

… and some energetics…

may violets springUnder the dominion of Venus, and utilised by Culpeper for purging the body of excess choleric humours. Leaves, he reported, stronger for this purpose although flowers also used. The choleric humour is hot and dry.

Menzies-Trull adds it moderates anger. Anger is generally, like the choleric humour, heating.

Viola odorata is cold in the 1st degree and moist in the 2nd degree and under the dominion of Venus (Tobyn, 1997). Culpeper prescribed this as a cooling cordial. Today this herb described as emollient (Barker, 2001) confirming its traditional moist attribute.

Violets may see the start of warmer weather. However, the humble little “may violets spring” is definitely a soothing, cool friend.

A Winter Tea to keep those bugs away…

A Winter Tea to keep those bugs away….

Recently I wrote about fighting winter chills with kitchen herbs. For this post I thought I would share a popular herbal tea for winter colds and sniffles.

winter tea to keep those bugs away
Achillea millefolium – yarrow

The tea contains three herbs: yarrow, mint and elderflower. The scientific names for these medicinal plants are: Achillea millefolium, Mentha piperita, Sambucus nigra flos.

This combination of herbs is best taken as a warm infusion. Generally peppermint (Mentha piperita) would be the mint of choice although you could substitute this with milder spearmint (Mentha spicata) if you prefer.

So to make the tea…

Ideally you would gather the herbs in the spring time and dry for winter use as tea. You can also buy small amounts dried from your local medical herbalist. Alternatively stores like Woodland Herbs and Neal’s Yard Remedies, both UK based, offer online shopping options. Whereas in France, you can generally find these dried herbs for sale at local markets or bio shops.

Herbal Infusion Recipe

Ingredients for a winter tea to keep those bugs away
  • a teaspoonful of dried peppermint
  • a teaspoonful of dried yarrow
  • and a teaspoonful of elderflower
  • 2 cups of boiling water
  • 1 pinch of powdered ginger or other powdered or ground warming spice (optional)
Method
  • Combine all the herbs and pour over boiling water.
  • Infuse* the herbs in the boiling water for at least 5 minutes, ideally 10.
  • Strain. Drink freely every few hours until symptoms abate.

winter tea to keep those bugs away* when choosing highly aromatic herbs, such as these, for an infusion the herbs must be covered to avoid escape of volatile components.

Use a teapot or, if making a single cup, you can often purchase cups with inbuilt tea strainers and lids specifically for infusing aromatic plants. The lid and ceramic infuser can be removed to enjoy the tea when ready.

Benefits of a winter tea to keep those bugs away with mint, yarrow and elderflower

The combined benefit of this pleasant blend helps induce gentle perspiration to reduce fever.

Mentha piperita, or mint, is a popular herbal tea. Many people enjoy the taste. There are many traditional uses for peppermint. One use is alleviating the symptoms of colds and flu. For the respiratory tract, it is particularly beneficial for both bronchial and nasal catarrh, for the common cold and for breathing difficulties (Hoffmann). Mint is highly aromatic in nature. Inhalation of the aroma between sips of the tea provides further health benefits. The benefit of keeping the lid on it during infusion.

Sambucus nigra is the elder tree, or shrub. Both flowers and berries have medicinal properties. Elderflowers are used in this tea blend. However both elderberry and elderflower have a lengthy use in traditional medicine for febrile illnesses such as influenza (more commonly known as flu). Research has found it particularly effective clinically for influenza. In fact it inhibited at least ten strains of influenza (Zakay-Rones).

Last though not least, Achillea millefolium, more commonly known as yarrow. Yarrow is a circulatory stimulant. It really gets things shifting. It is also an astringent. This gives the plant drying and toning properties, ideal for drying up mucous loaded coughs and runny noses.

I would also add a little pinch of powdered ginger or another tasty, warming spice. This not only adds to the flavour, it provides its own medicinal kick. A delicious warming winter tea to keep those bugs away!

Fight Winter Chills with Herbs from the Kitchen

Fight Winter Chills with Herbs

Fight Winter Chills with Herbs from the KitchenWinter time brings cooler weather and with it a number of infectious and viral conditions ranging from the common cold or flu to sinusitis or chest infections.

In today’s modern world we have reached a turning point. Antibiotics revolutionised the world and saved many, many lives. However, we have over-used these miracle medicines to our own detriment. Antibiotic-resistant organisms are on the increase.

We can help ourselves by turning to the plant world. The following are some of the more simple remedies we can turn to from our own kitchen.

Fight Winter Chills with Herbs from the Kitchen!

Garlic – Allium sativum

One such medicinal plant we can all easily take is garlic. Garlic has proven effective in laboratory testing against many pathogens. Increasing our dietary intake of garlic over the winter months can help strengthen our immunity. It is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral, expectorant and a circulatory stimulant. All the actions we need over the winter months.

It is worth noting the constituent allicin breaks down on cooking. It is best to eat garlic raw. Ideally toss some chopped garlic into a stir fry and mix through just before serving to preserve the medicinal benefits. Be sure to include lots of dark green leafy vegetables in the stir fry too. Green leafy vegetables are full of essential vitamins and minerals to help ward off those winter bugs.

Some people find garlic too strong on the stomach. If garlic is not for you then both onion and leek are in the same family. They too possess the benefits of garlic albeit in a milder form.

Mustard – Synapsis alba/nigra

Have you heard of a mustard foot bath? There is nothing better for your cold feet than a mustard foot bath.

Footbath Recipe

Grind some mustard seeds with a mortar and pestle and add two teaspoons with two litres of warm water to a basin. Sit back, relax and soothe those feet.

It is a wonderful comfort after that ache in the bones of your feet and toes from the cold. A treat after a tiring day Christmas shopping or working.

Mességué suggested black mustard was more powerful in action than white mustard though both can be used. Mabey recommends Synapsis nigra (black mustard) footbaths for chilblains and poor circulation.

Culpeper assigned mustard a herb of Mars although Aries, he suggested, laid a claim on it which he indicated would strengthen the heart. It certainly is a well known circulatory stimulant.

Ginger – Zingiber officinale

The root (rhizome) is used in herbal medicine. Fresh or dried root.

Ginger root can be infused as a herbal tea if the root is sliced finely. One or two slices per teapot will suffice, if you are using it as a flavouring only. In this way it imparts a warm, delicate flavour.

However, for medicinal use it is best to decoct and 5-10 minutes is usually sufficient time for simmering. Once strained you can add some lemon juice or honey for a warm, healing drink. Easily added to a flask to take to work and sip throughout the day.

As a winter evening drink, before bed, I like to add a wee tot of whisky too. Not a recommended addition to the work flask though!

Ginger has many medicinal properties. It will induce sweating in a fever to lower body temperature so it excellent for general chesty conditions. Being a peripheral circulatory stimulant it is wonderful regular winter drink for poor circulation where one has cold hands and feet.

Both ginger and mustard are rubefacient. Rubefacients are excellent to fight winter chills. When used externally (such as the mustard bath) they draw the blood supply to the skin. This action increases heat in the tissue. This action is beneficial for cold conditions particularly rheumatic aches and pains as well as muscle aches and pains. Also used for poor circulation as they increase circulation.

The above are a few simple ways to fight winter chills with herbs from the kitchen.

Thyme is another excellent winter remedy and Elecampane too. You can read more about these two herbs from their medicinal plant profiles.

Elecampane for coughs and chest complaints

Inula helenium

Family:

Asteraceae

elecampane medicinal garden Thyme Breaks
Inula helenium – elecampane

The name is thought to derive from Greek ‘helenion’ meaning ‘Helen’ possibly from Helen of Troy. One story describes the plants growth from her tears. The common name is derived from two Latin words ‘inula campane’ meaning ‘of the fields’ (Phillips).

Podlech describes the natural habitat as fields and rough ground. Elecampane can be found growing throughout Western and Central Asia and Europe. It can also be found in the British Isles. Bremness suggests the plant prefers damp meadows and shady soils. It can grow up to 10ft.

Personally I think it will probably grow in most ground with a preference for damp soil and some shade. My own plant in the garden is around 5ft tall. It is in full sun for most of the day. I believe flowering would have lasted longer had my plant had a damper, slightly more shady spot. The flowers in this post are all from my garden in early July.

Traditional Uses:
elecampane
Elecampane tall and proud

Manniche notes the Ancient Egyptians called species of Inula ‘fleabane’ and used it to combat fleas. They found it disliked by most animals. Mentioned in the Book of the Dead to drive away crocodiles. Pliny tells it was an antidote to poison. Apicius recommended elecampane as a condiment for digestion. Dioscorides mentions Egyptians used the root in a wine as a snake bite remedy.

Culpeper described Elecampane as hot and dry and wholesome for the stomach advising it would kill all worms in the belly. He described it as poison resistant and recommended it for shortness of breath and coughs. Used in an ointment for scabs and itching. Culpeper noted it would make the skin clear.

The Shakers called the herb Scabwort. They used the herb for itching as well as weakness in digestion. However, use was mainly for coughs and lung disease (Miller).

Mességué believes it one of the oldest plants used in healing noting it used in the Middle Ages in Athens and Rome for many respiratory conditions. The Germans reputedly made elecampane wine, an effective plague remedy, which they called ‘St Paul’s Potion’.

Mességué talks of being a child and his father using elecampane to treat and cure a child of whooping cough. A simple treatment with baths and infusions of elecampane. A wonderful example of the power of nature.

Modern Uses:

Many traditional uses relating to the respiratory and digestive systems are still common today. Bone includes asthma, bronchitis, catarrh, infections and influenza as indications. Elecampane, he describes, as a possible treatment for peptic ulcer disease and intestinal worms.

Frawley lists analgesic, antispasmodic, carminative, expectorant and rejuvenative in the list of actions. He indicates the herb for pleurisy, dyspepsia and nervous debility. If using as a diaphoretic expectorant he recommends combining use with ginger, cinnamon or cardamom. As a rejuvenating tonic he suggests combining with ashwagandha, comfrey root or marshmallow.

Indeed, Mességué too found elecampane to ease heartburn. He also found it sudorific.

and a little bit of science…
Golden Inula flowerhead
Elecampane sunshine

The root contains sesquiterpene lactones including alantolactone and isoaltantolactone (Bone). Menzies-Trull includes 44% inulin, terpenoids, sterols, resin, mucilage and up to 4% of volatile oil.

Pengelly states inulin helps stabilise blood sugar suggesting this herb may be useful in cases of hypoglycaemia. The constituent also has diuretic and immuno-stimulating properties. Alantolactone has an antibiotic action.

Bone quotes a favourable clinical study where children were given between 9-200 mg of alantolactone for Ascaris infestation. Ascaris is the common small roundworm. Culpeper did say it would kill all worms in the belly! It would be interesting to see a similar study using the whole herb rather than an extracted constituent. However I always enjoy finding an old traditional remedy backed up with some modern scientific evidence.

Mills highlights an investigation of essential oils from 22 plants. All had relaxant effects on tracheal smooth muscle. One of the most potent was the root of elecampane highlighting the antispasmodic property of the herb.

… and a word of caution…

Sesquiterpene lactones are believed to cause contact dermatitis in some individuals. Care should be taken when collecting this plant. These constituents are more common in the Asteraceae family.

Patients with hypoglycaemia or diabetes are well advised to seek the advice of a medical herbalist prior to taking this plant medicine.

… and some energetics…

Culpeper described Elecampane a herb of Mercury and hot and dry in the third degree. However, Tobyn interprets Culpeper as finding it to be a hot and moist loosening medicine with a relaxing effect on membranes and ligaments, muscles and tendons. I would agree that it is definitely more moistening rather than drying.

Frawley describes Elecampane as Kapha reducing. He cautions use in high Pitta conditions, presumably due to the heating effect of the herb. Energetically he describes elecampane as pungent, bitter and heating and indeed there is a slight pungent bitter taste which may possibly relate to its effect on the digestive system. The pungency most likely adds to the general warmth of this herb.

Simply looking at the flowerhead of elecampane, like a large sunshine and rays, gives a warm, relaxing feeling. Don’t you agree?