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.

Purslane for a cooling, healing salad

Portulaca oleracea

Family:

Portulacaceae

Barker describes purslane as a creeping annual which can spread from 10-30 cm. The end of the stems are much leafier. Here you may find a few yellow flowers. The leaves are waxy and smooth.

It is often an escape of vineyards in France especially in the south and east. Easily tolerates poor soils and drought.

The name is believed to derive from the word ‘porcelain’.

Traditional Uses:

Culpeper advised it could be used as a salad herb. Good for cooling heat in the liver, blood and stomach. He described the seeds as more effective than the leaves particularly where there was heat and sharpness in the urine. The seeds he advised, should be bruised and boiled in wine and given to children to expel worms.

Purslane seemed also to be considered a contraceptive! Culpeper added it would extinguish the heat and virtue of natural procreation.

Bruised herb was applied to the forehead for any excessive heat hindering rest and sleep. Application to the eyes, or any wheals and pimples, reduced redness and inflammation. Bruised leaves mixed with honey and laid on the neck would take away pains and a crick!

The juice too was used. This Culpeper particularly recommended to stop vomiting or, mixed with a little honey, for an old, dry cough. Juice was advised for inflammations of secret parts of man or woman!

Finally he advised application on gout where it would ease pain so long as the gout was not caused by cold.

The leaves contain high amounts of Vitamin C. Used as a remedy against scurvy (Barker).

Holmes notes appreciated for millenniums and traditionally used in Europe for thickening soups and stews and hot-pots. He believes it the Western equivalent of okra, or lady’s fingers.

Holmes quotes two historical sources, Jean Fernel

“…it has the unique property of tempering and containing burning and flaming bile, resisting toxin to prevent its further spread”

Jean Fernel (1508)

and the Book of Experiences.

“It quenches thirst caused by stomach, heart, liver and kidney fire.”

Book of Experiences (1225)

Medicinal Uses:

Barker notes purslane is used as a salad herb around the world. He also describes it as cooling. As an emollient it has a vulnerary action on the skin. The leaves are mucilaginous and diuretic providing a soothing action on both digestive and urinary tracts. Like Culpeper, Barker too describes the seeds as vermifuge though gentle enough for children.

Holmes, like Barker, notes the Vitamin C content. He adds some minerals and omega-3 fatty acids.

Holmes lists several indications for purslane. He describes it a moist, cooling, demulcent herb.  His indications include painful boils, carbuncles, localised purulent infections, chronic loose stools with blood and pus, frequent burning bowel movements, intestinal parasites, burning urination and thirst.

As a vegetable he recommends eating raw, lightly steamed or pickled.

and some energetics…

Not surprisingly, due to the obvious cool nature of purslane, Culpeper ascribed it a herb of the Moon. He recommended purslane for all hot, choleric conditions.

Holmes discusses it energetically as clearing toxic heat, blood heat, intestinal damp heat and bladder damp heat.

Plant Medicines for Mothers-To-Be and New Babies

Simple Herbs for Pregnancy, Breastfeeding and Baby Care

The following five herbs are easily obtained either from the garden or your local health food store or medical herbalist.

Money is frequently tight at this time. All that saving for baby accessories! The remedies listed are free or at slight cost should you choose to purchase.

Urtica dioica – nettle

Pregnancy

Urtica dioica is indicated for iron deficiency anaemia and useful for women experiencing this problem in pregnancy. There are no contraindications to the use of this herb in pregnancy. The herb is best taken as a tea (one teaspoon of herb per cup of boiled water infused for up to fifteen minutes) and drunk three times a day. Alternatively take the fresh juice from leaves in a dosage of one to two teaspoons or cook the leaves, like spinach, or include them in soup.

This herb is highly nutritious as it is extremely efficient in extracting minerals from the soil. It contains minerals (including iron and calcium) and vitamins (particularly vitamin C). These vitamins and minerals are absorbed into the blood stream and transported around the body. Urtica dioica was known traditionally as a ‘blood cleanser’.

Breastfeeding

Urticia dioica stimulates milk production in nursing mothers after giving birth. This is believed to be due to the herbs hormonal action. Drink as herbal tea.

Note: nettles – collect fresh (best in spring), though watch out for sting (free) or purchase dried herb

Calendula officinalis – marigold

Baby Care

Pregnancy Breastfeeding Baby Care medicinal plantsCalendula officinalis is a gentle wound healer and is useful for nappy rash. In this situation the calendula is best applied topically in a cream. The easiest way to do this is to make an infusion (herb tea) or an infused oil of Calendula officinalis and add this to a natural cream base.

Marigold ointment works well as a barrier to help protect the skin from nappy rash. For a recipe to make an ointment click here.

Recipe for infused oil…

Make an infused oil using 250g of dried herb to 500 ml of oil such as olive or sunflower. Personally I prefer sunflower here as it is a lighter oil. In addition it extracts the beautiful orange colour from the marigolds. Simmer on a low heat for approximately an hour to allow the oil to absorb the constituents and healing properties from the herb. Strain and bottle.

An alternative method of making an infused (or macerated) oil is to place the herbs and oil (cold) into a jar and cover over. This solution is shaken daily until the oil is saturated. This takes longer than the previous method. Infused oils made with this method take approximately two to three weeks, depending on the herb used and the warmth of the location of the jar. Some sources recommend straining and replenishing with fresh material.

The herb contains resins, flavonoids and mucilage. Resins seal the tissues against the effect of further damage. They can also be astringent meaning they will help dry a wet weeping wound. Flavones are typically found in flowers. The word ‘flavus’ means yellow. They are more often antiseptic in their action and will reduce any inflammation. Mucilaginous plants are typical would healers and will soothe pain, irritation and itching and aid in binding damaged tissue.

Pregnancy

Haemorrhoids are common during pregnancy. They are caused by an overload on the liver. The body is producing many additional hormones during pregnancy which the liver has to filter and deal with accordingly. Apply Calendula officinalis ointment, cream or oil to the anal area to promote healing.

Breastfeeding

Sore, inflamed nipples from breast-feeding are soothed by infused oil or cream of Calendula officinalis. An alternative treatment would be to infuse a handful of herb in boiling water for fifteen minutes. The herb is then placed in a muslin cloth (or handkerchief) also pre-soaked in the herb water and placed over the area.

Note: marigolds – grow in garden and purchase sunflower oil to make your own infused oil (cheap) or purchase pre-prepared infused oil or cream

Salvia officinalis – sage

Post-Breastfeeding

Pregnancy Breastfeeding Baby Care medicinal plantsSalvia officinalis is contraindicated by many sources during pregnancy and breastfeeding. The herb contains the constituent thujone within the volatile oil. It is antiseptic, but is also thought to stimulate smooth muscle and has an oestrogenic property giving this herb the traditional reputation of an abortifacient. Its contraindication in breastfeeding is due to the unknown affect the herb may have on the baby.

However, the herb can arrest lactation when breast-feeding has ceased. Use the essential oil externally at a three percent dilution in a vegetable carrier oil and massage into the skin. Alternatively, or in addition, drink an infusion of sage tea three times daily.

Note: sage – grow in garden and use fresh leaf (free) or purchase essential oil or dried herb

Zingiber officinale – ginger

Pregnancy

Use Zinger officinale for morning sickness in pregnancy. The anti-emetic action is possibly due to the constituent shogaol. Some sources suggest caution in pregnancy at a maximum daily dose of 2 g of dried herb. Make a tea from the powdered dried root or grated fresh root or decoction from sliced fresh root.

Note: ginger – grow in a pot in kitchen (free) or purchase root

Tilia europoea – lime-flower

Note: This is a European tree. It is not related to the lime fruit tree.

Pregnancy

During pregnancy some women have problems with high blood pressure. In such cases, it is extremely important to have regular monitoring of your blood pressure by your GP, obstetrician or midwife.

Rutin, a flavonoid in Tilia europoea in research was effective in lowering blood pressure. Lime flower also has diuretic properties and an ability to replace potassium loss making this a good all-rounder for high blood pressure. This is best taken as a tea three times daily. There are no contraindications or cautions for using this herb during pregnancy.

There are other benefits to drinking lime flower tea during pregnancy. Oedema (fluid retention) is helped by the diuretic property of the herb.

Another bonus, it can help ease headaches or migraines, if related to high blood pressure. Also it relieves anxiety, restlessness, insomnia and palpitations.

Varicose veins may also occur during pregnancy and taking Tilia europoea tea during pregnancy may prevent this. Saponins are believed to be helpful in vascular disorders.

Breastfeeding and Baby Care

As a mother take the tea to treat a breast-feeding baby. Tilia is beneficial for a baby having developed a cold or for a restless baby. Baby would receive a proportionate dose of any remedy mother takes due to the high perfusion of lactating mammary glands.

Note: there are many lime-flower trees growing in parks and green spaces where you can gather leaves and blossom (free) or purchase dried herb.

Herbal First Aid with Garden Herbs

Herbal First Aid

There are any number of herbs that would work very well in a herbal first aid kit. The following simple everyday uses are for some more well-known garden herbs. These include lavender, sage, peppermint and marigolds.

Lavandula angustifolia – lavender

herbal first aidThe healing effect on burns for lavender essential oil was discovered by French chemist Gatefosse quite by accident. He was working in his laboratory. When his arm caught fire he quickly plunged his arm into a vat of neat lavender oil. To his amazement, not only was the fire extinguished, his burns healed without scarring.

We may not all have a vat in our kitchen but a bottle of lavender essential oil is a herbal first aid necessity in every home for burns. It is also very useful for sunburn, bites and stings.

Salvia officinalis – sage

herbal first aidSo many of us have sage growing in our gardens. We love it to accompany our Sunday roast potatoes or roast pork dinner. A wonderful culinary herb but a great medicinal ally too.

Infuse sage leaves as you would making herbal tea. Allow to cool for use as an antiseptic gargle for sore throats or as a mouthwash for mouth ulcers.

Sage leaves chewed help alleviate the pain of a tooth abscess until you reach the dentist.

Mentha piperita – peppermint

Peppermint plants often take over the garden. Definitely best grown in a pot! Make a refreshing herbal tea, great for digestion, from the leaves.

Peppermint leaves added to a foot bath ease tired, hot feet after a long day at work. The essential oil provides a temporary anaesthetising action. A few drops of peppermint essential oil added to a basic or plain lotion or oil for aching muscles is a welcome, and cooling, relief. Ideal for post exercise use.

Calendula officinalis – marigold

herbal first aidAn ointment, infused oil or cream made with marigolds is a useful household remedy for rashes, wounds, cuts and grazes.

But what if you run out of cream or oil? Not enough time to make a new batch?

Bartram recommended adding a handful of petals and florets to a pint of boiling water and leaving this to infuse for 15 minutes. Use as a poultice on broken skin to aid healing.

A few drops of tea-tree essential oil added to the marigold cream or oil is useful for cradle cap and ringworm.

Oops we sneaked in another plant there. Okay the Melaleuca alternifolia tree isn’t likely to be in your garden. Unless you live in Australia! The essential oil is easy to come by though and relatively cheap.

Thyme for the thyme of cold and flu

Thymus vulgaris

thyme thymus vulgaris audeFamily:

Lamiaceae (Labiatae)

And so to this website’s namesake! During the month of May, the hills around the Aude are covered with the stunning colour of the beautiful thyme flowers. The aroma is luscious.

Bremness describes a woody stemmed, highly aromatic shrub requiring sun and a light, well-drained soil. She notes it more commonly found growing in the Mediterranean. Although Greive notes most countries with a temperate climate now grow thyme.

Traditional Uses:

thyme thymus vulgarisThyme has a lengthy medicinal and folkloric history. Grieve tells of it being one of the flowers forming the fairies favourite playgrounds.

In mediaeval times, it was utilised for invigorating and antiseptic properties. The Romans reputedly used it as flavouring for cheese and liqueurs.

Found in the tomb of Tutankhamen. Ancient Egyptians reputedly used thyme to treat headaches and intestinal complaints (Maniche).

Culpeper also used thyme for headaches (see energetics section below). According to Culpeper thyme killed worms in the belly, expelled wind and ridded the body of phlegm, strengthening the lungs. For children he recommended its use in the disease chin-cough.

Medicinal Uses:

Thyme is strongly antiseptic (Hoffmann). Hoffmann recommends use as a gargle for sore throats, irritable coughs, laryngitis and tonsillitis. He describes further use for the respiratory tract for cases of asthma, bronchitis and whooping cough. Could whooping cough be the chin-cough from Culpeper’s time.

Weiss actually lists the plant within the respiratory system of his book. He highlights similar actions to Hoffmann adding its use for patients suffering from emphysema.

The action on the respiratory system, especially the lungs, appears to be the main property as Mills too includes it in his list of expectorant herbs. However, Mills also describes an antiseptic effect on the urinary system and an antispasmodic and carminative effect on the digestive tract which is probably why thyme is such a popular culinary herb.

Thyme is also cited by Bartram as being useful for infections of the respiratory and urinary tract and for bedwetting children and overwork.

a few cautionary words

Bartram contraindicates use in pregnancy although I have found no support for this claim other than the traditional eclectic physicians believing the herb to be an emmenagogue.

thymus vulgaris southern france

Culpeper actually recommended use during labour for speedy delivery and to bring away the afterbirth. He described it “so harmless you need not fear the use of it.”

The World Health Organisation note safety of thyme preparations during pregnancy or lactation has not been established.

Curtis suggests care with the essential oil as it can have an irritant effect on the skin and mucous membranes particularly if high in thymol or cavacrol.

and some science stuff…

A volatile oil is the primary principle with bitters, saponins and tannins making up approximately 10% (Weiss). Mills also includes flavonoids.

Saponins have a pharmacological effect on the respiratory system and bitters on the digestive system. Flavonoids are antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and some are anti-tumour. Thyme oil found to inhibit several different fungi and negative bacteria. The volatile oil contains monoterpenes, thymol and carvacrol (Mills).

wild thyme tincture making aude franceMonoterpenes are generally antiseptic, bactericidal and antiviral. Some are also analgesic, expectorant, decongestant and stimulant. Phenols (thymol and carvacrol are generally antiseptic, anti-infectious, bactericidal, stimulating to the immune system, activating healing and stimulating to the nervous system making them effective in some depressive illnesses (Clarke).

and a bit more science with some research…

This study is interesting as it chose to look at the anti-spasmodic and analgesic actions in relation to painful periods. A clinical study conducted on 84 university students with primary dysmenorrhea. Students randomly assigned to three groups. They all received capsules and did not know which group they were in.

Three groups split to receive: thyme essential oil, ibuprofen or placebo. Pain intensity identified with a visual scale. Checked before and one hour after each dose for 48 hours after starting medication. Data collected and analysed. Both thyme and ibuprofen were effective in reducing pain severity and spasms (Salmalian et al, 2014).

for those following the Outlander series…

In the first book, on arrival at Castle Leoch, Claire boils thyme with garlic cloves. Cloth soaked in this solution makes an antiseptic bandage for Jamie’s wound.

In the herb garden at Castle Leoch it is mentioned again. Mrs Fitz asks Claire to plant garlic between thyme and foxglove on the south side of the garden.

and a wee bit of energetics…

Culpeper described thyme as under the dominion of Venus and under the sign of Aries. Many of Culpeper’s uses have already been mentioned above. The astrological virtues Culpeper believed chiefly appropriated thyme to the head. He said anointing the head with thyme vinegar stopped pains thereof!

and some Recipes…

These recipes are from the famous French herbalist Maurice Mességué.

i ) Liqueur: macerate 3 to 4 fresh or dried sprigs (of thyme) in a quarter of a litre (8 fluid oz) of brandy (a teaspoonful occasionally)

ii) Foot-Baths and Hand-Baths: put two to three handfuls into a litre (1½ pints) of water

I’ve just gathered some (images above in jar) so ‘thyme’ to make a tincture…. and perhaps a vinegar or liqueur too…