Wednesday 31 December 2014

Revising the basics : winter colds and coughs (and a touch of family)

I seem to have spent the majority of this holiday season listening to other people cough, sneeze and blow their nose. I suppose it’s only to be expected at this time of year after a mild autumn has suddenly turned into a very frosty winter and everyone has been rushing around like mad things trying to prepare for their own family or personal celebrations.

Of course we all hope our immune systems are healthy enough to ward off whatever germs are around but you can help yourself by leaving button mushrooms on your windowsill for three days to drastically increase their Vitamin D content before you eat them. Helpful herbs are echinacea, and astragalus. Echinacea can be taken as a tea, tincture or tablets. Reishi or Shitake mushrooms also have immune strengthening properties and both the mushrooms and astragalus root can be used in stews or soups. (Remove the sliced astragalus root before serving.)

Remember that grief and loss can severely deplete your immune system, so special consideration should be given to anyone who is suffering at this time. Immune strengthening herbs should not be taken if you have an auto-immune condition such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia etc. as they might precipitate a flare-up in the condition.

Thankfully, my parents and their carers were all well when we visited on Christmas Eve and two of our children with their partners joined us at the farm for Christmas dinner. Only Stephen’s girlfriend, Sarah was suffering from the lingering effects of a dreadful cold and cough which struck her during their pantomime run during the third week of December. She had already been dosed with sage and thyme elixir and was given another bottle of cough syrup to try out when she left us last weekend.

Our poor daughter in law was the only person in her household to stay well over Christmas when her mother contracted tonsillitis, her father developed a serious chest infection and both her children and Richard went down with a dreadful cold. They were just getting better when they came to us for three days on December 27th but the baby, Thomas was not well. Neither child ate as much as normal but Thomas still hovered up his carrots while James stuck with plain pasta shells and five clementines in one day!

Yesterday we travelled to Woking to visit all Chris’ family. His mother has developed pains in her back and is under the GP’s care. I didn’t dare offer her any pain salve to rub on but Chris’ father has felt the benefit of mullein root tincture for a back issue he developed several years ago. Every Christmas I make him some hawthorn cider vinegar to help with his heart issues. This year the colour was a beautiful stain glass red.

Perhaps now is a good time to revise the herbs which can help during these difficult times. At the first sign of a cold, I use dropperfuls of elderberry elixir (equal to 30 drops or ½tsp) every two hours or so for the first day then three times a day. For children I would substitute a dessert spoon of elderberry cordial.

Colds are the perfect proving ground for fire cider vinegar. I’ve got to the stage where I loathe the taste as a drink so take 2tsp in a shot glass diluted with water. Chris still prefers his with honey and boiling water in a mug. In between the medicinal mugs I’ve been offering an infusion of ginger, lemon juice and slices of orange. I can drink it straight but Chris has it mixed with honey or some spiced apple cordial which needs using up.

Today has also been stock making day from the remains of the turkey carcass. You can make stock from any bones. There is nothing more important than a nourishing broth for people with digestive difficulties or those recovering from viral infections.

Cover the bones in a large saucepan with water. Add 1-2 tablespoons of cider vinegar to help release the minerals from the bones. Add anti-viral herbs e.g. rosemary, thyme, sage, bay. (1 pinch of each herb plus 1 or 2 bay leaves) peppercorns for flavour, onions and leeks for pro-biotic stimulation of good gut bacteria, celery sticks (at least 3) for prevention of gout and help with arthritic or inflammatory conditions. DON'T ADD SALT.

Bring to the boil and simmer for at least one hour. If you are using large mutton or beef bones put aside 3-4 or more hours making sure the liquid level doesn't drop too much. If making stock in a cookpot/slow cooker, simmer all day on low.

Strain the stock and use to add a mixture of vegetables or vegetables and meat. If the bones have meat left on them, use it in the soup. Alternatively the stock can be frozen in small quantities and used as a nourishing drink or sauce base later.

If you are vegetarian or vegan, you can still make a nourishing stock by cooking vegetables, herbs, roots and mushrooms together for long periods.  Start by dicing at least half an onion per person and sweat in olive oil with at least two cloves of garlic. Add half a pint of water or vegetable broth per person together with a large handful of peeled and  chopped seasonal vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, cabbage, celery, corn, turnips, potatoes and fresh or tinned tomatoes. Add one small handful of seaweed per person to provide seasoning and to strengthen the immune system. Finally add one ounce fresh, or one-half ounce dried mushrooms per person (any kind) together with dried or fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, marjoram, and sage) and tonic roots (Siberian ginseng, astragalus, burdock, dandelion, chicory, yellow dock, American ginseng).  Bring to the boil and simmer for an hour. You may wish to remove the roots before serving.

Viral infections make everyone miserable. There are some simple actions which can be taken to make life less uncomfortable, but these must be carried out in conjunction with common sense and basic nursing care.

The secret of herbal help is to start taking it as soon as you suspect you are coming down with something. It doesn’t actually matter what form you take the herbs in, as long as you take them as soon as you can, ideally at half hourly intervals for the first 12 hours or so.

Cider vinegar: sage, fire cider, garlic, - dose is 2 tsp in water or as a drink with honey
Elixir: elderberry, sage/thyme, bergamot, – dose is 1/2tsp/1 dropperful/30 drops
Honey: elderberry, bergamot, thyme/garlic, sage – dose is 2 tsp, can be eaten, drunk or added to bread or other food.
Tea: elderberry, calendula, sage, thyme, Echinacea, bergamot – dose is 2tsp dried herb or 2 tblsp fresh herb steeped in just boiled water for 10 minutes with a lid. Add honey to taste.
Tincture: elderberry, Echinacea – dose is 1/2tsp/1 dropperful/30 drops

For colds
Classic Cold Tea
Use 1tsp each of dried peppermint, yarrow and elderflower (1tblsp if fresh)
Pour 1/2-1pt boiling water into a teapot of cafatiere and steep for ten minutes. Strain and drink every half hour. Sweeten to taste. If you don’t like the taste of peppermint you can use other herbs such as New England Aster, or bergamot. If you only have a herb in tincture form, add the tincture either 1 tsp or in drop dosage to the hot infusion.

Ginger and Lemon Tea
Grate or finely chop 1inch root ginger without peeling. Place in cafatiere or teapot and fill with just boiling water. Infuse for ten minutes. Squeeze the juice from half a lemon and place in a cup or mug. Pour the strained ginger tea over the lemon juice and add honey to taste. For an anti-viral chesty tea, add 1tsp dried thyme and 1tsp dried sage to the grated ginger root. Infuse together and pour over lemon juice and honey.

For Fevers
Make elderflower tea and serve hot. Elderflower is a diaphoretic which will make you sweat and kill the virus. This is especially useful for children. Boneset tea is also useful for bone-aching fevers. If you have a fever which won’t break, give vervain tincture – half a tsp or 30 drops.

For coughs
Before deciding what herb to use, you must be sure what kind of cough you are dealing with.

Dry, irritable coughs: cherry bark, ginger
Cold, hacking coughs: angelica, fennel
Wet, green, mucous laden coughs: elecampane root (especially good for children and people who suffer with asthma)
Deep seated infected chest infections: mullein
Ordinary coughs: sage & thyme, white horehound/hyssop/marshmallow leaf or root.

Cough Syrup
(recipe from Non Shaw and Christopher Hedley's Herbal Remedies)
1 l (2 pints) water
40 g (1 1/2 oz) dried herb or 100 g (4oz) fresh chopped herb
450 g (1 lb) sugar
Put herb in water, bring to a boil, let simmer 20-30 minutes, strain.
Clean out pan, pour liquid back into it, let sit on minimum heat until you only have 2 dl (7 fl.oz) left Add sugar, simmer until sugar has dissolved, pour into jars, label. (This takes time. 1 fluid ounce evaporates about every hour.)

A children’s cough syrup can be made from onions or elderberry and Echinacea in equal parts. For a “straightforward” cough syrup, use 2 parts peppermint, 1 part hyssop, 1/2 part thyme, 1/2 part horehound. For a cough syrup which can also be used as a drink, use hyssop, thyme, elecampane, white horehound, lemon balm and root ginger.

N.B. Do not use peppermint with children under 2 years. Honey can be used as a substitute for sugar, but do not use with children under 1 year.

Dose: 1 dessertspoon as and when or make a drink with 1 tblsp and sip.

If you have blocked sinuses, thyme can useful but horseradish is very effective as well. If you have continual sinus problems, read Jim Macdonald’s excellent paper.

I hope you escape the winter without succumbing to any nasty bugs but if you do, reach for your syrups, tinctures and elixirs, wrap up warm and get plenty of rest.