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Poultices and compresses are very useful ways to utilise herbs for ailments both external and internal. They are not much used in today’s herbal medicine, primarily because they are a little more time consuming and potentially messy than bottles of tincture, teas or capsules and unfortunately, most of us in today’s world are always in a rush.

Still, they can be powerful aids to healing and are well worth having a play with for conditions as diverse as skin rashes, constipation, wounds, sprains, IBS and respiratory problems.

Compresses and poultices are both external applications that involve placing a herbal preparation over the affected part of the body to enable the healing constituents of the herb to absorb into the tissue. The difference between them is only that poultices use whole plant material, either fresh or dried, and compresses use a liquid preparation of the herb, such as a tea. I prefer to use compresses for aches and pains, digestive issues and headaches and poultices for skin irritations, minor wounds and burns. I find both to be helpful for respiratory problems.

Compresses:

Compresses involve soaking a cloth or flannel in a liquid herbal preparation such as a tea, diluted tincture or an oil, wringing it out well, then placing over the body. They are usually applied warm but can also be used cold in cases of swelling, inflammation etc. For ease they can be wrapped in cling film to keep in place and avoid staining clothes, sofas, beds etc. In cases where a deeply warming action is needed, a towel and a hot water bottle can then be placed on top. They would usually be left in place for about 10 minutes and sometimes repeated with fresh liquid once or several times.

Compresses are particularly useful where heat or cold are appropriate as it is easy to warm up or cool down liquids to a suitable temperature. Here are some ideas for using compresses at home.

  • A compress of strong lavender tea can be useful at the onset of a headache. You can apply it warm to the base of the neck if muscular tension is a contributing factor or chilled across the forehead if the headache feels hot and throbbing.
  • A compress of hot thyme tea is useful laid over the lung area for coughs, colds and other respiratory problems where there is phlegm and congestion.
  • A chamomile tea compress on the stomach may soothe nervous digestion. If the digestion is sluggish, nervous or constricted it is particularly nice to apply alternating compresses of hot and cold chamomile tea across the abdomen to increase circulation and stimulate vital force. Make the tea and keep half in a flask so it stays hot, then chill the other half in the fridge. When it has chilled completely soak a flannel in the hot tea (it should be as warm is as is completely comfortable, be careful not to apply anything too hot to the skin) and apply to the abdomen for 1 minute, then soak another cloth in the cold liquid, remove the hot and apply the cold for another minute. Alternate between hot and cold 5 times each, beginning with hot and ending on cold.
  • Alternating hot and cold compresses are also particularly useful for sprains to speed healing and repair. Herbs such as elder leaf, ginger, comfrey or horsetail could be of use here.
  • Warm compresses of ginger tea can be useful to strengthen kidney function if laid over the lower back. Don’t do this if you are suffering from a kidney infection, though it can help to prevent them if used at other times.
  • Castor oil packs. Many people have heard of castor oil packs for easing congestion and I find them very useful in practice if people have the time and inclination to do them. They are useful for easing period pains, liver stagnation and constipation when applied over the abdominal region. To do a castor oil pack you need to warm about two tablespoons of castor oil very gently in a pan then pour onto a clean, slightly damp, warm flannel. Check carefully not to overheat it as you most definitely don’t want to be applying too hot oil directly on to your skin. It should be nice and warm but quite comfortable on the skin. Apply the flannel (oil side against the skin) over the abdominal area either centrally or slightly to the right over the liver area. Wrap with cling film and cover with a towel and hot water bottle. Lie down and relax for at least an hour before removing and washing off the oil.
  • Rose water and apple cider vinegar, or rose infused cider vinegar diluted in water, can be used as a compress for sunburn. Aloe vera juice is also lovely applied cool on a soft cloth.
  • In the absence of fresh plant material a compress can be used in place of a poultice such as a cool calendula tea for rashes or some plantain or yarrow tincture for minor wounds.
A good rule with compresses and poultices is that if it feels uncomfortable then remove it immediately. Anything that is too hot or causing irritation or itching is best removed and allowed to cool or discarded.
You can also make compresses with a few drops of essential oil dispersed in warm or cold water in place of teas or tinctures.

Poultices:

Poultices use whole herbs, usually mashed up into a paste and applied onto the problem area. The simplest form of poultice is the spit poultice, made my chewing up a bit of herb and applying to the skin. Plantain can be applied this way to stings and minor wounds and yarrow is great for staunching bleeding if you cut yourself whilst out walking and need a spot of first aid. A plantain poultice is also useful for drawing out splinters and boils. You can also mash the herbs with a little water and honey in a pestle and mortar or blend then down and apply directly to the site. You can also grate the plant material, as with ginger or potato which was used traditionally as a poultice for boils. If using spicy herbs such as ginger and mustard, you need to put several layers of fine muslin cloth between them and your skin to prevent irritation. Maurice Messegue, the French herbalist who was famous for his many cures, often used only external preparations such as foot and hand baths and poultices. He writes, “the herbs can be placed in a bag of finely woven cloth before being placed on the area to be treated. Which one of these methods is chosen depends on how strong the active elements in the plant are. If it is a gently acting herb, such as cabbage, there need be no hesitation in letting it come in contact with the skin. But if it is irritant or acid, with a tendency to cause redness, then it needs a brake on its action and the skin should be protected by a cloth. This precaution must always be taken with the true revulsives such as mustard.”

If I am at home I often use dried herbs in powder form to make a poultice as this is straightforward, not too messy and can be done all year round even if there is no fresh plant material available. I mix my herbs with an equal part slippery elm powder which is healing, demulcent and drawing in its own right, then add a little warm water and honey (preferably herbal infused honey if I have some to hand) and mix into a thick paste. I then spread it over the area in question and bandage in place.

Here are some useful poultices that are easy to prepare at home:

  • Cabbage. The cabbage poultice must be one of the most traditional of kitchen remedies around. Used for inflammations and swellings, particularly mastitis, it is very simple to prepare. All you do is iron a few cabbage leaves to warm them up and break them down a bit then wrap them over the offending area and secure in place. Many women with mastitis just wear the leaves inside their bras.
  • Mustard. Another traditional poultice for respiratory problems, make sure the skin does not come into direct contact with the mustard, see above. The onion poultice is another variation often used for respiratory ailments though in truth, I tend to stick to thyme compresses for such issues.
  • Calendula and yarrow. Great as a spit poultice or made into a paste from powdered herbs to treat minor wounds and skin rashes.
  • Comfrey. Well known for its usefulness in speeding the healing of sprains, strains and broken bones, you can mash up the herb and apply directly on the site or, if it is in plaster, just apply to the area above and below the cast.
  • Clay. An effective drawing poultice for splinters and infections, clay packs are popular amongst naturopaths and horse owners!
What are your favourite compresses and poultices?

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For many people anxiety and stress go hand in hand with a tense stomach and disturbed digestion. Whilst stress affects digestion in everyone, some people are particularly prone to experiencing problems.  All digestive issues, from gas to inflammatory bowel conditions are affected by stress, even if there are many other contributing factors.

Our digestion is controlled by the enteric nervous system which is linked to the central nervous system by millions of nerves. When we are stressed we enter the ‘fight or flight’ response which priorities blood flow to the brain and muscles in case we have to run from or outwit a possible danger. This is, of course, useful in situations where there is a real threat but for many of us, our constant deadlines, hectic schedules and million and one expectations lead to a chronic state of stress in which the blood flow to the digestive organs is seriously impaired.  Stress causes everything to contract and constrict and can therefore affect the production of  digestive juices, cause the stomach and or intestines to spasm, create inflammation and encourage infection. When stress becomes chronic, so do digestive problems.

Chamomile

Goethe believed that the gut was the centre of all human emotions. When I used to practice as a massage therapist I would always ask people first if they wanted me to massage their stomach as many people dislike being touched in this area. I can notice this in myself too, if I am feeling anxious at all then my stomach feels far to sensitive to touch. This is because the nerves are all activated, leaving us with sensations such as ‘butterflies in our stomach’ or that awful knot of fear in our solar plexus.

There are many herbs that work on the interface between the nerves and the digestion- Chamomile, Cardamom, Rosemary, Lavender, Lemon Balm and other Mints to name just a few. All these are aromatic, therefore diffuse stuck energy and tension at the same time as stimulating digestion. A calming cup of chamomile tea, taken 2 or 3 times a day, is a great way to gently soothe your nerves and digestion. Specific conditions will need individualised treatment but for those who suffer more general digestive disturbances related to stress these herbs can be very useful.

Catmint

At the moment, everyone I am seeing has some level of stress related digestive disturbance, even if that is not the primary reason they are seeking treatment. Recently I saw someone who was so tense that their appetite had disappeared almost completely, a sure sign that the digestive organs are very constricted. I came up with this tummy rub as a way of not only relaxing the digestive system but also encouraging people to take a few moments in their hectic schedule to be fully present with themselves, take some deep breaths and become mindful of their state of being. It’s easy to gulp down a tincture or tea on your way to work but you have to take a bit of time to massage your stomach and even if you feel like it’s an extra thing to do in the morning, once you have begun you cannot help but calm down a little.

When massaging the stomach, always move in deep rhythmic movements in a clockwise direction (as if the clock were on your abdomen rather than facing you!) as this is the way the intestines move waste along. Take a moment to breathe deeply and become a little more mindful of yourself and the present moment. This need only take a few minutes but that can be enough to relax the digestion, the nervous system and the mind.

Soothing Tummy Rub:

50ml base oil (almond, sunflower, apricot etc)
10 drops Neroli essential oil
5 drops Roman Chamomile essential oil
5 drops Cardamom essential oil

This makes a blend of approximately 2%, perfect for adults and children over 12. For children between 4 and 12, halve the amount of essential oils and for babies to 4 year olds use 5 drops chamomile only to make a 0.5% blend or stick to chamomile infused oil instead. You could also make it into a salve or balm (see my previous post) if that is your preference.

Chamomile is a fabulous essential oil for calming the nerves and soothing digestion, helping to expel bloating, flatulence and gas. Cardamom is warming, carminative and antispasmodic and also has a relaxing and uplifting effect on the nerves. Neroli is one of the best essential oils for the nervous system being deeply relaxing and uplifting. It’s also good for promoting flow of digestive juices.  All three are considered children’s oils as they are safe, supportive, caring and calming.

I’ve had very positive feedback from those trialling the oil so far and I encourage those of you who also suffer from a tense stomach to give it a go too. The perfect way to soothe, nurture and let go.

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For a long time I was confused about the difference between salves, ointments and balms. Some writers use all three terms interchangeably whilst others have separate definitions, many of which contradict those from other sources. In this post I wanted to tell you a little about how I make salves, ointments and balms with the intention of sharing some hopefully useful tips and practical information.

Salves, ointments, unguents, balms, call them what you will, what all these preparations have in common is they are primarily a semi-solid mix of fatty ingredients such as oils and waxes, usually with no water part at all, though they may contain a small amount of herbal tincture or similar. This differentiates them from creams and lotions which contain both fats and waters.

Generally, ointments and salves are considered much the same thing; a healing external preparation made with medicinal substances in a base of oils and waxes. According to the Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health an ointment is “a semisolid preparation for external application to the skin or mucous membranes. Official ointments consist of medicinal substances incorporated in suitable vehicles (bases). Called also salve and unguent.”  All in all the definitions are pretty vague which is probably why we find discrepancies.

Suitable ingredients for a salve include many vegetable oils (such as olive, sunflower, sweet almond, apricot) and beeswax or vegetable wax such as candelilla or carnuba. In older herbals lard or animal fats were often used and these are enjoying something of a comeback amongst some traditional herbalists but, as a vegetarian, they don’t feature on my radar so I won’t be talking about them here. Many herbal books include recipes made with mineral oil byproducts such as petroleum jelly or vaseline but again, as I don’t work with them, I will not be including any information here.

As making salves involves some degree of heat it’s best to use oils that are fairly heat stable, the main ones to avoid are oils like flax seed, evening primrose and borage. If you want to include these then stir them in after the other ingredients have been melted and are beginning to cool.  Coconut oil is the most heat stable vegetable oil but as you will not be heating it very high, oils like olive, sunflower and apricot kernal can be happily used.

Beeswax comes in two varieties, white and yellow but the white is bleached and processed so I never use it, it’s always better to stay as close to nature as possible. Candelilla wax is derived from the leaves of a shrub native to Mexico and is slightly harder than beeswax so you generally want to use a fraction less in a recipe. Carnuba is a similar product derived from a Brazilian Palm. The advantages of these two is that they are vegan so products can be made that are suitable for everyone. The disadvantage is that they come from a very long way away (at least if you live here in Europe!). It’s a tricky choice as some producers of bee products are far from ethical or kind to their bees. I do use beeswax but always try to get it from a local supplier that I know I can trust.

Basic Salve Recipe:

90ml herbal infused oil
10g beeswax

Basic Vegan Salve Recipe:

92 ml infused oil
8g candelilla wax

Medicinal Salve Recipe:

75 – 80ml infused oil
10g beeswax
10ml tincture
2 – 5 ml essential oil

Method:

Weigh or measure out the wax (preferably grated or cut into small pieces) and the herbal infused oil and place in a double boiler or bain marie. Heat over a low heat until the wax is fully melted and then stir well. If adding tincture drizzle it in slowly now whilst whisking lightly with a fork. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly but not set. You can test the consistency of the salve by dipping the tip of a teaspoon into it. Such a  small amount will set quickly and will show you how the finished product will be. If you are not happy you can return it to the heat and add a fraction more oil/wax until you get it just right. Whilst the salve is still liquid, stir in the essential oils, pour into glass jars and cap immediately to stop the volatile oils from evaporating. Allow to cool and set completely before using.

You can make salves for use as chest rubs, for treating aches and pains, for protecting and healing dry and sore skin and many other uses. The recipe can be easily adapted according to your preferences or required ingredients. A very simple skin healing salve can be made with calendula infused oil and beeswax or a chest salve with olive oil, wax and 5% suitable essential oils. The possibilities are limitless!

Balms are similar to salves, some people class them as the same thing entirely whilst others make a slight differentiation.  According to James Green who wrote The Herbal Medicine Makers Handbook, “a balm is simply a salve that contains a relatively high amount of volatile oils. Upon application is delivers a notably intense cloud of aromatic vapours.”  My understanding of a balm is that it is a salve that also contains butters such as cacao or shea butter making for a creamier end product. These are just individual definitions though so you can use whichever you prefer.

Cacao is fairly hard at room temperature so makes for a slightly firmer end product where as shea is very creamy and therefore a lovely addition to lip balms or body butters. Mango butter is also delicious and has a lower melt point and a more slippery consistency.

Basic Balm Recipe:

67 ml infused oil
25 g cacao butter
5 g beeswax
2 ml vitamin E
1 ml essential oils of choice

Basic Body Butter Recipe:

57 ml infused oil
20 g shea butter
20 g cacao butter
2 ml vitamin E
1 ml essential oils

These balms can be made as above by melting the oils, butters and wax in a bain marie then adding the essential oils and vitamin E at the last moment so they will not be affected by the heat.

I hope that was helpful rather than just confusing the issue further! Happy making.

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There’s always a point in the herbal year where I realise that everything is growing, blooming and fading so quickly and I have not been organised enough to make all the medicines I have planned. With all the delightful warm weather this spring it’s got to that point earlier than ever before!

Seeing my first nettles in flower gave me a shock this week, I have made some nice tinctures but haven’t dried even a single plant yet. As many of you probably know, nettles are said to become irritating to the kidneys after flowering due to the presence of cystoliths.

I managed to dash out on May day weekend to collect elder leaves for making infused oil and salves before the flowers burst fully into bloom this week. If you live further north and your elders aren’t quite flowering yet then it’s not too late to make some elder leaf infused oil which is great as an all purpose healing salve for rubbing onto bumps, bruises, bites, minor wounds and chilblains. David Hoffman writes, “some reports hold that elder leaf may be effective as an ointment for tumours” which is particularly interesting and Gabrielle Hatfield states that it was used as an insect repellent as well as a treatment for bites. Both these uses were new to me so I look forward to trying them out.

I made this oil by covering the fresh leaves in olive oil in an ovenproof pan, putting the lid on and letting it macerate in the oven on the lowest heat for three hours. I usually infuse my leaves using the double boiler method which I wrote about here but this new dish lets too much steam in which risks ruining the oil so I opted for the oven method instead. The oil came out a delightful deep, dark green and feels full of healing virtues.

Several herbalists recommend using vaseline as a base to infuse elder leaves and elder flowers. I would recommend staying away from petroleum based oils and jellies as they prevent the skin from breathing, a vital function where healing is needed.

Energetically speaking the leaves are best harvested before flowering as the plants put their momentum into the blooms after this point. I’m not sure if anyone has measured the difference in chemical constituents but it makes sense to me that this would be so. I was just in time as all the local Elder’s have begun flowering now. Which means that along with the Wild Roses that are newly decorating the hedgerows there’s even more medicine making to be getting on with.

A herbalists work is never done!

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Lesser Celandine or pilewort, as it more commonly known, grows freely in woodlands and other moist, shaded places and brightens the way whenever you pass it by. It’s Latin name, Ranunculus ficaria, refers to the resemblance of its tubers to figs and an old common name for it was figwort (not to be confused with the plant more commonly  known as Figwort, Scrophularia nodosa). Piles, or haemorrhoids, for which the plants got its modern common name, also used to be known as figs, so this usage for our pretty spring friend is nothing new.

In Mrs Grieve’s classic, A Modern Herbal, she tells us, “Wordsworth, whose favourite flower this was (in recognition of which the blossoms are carved on his tomb), fancifully suggests that the painter who first tried to picture the rising sun, must have taken the idea of the spreading pointed rays from the Celandine’s ‘glittering countenance.’ “

It is true that this little flower arrives early in the spring, appearing almost like a symbol of hope for the warmer days to come.

Used mainly to treat non-bleeding haemorrhoids and a sore or itchy anal area, it is oft quoted that  the main indication for this plant came about from the doctrine of signatures as its bulbous tubers are not dissimilar to the appearance of piles. Many years of use however, as well as a modern understanding of its constituents, back up this traditional insight. Pilewort contains tannins and saponins and is both astringent and demulcent, so toning and soothing to inflamed or irritated membranes.

In the past an infusion of pilewort was commonly taken internally as well the the ointment applied topically but these days it is mostly the ointment that is favoured.

Bartram recommends making an ointment by macerating one part whole fresh plant whilst in bloom to three parts of benzoinated lard. I stuck to making an infused vegetable oil via the heat method.

After harvesting the whole plant – roots, leaves and flowers – I washed them thoroughly to get rid of the tenacious clay soil that stuck between each nodule and then spread them out to dry off in the dehydrator for a couple of hours. If you don’t have a dehydrator then just blot them dry as best you can and leave to wilt slightly overnight. This reduces the water content of your herb and helps prevent rancidity. I then infused the herbs in sunflower oil in a bain marie for several hours on a low heat. You can read my detailed instructions on how to make an infused oil here.

Many people combine the infused oil with horse chestnut oil or tincture to make a nice astringent ointment but, as I have none at present, I came up with this alternative.

Fig Ointment:

40ml pilewort infused oil
20ml plantain infused oil (just use extra pilewort if you have no plantain oil).
20 ml calendula infused oil
10g beeswax
5ml self heal tincture
5ml witch hazel
10 drops lavender essential oil
10 drops geranium essential oil

Melt the beeswax in a bain marie and add the infused oils, stirring until fully mixed. Add in the tinctures and witch hazel and whisk or blend with a hand blender until fully incorporated. Stir in essential oils and leave to set.

Apply liberally several times a day to affected area.

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Virtually everyone I have spoken to recently has a cold and I also began the week with copious amounts of mucus pouring from my nose (too much info, I know!). Luckily it passed quickly and I’m back on form but it inspired me to share my top 5 simple tips for dealing with a cold and restoring the immune system.

People always bemoan the fact that there is no cure for the common cold and fill themselves full of paracetamol, noxious inhalers and antibiotics when all these things will tend to stress the body further, even if they bring temporary relief.  In most peoples’ cases a cold will move through fairly quickly and it’s not necessary to do very much at all other than eat a nourishing diet and stay warm and rested. It’s good to avoid foods that are too rich or mucus forming such as dairy, white flour products, sugar, bananas, sweet fruits like pineapples and mangoes or an excess of nuts. Generally I think when it comes to colds, the simpler the treatment the better. That’s why these tips are arranged from simplest to most complicated, for most people number 1 will be enough, though I did engage all 5 this week when the need arose. There’s nothing here most of you won’t already know but I guess it’s good to have a nudge in the right direction sometimes. ;)

These tips are very general as specific symptoms, chronic infections and low immunity will all require individualised treatment. For most of us just suffering from the occasional seasonal chill however, they should suffice.

  1. Rest: This is without doubt my top tip for colds. It allows the body space to heal itself which is, or at least should be, the ultimate goal of any treatment. I think the reason I tend to get over colds pretty quickly is that I have no problems at all with being grossly lazy! When I start feeling ill it’s straight to bed with a hot water bottle some ginger tea and a good book. In fact, I secretly quite enjoy getting sick on the odd occasion (don’t tell anyone) as it gives me the opportunity to do just that and no one can make me feel guilty for it. So if you’re one of those Type A personalities thats not happy unless 101 things have been achieved in your day and never give yourself time to rest and recuperate, listen to my words of wisdom and get thee to bed.
  2. Steam: A good steam, preferably in a hot bath with some lovely herbs, is wonderful for opening up the pores, clearing the sinuses and helping to move illness out of the body. Teamed with a herbal body rub prior to the bath this is a simple but very effective way to boost immunity. I included a recipe for a bath and shower rub in my post on using essential oils for the immune system here.
  3. Raid the kitchen cupboards: Ginger, lemon, honey, cinnamon, garlic, onion, thyme, sage. black pepper and rosemary are all useful in treating some of the symptoms of a cold. The majority of households will have one if not most of these things in their cupboards so no special herbal medicine stash is needed to get you back on form. Gargle with sage tea for a sore throat, indulge in a thyme foot bath if you have a cough or make a chest compress using a wrung out flannel soaked in thyme tea. Sip lemon and ginger in hot water with a spoon of honey and finely chop garlic in olive oil to spread on your bread. Make a spicy chai with cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, black pepper, cloves and a pinch of rooibos or green tea to sip by the fire and add herbs and spices to your soups to fight infection and boost immunity. Treating colds is where kitchen herbalism really comes into its own.
  4. Diaphoretic teas – Diaphoretic herbs are those that encourage sweating and thereby help to rid the body of infection. If you have a feverish cold but are mostly cold and clammy to the touch with cold extremities you’ll benefit most from warming diaphoretic teas like ginger, cinnamon, angelica, sage, thyme and cayenne. However if you are hot and restless and need to release this through sweating, a cooling or relaxing diaphoretic will be of most use to you. These include delicious teas like Lime blossom, elderflower, catnip, chamomile and yarrow. Most colds are kapha, or damp and cold, in nature (hence the name!) so warming diaphoretic teas will be very helpful. However some colds are more pitta or hot and come with inflammation, sore throats a red face and excessive heat. In these cases a warming, stimulating herb will exacerbate the problem whilst cooling and relaxing ones will allow for a gentle release of tension, heat and discomfort.
  5. Elderberry and Echinacea: If you want a bit more support for your immune system then these two herbs are the first port of call for most folks. Lots of studies have shown elderberry’s effectiveness in both treatment and prevention of colds and flus and it’s so delicious taken as a syrup that it becomes no great hardship to take your medicine. Though it is great as a preventative, Echinacea works on the immune system in a variety of ways so it can also be useful as a treatment once you’re already sick. The root is the part most commonly used but this year I’ve been using a lovely Echinacea seed tincture made by my friend and herb grower Therri. She describes it as more nourishing and supportive than the root which is more stimulating. I made up a mix of equal parts Echinacea seed tincture, elderberry tincture and elderberry syrup and it was impressively efficacious.

Elderberry

Echinacea

What are your favourite tips for treating colds?

 

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Essential Oils are the volatile aromatic compounds extracted from whole plant material. There are many theories about how they are used by the plants themselves; some say they are just metabolic waste products, others believe they are used to attract pollinators with their enticing aromas but many believe that one of their major functions is in protection of the plant from bacteria, viruses, harmful insects and fungi.
One of the primary uses for essential oils in humans is also in adding the immune system. As each plant experiences slightly different environmental conditions every year, the exact chemical make up of an essential oil will always vary slightly which ensures that viruses and bacteria do not become resistant to it. Like us, plants are dynamic living beings who are quick to react to their environment and modify their responses accordingly.
Essential oils are easily absorbed into the human body and therefore can be powerful allies in keeping us strong and healthy. To be able to use these oils in our own healing is a great gift from the plants. They are highly concentrated and as a result must always be diluted for topical use. A 2.5% blend of essential oil to base oil (such as sweet almond, apricot or olive) is a rough guide, though for children 1% is more appropriate or 0.5% for those under 2 years old.
Oils that are particularly nice at this time of year include lavender, thyme, eucalyptus, black pepper, ginger, lemon, rosemary, ravensara and myrtle.

Thyme is a lovely herb and essential oil for supporting the immune and respiratory systems

Here are some ideas of ways you can use the oils to support you in the colder season:
  • Footbaths: A few drops each of frankincense, lavender and thyme diluted in a tablespoon of base oil and added to a hot footbath is a lovely treatment to de-stress and support the immune and respiratory systems all at the same time.
  • Shower rub: Make a 2.5% blend of your favourite immune suppoting oils in a carrier oil, such as almond, and rub it vigourously all over the body before getting into a hot shower or bath. The steam will open the pores and help you absorb the oils better. 20 drops each of bergamot and lavender and 10 of black pepper in 100ml jojoba would make a lovely shower rub.
  • Chest salve:. A chest salve makes an effective immune and respiratory supporting treatment that is great for adults and children alike, though care must be taken with the oils chosen and the strength of the blend for children, I would recommend a blend of herbal infused oils rather than essential oils for very young children.

A very simple chest rub can be made with the following ingredients:

  • 90 ml sunflower oil
  • 10 ml beeswax
  • 50 drops essential oil –  for example; 25 each of thyme linalol and eucalyptus radiata

Melt the beeswax in a bain marie and add the sunflower oil, mixing well. Remove from the heat and pour into a 100ml jar. Allow to cool slightly (but not set) and stir in the essential oils. Allow to set properly before using by rubbing a generous amount over the chest area and upper back. Breathe deeply.

  • Diffuser: Most essential oils will have a cleansing and anti-microbial effect when burnt in a diffuser or oil burner. Cinnamon and frankincense; bergamot and clove; niaouli, lemon and lavender  or black pepper and ravensara all make great combinations depending on the specific effect you are looking for. A little diffuser on your desk if you work in an office is particularly useful to purify the air around you.
  • Inhalation: Steaming your face over a bowl of hot water containing a few drops of tea tree, eucalyptus or lavender can be a lovely way to clear the sinuses and support the immune system. Chamomile is a great choice where tissues feel sore and inflamed.
  • Gargle: Dilute one drop of organic lavender or tea tree in a bottle containing 250ml filtered or spring water. Cap it and shake vigorously to disperse the oil. Use this as a gargle at the first sign of a cold or when you get that warning tickle at the back of your throat.

These simple remedies are enjoyable to use and can help keep you immune system healthy during the winter months.

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