Archive for the ‘General Well-being’ Category

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. Great as a preventative and at the first signs of illness, 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 if there is heat and infection present. 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.



What are your favourite tips for treating colds?


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The festivities are over for another year and lots of us will have overindulged in rich foods, alcohol and sweets as the season dictates. Many will have made the New Year’s resolution to cut back and an ever increasing number of companies, never missing the chance to make a quick buck during their dry spell, have capitalised on this to produce a wide range of detox products.

However in traditional medicine, which is bound to the cycles of the Earth, Spring was seen as the time to embark on any cleansing routine and certainly this is when we find an abundance of fresh green herbs which will help our bodies to slough off the sluggishness of winter. January is still cold and dark and our bodies need deep nourishing to support them through the second part of the winter rather than being stressed by excessive cleansing and detox routines.

Having said that, I do believe that it’s beneficial to give our bodies some support in clearing out the indulgences of Christmas and the New Year but, as with all things, it’s about having a balanced and sensible approach to what is healthy and seeking always to support the body rather than force it to cleanse which can result in over-burdening the organs of elimination and creating stress.

People have different understandings of the term ‘detox’ and because of this, like all overused words, it can actually be a hindrance rather than a help when describing what I think of as a period of clearing and renewal. Perhaps instead of a January ‘detox’ which can imply actively forcing the body to release toxins in a potentially unbalanced way, what I propose is a January ‘no-tox’. By this I mean removing toxins from our diet and focusing instead on natural, whole and unprocessed foods. Whilst January is not an ideal time for juice fasting, restrictive diets or active cleansing programmes, it’s a perfect time to nourish ourselves with better nutrition and whole foods.

A January no-tox might also involve analysing and recognising what a toxin is and how it gradually poisons us. A toxin can be a T.V. program that leaves us agitated, unhappy or with violent mental images. It can be reading incessant negative comments about the lives of others in popular magazines. It can be a food, a thought pattern, a conversation – absolutely anything. Everything we come into contact with affects us and, as a result, becomes part of who we are. We can’t avoid all the possible toxins in our world but we can make intelligent choices about what we fill our bodies and minds with and as a result, make much more lasting changes than taking strong eliminative herbs for a month then going back to our old ways.

Like the Earth, our bodies can purify themselves… but only when we stop filling them with poisons. We view illness in this society as the body ‘going wrong’ but apply so little thought to why this might be. Cause and effect is a natural law, nothing happens without it.

There is a lovely Buddhist teaching story which underlines the importance of balance beautifully. Before his enlightenment the Buddha sought realisations through excessive fasting as was common practice in Indian spiritual traditions of the day. Finally, weak and emaciated, he was approached by a young milk maid by the name of Sujata who offered him a bowl of sweetened milk and rice.

Accepting the offering gratefully he found the strength to continue his practice and reach enlightenment. Though his companions rejected him as weak for breaking his fast and beginning to eat normally again, they eventually returned to benefit from his teachings and became his first disciples. Later Buddha is said to have remarked that we must be like the strings of a lute, neither to tight or too loose, else we will be unable to fulfil our true potential, just as the lute will be unable to make beautiful music.

There are two traditional sayings that I like to share with people when discussing cleansing and I think each person’s road to health lies somewhere in the balance between both sentiments. The first, Mosquitos are only attracted to a swamp, refers to terrain theory, the idea that disease can only flourish in an impure environment. The second, No fish can live in pure water, is a saying from Traditional Chinese Medicine and is teaching us that seeking to cleanse the body in an obsessive way can actually be detrimental to sustaining life itself.

So, in the spirit of balance, I like to try and support my body after the Christmas excesses with some of the following techniques.

* Body Brushing – My skin spends the whole of winter swaddled in numerous layers of clothing so taking time to do 5 minutes of body brushing before a bath or shower is a lovely way to encourage elimination from the skin by sloughing off dead skin cells, boosting the circulation and lymph flow and encouraging vital processes and renewal.

* Juniper Body Rub  – After my bath I like to use a body oil which again helps boost the lymph and aids gentle cleansing of my whole body. To 100ml of jojoba oil I add 20 drops organic juniper essential oil, 20 drops organic grapefruit, 5 drops organic cypress  and 5 drops organic black pepper.

* Gentle Exercise – Getting out for a walk in nature is really one of the most lovely cleansing, revitalising and renewing activities as it not only boosts circulation to all the body organs but also stimulates peristalsis in the bowel and encourages deep breathing which expels toxins or build up in the lungs.

* Seaweeds and Green Foods – Seaweeds and all fresh green foods are naturally cleansing and nourishing and I love adding them to my meals. I also use spirulina or blue green algae in powder form as they are so dense in vital nutrients.

* Hot Lemon Water –  Drinking a cup of hot water with a squeeze of lemon first thing in the morning is a good way of waking up the liver and stimulating gentle detoxification. I also have been enjoying this simple lemony smoothie which is great for the immune system as well as being cleansing and clearing. The garlic may seem like a strange addition but it actually tastes fairly pleasant!


1 Apple
1 Kiwi
Juice of one lemon
1 Garlic clove
Chunk of ginger to taste
Filtered water to cover

And on the topic of good intentions, do have a look at Danielle’s lovely post on sticking to New Year’s resolutions!

Photo of The Buddha and Sujata courtesy of Root Institute.

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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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