Archive for the ‘Misc’ Category

Herbal Help for Chickenpox

Chickenpox seems to be doing the rounds at the moment, being generally most prevalent in the late winter and spring, so I thought it would be an ideal time to share some tips on how to treat the symptoms at home with easily available herbs and simple home remedies.

Chickenpox is a very common disease of early childhood, about 90% of people will have had it by the time they reach adolescence, and it is generally considered a mild ailment with few cases experiencing complications. The majority of complications occur in adults, as the disease tends to be more severe, and it can be a threat to pregnant women and newborns as well as those with impaired immunity. In these cases it is wise to seek advice from your healthcare provider. In the vast majority of healthy children however it is a self-limiting disease and easing the symptoms is all we need to do.

Chickenpox, also known as varicella, is caused by the varicella-zoster virus and is highly infectious, spreading by contact or droplet infection such as sneezing, coughing or laughing. The incubation period varies between 2 to 3 weeks and the first indication is usually mild flu like symptoms with the characteristic rash appearing within a couple of days. Some children will only experience the rash without other accompanying symptoms but others will feel quite poorly. There is often a fever, which is usually low grade, and possible nausea, headache and loss of appetite. The rash is, for most children, the worst part of the disease as it can be very itchy and uncomfortable. It begins with red spots that blister and eventually scab over and heal after a few days The spots may cover just a small area or extend to most of the body and are particularly common on the face, scalp, chest and belly though they can even spread to the mucus membranes of the mouth. The child will be infectious from a couple of days before the rash starts until it has completely scabbed over and begun to heal. Be aware that new spots may occur and be infectious even after others have scabbed over however.

There is much we can do at home to help our children through the uncomfortable symptoms of chickenpox. Rather than looking to ‘fight’ the virus, herbal treatment will focus on supporting the innate healing powers of the body by easing fevers, soothing the itch, supporting the immune system and promoting healing.

It is wise to seek professional advice though if your child seems lethargic or unresponsive, has difficulty breathing, has blisters which become infected or has a high fever which persists longer than three days or one which exceeds 40 C.

Working with Fever:

Herbal treatment aims to support the body in the work that it is trying to do rather than to suppress the fever by bringing the child’s temperature down.

Fever plays an important role in stimulating the immune system and killing invading pathogens, yet as parents it is natural for us to feel anxious as we watch our children’s temperatures soar. Anti-pyretic drugs are best saved for emergencies and in the majority of cases simple, supportive measures will aid the fever in its work and help make the child more comfortable.

The use of gentle diaphoretics- herbs that encourage blood flow to the periphery and increase sweating- will help a fever to break and a healing sweat to flush toxins out of the system. Diaphoretic herbs are best given as hot teas and a little honey can be added to make them more palatable once the child is over 18 months. These herbs include elderflower, lime blossom, catmint, meadowsweet and yarrow and they can be given singly or in combination depending on what you have to hand. The most famous diaphoretic tea formula is the Gypsy Cold Cure tea which includes elderflower, yarrow and peppermint herbs and makes a refreshing beverage which most children will not object to. Give a small cup of hot tea up to five times daily, reducing to twice daily for a few days after the fever has broken. To make the tea add a heaped teaspoon of your chosen herb or combination of herbs to a cup of water, cover with a tea cosy and leave to steep for 10 minutes, then strain and add honey if desired.

If the child has a high temperature but cold extremities then try adding some fresh ginger root to the tea which will help move the heat out and make them more comfortable. Just add a few slices to the rest of the tea ingredients.

Soothing Itchy Skin:

 The intense itch is usually considered to be the worst part of chickenpox and can make children feel pretty miserable. Itchy skin can be maddeningly frustrating and it is hard for a child not to scratch themselves. Scratching is the major cause of infected spots, one of the most common complications of the disease, so it must be discouraged where possible and the best way to do this is to keep the skin soothed with calming and anti-inflammatory herbs.

General advice for keeping the skin cool includes avoiding man-made fibers which can stop the skin breathing and sticking to light, comfortable and cool clothing. Make the bath water luke warm rather than hot as this can increase itching and try to avoid vigorous exercise when the child is feeling better until such time as all the spots have healed over.

Most herbal treatment will be external; via baths, sprays and creams or lotions. Applied throughout the day these should keep the worst of the itchiness at bay and help the skin to heal more quickly and without scarring.

There are several ways of adding herbs to the bath. A strong tea of dried herbs can be made by infusing a handful of plant material in a tea pot or cafetiere of just boiled water, leaving to steep for half an hour, straining and adding to a shallow bath. The child can then relax for 20 minutes or so in the soothing water which is also used to gently wash the skin – never scrub as it can burst the blisters. Herbs that are great used in the bath for soothing itchy skin and healing chickenpox include calendula, chickweed, chamomile, plantain, peppermint and heartsease. I recommend a mix of equal parts chamomile, chickweed and peppermint. The chamomile is anti-inflammatory and healing, the chickweed is soothing and anti-itch and the peppermint cools and gently numbs the intense irritation.

One of the most effective baths for chickenpox is the traditional oat bath which is particularly lovely when mixed with some dried herbs. It involves placing a handful of rolled or porridge oats in a square of unbleached muslin with a small handful of chamomile or calendula. Bring up the corners of the muslin and tie with some cotton or a hair band. Run the bath water hot and place the bundle into the water, then leave it to steep until the water is luke warm and ready for the child to get in. The bag can then be repeatedly squeezed to release the soothing oat milk which is gently washed over the body. The bag can be very gently rubbed over the body and there is no need to rinse off the milk before drying. When time is short or I have had no muslin to hand, I have also just whizzed up oats with water or herb tea in the blender and added this to the bath.

During the day, regular application of a liquid preparation can help to stop itching and cool the skin. A blend of 50% witch hazel with either calendula tea or rosewater can be dabbed onto spots to help tone and sooth.

A cream or lotion can also be gently rubbed on to itchy areas. You can buy pre-made calendula lotion or chickweed cream from herbal stockists such as Neal’s Yard or Baldwins or use a base cream to which you add tinctures such as licorice or calendula up to about 10%. Aloe vera base gel can also be mixed with herbal tincture and used in the same way. I would avoid the use of an oily salve or balm on the spots as they can trap in heat and create more of a barrier. Generally lighter preparations are better in these circumstances.

A teaspoonful of calendula tincture can be added to a small glass of water and used as a mouthwash if symptoms have spread to the mucus membranes of the mouth.

Supporting the Immune System:

Supporting the immune system will generally include giving a light healthy diet of homemade vegetable soups and lots of fluids. It is very important to ensure dehydration does not occur so plenty of water and herbal teas are vital. If the child is still breastfeeding then this will also be wonderful support to their immune system.

Vitamins C, D, and Zinc are useful for immune function and vitamin A helps to protect the skin therefore a good quality multi-vitamin and mineral could prove helpful at times of illness and recovery.

Herbal teas also have a role to play. Elderberry and elderflower both help to protect the immune system and have an anti-viral effect. Nettle has antihistamine properties which might help to soothe the itchiness and Calendula is a good immune and lymphatic support. Once the fever has past it would be a good idea to move from the diaphoretic tea blends mentioned above to a general support mix such as equal parts calendula, nettle and elderflower.

Calming and Soothing Restlessness and Tension:

 Fortunately, several of the herbs we can use to treat the symptoms of chickenpox have the added bonus of being soothing to the nervous system and helpful for the irritation and restlessness that can accompany itchy conditions. Lime flower, catmint and chamomile in teas or added to the bath will help to sooth irritability and promote a restful nights sleep.

Promoting Healing and Recovery:

 After the symptoms have past and the child is feeling better it can still be useful to support the body to slough of the last of the disease, strengthen the immune system and promote full healing of the skin. A tea of cleavers, violet or calendula will support the lymphatic system to clear itself out. Cleavers is readily available at this time of year and can be harvested fresh from the garden to be juiced or infused. Burdock root is also useful as it supports all the organs of elimination and it can be given as a tea with a little honey to make it more palatable for children.

After the spots have scabbed over and started to heal and fall off you can massage the skin with a nourishing oil such as a combination of hemp, rosehip and either calendula or comfrey infused oil. This will help to prevent scarring and encourage growth of new healthy skin cells.

Adequate rest is also so important, don’t be tempted to rush back into normal routines before there is a full recovery. Convalescence is an often overlooked aspect of the healing process but one that was prized before our pace of life became so frantic.

(This article first appeared in The Mother magazine.)


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Lime Blossom Interview

I was recently interviewed for the herbal podcast Listen on the many benefits of lime blossom.
If you are interested in finding out more you can listen to it here.

I hope you enjoy it!

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I have been interviewed over at Herb Geek. You can check it out here if you are interested!

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After a very wet summer and autumn and a similar start to this year, everything is feeling decidedly damp. Our snow melted after a couple of days and it seemed that was the only taste of real winter we have had. Now everything has returned to the general dampness that has characterised most of the last year, a perpetual grey autumn leading on to a somewhat murky spring. The path from our house hasn’t dried out in months, the few bright days we have had not being enough to combat the effect of months of wet!


Whilst it may sound like an obvious point to make, the environment and weather patterns outside our door play a vital role in the patterns of health and disharmony that we experience at any given time. So it’s little wonder than this year has been especially prolific in damp, phlegmy colds, chesty coughs and stuffy noses. The milder temperatures also allow bacteria to thrive and the general feeling of stagnation that comes from a water logged environment contributes to stagnation in our own bodies. So many people I have spoken to this winter have had colds and coughs that have hung on stubbornly for longer than usual and, even after they are feeling much better, there has still been some lingering phlegmy-ness!

While mucus is a natural and important part of our bodies, lining and protecting delicate membranes, phlegm is essentially the mucus of the respiratory passages gone bad! Whilst a balanced amount of mucus is essential to health, phlegm is often thicker, stickier and more related to states of disease or disharmony. Often when there is infection, the body will produce more mucus to help cleanse out the membranes but this can become congested or stuck leaving us with blocked passages along with a general sense of tiredness and malaise.


Fog bank rolling over the escarpment

In TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) conditions of ‘phlegm’ often arise from excess ‘damp’, but whereas damp is thin and watery, phlegm will be thick, sticky and cause obstructions. There will usually be a more obvious thick coating on the tongue along with other signs of congestion. Phlegm can also cause a whole host of other symptoms from dizziness and swellings to palpitations and a feeling of detachment. Dietary measures are often recommended to combat excess damp or phlegm including reducing or eliminating damp causing foods like dairy, bananas, pork, wheat products, beer and sugary foods. Foods to add in often involve root vegetables, garlic and onion, warming spices and teas of orange or lemon peel.

In Ayurvedic medicine phlegm would be seen as a disorder of kapha and treated with warming, drying herbs and lifestyle advice, as it would in Western energetics where the appropriate term, ‘phlegmatic’ sums up the constitution that is prone to an excess of the humour ‘phlegm’.

Depending on the nature of the client and their disharmony, there would be a few herbal categories that we would want to consider when treating people with excessive phlegm including mucus membrane tonics, immune tonics, expectorants, anti-catarrhals and possibly diaphoretics.

Firstly, if possible we would want to think about eliminating causes. This is relatively easy if they are dietary but much harder if they are environmental (a nice long holiday perhaps?). Then we would generally think about treating symptoms with a mix of herbs. Bearing in mind that everyone is different and each person’s unique symptoms and constitution must be considered, here is a list of a few herbal helpers that you may find useful when phlegmy-ness strikes.

Warming spices and aromatics: For many problems involving phlegm, these will be our first herbs of choice. Most warming spices will also have a slightly drying quality and many of the best ones can already be found in your kitchen cupboard such as ginger, cayenne, cinnamon and cardamom. Regular doses of these as tea or tincture will help to warm your whole body which will thin mucus and enable it to be expelled more easily. You can also add them to foods- think of how your nose runs after a spicy curry!

Aromatics will open up the channels and move stagnation and some are still harvestable over the winter months, even though they may not be at their peak in terms of taste or constituents. In particular I have been using rosemary and thyme from the garden this winter to add to foods or to make simple teas that warm body and mind and disperse congestion. Among the most useful of the aromatic herbs for phlegmy coughs is elecampane, Inula helenium, which has a wonderful combination of warming stimulating essential oils and soothing relaxing mucilage.

Mucus membrane tonics: In this category, goldenseal reigns supreme for treating the sinuses, however it is not a native herb and is highly endangered in the wild. Luckily there are some who are trying to grow it in this country. If you do use goldenseal, make sure you always buy from reputable suppliers who are making efforts to protect this valuable herbal ally. Elecampane is once again a very valuable asset for the lungs, as is hyssop, another wonderful aromatic with expectorant, anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic properties.

Anti-catarrhals: These include elecampane, aniseed and goldenseal as well as goldenrod, eyebright and elderflower. Elecampane and aniseed are wonderful where phlegm has settled in the lungs whilst the others are more helpful for upper respiratory congestion and sinusitis. Ground ivy is one of my favourite herbs for clearing catarrh and is very prolific in this region.

Immune stimulants and anti-microbials: These herbs can help stop infection from occurring and turning a stuffy nose into a full blown sinus infection. Echinacea root is useful as an immune stimulant in general but I find it particularly useful where problems of the upper respiratory tract are involved – you can often feel a good extract tingling all through your sinuses. Garlic and onion are also very valuable allies, lots of chopped, raw garlic sprinkled on food is wonderfully anti-microbial and very warming. Elderberry is well known for its ability to improve immunity also and thyme pairs well with it as a warming ant-microbial.

As always if you are unsure of anything or have pre-existing health concerns it is wise to consult a local herbalist. Bearing that in  mind, I hope this has given you a few ideas for how to help yourself feel bright and well during these dark, damp days.

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Herbal Happenings In Sussex

I have just spent a lovely few days away visiting my parents and attending Sarah Head’s Sanctuary Herbs Festival which is wonderfully inspiring and highly recommended for those of you who fancy a herbal adventure next year.

Now I am back I wanted to let you know about a couple of new ventures starting this month which those of you in the general vicinity may be interested in.

A Series of Herbal Talks in Brighton: 

Firstly I have a series of talks coming up in the next few months which will be held at Brighton and Hove Therapies which is very close to Brighton station. You can see the details by clicking on the link to the attached flyer below.

Talks Flyer

Brighton Low Cost Clinic:

I will also be joining with medicial herbalist Sara Jane Glendinning for a low cost herbal clinic every Thursday morning from 10am to 1pm at The Coach House in Kemptown, Brighton.

The Coach House was started up by Sara Jane and is an inspiring venture promoting creative living through the arts and sciences. There are talks, workshops and music running throughout the year and an apothecary garden in the making. For more information see the Coach House website here.

The clinic will be open to everyone and consultations will be by donation though there will be a charge for the herbal medicines given. We suggest booking for appointments.


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Ballad For A Foraged Lunch

At lunch time Lucinda
Went down to the kitchen
To make for herself a wee snack,
But when she got there
The fridge it was bare
And the outlook for lunch it was black.

There was nothing in view
but a carrot or two
She said ‘I’d better think fast.’
With nothing to eat
Neither savoury or sweet
My health it is sure not to last.

So off to the hedge
she went with her knife
To see just what could be found.
Of nettle and Jack*
There sure was no lack
And ground elder growing all around.

From the garden she got
Some lovage for the pot
Then oregano, marjoram and chives.
‘Well this little bounty
On which I was counting
Will be sure to keep me alive.’

She cooked it all up
In a big iron pan
With the half a potato not green,
And when it was done
She said ‘oh what fun’
It’s the best lunch that ever I’ve seen.

* Jack by the hedge.

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A bright sunny Sunday morning meant the perfect opportunity to get out early and make a Blackthorn blossom remedy.

Blackthorn, Prunus spinosa, the same tree that gives us the deep blue sloes in autumn, has currently exploded into confetti-like blooms all over the hedgerows and woodland edges, making such a cheerful sight after the muted tones of winter.

Because the blossom of blackthorn comes out before the leaves the effect is even more striking as the pure white flowers stand out so dramatically against the hard, dark wood, without any background of green to soften the effect. This makes it easy to differentiate from the hawthorn, also known as whitethorn, whose leaves appear before the blossoms.

Blackthorn has long been associated with darkness; the unknown and mysterious, the subconscious and feared, and yet, in early Spring, it is the very epitome of brightness, beauty and expansion. As such it was considered symbolic of the cycles of life and death by our ancestors who honoured it as one of the trees in the Celtic alphabet or Ogham.

For me Blackthorn is the tree of transformation; from winter to spring, from darkness to light, from introversion to extroversion, from sadness to joy. It honours each part of the cycle as equal without only valuing the experiences that feel most pleasant. It is a great remedy for everyone to take as we emerge from winter but can be supportive all year round for those who are experiencing change or feel overwhelmed by negative emotions. Blackthorn will support us with moving through these whilst also helping us to go deep within ourselves to find the lessons in all our experiences.

It is important to understand that this, or any, flower remedy is not about superimposing a ‘positive’ emotion over a ‘negative’ one in order to live a life devoid of painful experience. They are just about offering support and the potential of opening up a little when we feel overwhelmed or constricted and thus unable to flow freely with our feelings. At some point we may find we no longer need them but until then we have them as support when the way ahead is unclear.

It has often been observed that the word emotion refers to energy in motion (e-motion) and this is a beautiful reflection. Emotions come and go, we as the witnesser of emotion remain in stillness.

However it is our habit, or the habit of mind, to immediately relate to every emotion that arises as a true and rightful aspect of who we believe ourselves to be. Thoughts such as ‘I am unworthy,’ ‘I am afraid’, ‘I am ugly’, or equally, ‘I am worthy’, ‘I am brave’, ‘I am beautiful’, remain unchecked and unverified and thus we believe them to be reality. Beauty, worthiness and bravery are concepts that exist in the mind only. Comparing them to other concepts lends them a kind of weight but what we as consciousness are is beyond all concepts.

It is formless, unchanging being and we are always it, whatever we may be experiencing in the moment.

When we begin to identify less strongly with our emotions the need to change them becomes less pronounced. We may still feel any number of strong emotions, from fear to grief or even hatred, but we no longer think these define us and so they do not make us suffer in the same way as before. In fact, often when the tempests come, we can find a joy and a peace that co-exist alongside them. Somehow we are both and neither, they simply arise in the vastness of our own hearts.

“I am not enough is a thought. I am enough is also a thought. They are not original to you… A thought without belief has no power at all but a thought with belief can start a war.”  Mooji

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