Colds, coughs, flu

cherriesEveryone’s got colds at the moment but there’s not much the doctor can do when you have a cold or flu,  because antibiotics won’t work for viruses. But there’s plenty you can do yourself.

  • Regular Vitamin C – especially as Montmorency cherries.
  • Echinacea daily – you can take it all winter.
  • Garlic – many people swear by garlic capsules, or if you can stomach it, plenty of raw garlic.
  • Blackcurrant – in various preparations.

 

COLDS Serious illnesses are not cured with complementary medicine, but symptoms can sometimes be managed with a healthy eating regime and use of therapies. We’re more likely to get colds when we’re run down, stressed and tired. They are most common between September and March with the peak time around Christmas (when you may be stressed and worn out). People still work when they have a cold, but rest and sleep are the best solution because the body heals itself when you sleep. Symptoms include:

  • sneezing
  • runny nose
  • blocked up nose
  • sore throat
  • earache
  • sinus pain
  • low grade fever
The way to avoid colds is to eat and sleep well, manage stress, exercise and take regular Vitamin C, zinc and Echinacea in winter. Once a cold is in full force the aim is to get over it as quickly as possible.
  • Keep taking Echinacea to boost the immune system and help to clear up the cold faster.
  • Chew grapefruit seeds or take the liquid extract, according to Suzanne Woodward, medical herbalist.
  • Steam inhalations help to clear stuffed up noses – put a few drops of eucalyptus, tea tree, or lavender oil in a bowl of boiling hot water and breathe in the vapours.
  • Try ginger root tea– one inch of peeled and chopped ginger boiled in water.
  • Cherry Active is made with Montmorency cherries and is absolutely packed with Vitamin C. It tastes nice and helps to keep you in top form.
A great combination is Yarrow, Peppermint and Elder, often prescribed by herbalists as a tea – Yarrow fights fever, Elderflower eases catarrh, and Peppermint cools and calms.

The other great soothers for colds:

  • Plenty of Vitamin C – nutritionists claim that 200 mg a day or more is safe when in need
  • Garlic boosts the immune system – take capsules or if you can bear it put it raw into soups and casseroles.

Cautious note: always check with your GP if taking prescribed medication BEFORE having herbal remedies as they may contraindicate the medicines.

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Ester C Vitamin C Viridian Nutrition 30 veg caps £9.85
Citricidal grapefruit seed extract  Biocare 25ml £5.70
Eucalyptus oil Tisserand Aromatherapy 9ml £4.85
Tea tree oil Tisserand Aromatherapy 9ml £4.90
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Sambucol Elderflower Sambucol 120ml £8.49
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Antibiotics
  • Antibiotics don’t work for viruses, such as colds and flu
  • Taking too many can lower the body’s defences when it needs to fight more serious infection

COUGHS Respiratory tract infections take up more of the GPs’ time than anything else, but while pneumonia and bronchitis can be serious some coughs linger after cold and flu symptoms have gone.Trudy Norris, herbalist and president of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists, suggests an infusion of thyme which is antiseptic, clears phlegm and fights chest infections . ‘Put a heaped tablespoonful of dried thyme into a litre of boiling water and fill a thermos flask. Add a teaspoonful of honey to the mixture to relieve irritation and keep near day or night.’ Just sipping a mixture of one teaspoonful of honey and warm water can prevent persistent coughing at night as well.

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FLU:

Echinacea can be taken at the first signs of aches and pains (unless you are on medication in which case you should check for contraindications), as well as homeopathic remedies:

  • Gelsemium for aches and pains, rising temperature and constant aching;
  • Rhus Tox for aches and pains which get better when moving around;
  • Belladonna for sudden high fever, with or without sweating, cold hands and feet.

Boneset is an excellent herbal remedy for someone who has had flu for a couple of weeks, and it doesn’t seem to be getting better.

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  SORE THROATS: Antibiotics should only be offered for infections like tonsillitis but natural remedies can help to soothe the throat. If a sore throat seems to be signalling the start of a cold the homeopathic remedy Aconite can stop it progressing. Over recent years doctors have been advised to cut down on handing out antibiotics yet research shows that 44 per cent of people who see doctors when they have a cold are given a prescription for antibiotics. The downside of this is that when they get a serious illness they may be antibiotic-resistant (as we’ve seen with many hospital infections). Propolis is made by bees from natural ingredients to protect their hives from infection and invasion, and gargling with it soothes a sore throat. Gargling with a few drops of tea tree oil or a pinch of salt in a glass of warm water also eases the pain.

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HEADACHES

Too many painkillers can suppress headaches and make them recur. The causes of a headache may be tension, hormonal imbalances, blocked sinuses, or back and neck problems. If headaches persist you should always consult a doctor, but if there is no serious problem you might find that a chiropractor or cranial osteopath can find the problem and ease the pain.

Trying to get rid of a headache can be really difficult, and one approach is to put strong smelling eucalyptus or camphor on the skin above the sinuses or on the forehead as so many headaches are caused by blocked sinuses. There are now several sticks available that make this easy to do, except you must be sure not to get it too near your eyes or they will pour.

Feverfew is the herbal answer to painkillers and Belladonna homeopathic remedy, is good for a throbbing headache, particularly in children.

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GLUE EAR/EAR ACHE

Often children with ear problems have repeated prescriptions for antibiotics which run down their immune systems. Homeopathy works well for glue ear and Pulsatilla is the most common remedy when there is lots of discharge. In cases of repeated ear infections a visit to a professional homeopath can be invaluable.

For adults earache can be cleared by putting a drop of lavender oil on a piece of cotton wool and placing it in the ear, but the vapours are quite strong and may not be recommended for children. For a desperate child you could try the old fashioned remedy of a baked onion, cut in half, wrapped in muslin and placed on the outside of the ear. Jenny Jones, herbalist, explains, ‘The vapours from the onion oils are antiseptic and anti-inflammatory, and they go into the ear and the heat of the warm onion is also soothing.’

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The National Institute of Medical Herbalists, 01392 426022, www.nimh.org.uk For a list of homeopaths contact: The Society of Homeopaths, 01604 621400, www.homeopathy-soh.org

Jenny Jones, Creative Health Centre, Leamington Spa, 01926 316500

 

 

Overdosing on paracetamol

Echinacea 2Often viewed as harmless many cold and flu medicines contain paracetamol, and when taken with the tablets themselves can result in overdose. Some people don’t realise that many of the conventional products they take for colds and flu do contain paracetamol, and yet a combination of treatments can be fatal.

FACT: the maximum amount of paracetamol you should take over a 24 hour period is 4g or eight (standard) 500mg tablets.

The problem is when someone feels lousy they keep taking doses of pills or remedies, without thinking about whether or not they are taking too much. Always check the instructions on the packaging.

Apparently some people do not realise that many of the conventional products they take for colds and flu contain paracetamol. So a combination of treatments can be fatal. Recent research at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary looked at 663 patients who had liver damage caused by paracetamol. And 161 of them who had been taking it over a period of time, using both the drug itself and remedies that contain paracetamol for other ailments including colds and flu, had unintentionally overdosed.

And the result is often tragic with as many as two out of five of paracetamol overdose patients dying from the overdoses.

There are plenty of natural alternatives when you’ve got colds or flu. For instance, Echinacea has been found to be effective in treating colds and flu. A natural herb, Echinacea doesn’t contain paracetamol. Although it is necessary to consult with a doctor if you are taking medication of any kind, to be sure that it is safe to take a herbal remedy.

Supporting your immune system tips:

• Eat healthily, and include your five a day of fruit and veg, or more.
• Reduce or cut out sugar which competes with vitamin C.
• Reduce the amount of fatty food you consume.
• Avoid alcohol and give up smoking.
• Get a good night’s sleep every night.
• Relax, smile and laugh out loud at least 3 times a day.

You can buy Echinacea from our shop: go to Healthy Soul Shop/Herbal Remedies,   or you can get the new Echinacea Hot Drink to take when you start to feel the beginning of a cold.

Top ten herbal remedies

Arnica, courtesy of A. Vogel (Bioforce)
Arnica, courtesy of A. Vogel (Bioforce)

The top ten herbal remedies are the ones most popular with the public. They provide a more natural alternative to drugs, and are often worth trying (but if you are on medication, check first with your doctor or a medical herbalist that you can take them).

Arnica:  the Arnica flower is native to the Alps but its qualities for healing bruises have been recognised for many years. It cannot be taken as a herb internally but is available as a homeopathic tablet. Arnica Gel or cream is excellent for healing bruises and also for soothing stiff joints, aching muscles and osteoarthritis.

Devil’s Claw (Harpagophytum): found in the Kalahari desert the natives have traditionally used this herb for digestive complaints. It has powerful anti-inflammatory properties and is therefore very suitable for arthritis, rheumatism and sports injuries. Fears that the herb would become extinct have been alleviated by schemes to grow it sustainably in southern Africa.

Echinacea, courtesy of A. Vogel (Bioforce)

Echinacea: taken as a tincture or tablets it boosts the immune system. The native Indians have used it for thousands of years to put on snake bites and other wounds. More often used now to help resistance to colds, flu and other infections, but has been proven in trials to be effective against respiratory infections.

Ginkgo biloba: from one of the oldest trees in the world the Ginkgo tree was one of the first prehistoric plants on the earth over 150 million years ago. Best known for enhancing circulation and thereby improving the memory it has other uses too. The leaves are used to make tinctures to improve circulation and the function of the brain as well as asthma. The seeds are used by Chinese doctors for urinary problems and wheezing. Read more in Boost Your Memory.

Horse Chestnut (Aesculus): good old conkers that so many children enjoy collecting have another use – they have excellent properties as an astringent to help to prevent and soothe varicose veins. It can be taken as a tincture or the gel can be rubbed into the legs.

St John’s Wort: has become a popular choice for depression but people have to be careful about taking it in conjunction with other medication or even with light boxes (that are used for Seasonal Affective Disorder – see Features, SAD). Also known as Hypericum which is used as a cream to heal wounds. is widely available through health food stores, chemists and at Nutricentre (see the Nutricentre ad). If you are taking medication you should always check with a registered medical herbalist or your doctor before taking herbs to ensure that they do not contraindicate.

Milk Thistle: protects the liver from toxic chemicals and is often useful around Christmas when over-indulgence is the norm. It is sometimes used when people have liver disease but can’t be used as a cure-all for heavy drinkers! It was called Milk Thistle because it was taken by nursing mums to help encourage the flow of milk.

Sage: is particularly recognised as being helpful for hot flushes. You can gather some leaves from the garden, put them in a teapot and sip them if you are going through the menopause or purchase a tincture or tablets. It is also helpful as a gargle for sore throats.

Saw Palmetto: originating in North America saw palmetto has been used by native Americans for thousands of years to help ease chronic congestion. Recent research has shown it to be effective for prostate problems in men without the side-effects of prescription drugs.

Valerian-Hops: 19th century poets and other creative types were known to use Valerian. Combined with unpollenated hops which are renowned for their calming qualities it is a useful herb for helping you sleep or for generally calming down without making you feel dopey in the day.

Source: A. Vogel

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Where have all the flowers gone?

It was one of those days we’ve had a lot of this summer – bursts of sunshine punctuated by downpours. When the sun came out the colours of the herbs came into their own – the brilliant orange of marigolds, bright red poppies, and beautiful lavender flowers laced with the aromatic scents of sage, rosemary, and thyme. Above all there was an overwhelming sense of tranquillity only gently disturbed by birds, bees and the occasional rabbit hopping around.

The scene is Weleda UK’s 15 acre plot of herbs near Ilkeston in Derbyshire where the natural health products company grows over 300 species for use in herbal and homeopathic remedies, toothpastes, shampoos, lotions and potions. Growing its own ensures freshness, availability and sustainability.

The Derbyshire rabbits aren’t too popular with Weleda’s head gardener, Michael Bate, because they dig up whole plants to get their food. But rabbits aren’t the major threat to the planet’s herbs – we are.

A report by Plantlife International, the wild plant conservation charity, claimed that the £11 billion global herbal medicine industry is causing some 4,000 to 10,000 herbs worldwide to become endangered. Unfortunately the majority of the herbal medicine industry is not doing their bit to ensure survival and Weleda is one of just a few natural health products companies growing its own and buying from sustainable sources.

An astonishing 80 per cent of the world’s population relies on herbal medicine as their primary healthcare. There are several reasons for this but principally the cost of drugs is far beyond the reach of many of the world’s population as is currently demonstrated by the lack of availability of retroviral drugs for AIDS in Africa.

In many cases though local cultures have a long tradition of using herbal medicines that have served them well over the years and which are easily available and cheap.

In the UK alone we spent a huge £87 million pounds on herbal remedies in 2004 (Source: Mintel), an increase of over 56 per cent on 1999, with no let up in annual growth. All kinds of herbs traditionally used by medicine men, native tribes and Indian and Chinese doctors are now available on the shelves of our local health food store.

While many of us applaud ourselves for embracing a natural lifestyle the report by Plantlife claimed that two thirds of the 50,000 medicinal plants currently being used in the herbal industry are harvested from the wild and herbalists talk of varieties which are no longer available at all.

The environmentalist, David Bellamy, is President of Plantlife, the Conservation Foundation, and Patron of the Natural Medicines Society’s Herb Alert campaign which in his words aims ‘to put herbal medicine back where it deserves to be, an important part of mainstream healing practice in the 21st century’.

Both environmental organisations aim to encourage the adoption of cultivation projects to enable the planet’s plant heritage to be sustained.

Harvesting with care

Growing herbs in a sustainable way to ensure that precious species continue not only protects the future of herbal medicine, but it ensures the survival of local communities who depend on the trade for survival. It is almost impossible to police the harvesting of herbs around the world unless communities choose to do it themselves or herbal companies set up sustainability projects.

The Sioux Indians of the Lakota tribe in South Dakota have used Echinacea for hundreds of years to fight off infection and to heal wounds and snake bites. When they collect the plants in order to prevent extinction they never pick the first one they see in case it is the only one left. Unfortunately not everyone has such high ideals and Echinacea is being illegally harvested even in protected areas in the US.

Duncan Ross of Poyntzfield Nurseries, on the Black Isle, north of Inverness is a biodynamic horticulturist who grows several endangered species in the Scottish clime. He warns, ‘Anyone with a sense of sustainability will only pick a small proportion of the seeds they find with the landowners’ permission, but people who are in it for a quick buck do a lot of damage.’

Herbs at risk

Endangered herbs cited in Plantlife’s report, Herbal Harvests with a Future, include Arnica, popularly used in homeopathic remedies for bruising, Goldenseal prescribed for digestive problems and wound healing, American Ginseng, traditionally an aphrodisiac but now more dispensed to boost energy levels, and Liquorice, often used in herbal and conventional medicines for stomach ulcers. Commonly known kitchen herbs Oregano and Thyme are also being overharvested in some areas for their medicinal properties.

It is often the type of harvesting which can cause problems – in the case of Bearberry or Uva ursi, a herb used to treat bladder conditions, only the leaves are required but the whole plant is uprooted for expedience. This happens commonly and as Duncan Ross explains, ‘If you pick the whole plant it doesn’t seed again or regenerate.’

Perfect conditions

Most herbs grow easily in different climates and Echinacea thrives even in the UK, but some of the most endangered species require considerable expertise, perfect soil conditions and the right climate. And many of them take several years of nurturing before they are ready to harvest.

Poyntzfield grows Arnica on the highest point of the Black Isle to supply Weleda and medical herbalists. ‘It needs time and patience and requires a sunny site with well drained soil, but because it is an Alpine plant the snow and frost suit it well,’ according to Duncan. ‘Goldenseal is harvested illegally in the Appalachian mountains for its golden root. We grow it here but it takes seven years to yield a crop.’

The report by Plantlife was critical of UK herbal manufacturers because most of them buy from unsustainable sources. It also claimed that whenever there is a shortage of a particular herb, some companies buy plants on the open market which have invariably been picked in the wild without concern for sustainability, often because poor communities depend on them for their livelihood. .

Desert cultivation

The kind of project environmentalists are keen to see has been adopted by Swiss herbal manufacturer Bioforce which grows most of its own herbs in Switzerland and claims to run out of stocks rather than buy on the open market.

Bioforce used to buy Devil’s Claw on the open market but they recognised that random harvesting would soon cause extinction since a drastic 15 million plants are being pulled up out of the Kalahari Desert every year. The clamour is all for the plant’s tuber, traditionally used by local tribes to treat digestive problems but now valued in the west as an anti-inflammatory for arthritis and other joint and muscle pain.

According to Bioforce UK’s Medical Director, Jen Tan, ‘Because the local tribes are poor and exploited by merchants they try to get as much as possible from the plants which are hard to dig out of the desert.

‘Devil’s Claw takes four years or more to mature, so it is very difficult for local growers to cultivate it without some injection of investment. After several years of research and cultivating Devil’s Claw on an experimental farm in the desert we have set up a local farmer with land, finance and housing to grow it for us on a sustainable farm on the South African border with Namibia.’

Everyone can play a part

There are encouraging signs that the industry is getting its act together slowly and in the last few years UK company Viridian launched its own range of 20 organic herbal tinctures, home growin in Herefordshire, including Echinacea, Ginkgo and Motherwort.

According to Cheryl Thallon of Viridian, ‘We simply want to check the full provenance of the herbs we stock and ideally watch the seeds growing in the ground. Growing locally means less air miles and added pollution as we pride ourselves on being a green company.’

However, if progress is going to be made herbalists and consumers have got to be willing to buy from responsible suppliers.

The National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH) is drawing up guidelines for its 700 members advising that they only use herbs from sustainable sources. The NIMH also favours wildcrafting – picking from the wild only where they know that herbs are not endangered. Herbalists may also take note of the recommendation from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) that more common herbs are substituted for the rare ones, such as using Calendula from marigolds instead of Goldenseal.

The Plantlife report proposed that eventually there would be a kitemark system so that shoppers would know which herbal remedies were made from sustainable sources and select products in the same way that they can buy dolphin-friendly tuna.

The EU’s Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive was adopted by the European Parliament in March 2004 and came into force in the UK on 31 October 2005.

In order to get their products registered herbal medicine manufacturers have until March 2011 to produce a dossier that proves the efficacy of the remedies, using evidence of traditional use, or they will not longer be able to sell them in the EU.

‘It is extremely expensive to produce these dossiers,’ claims Bioforce UK’s Quality Assurance Manager, David Belshaw, ‘Larger companies like ours are much better placed than the smaller ones who may find that they need to get other companies to manufacture on their behalf. For those that don’t seek partners the future is bleak.

‘Bioforce intends to register all of its products either under the Herbal Medicine Directive so that some products can be marketed as food supplements instead.’

This may be good news for consumers who will know that products have undergone stringent controls, but The Directive does not affect medical herbalists who do not usually buy herbs off the shelf.

The Top 10 selling herbs

St John’s Wort or Hypericum – skin wounds and depression
Echinacea – infections, colds and flu, snake bites!
Gingko biloba – circulation and memory
Ginger root – travel sickness, nausea and morning sickness
Black Cohosh – hot flushes and other menopausal symptoms
Aloe vera – burns, sores and cuts and as a general tonic
Ginseng – energy and libido booster
Milk Thistle – liver protection
Peppermint – digestive problems
Garlic – colds, catarrh, and to lower cholesterol
(Arnica doesn’t feature because it’s used in homeopathic products)
Source: Holland & Barrett

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To find a herbalist contact: The National Institute of Medical Herbalists, 01392 426022, www.nimh.org.uk

To become a member of Plantlife: 01722 342730, www.plantlife.org.uk

Visit the Chelsea Physic Garden and follow the thematic trail: Rare plants, endangered peoples, lost knowledge, and the Garden of World Medicine. Open to the public on Wednesdays 12 to 5 p.m. and Sundays 2 to 6 p.m. from 4th April to 31st October, adults £5, students and unemployed £3. 020 7352 5646, ext 2, www.chelseaphysicgarden.co.uk

Visit Poyntzfield Nurseries in Black Isle: one hour tours run once a month in June, July, August: 01381 610352, www.poyntzfieldherbs.co.uk

Weleda, Bioforce and Viridian products are available at Nutricentre – click on the green ad.

Article by Frances Ive originally appeared in the Times, Body & Soul