In clinic as a medical herbalist, the most common struggle for people facing these seasonal infections seems to be finding the time to rest. Although the transition to winter demands a shift to quietness and introspection, it can seem better to push through using paracetamol to avoid taking a break. The unfortunate consequences, however, can be that a cold that could have been overcome in 3 or 4 days becomes a lingering infection that can dominate a week, a month or even comes and goes over the entire season.
My favourite herbs to be drinking during infections are easy to find in kitchens and supermarkets or even your local park; home remedies of the best kind.
Garlic is another kitchen staple to reach for at the first signs of infection, as it is powerfully antimicrobial (it can even be used on infected wounds). Garlic has a particular affinity for head colds and the lethargy that comes with an infection. Its heat is beneficial in all cold diseases and can be consumed in food, crushed into hot water or ginger tea (with a squeeze of lemon and a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down) or as a syrup or electuary (infused honey).
Yarrow, a common herb in wildflower meadows and parks but somewhat harder to find and may require a trip to a herbalists dispensary. It helps to activate and promote an immune response by supporting sweating and improving circulation (allowing white blood cells to circulate more freely), it’s also tasty medicine, spicy and pungent.
Elderflower is a traditional companion to yarrow (often with the addition of peppermint) to promote fever in infections, to kill the pathogen. It has a powerful capacity to clear the ears, nose and throat infections and mucous (it’s also a fantastic friend in allergy season for the same reasons). Any cold that has a streaming runny nose, a sore throat or inflamed adenoids and phlegm in the head is crying out for help from elderflower. Elder is an ever yielding medicinal tree and elderberries, ripe for picking in late August and early September, can be made into a preventative immune boosting syrup (or purchased) to take throughout the season, full of antioxidants and vitamin C.
2-4 twigs thyme
1 small spring sage
2 coins ginger
1 slice lemon
add to a teapot and add 500ml boiling water. Cover with a lid and leave to stand 15 mins. Serve hot or at room temperature, with extra lemon/sugar/honey as desired
In sickness we have a tendency to self-pity; after all, the normal functioning we take for granted is impaired and our energy and enthusiasm can abandon us for a few days as we wonder whether we will ever feel well again. But wellness involves illness, without one there is no other and cold season is a great leveller that reminds us all of our vulnerability and our strength.
You can find me at www.starflowerstories.com where I offer 1:1 herbal medicine consultations, astrology readings and
workshops on herbs, folklore and the pagan festivals that celebrate the cycle of the seasons.