Christmas is on the doorstep and, as we begin to plan for the festivities ahead, I have been repeatedly asked which herbs I would recommend to have at hand for the season.
Of course, there are a dozen valuable herbs that come to mind. However, I have narrowed the choice by considering availability, simplicity, individual active properties and the complementary therapeutic actions of herbs that would be especially helpful during these busy days.
My first choice had to be chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), well-loved by both children and adults. It is an excellent, gentle sedative that is safe for the whole family. Its relaxing actions are indicated for states of anxiety and insomnia and a warm infusion of chamomile tea will relieve tension and ease muscles, gently nudging you to sleep.
Chamomile’s anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic actions relax the smooth muscles lining the stomach and intestine. A warm infusion can be helpful to relieve the discomfort and pain of indigestion and inflammatory conditions that result from overeating rich or spicy foods – which we all do at Christmas! As a warm inhalation, or included in a steam bath, chamomile will relieve nasal catarrh, speed healing and prevent bacterial infections.
Finally, cooled chamomile tea can be used in a compress to help soothe tired, irritated eyes, which occur from exposure to cold winds or dry environs. Pour one cup of boiling water over two teaspoons of dried chamomile and leave to infuse for five to 10 minutes. For the steam inhalation, pour two litres of boiling water over half a cup, cover your head with a towel and inhale.
The second herb to have at hand is elder (Sambucus nigra).Elder flowers are ideal for the treatment of colds and influenza, and indicated in any catarrhal inflammation of the upper respiratory tract. Elder has been described as a ‘complete medicine chest’ and is a specific for any cold, damp condition of the respiratory system. It is an expectorant for coughs and encourages sweating, so it is ideal for feverish colds. For these conditions, elder combines well with peppermint and yarrow – my other two choices.
Peppermint (Mentha piperata) complements the active properties of elder.Its diaphoretic actions help to promote a healthy sweat and cool the body internally. To promote a healthy sweat, give one teacupful every 30-45 minutes until the patient is perspiring, then give two tablespoons every hour or two. The important factor is to give the infusion (tea) warm, and keep giving it to the patient until he/she is sweating freely. This will break down congestion and equalise the circulation, as well as assisting the body to eliminate toxins.
Please note that peppermint contains volatile oils. It should never be boiled. It also needs to remain covered to retain its valuable oils. Peppermint is also one of the best carminative agents available. Rich in volatile oils, carminatives stimulate the wave-like movement of the digestive system and relax the stomach. Mildly anaesthetic, peppermint coats the stomach wall and encourages secretion of the digestive juices, bringing quick relief to conditions of indigestion and flatulence. A warm infusion of peppermint tea is well received by children and, if needed, a teaspoon of honey can be added for sweetness.
My last choice of herb for Christmas is yarrow (Achillea millefolium), recognised as one of the best diaphoretic herbs and a traditional remedy for helping the body to deal with fever. Rich in constituents that are converted by steam into anti-allergenic compounds, yarrow combines well with peppermint and elder for all conditions of fever and congestion in the respiratory tract.
Yarrow is also a digestive stimulant and its pungent flavour combines well with peppermint for conditions of indigestion, when prepared as a warm infusion.
As singular agents, or combined as compounds, these herbs bring effective relief for conditions of indigestion, fevers and colds, and states of anxiety or insomnia – certainly the most common ailments over the festive season!
All four herbs can be found in the natural food section of the bigger supermarkets, or alternatively at any local health food store. Bring these four herbs into your home this week and simply enjoy their wonderful aromas and flavours as infusions or relaxing inhalations.
When the first stuffed nose or bout of insomnia arrives, you will be prepared with a safe and natural herbal remedy that brings relief and comfort to your family. I would like to wish everyone a healthy and happy Christmas season.
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