Herbal tips for a healthy start to the year

A New Year means a fresh start, and an extra helping of motivation to get fit, eat better, start a new hobby or give up a bad habit.

However long our good intentions may last, here are six herbal ideas to get you started:

1. Look after your liver with milk thistle

We can’t live without a good liver – it processes every substance that enters our mouths, and therefore usually has to work overtime during the festive season.

Symptoms like tiredness, nausea, constipation, headaches, low mood, skin problems and allergies are a sign that your liver is not happy. Luckily it has an amazing capacity for regeneration, and a good milk thistle extract combined with a break from alcohol and coffee for just four weeks can make a big difference.

Milk thistle has been shown to prevent the absorption of toxins in the liver as well as reduce inflammation and scarring (1). As a bitter herb it also aids digestion and is best taken 30 minutes before meals. “Solgar” do a good supplement.

2. Stop smoking with Lobelia

For those looking for herbal help to kick this nasty habit, Lobelia inflata (Indian tobacco) is well worth considering. Its nicotine-like compounds sit on receptors in the brain and fool us into thinking it’s the real thing, causing unpleasant nausea when a cigarette is smoked.

A few drops of Lobelia tincture (alcoholic extract) on the tongue can help put you off cigarettes, but only if taken responsibly. Consult a herbalist for sources of the herb as well as professional, supportive advice.

3. Cut down on alcohol with St John’s Wort

With its uplifting yet calming properties, St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) tincture can be a really useful substitute when letting go of this addiction.

For a ‘Hypericum tonic’, just add a tablespoon of good quality tincture to tonic water with a slice of lemon. It tastes just like gin & tonic and is a great conversation starter! Consult a herbalist for good sources, and don’t take this herb alongside pharmaceutical drugs.

4. Let go of anxiety with lavender

If it’s your worries you want to get a hold on, start by getting hold of some good quality lavender essential oil from your nearest health shop.

Inhaling a few drops on a tissue is really effective for acute anxiety (2), and drops on the pillow help night-time overthinkers get to sleep. Carry it around with you for quick fixes on the go or even use it as perfume.

Herbal treatment for anxiety works best if combined with good food, exercise and techniques like yoga, meditation and positive affirmations.

5. Boost overall health with turmeric
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is an ancient Indian spice with profound anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving and health boosting effects – some even think it was the ‘gold’ given to Jesus along with frankincense and myrrh.

Since most diseases have inflammation at their core, turmeric has the potential to protect against all sorts of conditions including heart and liver disease, arthritis, depression, inflammatory bowel conditions, endometriosis and cancer. It’s also effective against pain of all kinds, especially period pain and joint pain.

To make ‘golden milk’, mix one teaspoon of organic turmeric powder with half a teaspoon of ginger, cinnamon and cardamom, simmer in hot milk for five minutes and add a spoon of coconut oil or butter. Drink before bed, or three times a day for strong pain relief.

6. Get outside and meet some weeds

Another great way of improving overall physical, mental and spiritual health is to spend more time in nature. Blue-green space has been shown to improve immunity through greater contact with our ancestral ‘friends’ – mainly bacteria and fungi (3).

This spring, go outside, pick some weeds and look them up. You’ll feel more in touch with your surroundings, and learn how to treat common ailments with plants like nettles, dandelion, cleavers, yellow dock, chickweed, sweet violet and plantain.

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can improve your health with common garden weeds, visit my website and register your interest in my upcoming workshop, Wonderful Weeds: An Introduction to Herbal Medicine.

1. Abenavoli et al. (2010) Milk thistle in liver diseases: past, present, future. Phytother Res. 24(10):1423-32
2. De Sousa et al. (2015) A Systematic Review of the Anxiolytic-Like Effects of Essential Oils in Animal Models. Molecules. 20(10):18620-60
3. Rook (2013) Regulation of the immune system by biodiversity from the natural environment: an ecosystem service essential to health. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 110(46):18360-7

By Poppy Burr
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Poppy, BSc MCPP, is a qualified medical herbalist practising from Aljezur and Praia da Luz. To book a consultation, visit
or call on 969 091 683.