Happy New Year!
Are you feeling tired and somewhat jaded after the excesses of the festive season? If so, you are not the only one, for during the apparently unending, dark winter months after Christmas, many of us feel that our health is at a low ebb. This is just at this time that we can be most prone to infections such as coughs, colds and flu, and so it is a perfect time to give our immune systems a good boost with some wonderful efficacious and time-proven herbal remedies!
Boosting Your Immunity with Herbs
Though we are becoming more aware that a healthy lifestyle is the key to a robust immune system, it is good to have a reminder; we need plenty of nutritious, natural, preferably organic food, a balance of work and play, exercise and relaxation and sufficient sleep; we need to minimise pollution in our environment, to try and have a positive attitude to dealing with stress and to cultivate practices to promote peace of mind such as meditation. Our natural immunity is definitely lowered by physical and emotional stress, burning the candle at both ends, poor diet, toxins, smoking cigarettes and drinking excess alcohol.
Look After Your Digestion!
What we may not be aware of is how central our digestion is to our health. If our ‘digestive fire’ or agni is good, the (hopefully nutritious) food that we eat will be digested and assimilated well, and the residue of wastes remaining to be eliminated from the body will be minimal. If however, our agni is low, our digestive juices and enzymes are not secreted as they should be, and much of the lovely food we eat will stay in the gut partially digested, which unfortunately starts to ferment and produces toxins. These toxins can be absorbed from the gut and in this way get into our systems and lower our resistance to a whole range of health problems including those coughs and colds and ‘flu bugs that we seem to be so prone to in the winter. The indulgences over the Christmas period; overeating rather rich heavy food, parties, late nights and alcohol, not to mention the build up of stress in the mad rush of buying presents and the endless preparing of food for friends and family, can all put a strain on our digestion, lowering our digestive fire and hence our resistance.
Bearing this in mind, the very best thing to start the New Year off on the right foot is to increase our digestive fire and detoxify the system. This may sound like a challenge but it is actually fairly easy. We only need to look as far as the kitchen cupboard for it simply involves eating a light diet and taking some tasty herbs and spices.
New Years Resolutions?
So…avoid eating too much heavy, rich food such as fatty meats, cream and cheese, bread, pastries and sugar, drinking alcohol and too much cold water. Instead have plenty of steamed vegetables, tasty soups, stews and casseroles enlivened with aromatic herbs and spices, rice, beans and lentils, and white meat and fish (if you are not vegetarian). Drink plenty of warming herbal and spicy teas through the day to enhance your digestion. Take a walk outside every day and try to have a regular bedtime (ideally go to bed by 10pm!).
Spice Up Your Life
Common spices such as ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, clove and black pepper are some of the best remedies for the digestion and for boosting immunity and these can be added regularly to cooking and made into tasty hot teas. Take ginger for example…its heavenly pungent flavour warms and strengthens the digestion, stimulates the flow of digestive juices and will warm and invigorate your whole system. The volatile oils that give it that distinctive taste are highly antiseptic, boosting our immunity and helping to fight off bacterial and viral infections.
As a preventative, drink a cup of ginger tea every morning when you wake up and before eating breakfast. To make ginger tea, simply grate a piece of fresh ginger root, about the size of your thumb, and put it in a cafetiere. Pour over boiling water and leave it to infuse for about ten minutes. Sip it while it is hot and it will warm you from your toes to your fingertips. If you drink ginger tea every couple of hours at the first signs of a sore throat, cold or ‘flu when you are feeling tired, chilly and achy, it will speed the infection on its way.
Similarly cinnamon is a perfect remedy for winter, stimulating the circulation, chasing away cold and lethargy, invigorating the digestion and detoxifying the body. The volatile oil in cinnamon is one of the strongest natural antiseptics known. Its antibacterial, antiviral and anti-fungal properties make cinnamon an excellent medicine to prevent and resolve a whole range of infections. A hot cup of sweet and exquisitely aromatic cinnamon tea with its expectorant and decongestant actions, is a great way to relieve coughs and colds, flu and catarrh when taken 3 or 4 times a day. You can make this by simmering a few pieces of the dried bark in a cup or two of water (in a covered pan so that you don’t lose all the volatile oils into the atmosphere).
If spicy teas do not appeal, there is more on offer from the amazing world of herbs. Herbs provide us with a wealth of incredible immune stimulants; some increase the production and activity of white blood cells known as macrophages, that the immune system sends to digest foreign invaders. Some herbs also stimulate the production of defence substances, such as interferon, which protect non-infected cells from viruses. Herbs can also enhance the production and function of other white blood cells called T-cells, which are vital immune cells that kill viruses, fungi and certain bacteria. There is a particular kind of T-cell called a “natural killer’ that is in charge of destroying cells already infected with a virus.
At the first signs of infection hot herbal teas (sweetened with honey or unsweetened blackcurrant/apple juice if you like), can be taken every 2 hours. Peppermint and elderflower are both great decongestants and expectorants, helping to clear catarrh and relieve fevers, flu and sinusitis.
Another excellent remedy that abounds in hedgerows in autumn is the common elderberry. Elderberries are delicious cooked, especially mixed with blackberries and apple. They have long been popular as a cold and flu remedy. Lately they have been found to contain compounds that help to prevent flu viruses from penetrating the cell membranes.
Chamomile is useful in all children’s infections, helping to soothe fractious children and promote rest and sleep, which in turn aids recovery. It contains antimicrobial volatile oils which resolve infection, reduce fever and clear congestion.
Without doubt the most popular remedy today is Echinacea. Since the 1950’s nearly 400 studies have shown that Echinacea can improve the immune system in many ways; these include increasing the activity of T-cells, interferon and natural killer cells and it has clearly been shown to reduce the frequency, severity and duration of colds and flu. Echinacea is not only versatile, it is also extremely safe and suitable for children. It works best in small doses, half a teaspoon of the tincture in a little water every two hours for acute infections and three times a day for chronic problems, and half doses for children. Research indicates that Echinacea probably works best as a preventative if you don’t take it continuously. You could take it for a couple of weeks and then stop for a week before starting again
Then there is the humble garlic bulb. Much maligned for its malodorous effects, garlic has been revered throughout history all over the world for its treatment of a wide range of conditions, especially infections. It is an excellent detoxifier, it stimulates digestion, and makes a great expectorant and decongestant for coughs, colds and catarrh. Its antibiotic activity was noted by the famous Louis Pasteur in 1858 and it was used successfully by Albert Schweitzer in Africa for the treatment of amoebic dysentery.
If you need some persuasion…a profusion of modern research has proven garlic to be a really effective remedy for the immune system and to have antimicrobial activity against many types of bacteria, viruses, worms and fungi. It is especially active against Candida albicans (thrush). Several of the compounds in garlic have been shown to have anticancer properties; in fact they have demonstrated that the people who eat more garlic are less likely to develop cancer.
The best and of course most economical way to take garlic is to eat it regularly – and raw! as cooking destroys a large percentage of its medicinal properties. For those of you who worry about its antisocial effects, you should find that after eating it raw every day for ten days that its rich smell no longer comes off your breath or through your pores! The body learns to metabolise it and you will smell sweet again!
Hopefully this has inspired you to get into your kitchen and create something wonderful to keep you healthy this year.
Happy healthy 2020!