Wednesday 6 December 2023

Sweet Violet and Covid19

Sweet Violet (Viola odorata) is a lovely plant which can be found flowering right now in England. In the past, Sweet Violet leaves and flowers were highly regarded in Europe as medicine, often in the form of a syrup made from the strongly-scented flowers. According to Mrs Grieve (1932), Violets were grown in Shakespeare’s Warwickshire especially for this purpose. Nowadays the use of Violet syrup has largely dropped out of use among practitioners of western herbal medicine. Even in Mrs Grieve’s time the medicinal use of Violet syrup had declined to little more than that of a mild laxative.

European Herbal Medicine has its roots in Arabian medicine or Unani, through the translated writings of Avicenna 980–1037 CE and before that from Greek medical practice via the systematic translation in Baghdad of the writings of Greek physicians such as Galen and Hippocrates. So, there is still much in common between Unani medicine and European herbal medicine as practised today, especially regarding their materia medica. In Iran, where Unani medicine is practised enthusiastically to this day, the use of syrup of Violets has flourished, and new uses are being found, as an article published this year indicates. This randomised, double-blind controlled study of 108 patients with Covid19, showed that, compared with a placebo syrup, Violet syrup, used as ‘add-on’ treatment to modern medicine, is effective in helping to control symptoms of cough, muscle pain, headache and diarrhoea.

Of recent years Sweet Violet leaves and flowers have come under scrutiny as one of few botanical sources of the remarkable cycloviolacins. These are large compounds comprising 30 or so amino acids held in a ring and stabilised by sulphur bonds. They are such stable structures that they escape digestion and show up in the blood stream after consumption. The compounds have notable anti-microbial and anti-cancer properties, so there are clearly more avenues for research opening up on one of Shakespeare’s favourite flowers!

Ann Walker PhD FCPP MNIMH RNutr, Herbal Practitioner and Nutritionist,
Course Director, Discovering Herbal Medicine course

Wednesday 29 November 2023

Pelargonium for Children’s Colds

Pelargonium (P. sidoides) is one of many pelargonium (sometimes called, geranium) species that originate in South Africa. This species has attractive purple flowers but they are too small for ornamental use, unlike some of their more floriferous cousins. I have written about the medicinal Pelargonium before, explaining a bit about the herb’s origins in South Africa and its general applicability for respiratory infections in adults.

In fact, extracts of the tuberous root of Pelargonium are well suited to children over 12 months of age, as low doses are required and the taste is acceptable. In 2018 Italian researchers reviewed 8 randomised clinical trials investigating the use of this herb for upper respiratory tract infections in children. The results showed a significant improvement in symptoms, even among asthmatic and immune-compromised children. All studies reviewed reported good safety and tolerability of the herb.

More recently, a further clinical study was reported on 164 children with upper respiratory tract infections who were randomized to take either Pelargonium drops or placebo in a single-blind manner for 7 days. Pelargonium was shown to be particularly useful in the management of colds by reducing symptoms of coughing and sneezing. Pelargonium extracts are now available in pharmacies and other outlets carrying the logo of guaranteed quality – the THR (Traditional Herbal Registration) symbol. Pelargonium root extracts have been shown to have marked anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties, including action against the corona virus causing Covid19. There continues to be a lot of active research interest in this herb.

Ann Walker PhD FCPP MNIMH RNutr, Herbal Practitioner and Nutritionist,
Course Director, Discovering Herbal Medicine course

Wednesday 22 November 2023

Ginseng prevents Colds

Chinese ginseng (Panax ginseng) is traditionally used for a wide variety of reasons, such as improving physical stamina, concentration, memory and slowing the aging process. Perhaps less well-known is that Ginseng can help the body fight against both bacterial and viral infections. Not only does Ginseng act directly on bacteria and virus to kill them, as demonstrated in numerous pharmaceutical studies, but the herb favourably modulates the body’s immune function to counter infection. The immune system comprises two major parts: the innate system and the specific (or adaptive) system and Ginseng works on both. It assists the former through enhancing white blood cell activity and the latter by increasing the specific immune response.

Research on Ginseng is particularly active in South Korea, which is the home of Korean Red Ginseng. Red Ginseng is heat-processed Ginseng developed by alternate steaming and air-drying of fresh Ginseng. Compared with fresh Ginseng, the red form has greater activity and stability because of changes that occur in its chemical constituents. However, both raw and processed Ginseng have similar physiological actions – the differences are subtle rather than fundamental. Interested to further investigate claims that Red Ginseng can prevent respiratory infection, Korean researchers conducted a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial in 100 healthy volunteers. At the end of a year, 25% of those taking Red Ginseng reported having one or more respiratory infections in that time, compared to 45% in the placebo group.

This Korean study focused on prevention. But once you get a virus – can Ginseng still help? Although the importance of respiratory infections caused by viruses has been highlighted during the Covid19 pandemic, respiratory bacterial infections remain the more serious cause of mortality worldwide. Bacterial infection of the respiratory tract often follows a viral infection and there are limited numbers of effective antibiotics available to combat them due to increasing antibiotic resistance. If you do get a cold or flu, taking Ginseng may help to reduce its impact, being anti-bacterial as well as anti-viral.

Ann Walker PhD FCPP MNIMH RNutr, Herbal Practitioner and Nutritionist,
Course Director, Discovering Herbal Medicine course

Wednesday 15 November 2023

Winter Warmers: Spicy Sweet Potato Soup

Winter is just around the corner, the nights are closing in now the clocks have gone back and its getting chillier out there here in the UK. On cold days a pan of homemade soup can be just the thing to warm us inside and out and making use of kitchen herbs and spices for their added health benefits is a real bonus. This recipe is one of my favourite soups to serve as the temperature drops, as it stands its a tasty, warming and filling veggie soup which can be made vegan if you substitute plant based butter.

Ingredients: Serves 2

1 Tsp Butter
2 Medium Sweet Potatoes
1 Stick Celery
2 Small Carrots
1 Medium Onion, chopped
1 Tsp Cumin Seeds
½ Tsp Ground Coriander
2 Cloves Garlic (Crushed)
½ Fresh Red Chilli
1 inch Fresh Ginger Root, peeled and grated
1 Pint (565ml) Vegetable Stock (or Chicken Stock)
Salt & Freshly Ground Black Pepper to season

Method: Peel the sweet potatoes and carrots and chop into small chunks, peel the onions and chop them along with the celery. Melt the butter in a heavy based pan and add the garlic and cumin seeds and gently fry for 2 minutes. Next add the celery, chilli, carrot, ginger and onions and stir for a further 5 minutes until the onions are softened and translucent, finally add the sweet potatoes, coriander and stock and bring to the boil.

Once boiling, turn down the heat and allow the soup to simmer, when the vegetables are tender and the soup is cooked to your liking remove from the heat, add salt and pepper to season then carefully pour the soup into a blender and blitz until smooth and creamy. Pop the soup back in the pan, add a little stock or water if you think it’s too thick and adjust the seasoning, once the soup is warmed through pour into bowls and serve as is, or add a swirl of plain yogurt to the top and some toasted cumin seeds or garlic and herb croutons. The addition of some chopped smoky bacon, or diced chicken also tastes wonderful for the non-veggies out there.

Wednesday 8 November 2023

Echinacea for Children’s Tonsillitis

Tonsillitis is an infection of the tonsils caused either by viruses or bacteria, and often characterised by a sore throat, raised temperature, coughing, earache and fatigue. It particularly affects children, even into the teenage years. While viruses are the most common cause in very young children, bacterial infection is more common in older children. Having a remedy with both anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties would be ideal, and these attributes are both found in Echinacea. In fact, the term Echinacea refers to a number of different species each having similar medicinal properties, but it is E. purpurea which is the most commonly-used species for medicinal purposes, as it is easy to cultivate and it is the one I am talking about here.

Following on my previous article which showed that children with colds who took daily doses of Echinacea greatly reduced their antibiotic use, another study in children with recurrent tonsillitis, shows that taking Echinacea with an antibiotic significantly enhanced the prophylactic effect of the antibiotic. In this study, 300 children were randomised to take daily, either no treatment, an antibiotic with Echinacea or an antibiotic without Echinacea for 10 consecutive days every month for 6 months. As expected, the children taking the antibiotics had fewer attacks of tonsillitis. However, the group taking the antibiotic with Echinacea had significantly fewer attacks of tonsillitis and less severe symptoms when they did get the problem, than children taking the antibiotic on its own.

This is an example of integrative medicine – of herbal medicine augmenting and enhancing modern medicine. We hear a lot in the media about potential interactions between herbs and modern medicine. In fact, the number of proven cases of herb-drug interactions in human subjects is very small – despite a lot of unfounded speculation. Most herbs can be taken alongside modern drugs and an encouraging number of clinical studies are reporting good positive results that support that argument.

Ann Walker PhD FCPP MNIMH RNutr, Herbal Practitioner and Nutritionist,
Course Director, Discovering Herbal Medicine course

Wednesday 1 November 2023

My 'Go To' Cold & Flu Remedies

Classic Cold and Flu Herb Tea

If you're cold or flu has a feverish element or you have chills this old fashioned tea blend may help you feel better, it’s one of the first remedies I make when I feel a cold taking root, I first came across it in herbalist Non Shaw’s book ‘Herbalism An Illustrated Guide’ back in 1998 when I was just getting in to discovering the wonderful health benefits of herbs. It contains just three herbs and I add a little honey to sweeten it. The yarrow increases perspiration, that process helps you ‘sweat’ the cold out, the elderflowers reduce inflammation and soothe the irritation of the mucus membranes whilst the peppermint is antiseptic, decongestant and anti-spasmodic all useful properties to have on hand when suffering from a cold. Combined this tea blend may help to reduce a fever, ease congestion and soothe a sore throat!

I make this tea up in jam jar quantities and keep it in the cupboard, ready for immediate use each 'Part' in the recipe is 20g but you can make a little or a lot, just use equal part measures.


• 1 Part Dried Yarrow
• 1 Part Dried Elderflowers
• 1 Part Dried Peppermint Leaves
• Water
• Honey to serve

Combine the herbs and mix well and store in a glass jar out of direct sunlight. When suffering from a cold, place 1 teaspoon (approx. 5g) of cold and flu tea per 250ml cup, in to a tea pot or cafetière, pour on boiling water and leave to infuse for 1-5 minutes, depending how strong you like your tea. Strain in to a cup and sweeten with a little honey. Drink a cup up to 3 times a day.

If you don’t care for the flavour of the herbs in the above tea blend, ginger makes a good alternative and you can use ground ginger powder or ginger root to make a soothing tea that will help increase perspiration, ease coughing, it’s anti-viral in action and can offer mild relief from aches and pains. Add some lemon and honey as both are soothing to a sore throat.

Herbal Decongestants

If the nose and chest are congested a blend of decongestant herbs can get you breathing again, you can either take a warm bath to which a few essential oils known for their decongestant properties such as eucalyptus, peppermint, thyme and rosemary have been added, or put dried herbs or oils into a bowl and use a towel placed over the head as you lean over the bowl to create a steam bath. Inhaling the vapours for 3-5 minutes can help open up the airways and help to relieve congestion. You can also make your own vapour rub for easing congestion.

Congestion Ease Vapour Rub


• 30ml Sweet Almond Oil (Use grapeseed oil if you suffer from nut allergies.)
• 5g Beeswax (Grated)
• 10 Drops Eucalyptus Essential Oil
• 8 Drops Peppermint Essential Oil
• 5 Drops Camphor Essential Oil

Put the grapeseed oil into a glass bowl over a pan of hot water and stir in the beeswax until melted, then stir in the eucalyptus, peppermint and camphor essential oils. Pour into a clean, sterilised dark glass jar and leave to cool, label and used within 6 months. To use, massage the vapour rub over the chest, neck and throat. Using a decongestant rub before sleep can help to relieve congestion and discomfort, allowing you to fall asleep more easily. Other oils with decongestant properties can also be used such as juniper berry, rosemary and lavender.

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Cold & Flu Season is Upon Us Again...

Article © Debs Cook
Image by Bob

Winter is just around the corner so now is a good time to look at what you can do to help prevent a cold, or help send it packing as quickly as possible when you or your family succumb to those miserable coughs and sneezes which often strike during the colder months of the year. We often hear that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, so today we look at what a cold is, the symptoms, and how you can use herbs to help ease the symptoms of a cold. Of course it goes without saying that id you do catch a cold, you should ensure that you drink plenty of fluids, keep warm and get lots of rest. Try not to overdo it, and if your symptoms persist or get worse consult your GP.

What is a Cold?

The common cold is an infectious disease affecting the upper respiratory system, which includes the nose, throat, bronchia and the lungs. When your body is under stress for whatever reason, it may not act as it normally does by trapping the viruses before they do damage, dry atmospheres such as those caused by central heating systems, and not getting enough fresh air can also aid the cold virus to take root. Dry atmospheres cause the mucus membranes of the nose to become swollen making ideal ‘plump cushions’ of tissue for the cold virus to rest upon, get itself comfy and breed. When the respiratory system cannot eliminate the cold virus at source, it quickly takes over causing cell damage, inflammation and various other symptoms of a cold.


A cold can last 7-10 days in duration, in some people the symptoms work in a cycle, starting with watery eyes, sneezing and a sore throat, followed by a runny nose, with nasal congestion hot on its heels. Other symptoms include aching or weak muscles, fatigue, headache, shivering and sometimes a loss of appetite. Once the body is under attack from all these symptoms, it can then become vulnerable to secondary infections including bronchitis and sinusitis. In order to rid itself of the cold virus, the body produces more mucus to help trap and ‘flush’ the cold out, but often this mucus can become dry and nasal passages can become blocked and leave the sufferer with that classic ‘stuffy head’ feeling,  often a cough will develop at this stage.

A cough is the body’s way of clearing the bronchial airways; they can be divided into two types which require different treatments. Loose, phlegmy and moist coughs are known as ‘productive’ and require remedies that will help the body rid itself of the mucus. Dry, tickly coughs are known as ‘non-productive’, and have no mucus to expel; dry coughs require the chest to be soothed of inflammation.

Help Yourself

Unwittingly we can assist cold viruses to breed at this time of year by eating rich food, drinking more alcohol than usual when we socialise, and even by using central heating systems. Rich, sugary foods as well as alcohol can weaken the immune system and some foods such as milk and cheese can even encourage the body to form mucus. Hot dry air, courtesy of our centrally heated rooms can create a breeding ground for germs and viruses, so regularly give rooms a blast of cold fresh air by opening the windows, or get out for a walk in the fresh air as often as you can. If getting out isn’t possible, use a diffuser adding bug busting essential oils like eucalyptus and peppermint, or compliment the season and use antibacterial cinnamon oil, with some antiviral ginger oil.

There are a variety of cold soothing home remedies you can make yourself using herbs that may help you get through the cold and flu season. Hot honey and lemon drinks are easy to make and are soothing to the throat, the lemon helps boost your vitamin C levels.

Elderberries have been used for their immune boosting, antiviral and expectorant for centuries. They have been used to make a soothing winter drink known as Elderberry Rob, and are rich in vitamins A and C. They can also be used to make a soothing elixir that can help at the first sign of a cold or flu, you can read more about Elderberries here.

Adding garlic to the diet when suffering from a cold can be beneficial it’s antibacterial and antiviral. Chillies and cayenne pepper are decongestant and expectorant and they can have a warming effect on the body. 

Next week I will share 2 of my favourite 'Go To' winter cold remedies, classic cold and flu tea and my favourite homemade vapour rub. Whilst you wait check out some of my previous articles Five Useful Herbs for Winter and Herbs for making Winter Teas.