Friday, 6 December 2019

Five Useful Herbs for Winter

Image by Marina Pershina
Article by Debs Cook
There are many herbs and spices that can be of benefit during the winter such as black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, echinacea, elderberries, garlic, marshmallow, turmeric and yarrow, all of which are excellent herbal ally’s when the winter months arrive. I’ll write about some of the above in more detail in the future, but for now I wanted to focus on five herbs that I recall my Nanna making use of in the winter.

We'll start with Eldeflower,  which are often considered to be highly effective in managing upper respiratory congestion and infections. Although these fragrant flowers are most often associated with summer cordials and soothing eye gels, they make a useful winter friend, and can be perfect for drying up a runny or blocked nose. The flowers contain flavonoids and small amounts of mucilage and tannins, a perfect combination for soothing, healing and protecting mucous membranes. Elderflower's are a key ingredient in the classic winter cold and flu blend and were often added to lotions and creams to help protect the skin from drying winds.We have a lovely recipe for making Elder & Lemon Thyme Throat Lozenges at the end of this article.

Next up we have Ginger which featured in one of my Nanna’s favourite cough treatments which involved mixing a pinch of ground ginger with a teaspoon of honey, it wasn’t for the children as the resulting medicine produced a burning sensation in the throat which was hard for children to deal with. The adults thought it was a worthwhile remedy because it helped treat the winter cough that accompanied colds and flu, I’ve come across another version of Nanna’s remedy which called for the pinch of ginger to be mixed with ¼ teaspoon of sugar, I guess a spoonful of sugar does help the medicine go down after all! In traditional Chinese medicine, hot ginger tea is taken at the first sign of a cold is believed to offer the possibility of averting the infection. It should be noted that some people can be allergic to ginger, if you are one of these people than avoid consuming ginger its consumption.

Rosemary has such universal uses, that I can easily understand why Nanna wouldn’t be without it, its antiviral, astringent, anti-inflammatory, diaphoretic, a stimulant, stomachic and has tonic properties make it a powerful winter ally. I use fresh and dried rosemary (depending what I have available) in steam inhalations to help unblock the nose and get you breathing easily again.

Rosemary has been valued for its stimulant, stomachic and tonic properties for centuries, in fact Robert James an 18th century physician and author of the ‘Pharmacopoeia universalis’ published in 1747, wrote that rosemary when made in to a conserve was an “excellent remedy in vertigoes arising from a cold cause, as also in cold distempers, in consequence whereof it is an excellent stomachic.” In “A Lyttle Herbal” published in 1550 the ability for rosemary to fight off infection was highlighted, this time as a vinegar the author wrote “Take the flower of rosemary and boyle them in fayre cleane water to the half and cole [cool] it, and drynke it for it is much worthe against the evyls of the body.” Rosemary was also an effective means of preventing infection and disease and was one of the ingredients added to Marseilles Vinegar which helped to prevent infection when the plague struck in France in the 17th century.

Sage is another universal herb, the name Salvia derives from the Latin 'salveo', which means to heal, my Nanna used sage's healing properties to great effect in winter, chickens were plastered with the leaves before roasting, leaves were chopped and made into stuffing’s, added to soups and stews and they went into liniments, syrups and gargles for sore throats. The anti-bacterial, antiseptic, astringent, carminative, stimulant and tonic properties makes sage an excellent herb to have on stand-by in the winter.

Nanna made a gargle for sore throats that contained sage, honey and lemon juice, if anybody complained of a sore throat they were given the gargle. Her sage gargle was where I first discovered that dried sage tasted better than fresh sage, something I still believe to this day, drying sage mellows the flavour making it less bitter and sharp to the taste buds. The volatile oils present in sage have an excellent antiseptic effect which can be of benefit to the upper respiratory tract and to help clear the throat and lungs of infection, and help to minimise congestion in other parts of the body. Sage can also help to stimulate the digestion, which is the real reason we have sage and onion stuffing when we eat fatty meats like pork.

Finally Thyme, the volatile oils in thyme are an effective antimicrobial which makes it an excellent way of easing respiratory infections. When you add thyme to food and home remedies it can also help to combat infections, it is wonderfully antiseptic, carminative, diaphoretic, disinfectant, expectorant, sedative and a tonic to the system, making it another useful herbal ally for winter. Thyme went in to the steam inhalations when the cold was on the chest as well as in the nose, it’s an excellent decongestant and was added to teas and soups, as grew older I came to favour using lemon thyme in teas as it has a much nicer flavour, and less bitter than thyme itself. my favourite cold cure recipe for Lemon Thyme Throat Soother can be found at the end of next weeks Herbs for making Winter Teas article.

Disclaimer: Whilst every effort has been made to source the most up to date and accurate information, we cannot guarantee that the remedies in our articles are effective, when in doubt, consult your GP or a qualified Medicinal Herbalist. Remember also that herbal remedies can be dangerous under certain circumstances therefore you should always seek medical advice before self-treating with a homemade remedy, especially if you are pregnant, breast feeding or suffer from any known illness which could be adversely affected by self-treatment.