Nature’s Helping Hand
Once upon a time ‘cold & flu season’ was tightly confined within the winter window, and transitional weeks before and aft. It’s the clash of a stuffy, artificially warmed indoor environment with the ambient cold outside that traditionally wreaks havoc in those bodily airways trying to make sense of things.
In recent years ‘the season’ has become increasingly unpredictable, with random outbreaks reaching into all manner of weather and demographic. Some make good argument that atmospheric contaminants, our contemporary lifestyle and even pharmaceuticals are largely to blame. Either way, winter still ranks highest in sniffle casualty, and this year could be a record breaker.
In my childhood, colds and flus were just part of life, and not necessarily a bad thing. It was considered a yearly housecleaning of sorts, and most agreed that one felt curiously healthier and lighter after the mucus membranes did their yearly up-chuck. Most important, we had full access to the most phenomenal and economical pharmacopeia imaginable, the garden!
It’s never too late to find some measure of relief, and those more prepared can often stop symptoms dead in their tracks with the use of medicinal herbs and just a bit of folk know-how. Herbs are easy to grow, indoors, outdoors, in the ground, or in containers these plant helpers just seem to thrive. Self-nurturing with home-grown is the perfect combination to empower both body and spirit!
Here are the long-standing favorites that do well in our northwest coastal climate:
Garden Thyme – thymus vulgaris
Thyme has a long and varied history in its uses. A native to southern Europe, it is widely cultivated in North America and is a perennial growing up to 15 inches tall. It prefers a warm sunny location with well-drained soil.
The plant’s essential oil contains a powerful disinfectant called thymol, which is effective against bacteria and fungi. Thymol acts as an expectorant, loosening phlegm in the respiratory tract, with eventual relief from coughing. Thyme leaves and/or thyme oil can be added to hot water (bath or bowl) making a soothing steam to loosen mucus in the chest upon inhalation. Thyme Tea is an additional way to enjoy its therapeutic properties; brew 2 teaspoons of fresh thyme leaves in a cup of hot boiling water for 10 minutes, and drink.
Mint – Mentha
The mint family is a complex plant group containing more than 25 species and a multitude of varieties and hybrids. A perennial loving rich, moist soil, it’s a garden must to have these pungent, fresh leaves readily available. It does tend to spread, so if space is a consideration growing in a container is advised. The best-known species in North America are peppermint and spearmint, both highly valued for a large variety of uses. Peppermint’s oil, which contains menthol, helps relieve sinus, nasal and chest congestion. As with thyme, the leaves can be used fresh or dried, as a tea or a vapor.
Purple coneflower – Echinacea
Echinacea is a North American native growing from Texas to Saskatchewan. As a furry (hairy) perennial herb it grows to about 2 feet tall. Flowering in mid to late summer it prefers fertile, well drained, moisture retentive soil, and a sun/partial shade location.
Echinacea has been an important medicinal herb throughout the centuries. At one time it was considered ‘the best kept secret’ among native Plains Indian tribes. Not only is it a lovely addition to the garden but it also attracts bees.
Its strength is the boosting of the body’s immune system and its natural antibiotic properties. The key is to begin taking Echinacea as a preventative measure in order to avoid illness. Once the flowers have bloomed, begin harvesting and hanging buds and leaves in a dry warm part of the home or hang in a shed. Cover the plant with cheesecloth to protect from dust or bugs. As the flowers dry, store in an airtight container. They will then be ready for brewing into a tea. Drink 2-4 cups daily prior to the real onset of winter as a preventative from colds and flu.
Rosemary – rosmarinus officinalis
Rosemary has a fascinating history, with a myriad of uses associated with its cultivation throughout the centuries. Native to the Mediterranean area, this hardy, perennial, shrubby herb can grow 2-4 feet in height and width. It grows well in a full sun location and in well-drained soil. Its dark needle-like leathery leaves are green above and silver below. In ancient Greece it became a symbol of remembrance, as it was used to strengthen memory. Today it is largely popular as a culinary herb, while its fragrant leaves are loaded with antioxidants to include vitamins A, C, D, E and K. Rosemary has powerful antiseptic properties to lend relief for chest and nasal congestion.
True to many healing herbs, the fresh leaves of the rosemary plant can be used as a tea, or steam aerosole for relief of symptoms. Combined with thyme, these 2 herbs make a wonderful broth for a medicinal boost.
Two other simple, but powerful options are worth mention to further bolster the innate healing capabilities of the body, while potentiating the effects of the herbs in your garden’s medicine chest.
Fresh Lemon Juice – High in vitamin C, phyto-nutrients and astringent qualities, freshly squeezed lemon juice in a glass of water will also adjust the pH of your body to a healthier state; although acidic itself, once inside your body it triggers a cascading chemical reaction for a more alkaline environment. Drink a glass first thing in the morning for a thorough flushing effect on the liver, the body’s largest organ of filtration. An acidic chemistry, and congested liver will position you first in-line for cold and flu recipients … you don’t want to be there!
Raw Honey – Raw local honey (not heated) is antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antiseptic. Unlike the commercial counterpart, raw, unfiltered, unheated honey is a treasure trove of nutrition and phyto-elements. A tablespoon of raw apple cider vinegar and raw honey each is a potent combination to combat respiratory infections, or as a daily health aid.
Raw honey is a wonderful enhancement for your warm lemon juice and/or the herbal teas. Used topically for centuries to help heal wounds, burns, and ulcerations, it has recently enjoyed a clinical resurgence for both internal and topical conditions.
An old axiom within Naturopathic circles is that health follows attitude. The pro-active gardening lifestyle will ‘unearth’ all the healing attributes that Nature has conveniently placed well within your reach. Approach this winter, or any other time of year for that matter, with an expectation of health, rather than waiting for the other microbial shoe to drop.
Herbalism is based on relationship – Relationship between plant and human,
plant and planet, human and planet. Using herbs in the healing process means
Taking part in an ecological cycle
~ Wendell Berry
Deborah Lando writes the weekly gardening column for the Triplicate, a daily newspaper serving the northern California-southern Oregon coastal region. As a longtime nursery owner, and overseer of Alfa Vedic Botanical Gardens, Deborah still finds time to teach gardening classes from basics to master level, and shares her substantial knowledge in organic gardening practices and garden Feng Shui.