More advice from Fiona Taylor, Horley’s very own Medical Herbalist on staying healthy through uncertain times
With the lifting or partial lifting of the ‘lockdown’ on the horizon there will potentially be more chance of coming into contact with the Covid-19 virus. The main reason for the lockdown was to ensure that the NHS had the capacity to treat those who need extra care. We have all been exhorted to help the NHS and one way to do this is, to quote a friend, to stay healthy!
If we are healthy, we are more able to withstand infection of all types. The gardeners among you will know that a healthy plant can withstand attack and bounce back while one that is weaker will fall prey to an assault. For a plant to be in perfect health it needs a good supply of nutrients, enough sunlight and water and shelter from too much stress be that wind, drought or too much rain.
We need the same things! Good nutrition, sunlight, water and shelter from excess stress, if we can give ourselves these things, we too will be healthy and better able to withstand viral infection.
How to achieve this perfect health is more elusive!
The following ideas are based on what I am doing, they are not intended to take the place of medical advice.
We are what we eat so a balanced diet of good quality protein (not
ready meals), carbohydrates from varying sources in moderate amounts with lots of varied vegetables, mushrooms, nuts, seeds and fruits. Add to these wild greens and you have a diverse selection of vitamins, minerals and trace elements needed for health.
Chickweed Stellaria media
Use dandelion leave, which taste like rocket but are free, cleavers, chickweed, wild garlic and plantain in salads. Add in the flowers of dandelion, violets, daisies, nasturtiums, and hawthorn and you have a colourful bowel of goodness. Stinging nettle can be cooked like spinach or added to any greens, only pick the young shoots. I add nettles, cleavers and plantain to all our cooked greens too.
To encourage good gut bacteria which is essential for the immune system add fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchee, kefir and live yoghurt. When you pick fruit or flowers from the garden or wild, if they are not dirty do not wash them, they have wild yeasts on their surface which is good for the immune system.
Love your liver! Bitter foods like Dandelion leaves help your liver which has over 500 functions including filtering all the blood coming from the digestive system, detoxifying chemical and metabolising drugs and supplying bile to the small intestines to break down fats. You can see why it is a good idea to keep your liver happy! Eating a bitter salad (rocket, dandelion) or taking a bitter mix just before eating a meal helps to get the digestive system ready for the food and this in turn helps complete digestion of a meal. Milk thistle, dandelion and burdock are all helpful to the liver.
As well as a good diet our immune system needs good hydration (not sugary drinks), plenty of sleep and limiting stimulants like alcohol sugar and caffeine, note ‘limiting’ not cutting out entirely! Too much restriction is a stress and self-defeating in caring for yourself. Our food and drink should be a source of pleasure which helps our emotional wellbeing, as well as nutrient value.
Use herbs such as ginger, cinnamon, garlic, star anis, sage, thyme, rosemary, cloves and nutmeg in your cooking. They are all anti-inflammatory, anti-viral (though not necessarily against Covid 19) and stimulate the circulation.
Try adding cinnamon to stewed apple or apple pie, Rhubarb and ginger (I use stem ginger preserved in syrup) is delicious. Make a light syrup with orange juice simmered with star anis and cinnamon to pour over sliced oranges and grapefruit and serve with ice cream, light and tasty.
Elderflowers Sambucus nigra
Elder flowers are just coming out so now is the time to take advantage of this wonderful anti-hay fever, anti-viral plant. I make a cordial which I freeze in plastic bottles just to enjoy all year round.
In the garden Lemon balm is coming up, this makes a lovely light infusion, it is anti-viral but also wonderfully calming for the nervous system.
The Hawthorn is glorious this year, the flowers picked and made into an infusion are relaxing to the nervous system and good for the heart.
There is enough new growth on lavender now to make an infusion or to put into cakes and biscuits. As I am sure you know lavender is calming and helps aid sleep. Just a note of caution if you are using lavender for sleep, lees is more, too much is stimulating!
St John’s wort will soon be in flower and can also be made into an infusion, it is anti-viral as well as being supportive for the nervous system. A note of caution St john’s wort is a very good liver stimulant and so can affect how some drugs are metabolised, do not take it if you are taking medication form your doctor or over the counter medicines this includes the birth control pill.
Any infusions can be left to cool and used as the water part to make up cordials or add to fruit juices, they do not have to be thought of as ‘medicine’, include weak infusions of flowers in your daily life.
Our adrenal system (the fight or flight reaction) has a direct effect on our immune system. Prolonged stress produces hormones that supress the immune system. 2020 has been one long stress and so our adrenals have taking a bashing! Herbs that can help to calm anxiety include lemon balm, lavender, chamomile, lime flower, hawthorn flower and borage. I make an infusion of chamomile, lemon balm, lime flower and oatmeal, sliced lemon and honey. Oats are wonderfully soothing to the nervous system and the mucus membranes which also form part of our immune defence, adding them to an infusion makes a drink like lemon barley water.
For most of us, the enforced social distancing or total lock-down has taken a toll on our mental health. Human beings are pack animals and need the reassurance of contact, solitary confinement is used as torture! Ways to help reduce stress are meditation, mindfulness, getting out in the fresh air and nature (plenty of evidence and websites on all these methods). I would add avoiding or limiting watching the news, remember bad news sells papers/TV channels. Reporters, at the moment, seem to contribute little to society except a constant stream of death toll, doom, gloom and blame, our wellbeing is not their priority filling 24 hours of news is. Social media can be as bad, try to find sites that are uplifting, that celebrate life.
My basic message is do what you can in a simple ordinary way to keep healthy, physically, mentally and emotionally help others where you are able and, often more difficult, accept help when you need it, then let the rest go.
Please remember that all these suggestions are to help your general health. If you have symptoms of Covid -19 or any other illness see your doctor.