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Herbs for health: Boost your defences

PUBLISHED: 16:18 21 February 2011 | UPDATED: 18:54 20 February 2013

Herbs for health: Boost your defences

Herbs for health: Boost your defences

Ed Berger on herbs to keep your immune system in good working order

Ed Berger on herbs to keep your immune system in good working order




With increasing concern about the returning swine flu virus, and innumerable bugs lurking in the work and school place each winter, what does natural medicine have to offer to help maintain a healthy immune response?
According to herbal medicine, viruses can only affect us when our defences are weakened, hence the traditional approach of taking herbs to maintain our vitality and strength throughout the winter. In general terms, warming and drying spices are recommended to counteract the coldness of the season such as cinnamon, mustard, pepper, and the Mediterranean herbs thyme and rosemary, all of which are also excellent for the respiratory system the initial entry point for most bacteria and viruses.
Not only does regular intake of these herbs help improve our resistance, they are also useful treatments for colds, flu and coughs. This is because they have decongesting, expectorant properties and their warming qualities raise our body temperature and help induce a sweat. The herbal name for promoting a sweat is 'diaphoresis' which both weakens pathogenic organisms and increases the activity of white blood cells.
At the outset of an illness, the traditional advice is to have a hot bath, wrap up in bed and drink a large mug of piping hot herbal tea. The ensuing sweat is termed breaking the fever and is considered to promote a more rapid and full recovery. Traditional blends used for this purpose include ginger and cinnamon, if the patient is feeling cold and shivery, or elderflower and peppermint if the patient is feeling hot, at a dose of 1 teaspoon of the blend per cup of hot water. For children it is best to use the gentler peppermint and elderflower at a dose of to teaspoon of blend per cup.
Another way of taking warming herbs is in hot soups and stews, which are excellent therapeutic foods if you are suffering from colds, coughs or congestion during the cold Suffolk winter. Such medicinal stews are common throughout the world, for instance in China a therapeutic dish called congee is prepared by boiling tonic herbs with rice, whilst in India, rice and lentils are cooked with spice blends to make a therapeutic stew called kitcheree. In fact, a spicy Indian or Thai curry is just what the doctor ordered if you are feeling under the weather. You can also boost your defences at breakfast by adding a warming spice such as cinnamon to your porridge.
Scientific research has confirmed the benefit of other herbs for helping to fight winter bugs. Echinacea increases the number and activity of white blood cells so helping to shorten the severity and duration of infections, especially of upper respiratory tract. It should be taken as directed on product labels at the first sign of illness and ceased as soon as you feel better.


Ed Berger has been practising herbal medicine and naturopathy for 12 years. He also teaches herbal medicine for the College of Naturopathic Medicine and is a keen plantsman. To discuss any aspect of herbal medicine including herb walks, herbal garden design or to arrange a consultation please contact Ed on 07931 797148 or info@edberger.co.uk

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