PUBLISHED: 12:14 06 July 2010 | UPDATED: 17:30 20 February 2013
Love summer but hate the hayfever, insect bites and stings? Don't worry, the solution is there in the herb garden or hedgerow, says our expert Ed Berger
Love summer but hate the hayfever, insect bites and stings? Dont worry, the solution is there in the herb garden or hedgerow, says our expert Ed Berger
The days are at their longest, the flora is at its most verdant and there is the prospect of a good few months of sun and warm weather ahead. What could be more perfect than spending time in the Suffolk countryside? However, whether ambling or rambling the countryside is not without some small dangers and irritations including hayfever, insect bites, cuts and grazes, strained or aching muscles. Fortunately nature provides excellent remedies for treatments in the field.
There are a number of herbs with a long history of use for helping reduce symptoms of sneezing, running nose and itching eyes. One of the best is elder, whose flowers fill the hedgerows in June and which were traditionally considered to herald the true start of summer. Containing astringent tannins which tone the mucous membranes of the upper respiratory tract, elderflowers are taken as an infusion of one teaspoon of herbs in just-boiled water three times daily. Ideally, elderflower should be taken for some weeks prior to the start of the hayfever season as a preventative, but some immediate relief can also be achieved.
Another important anti-allergy herb is nettle, which is best used fresh and made into a tea using around ten leaves per cup of just boiled water, taken three times daily. Yarrow leaves and chamomile flowers also have an anti-histamine like effect and can be taken as teas at the same dosage, but beware that some people are actually allergic to chamomile.
Insect bites and stings
Biting bugs are a regular annoyance in the countryside, however, a number of plants can be rubbed on to affected areas to help reduce symptoms of pain and itching. The best herbs in the field are plantain leaves, chamomile flowers and comfrey leaves, which should be rubbed between the palms to release the anti-inflammatory constituents, then applied on to the affected area. Once home your garden may provide some other useful remedies such as marigold flowers and lavender which can be used in the same way. The latter will also offer some protection against mosquitoes and midges if rubbed on to exposed skin.
Cuts and scrapes
Deep cuts and grazes, or wounds containing dirt or debris require medical attention, but clean superficial injuries can be helped using herbal first aid plants. Comfrey leaf and marigold flower promote rapid skin healing when applied as a wash. As an antiseptic and healer, yarrow leaves can also be used to great effect, indeed the Romans called it herba militaris and used it extensively for healing wounds. Flowering in June on or around Midsummers day, St Johns wort is another traditional healing herb with anti-inflammatory and pain-killing properties when applied externally. Its therapeutic properties also extend to treating burns if your countryside escapades involve campfires or cooking stoves.
Sprains, strains and aches
Comfrey leaf was previously called knit bone after its traditional use by bone setters for speeding the healing of bones, ligaments and tendons. The leaves can be rubbed between the palms and applied as a poultice to injured joints. For best effect, take a handful of leaves home and after a hot bath apply a poultice overnight. This is done by wrapping the herbs next to the affected area using cling film then bandage to avoid staining bed sheets. The wrapping should be firm enough to keep the herbs in place but not so tight that circulation is impeded.
For generally tired and aching muscles after a long day walking, herbalists recommend plants that are high in volatile oils such as rosemary, thyme and lavender. These can be rubbed directly on to affected areas or made into a herbal bath by hanging sprigs of fresh herbs under the hot tap of a running bath. The aromatic oils will improve circulation and have a wonderfully relaxing and reviving effect on a tired mind and body.
Dont take herbs if pregnant, breast feeding or if taking conventional medications without first speaking to your doctor or a qualified herbalist.
Ed Berger has been practising herbal medicine for 12 years and lives in near Woodbridge. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org