Each winter we all hope to make it through winter minus the constantly streaming nose, the irritation cough disturbing our nights, the head full of cement. Unfortunately, bugs have a number of factors on their side. Viruses aren’t just airborne. They can live for up to 3 days on things like escalator handrails, door handles, coffee cups, drinking glasses and plastic surfaces. No wonder they can be so hard to avoid. The virus will then dock on epithelial cells in the nasal cavity and replicate, sparking the unpleasant cold/flu symptoms. Even if we escape the viral infection route, there are bacteria out there seeking a landing site on our hapless mucous membranes.
On the plus side, we have Echinacea to relieve the symptoms of colds and flu, as well as upper respiratory tract infections. It is one of our most popular herbs, used by countless people both in the UK and in many parts of Europe and North America. Three species are used medicinally – Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea pallida but it is Echinacea purpurea that carries the most credibility in the form of solid research evidence. Echinacea purpurea has been shown to work by improving the immune response to any potential bug, making it less likely that you’ll fall prey to any kind of infection, from colds to flu and throat or chest infections.
On average, adults can expect to get 2 or 3 colds a year and each can last up to a week so if you are prone to catching colds or flu, it’s important to have a supply of good quality Echinacea drops or tablets to hand in preparation for the cold season. Taking Echinacea regularly between October and the beginning of February means that your immune system will be on the alert, ready to deal with the miseries of colds and flu during the winter months. If however you have already caught a bug, Echinacea will help speed up your recovery time.
But even if you manage to stay cold free, the long nights of winter, together with cloudy skies have still to be faced. During these months the body is not exposed to as much sunlight causing the brain to release smaller amounts of ‘happy chemical’ leading to a feeling of low mood or slight depression. This is borne out by the fact that in the Northern hemisphere this problem becomes worse during the winter and increasingly so the further North you go. Research has shown that St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), often referred to as the ‘sunshine herb’, does indeed lift the mood of people suffering from low mood or mild depression. Hypericum tincture is an excellent way to take this herb, as it absorbs easily into the bloodstream without having to be broken down in the gut (an important point for people who have less than ideal digestion).
During the cold or damp weather it is very important to keep joints warm. The cooler, damper weather of winter can result in the reappearance of aches and pains which have lain dormant during the summer. Gentle exercise will soon stop you from seizing up, but don’t try anything that puts too much pressure on joints. Swimming, gentle walking and beginner’s yoga or T’ai Chi are good options, if you take them slowly. Arnica has been recognised as a medicinal plant since the 16th century and has a special place in homoeopathic medicine. Its most popular use is a remedy for bruising. When used as a herbal remedy, however, arnica has excellent anti-inflammatory properties which may prove of benefit should you have the misfortunate to slip or fall due to icy conditions and suffer sprained or strained joints as well as other tissue injuries. Research has shown that Arnica gel is just as effective as ibuprofen gel and as a result many people like to keep a tube of this popular herbal remedy to hand, not only for use during the winter, but for all times of the year.
Guest Post by A Vogel