I don’t know about you but after yet another bout of the ubiquitous sore throat, cough and cold this winter (or is it just the same one and I never really got over it the first time round?), I’m reaching out for anything which might just boost my immune system or, at the very least, provide a little relief. A friend recommended mixing up a non-alcoholic ‘toddy’ of fresh ginger, lemon, honey, coconut oil and turmeric in hot water and while it didn’t prevent me going back down with the virus, it was incredibly soothing and surprisingly tasty. She also gave me a ‘woodland’ tincture she’d made which included St John’s wort, hawthorn leaves and berries, sloes, pine and rosehips and although I can’t pretend it was delicious, with a base of vodka it certainly wasn’t unpleasant and it got me thinking about other traditional remedies using natural ingredients.
We know that many prescription drugs are originally derived from natural sources and the World Health Organisation estimates that 80% of the population of some Asian and African countries use herbal medicine are part of their primary health care. We also know that there’s a long history of using plants as remedies although it’s worth remembering that until relatively recently these were the only ‘medicines’ available and just because they have been in existence for hundreds of years, doesn’t necessarily mean that they can be relied upon as effective treatments. Care should always be taken when self-medicating and medical advice sought for serious conditions. Nevertheless, interest in traditional remedies has increased as people have become more health conscious and more aware of the health benefits of natural ingredients and there is undoubtedly more to be learnt about the power of plants. Below is a selection of preparations and potions which are easy to make, using store-cupboard or common garden ingredients, and can be used as remedies for common complaints, not just in the winter season but throughout the year.
It is perhaps not very surprising that the hot concoction my friend suggested I drink was soothing. Honey and lemon have long been favoured as a cold and sore throat tonic and both turmeric and ginger are supposed to have anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric has also been in the news recently as a possible preventative for several human diseases, including Alzheimer’s, although studies are not yet conclusive. When you are feeling stuffy and bunged-up, you often don’t feel like drinking tea or coffee, particularly with milk which can clog rather than ease congestion, so drinking something ‘clean’ tasting is certainly preferable.
Another remedy for the common cold and a traditional ‘favourite’ is the vitamin C boosting Rosehip Syrup. Ripe in autumn, rosehips can be harvested from the hedgerows when you gather your blackberries and sloes. The syrup was advocated during the Second World War when the importation of fresh fruit was severely limited. The syrup is delicious mixed with water as a cordial or with stronger mixers as a cocktail!
Gather about 1kg of fresh rosehips. Crush them (a potato masher is good for this) or chop and add to about 2 litres of boiling water. Bring back to the boil and then remove from the heat and leave to steep for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour the mixture through muslin or a jelly bag and put aside the drained liquid. Repeat the process with the crushed rosehip pulp by adding a little more water to ensure you extract as much goodness as possible. Put both lots of strained liquid back into the pan and add 750g of granulated sugar for each litre of liquid you have. Bring to the boil for just a few minutes and then the syrup is ready to bottle. Some recipes suggest adding cinnamon and/or cloves to the syrup for extra flavour.
Ginger is widely reported to alleviate travel sickness and general queasiness. Try crystallising pieces of fresh ginger for ease of use. Chop or slice the ginger and boil gently in water until al dente. Drain and add an equal amount of caster sugar to the weight of drained ginger in a pan with a small amount of water (just enough to wet the sugar). Simmer until the mixture becomes syrupy and then reduce the heat until it starts to crystallise. Tip the ginger into a bowl of caster sugar to coat each piece. Store in a sterilised jar.
One of the easiest home remedies must be Peppermint Tea, allegedly good for digestion and symptoms of IBS. Simply steep peppermint leaves in hot water (not boiling) for at least 5 minutes. It is also said to lesson wind and heartburn.
If you suffer from Athlete’s Foot, try making a crushed garlic, salt and cider vinegar mixture to dilute in warm water and then soak your feet (avoid using on broken skin though as the mix will certainly sting!). A few drops of tea tree oil in warm water will act as a less potent anti-fungal alternative!
To improve your circulation and prevent cold toes, try massaging chilli and mustard oil into your feet. Chop fresh red chillis and mix with sunflower oil, grated fresh ginger, black pepper and mustard powder. Warm the mixture gently for half an hour in a bowl resting on a saucepan of simmering water (a bain-marie). Strain and store in a jar.
At this time of year, there is plenty of advice out there for beating the winter blues including making your environment brighter (either with artificial light or by simply sitting closer to the window and maximising the natural light in your house), keeping active and getting more exercise, particularly outside. We all know that a healthy diet will boost your mental well-being and give you more energy so make sure you balance your winter craving for carbs with plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
If all this fails to do the trick, chocolate seems to be the answer to many complaints and certainly enhances my mood!
And as for that winter cough and cold, it always seems to hit you when you stop and relax. Perhaps the remedy is to just keep going…
Next month, ‘free-from’ February. Gluten free, dairy free, sugar free etc.