Kitchen Pharmacy Part 1: cure yourself from your own pantry

Illnesses such as colds, flu, coughs, sore throats, sinusitis, and other respiratory illnesses have a peak incidence in winter. Mostly these are fairly mild, and are reasonably easily treated if you catch them early. So, since winter is just around the corner, I thought I would prepare you with some self help strategies! There are loads of beautiful immune herbs (in particular Echinacea and Andrographis) which can be extremely useful in some situations, as can the big immune nutrients, which I will talk more about next week in Part 2.

However, you might be surprised to learn that we have a wonderful artillery at our disposal that can be found in our own kitchens and gardens!

Allow me to introduce the following superstars: 
Garlic, Sage, Thyme, Onion, Lemon, Ginger and Herbal Teas.
Garlic is natures answer to antibiotics, only better. Antimicrobial, immune enhancing, antiviral, antifungal and antiparasitic! Whoa. Even more exciting, it has been found to display antibacterial activity against various multi-drug resistant strains of bacteria 1. And all wrapped up in a tidy little clove! Go Mother Nature!

The catch? You need to eat it raw, or as close to raw as you can, and ensure that it’s crushed or bruised to release the powerful chemical constituents (allicin and ajoene). You need to be aiming for at least 2 grams a day for these potent antimicrobial effects.

Try adding garlic to meals towards the end of your cooking time (or even better raw) if you want these benefits.

I love raw garlic, but if you struggle with it, try slicing it thinly and placing between two slices of apple, like a sandwich.

Another great method is to make up a garlic oxymel. Oxymels are liquid medicines used to improve the flavour of herbs and have a soothing effect on mucous membranes.

A garlic oxymel can be used for sore throats, colds, cough, flu and related symptoms. Take in frequent teaspoon doses as necessary.

Garlic Oxymel
Adapted from Herbal Manufacturing by Jenny Adams and Eleanor Tan
You will need:
30g (about 10 cloves) garlic, peeled and crushed
1 heaped tsp fennel seeds
1 heaped tsp caraway seeds
100ml apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons honey

Place seeds and vinegar in a small pot and gently warm for a few minutes, without boiling. Remove from heat, add honey and allow to cool just a little. Place the crushed garlic in a glass jar and add the warm honey mix. Steep. This mix really packs a punch, but it works!!

If you have some left over, no dramas, you have a ready made salad dressing!

Paul Pitchford suggests another method of putting half a peeled garlic clove in your mouth and holding it between your cheek and teeth for 20 minutes. Move it around every so often to avoid ‘burning’ the delicate mouth tissue. Do this every three hours on the day that you first notice any symptoms.

Teas
The body’s natural defence against these illnesses is to sweat. It is the most effective way to rid the body of pathogens. Use diaphoretic herbs to encourage this process such as yarrow, elderflower, chamomile and fresh ginger root. 

I like to make up an immuni-tea (ha!) whenever I feel a cold starting.

I use:
1-2 cloves raw crushed garlic
2-3 slices fresh ginger
The juice of 1/2 a lemon
A good pinch of cayenne pepper (also high in vitamin C)
One heaped teaspoon each of yarrow, elderflower and rosehips (again high in vitamin C)

Place all ingredients into a teapot and cover with boiling water. Allow to steep for at least 15 minutes. Add honey to taste and drink hot – add extra hot water to your cup if need be. Teas for this purpose are always best enjoyed hot, after a hot shower or bath, and rugged up nice and warm to encourage the sweating process. Be careful with this process in cases of severe weakness.

Onion Cough Syrup
Another lovely little remedy is this onion cough mix. Dice a brown onion and add a large spoon of honey.

Let the mix sit for a couple of hours and it will start to develop into a bit of a syrup.

Take teaspoons of the syrup as necessary for coughs. This is especially good for dry coughs, and is great with children.

Throat gargle
Add boiling water to fresh sage and thyme leaves and 1/4 of a lemon and steep for 10 minutes. Strain and gargle with the mix as necessary. You could also add a teaspoon of manuka honey for its antibacterial properties, but it’s really quite refreshing as is.

Inhalations
Inhalations are a great way to clear nasal congestion. Eucalyptus oil is particularly useful here. A nice combination might be 8-10 drops of Eucalyptus oil, 2-3 drops tea tree oil, and 1 drop of thyme oil into a bowl of steaming water. Place your head over the bowl and cover with a towel and breath in deeply – be careful not to hold your head too close if the water is still very hot. Another way is to add the oils to a vapouriser. 
For nasal congestion, neti pots can be a very useful way to clear mucus – check out the link.

I hope that this is a helpful list of ideas. Next time I will talk more about how to improve your immunity with food!

1 Braun and Cohen (2007) Herbs and Natural Supplements An Evidence-Based Guide, Churchill Livingstone, NSW, Australia