by Joseph Nolan, medical herbalist
Cold and flu season is in its final stretch. Some people have been sick all winter, others have gone down with the odd sniffle or cough, and some have remained steadfastly hale and hearty since September. The season is, albeit slowly, on the move though and it's at this time of year that we begin to emerge, tentatively, from hibernation, blink, look around, and sometimes dive back in. But the movement has begun.
In order to stay healthy, or get healthy after a bout of roaring winter malady, we need to take advantage of a class of medicinal herbs called Adaptogens. As the name suggests, these herbs help improve the body's immunity, stemming the response mechanism, so that a person can cope with stress more effectively and reduce the toll it takes on body and mind.
Reputed to give the taker the strength of a stallion, this root has the wonderful dual action of improving strength and stamina whilst also improving sleep. It comes to us from India, where it is a highly prized Ayurvedic herb. We have included it in our Adaptogen Blend for its ability to improve sleep in the very stressed and exhausted, people who are often too tired to sleep.
Native to the far north coast of Scotland, as well as other parts of the far northern hemisphere, Rhodiola grows on rocky wind-blasted soil, where its tough roots go down between the stones and send up a strange and lovely plant, rather like a rose window. This plant improves stamina, gives the energy levels a boost and can help lift a low mood. You don't need much, just a bit for a nudge.
In Chinese, the berry is called “Five Flavour Fruit” because it has all the essential flavours - salty, sweet, pungent or spicy, sour, and bitter. Schisandra is somewhat stimulating and helps to allay fatigue, increase stamina and physical performance, and improve the mind and body's response to stress. It also helps to boost immunity and improve recovery times after surgical operations.
Siberian Ginseng Root
Native to the far north of Asia, this remedy comes to us via the trade routes. It is a gentle but deeply acting herb, priming an overburdened immune system and rebuilding a shattered one, slowly but persistently. It might be the perfect herb if you have had a rough winter, going down with every illness around and starting to feel seriously depleted.
Hawthorn is a small tree, familiar in parks and gardens as well as hedgerows. It is a traditional remedy for circulatory complains and powerfully supports the heart and circulation without raising blood pressure or increasing the heart rate. As an adaptogen, it works by optimising heart function and circulation. One might also say it lifts the heart!
This sweet yellowish root is an excellent tonic remedy for the adrenal glands, helping to support and improve the body's response to stress. It is wonderfully helpful when one has been suffering prolonged stress and is exhausted. Liquorice also helps to balance blood sugar, relieve inflammation and reduce heart burn. The sweet flavour covers the bitterness of other remedies and helps to round out taste in herbal teas.
Lemonbalm is a gently aromatic relative of the mint family and, as such, it works well for pains and spasms, bloating and flatulence. However, the fresh lemony scent has been found to improve brain function and memory, boost the mood and calm fidgety anxious people. The plant has an affinity for the aged and relieves agitation and irritability in people with dementia. Whilst it does not seem to have much of an effect on the memories of dementia patients directly, reducing agitation and depression helps people maximise the cognitive function they do have.
Skullcap is a particularly aromatic member of the mint family. It is relaxing, rather than sedating and, like Lemonbalm, improves the flow of blood and cerebrospinal fluid around the brain, which in turn improves cognitive function. It works marvellously to relieve anxiety and lift a low mood, and helps the mind to resist stress and cope better. Skullcap could in part be considered an adaptogen for the mind.
This striking plant, also known as Aaron's Rod and Candlewort and sometimes growing up to six feet high in a single season, has a large upright yellow and orange flower spike and large soft fluffy leaves. Oil infused with the leaves or flowers is traditional for ear problems and the leaves and flowers drunk in tea have been used for all manner of lung and respiratory problems from asthma to bronchitis, tuberculosis to emphysema. As an adaptogen, it supports and improves respiration, relieving irritation and soothing the surfaces of the lungs.