Immunity and Herbal Medicine, simple remedies for complex times

It is such a challenging time and we are naturally concerned about the strength of our immune response. You may know that our immune system is incredibly complex and expansive, and many internal and external factors can influence its overall function.

Consequently, when I am treating immune-related conditions I consider it essential to take a thorough case history, chronicling significant events preceding the current situation, including any previous history of:

  • seasonal allergies
  • seasonal infections
  • immunity trends, i.e. where in the body do these infections happen
  • environmental load (home and work)
  • emotional health
  • travel

Disease can occur when the immune system is under-active or over-active. Immuno- deficiency, or an under-active immune system, can result in frequent infections like colds or the flu. We are constantly in contact with a wide variety of bacteria and viruses that can cause infection. The strength of our immune system makes the difference in those people who are sick all the time and those who seldom become unwell.

Prevention is Key

Nourishing and supporting our immune system during this time of year reduces our risk of falling victim to winter ailments. However, if we do become ill, the nourishment given can help our body get rid of an illness much faster.

The immune system doesn’t just help us fight off colds and flu, it also protects us from viruses such as chicken pox and mumps, and from harmful bacteria like e-coli and other forms of bacteria that can cause ear infections, meningitis and tonsillitis.

Our natural immunity is lowered by physical or emotional stress, overworking or overplaying, poor diet, toxins, smoking and drinking excess alcohol.

Protection

  • Healthy lifestyle
  • Take time to recover from daily stresses
  • Practise self-care
  • Eat a balanced diet (organic, plant-based, good oils, high quality protein)
  • Avoid sugar
  • Wash your hands with real soap before touching your nose, eyes etc. A healthy immune system can generally repel viruses, but this becomes more difficult if you carry them straight to your mucous membranes
  • If you have pre-existing conditions or are on any medication, consider seeing a medical herbalist to address any imbalances. Daily herbal tonics can go a long way in strengthening body and mind.

When illness does happen

  • Even with the best prevention strategies, illness happens
  • Get rest and use calming herbs such as chamomile, linden and valerian – choose these suited to your constitution. My personal favourites are skullcap and wood betony.
  • Create a healthy atmosphere with aromatherapy (lavender, lemon balm etc), but please never use essential oils internally.
  • Choose herbs such as elderberry and echinacea to treat the infection. Stronger herbs such as boneset can be prescribed when needed.
  • Use specific herbs and foods to help ease symptoms such as onion, garlic, thyme, sage, rosemary etc.

Recovery

  • Rebuild your vitality and prevent secondary illnesses
  • Don’t jump back into life too quickly once symptoms ease
  • Allow your body the time and support it needs in rebuilding your health.
  • The best way to prevent relapses or secondary illnesses is through adequate rest, suitable herbal treatment and healthful nutrition, as well as avoiding stressful events as much as possible.

Mild fever support

Our normal body temperature is around 37 degrees Celsius, but may be slightly higher or lower depending on the individual. Onset of fever is commonly due to the immune system’s response to a bacterial or viral infection, and in many cases resolves quickly without intervention.

Ways to manage a mild fever at home

  • keep well hydrated (water, electrolytes, herbal teas
  • keep comfortable with loose clothing and light layers of blankets
  • use common diaphoretic herbs such as yarrow, elderflower, mint, chamomile and linden.

Childhood and infant fevers

Children’s immune systems develop in response to common infections and the presence of a fever can be a normal aspect of this process. However, any fever in a child under 3 months of age should be assessed by a medical practitioner immediately.

Urgent medical advice should also be sought if a child under 12 months of age presents with a fever in order to determine the cause and provide appropriate treatment.

For more information and bookings, please do get in touch with me via kristine@thecraftyherbalist.org.uk.

Why consult a Medical Herbalist

Many people know about the healing properties of herbs and how to use them for simple, self-limiting complaints.  Doctors, pharmacists, health food shop assistants, gardeners, amateur experts, avid readers and those who have undertaken short-term study all might have a basic understanding of herbs and their individual actions in the body.

Most people with some knowledge of herbs can tell you that Echinacea is good for helping the immune system deal with colds, that Elderflower is anti-catarrhal and therefore helps with hay fever, and that Garlic has a reputation for helping just about everything! It is pretty well known that Sage is used for sore throats, that Thyme tea helps coughs and that Chamomile is soothing to the digestive system.

I frequently run talks, walks and workshops to make sure participants know what herbs are safe to pick from the wild, grow in our gardens and use in the kitchen for simple, self-limiting complaints. I enjoy showing people how to make herbal bath salts, loose-leaf teas, healing ointments, and lovely syrups and decoctions such as elderberry and rosehip syrup to make sure they get lots of immune support throughout the winter months. With each event, I hope to inspire and teach safe ways to use herbal medicine.

So, why the need to see a Medical Herbalist?

I am all for people using ‘herbal first aid’ and trying simple infusions and kitchen home remedies to see if that might help – as long as it is done safely, using quality products. I might even suggest you try it before booking an appointment, as long as it is a minor health issue.

However, consulting a Medical Herbalist takes your wellbeing and healthcare to the next level, and herbal medicine really comes into its own for more complex, long-standing and challenging medical conditions.

What makes a qualified Medical Herbalist different? 

Even though a have a family background of herbalism, I also studied at university level, and have a Batchelor of Science degree in Herbal Medicine. As part of this degree, I undertook more than 500 hours supervised clinical training and I assess my patients not just medically, but also holistically.

A medical herbalist is able to diagnose, which reflects our level of training. However, as our approach to treatment is quite different, the diagnosis is not always central to us. It is important to explore how the person came to develop the illness in the first place, the reason why they became unwell. It is also vital to have the medical knowledge, because as primary health care professionals we need to be able to spot any danger signs of serious undiagnosed conditions and refer on where necessary.

What am I doing in my consultations?

Firstly I take your basic details, date of birth, address etc. Then I ask you to talk to me about what you would like help with. I will ask lots of questions about your condition and past medical history, current medication, diet, lifestyle and I assess the workings of your body. I am looking for signs that inform me how well the different organs and systems are working to see what has gone wrong, where and why, so I know which areas to support to reduce the risk of the problem recurring after treatment.

Throughout the entire consultation, I am considering what I might want to include in your prescription. I will definitely be including things to help your symptoms, so if your digestion needs calming I might use chamomile, or something more appropriate with similar properties. I may use sage if you are having hot flushes, or thyme if you have a persistent cough.

But, this is only part of the picture. I am building a unique recipe for each person.  With in-depth knowledge and experience of therapeutic dose and individual need, I ensure you get the strength and quantity of each herb that is most likely to be of therapeutic benefit for you. This will be different for each person.

Then there are the ‘restorative’ herbs or adaptogens, aimed at targeting the body systems that might be contributing to maintaining the symptoms; your adrenal glands might have been overworked, your liver may be sluggish, you may have been producing abnormal levels of hormones or your nervous system may have been under stress. Any number of things may have contributed to your condition. Whilst writing out your herbal prescription, I am taking into account your medical history, any contra-indications for existing medical conditions and medications you might take from your GP – this is all an important part of a Medical Herbalist’s training.

A fundamental part of being a Medical Herbalist is to be able to assess a person ‘constitutionally’ and identify which herbs may, or may not, be right for them.

Most herbalists consider constitution vitally important.  All patients are different, some feel the cold, others run too hot; some put on weight easily whilst others remain slim regardless of what they eat. Constitutional, or traditional prescribing takes account of these tendencies when deciding how to treat and it is vital to understand this when putting together a prescription.  It is when addressing constitutional tendencies that herbal medicine prescribed by a Medical Herbalist is at its most successful – meaning the right herbs are used for the right person.

Do get in touch to find out more or to book an appointment via kristine@thecraftyherbalist.org.uk or call 07821 774286.