DIY Remedies for Summer Ailments
A guest blog by herbalist, Joseph Nolan
The year's wheel turns in my Children’s Clinic, away from coughs, colds and winter eczema and towards allergies, hay fever and hot summer rashes. Fortunately, antidotes to such seasonal maladies are blooming all around and these common native plants are easy to identify as well as being safe, gentle and easy to use for both adults and children. Some of the most helpful include:
Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Stinging nettle, with its high protein and mineral content, is nature’s own anti-histamine, dampening down and helping to prevent hay fever attacks in children and adults. Nettle tea can be drunk freely, warm or cold, and overnight cold infusions of freshly picked leaves work wonderfully well. To collect your own nettle tops, head out with washing up gloves, a bag and a pair of scissors, find a patch out of the Dog Piddle Zone, unsprayed and away from busy roads (look along back walls in parks, old churchyards, bike paths and neglected garden corners) and take the top four to six leaves off each plant – and if flowers are coming then you can take those as well. You don’t need many plants to fill a carrier bag. Keep the leaves in a bag in the fridge if you plan to use them soon or dry them in the airing cupboard for later use. You can use the plants right up until they start to wither, yellow or mould - which is a surprisingly long time with freshly picked greens and makes you wonder how “old” supermarket veg actually is by the time you buy it! An overnight infusion of the leaves in cold water produces a rich green beverage full of the benefits and vitality of the plant and is great for seasonal allergies.
Elderflower (Sambucus nigra)
Just coming into bloom in the sunny spots about town, the elder tree is a living medicine chest. This time of year, the flowers offer their anti-allergic properties, strengthening beleaguered membranes in the eyes and respiratory system. By helping to reduce the itchy, gritty sensation and endless streaming of eyes and nose, they can allow us to properly enjoy this lovely time of the year. Elderflowers also taste wonderful and you can use them in teas, fruit salads and desserts (elderflower and gooseberry are a classic combination!) as well as cordials, lightly fermented “champagne”, cocktails for adults, and baths for babies and young children. The flowers work very well with nettle and a drop of chamomile in hay fever remedies being efficacious enough for adults and gentle enough for children. When harvesting, head out with a basket or bag and remove the whole inflorescence using the twist and snap method. A quick twist and snap where the flower head joins the branch will cleanly remove the flowers whilst causing minimal damage to the tree. Remember not to take too many off a single tree so as to leave flowers for insects, propagation and - of course - Autumn berries. When you get home, simply run the flowerheads through the tines of a fork to remove the individual flowers (ignore small pieces of twig) and, come Autumn, you can use the same method to harvest berries.
Chickweed (Stellaria media)
Visible as bright green carpeting in sunny and shady corners and virtually anywhere else protected from trampling feet, this is the time of year to see Chickweed’s heart-shaped leaves, topped by delicate little star-like flowers. The soft and succulent leaves can be used to make wonderfully soothing preparations for itching and inflamed skin conditions such as eczema and heat rash. Gently infuse Chickweed into a light, soothing oil over a gentle bain marie, taking care to ensure that all the water evaporates before storing your product. Use the oil straight on, in ointments, or to make your own homemade creams. Tincture the herb in your favourite spirit to preserve it for use later on or use it, fresh and green, in juices and smoothies. You can also infuse Chickweed fresh into tea for drinking or bathing sore skin or infuse it fresh into a litre of water for adding to an afflicted person’s bath. Adding oat water, which is made similarly to barely water, to a chickweed bath greatly increases its healing effects.
If foraging and gathering aren’t your thing, then store bought dried herbs will do very well in homemade remedies. You can also purchase summer tea blends, tinctures and soothing skin preparations from our shop. Pop in for a chat, some advice, or to share your success stories. We love to talk herbs!