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This month we are going to focus on two very important herbs.


Echinacea (Echinacea augustifolia/purpurea)

So much has been written about this herb over the last ten years or so that many people are now familiar with its properties, indeed this is the time of year when people start to stock up on this herb as now marks the start of the cold and flu virus season.

Echinacea owes its name to the Greek word 'Echinos' meaning sea urchin, of which the dried seed head of the plant resembles. The two most commonly used varieties are the augustifolia and the purpurea as they have the strongest medicinal properties.

Echinacea is native to North America where it has a long tradition as a treatment for blood poisoning and snakebites. The victim would have chewed the roots and leaves of the plant swallowing the juice which would then start to work systemically within the body. The masticated plant was then spat out and applied as a poultice directly to the site of the bite.

For those interested in the science bit here, snake venom contains a substance called hyaluronidase, this substance acts as a carrier for other dangerous components within the venom and allows them to permeate the system. Echinacea works by inhibiting this component and therefore inactivating this process.

In the unlikely event of anyone in this country being bitten by a venomous snake we would quite rightly get ourselves to the nearest A & E department. That said Echinacea is an extremely useful herb for treating and preventing a host of viral and bacterial conditions.

Echinacea's main action is its various effects on the immune system, in fact it is impossible to fully appreciate its effects without having a good understanding of the immune system and how it functions.

Overall, Echinacea stimulates the immune response mechanisms within our bodies to produce and circulate more white blood cells (these cells being responsible for fighting infection).

Echinacea is used in the treatment of flu and other upper respiratory viruses; it is also very effective against Herpes virus as well as stomach bugs and urinary tract infections.

As it is such a powerful blood cleanser it is also active against bacterial infections and even septicaemia (blood poisoning).

It is useful in many skin conditions especially where there is infection, such as boils, abscesses, and ulcers.

It is also very soothing on burns and irritated eczema.

Echinacea's soothing properties are in part owing to its cortisone like effects of reducing inflammation, it also promotes tissue healing. Echinacea may be taken as a tincture, tablet or tea, it may also be applies to the skin as a crème or balm. Echinacea baths are lovely and soothing for those with skin problems or if you feel like you may be 'coming down with something'. Echinacea is also shown to be effective against Candida Albicans which is a fungal infection.

Echinacea combined with Elderflowers and Peppermint makes a wonderful cold remedy, makes an especially nice tea and you could also ad some ginger to this mix to warm the body and help circulation.

Thyme (Thymus Vulgaris)

We all know this one, perhaps more in a culinary sense than a medical one. This incredibly important herb has a rich history of use and tradition throughout the ancient world.

Thyme comes from the Greek word thyein meaning 'to smoke', this was because it was used to make incense probably for its insecticide properties rather than for its perfume.

The ancient Egyptians used it in the embalming process of their mummies, the Romans were said to sleep on beds of it to ward off melancholy. In Europe it was used in times of plague as a strewing herb.

Thyme contains a substance called thymol which is a powerful antiseptic; it is used to medicate surgical gauzes and dressings. It is also used in deodorants. Thymol resembles carbolic acid in its actions.

As said before Thyme is a powerful antiseptic, whether taken as a tea or tincture internally, used topically as a crème or inhaled as an oil (Thyme oil can be toxic in overdose, do not use the pure oil internally for any reason).

A lovely way to enjoy the benefits is to use it in the bath, it stimulates circulation and is good for chills and lethargy, its strong aromatic aroma is especially good for bronchitis, pleurisy, coughs and colds, and pneumonia, it helps shift phlegm owing to its expectorant properties.

Culpepper describes it as a 'notable strengthener of the lungs'. Another important respiratory property of thyme is its use as a bronchodilator making an excellent addition to asthma medicine; it also has a long tradition of being used for whooping cough in children.

Thymes antiseptic properties can also be made use of in gastroenteritis and other 'tummy bugs', as well as fighting the infection it also helps to restore and encourage the growth of healthy gut flora (as found in natural yoghurt). Thyme is also valuable for easing colic associated with Irritable bowel syndrome; peppermint can be added in this case.

Many urinary tract infections can be treated with Thyme, although you should get advice from your GP or herbalist in this instance as these kinds of infections may need investigation and to be kept a check on.

Thyme also has a local anaesthetic effect so it can be used as a crème or balm externally for rheumatic conditions, arthritis, and aching muscles. This anaesthetic effect, teamed with its antiseptic properties, make it a great gargle for sore throats and as a douche for thrush.

Around the house Thyme can be mixed with dried lavender flowers to preserve linen from moths, hung in bunches around the house it wards of most insects.

These two herbs deserve presence in all medicine cabinets, they are wonderful combined together.

A tincture or tea of these two herbs is a great way to kick start your immune system in dealing with the cold winter months ahead

See you next month.

With Love
Resident Medicinal Herbalist

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