The winter is here and the months ahead will be cold and damp. We all need to guard against colds and chest infections and to keep warm says West Cork based herbalist Jacqueline Kilbryde.
There are many herbs, tried and tested over the centuries that are known to provide warmth and to enhance our immune resistance to infections. When imported fruits were a rarity, our native remedies providing Vitamin C were known and utilised.
One such is from the native Elder (Sambucus canadensis), which in the autumn months provides us with an abundance of berries rich in this Vitamin. In the past, these were picked and made into a delicious syrup and stored throughout the winter months. It is interesting that in the autumn, our hedgerows are filled with plants providing berries and fruits (Rose hips, Elderberries, Blackberries) all full of Vitamin C, necessary for use in the winter as an immune-stimulant. The expression ‘nature provides’ is appropriate and very relevant.
Again, it is important to identify the medicinal plant before picking anything. The berries of the Elder ripen around September and October (as the season for berries is now past, dried berries may also be used and are available from most wholefood stores).
Here is a recipe for a lovely syrup, which is an excellent winter tonic. It is pleasant to take.
6lbs of Ripe Elderberries
600ml (approx 1 pint) of water
Piece of ginger and stick of Cinnamon
Method: Put the ripe elderberries in a saucepan and cover with water. Add the piece of ginger and cinnamon (both of these spices are warming). Bring to the boil and lower the heat and simmer for approx 25 minutes. Take off the heat and have ready a bowl, strainer and muslin cloth. The muslin is fitted over the strainer, which is placed over the bowl. Pour the mixture into the strainer and leave to cool. When cooled, squeeze all the liquid out of the cooked berries into the bowl. To this warm mixture add honey…for every 500 ml of liquid add half the weight of honey, ie 250g. This preserves the elderberry liquid, which is bottled and stored in the fridge.
The dosage is 5ml 1x daily to prevent colds and infection and 5ml 3x a day in the presence of infection. The syrup is also excellent for coughs, promoting expectoration and dispelling phlegm.
Honey infused syrups
This is another simple and effective preparation made in readiness to combat those coughs in the winter months or indeed at any time of year. It is easy to take and especially great for children.
Take a bunch of fresh Thyme herb (Thymus vulgaris) and chop it finely. The flowers can be white but are usually mauve or purple. Put the chopped herb into a jar and press it down well. Pour good quality honey into the jar coating and covering the herb fully. Leave this to steep for at least two weeks. After the two weeks, strain the fluid through muslin into a bowl and bottle, and label. The therapeutic properties of the thyme will have infused into the honey imparting its taste and smell, as well as its medicinal quality. Thyme contains, among others, an essential oil, Thymol. This is excreted in the lungs producing and antiseptic action as well as expectoration, expelling and clearing phlegm.
Many medicinal herbs with expectorant and antiseptic actions can be made into syrups. Some examples include Mullein flowers, Fennel and Coltsfoot.
We have discussed two remedies and their method of preparation for the winter months. Both are useful for clearing coughs and phlegm and have been made into syrups. Another very popular herbal preparation is an Elixir. Both Thyme herb and Elderberries can be made into an elixir. It is very straightforward to prepare and has a much longer shelf life than that of a syrup.
Put ripe Elderberries into a jar. Pour honey over them, coating and covering well. Then pour in brandy or vodka to fill the jar completely. Leave in a dark place for up to four weeks. Always label your preparation with what has been used and the date it was made. After this time, strain through muslin into a clean glass jar and label once more. The colour of this Elixir is deep red to purple and it is delicious to take. The alcohol acts as a solvent, extracting all the benefit from the medicinal material being used and acts as a preservative, increasing the shelf life so that this preparation can be kept for a much longer period than an ordinary syrup. Dosage: Take 5ml 1x daily diluted in a small amount of water or 5ml 3x daily when a cold or cough is present.