My daughter, Vayda, has always been interested in how the world works. She wants to be a scientist, more specifically a biologist. Recently, she’s been learning about food chains and how different organisms interact with each other and provide for each other.
If you ask me, plants are the mages of the living world. Photosynthesis — using energy from sunlight to synthesize usable energy for all living things — is absolutely amazing. It’s a scientific process, but it’s also pretty magical.
Plants are the beginning of every food chain because they are producers. They provide a source of sustenance that all living things need to survive. They also generate oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis. Not only do they provide the energy we need, but they also provide the air we breathe. Furthermore, they absorb carbon dioxide, and in an ever-warming world where too much carbon dioxide contributes to a number of environmental problems that’s invaluable.
It seems there are no limits to the ways plants benefit and support life on earth. When you consider all the amazing things plants do on a base level, it’s mind-blowing to consider all of their specific uses when looking at individual species.
Herbs that relieve cold and flu symptoms
Some herbs are naturally suited to relieving cold and flu symptoms such as coughs, sore throats and congestion. In fact, the use of catnip, cayenne, echinacea, garlic, ginger, peppermint, rosemary, thyme and yarrow dates back centuries to many different cultures across the world.
Symptoms treated. Catnip promotes rest, improves digestion, calms and soothes stomach upset, stimulates appetite and contains antiseptic properties.
Origins. People started using catnip as a medicinal herb at least as early as 1735 as the use of catnip leaves and flowers in herbal teas were documented in the General Irish Herbal.
How to use it. Use 1-2 teaspoons of catnip per cup of water to make tea. Put the catnip in a tea infuser and pour boiling water over it. Cover the mixture and allow it to steep for 15-20 minutes.
Symptoms treated. Cayenne is used to enhance circulation, increase appetite, aid digestion, improve energy levels, clear sinuses, induce skin-cooling sweats in hot conditions and warm up in cold conditions. It can also be used topically as a counterirritant, bringing blood to the surface of the skin to relieve arthritis.
Origins. Cayenne Pepper originated in the city of Cayenne, the capital of French Guiana — the city for which it is named. It was first cultivated in Mexico over 7,000 years ago and in Peru over 4,000 years ago. Christopher Columbus introduced it to Europe in the 1400s. Today, it’s grown in India, East Africa, Mexico and the United States.
How to use it. Because cayenne can give some people heartburn, it should be added into a diet a pinch at a time. For someone who is used to cayenne pepper or doesn’t suffer from digestive upset, it can be mixed into tomato juice to relieve cold symptoms. Use ¼ to ½ teaspoon of dried cayenne per pint of tomato juice. Only drink ½ to 1 cup at a time and refrigerate the rest.
Symptoms treated. Echinacea is commonly used to combat infections from both viruses and bacteria, boost immunity and can be applied topically to as a treatment for hard-to-heal wounds.
Origins. Although it is one the more widely-recognized and used medicinal herbs on the list, the history of Echinacea’s use is relatively short. Its origins trace to the indigenous Indian tribes of North America. The first archaeological evidence dates from the 18th century.
How to use it. Typically, echinacea’s root is used to prepare ointments, tonics or teas, but the aerial part of the plant has also successfully been used in some preparations. Because echinacea’s active ingredients aren’t water-soluble, preparing a tincture is recommended as the best way to reap its benefits.
- ¾ cup 80 to 100 proof vodka
- ¾ cup distilled water
- 1 ½ ounces chopped echinacea root
- Mix alcohol with water in a jar with a tight-fitting lid.
- Add echinacea root.
- Use a knife or chopstick to release trapped air bubbles along the edge of the jar.
- Put the lid on and store the jar in a cool dark place for 2 weeks.
- Shake the mixture daily.
- Strain the mixture into another jar with a tight-fitting lid, removing the chopped root completely. Do this quickly and replace the lid, so the alcohol doesn’t evaporate.
- Label and store the tincture in a cool, dark location. It can be used for up to 5 years.
- At the first sign of cold or flu, take 30 drops of the tincture every 3 hours for two days.
Symptoms treated. Garlic is used to combat bacteria, viruses and parasites. It also has many benefits for the cardiovascular system, helping to reduce blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
Origins. Garlic is one of the oldest-known cultivated herbs. Some records suggest that garlic was grown in China as far back as 4000 years ago. Although it only grows wild in central Asia, garlic has been used throughout history by many cultures. The Egyptians believed it prevented illness and promoted strength and endurance. Greek athletes ate it before competition and Greek soldiers ate it before battle. Roman soldiers were also known to carry it with them into battle.
How to use it. The best way to use garlic is by eating it or crushing or cutting cloves into foods. The recommended dose is two cloves a day to benefit from its medicinal properties.
Symptoms treated. Ginger is best known for its effect on the digestive tract and its ability to calm upset stomachs, relieve nausea and indigestion, stimulate the digestive tract and aid in digestion. However, it can also be used topically as a counter-irritant, it has been known to increase circulation and alleviate cold and flu symptoms by clearing sinuses and inducing perspiration for fevers.
Origins. Ginger was first used in ancient cultures in southern China and spread throughout the Indo-Pacific and India as far back as 3050 B.C. It was one of the first spices to be exported from Asia.
How to use it. Ginger is commonly available in teas and other beverages that promote digestive health or calm upset stomachs. However, like garlic, it can also be used fresh for similar relief. Add a tablespoon to your favorite stir fry or grate some ginger root into a salad and benefit from its properties.
Symptoms treated. Peppermint is used to treat a variety of digestive tract ailments. It relieves gas and stomach cramping, encourages bile production to aid in digestion and helps decrease nausea and vomiting. It can also be used to induce sweating and clam and encourage wakefulness when ingested. Topically, it can relieve pain, relax muscles and relieve itching and achy muscles. Additionally, peppermint has antiseptic properties.
Origins. Peppermint was first cultivated in England in the late 1600s. However, it has been used to treat indigestion since ancient Egyptian times, dating back to 1000 B.C. Peppermint is a natural hyrbid of spearmint and water mint and has been used throughout history by the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, early Christians, Medieval Europeans and North American colonists.
How to use it. Peppermint is typically consumed as a tea to treat digestive problems. Steep 1 tablespoon of fresh chopped peppermint or 1 teaspoon of dried peppermint in 1 cup of boiling water for 10-20 minutes. Cover the tea while it steeps.
Symptoms treated. Rosemary has been used medicinally to help alleviate muscle pain, improve memory, boost the immune and circulatory systems and promote hair growth.
Origins. Rosemary is native to the dry, rocky areas of the Mediterranean and has been used since the time of the early Greeks and Romans, who believed it improved their memory. It was later used in Medieval households to ward off evil spirits and during the Middle Ages in sick chambers to purify the air. Because of its antioxidant properties, the herb was also used in food preservation before refrigeration.
How to use it. Rosemary can be used to relieve tired achy muscles in a bath or foot bath by preparing an infusion of 1 cup of dried rosemary and 2 quarts of boiling water. Pour boiling water over rosemary, cover it and let it steep for 10 minutes to prepare the infusion. When it’s done steeping, strain the rosemary out and add it to a warm bath or foot bath.
Symptoms treated. Throughout history, thyme has been used to treat a wide range of ailments, including colic, melancholia, sore throat, insomnia, nightmares, hangovers and alcohol addiction. It is commonly used to treat coughs, colds, sore throats and congestion. It has carminative, antimicrobial, antispasmodic, expectorant, stimulant, relaxant, astringent and antiseptic properties.
Origins. Thyme is native to the Mediterranean and is believed to have first been cultivated there. Egyptians used the herb for embalming. It was burned as incense in ancient Greek temples and considered prized for its highly medicinal properties. In ancient Rome, it was burned as a deodorizer and Roman soldiers bathed in it for vigor. In more modern times, thyme was used during World War I to treat wounds because of its antiseptic properties.
How to use it. You can prepare thyme as a tea by steeping 1 tablespoon of fresh chopped thyme or 1 teaspoon of dried thyme in 1 cup of boiling water for 10-20 minutes. Cover the tea while it steeps. Add honey to increase effectiveness before consuming. You can also prepare thyme-infused honey to relieve cold symptoms.
- 1 cup honey
- ½ cup fresh thyme or ¼ cup dried thyme
- Combine ingredients in a saucepan and heat over low heat for 15-20 minutes, taking care that honey does not boil or burn.
- Remove pan from heat and allow to cool.
- Strain out thyme.
- Store honey in a labeled bottle.
- Take 1 teaspoon of thyme-infused honey three times a day to relieve symptoms of coughs, colds and sore throats.
Symptoms treated. Yarrow is traditionally used to treat wounds with the ability to lower blood pressure, reduce swelling and inflammation, fight infection and stop bleeding. It also has diaphoretic properties, which have been helpful in combating fevers.
Origins. Yarrow’s origins date back to ancient Greece. It is said to be named for the hero Achilles, who is believed to have used it in battle to treat his wounded soldiers. The herb proved to be such a popular and effective wound treatment in ancient Greece that it was continued to be used into the mid-19th century, namely by field doctors during the American Civil War. Native Americans were also known to use yarrow to stop bleeding and promote wound healing.
How to use it. Crush a clean leaf or two of yarrow and apply it to a minor cut or scrape that is bleeding to reduce risks of infection and encourage healing. Yarrow can also be used to treat fevers by making an infusion consisting of 1 cup of boiling water to 1 teaspoon dried yarrow or 2 teaspoons fresh yarrow. Pour boiling water over the yarrow and steep for 10-20 minutes. Then sip the infusion slowly. Don’t drink more than 3 cups of the infusion a day.
The number one thing to remember when using herbs to treat ailments is that they interact with your body in the same way that modern medicines do.
If you are allergic to a member of the daisy family, you shouldn’t consume yarrow. The same can be said for echinacea if you have a sunflower allergy.
Long-term use of herbs can also affect the way your body absorbs iron and other minerals. If you suffer from anemia, you should be careful ingesting peppermint and yarrow.
If you have any pre-existing medical conditions, are pregnant or nursing or under the age of 18, you should check with your doctor before using herbs to treat your cold and flu symptoms.
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