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Herbs to Support You This Winter

20th December 2017

In this post, our Senior Herbalist explores how use natural, herbal remedies to prevent and treat seasonal coughs and colds, to help shorten the duration and get you feeling better faster.

Why do we catch colds and when are we most likely to come down with one?

The peak season for colds and flu is December and January. Why? People are more likely to huddle together indoors. Viruses thrive in this environment and easily spread from person to person

We also all tend to crank the thermostat during the chillier months of the year, which means those nasty viruses are basically recirculating through your home and office.

Viruses also love cold and dry conditions. This helps them persist for longer and means that they can be more easily transmitted from person to person through ‘bioaerosols’ (which are essentially sneezes.)

There may also be a link between seasonal levels of Vitamin D and immunity, with lower levels of Vitamin D influencing a lower level of immunity.

Do people deal with coughs and colds differently?

In Ayurveda (the ancient Indian system of medicine), understanding your own personal health concerns is centered around recognizing your dosha, or constitution. Think of your dosha as being a little like your ‘health star sign’.

Understanding your dosha will help you to understand how your body works and, therefore, how you can help it.

There are three core Ayurvedic dosha, vata, pitta and kapha. We all have a little bit of all three, but there is often one that is more dominant. Each dosha deals with health in a different way.

Let’s see if you can recognise yourself in any of these. If not, then take our dosha quiz to find out:

  • The vata dosha often has a poor response to disease involving illnesses that linger, leaving the person feeling weak and tired. The constant battle can leave people feeling anxious and stressed.
  • The pitta dosha very rarely become ill. However, when they do it knocks them out. They will often be out of action for a couple of days. Pitta types hate not being able to be active and will sometimes continue to work when they should be resting.
  • The kapha dosha suffer mainly from congestion and mucous based coughs and colds with common symptoms like a runny nose and chesty coughs. Kapha types love an excuse to relax, so are the most likely dosha to take the time to rest and recover.

What herbs are best for seasonal wellness?

The herb that will suit you best is often dependent upon your dosha type.

Vata types benefit from herbs that will strengthen and tonify the immune system, building long-term resistance. Herbs like medicinal mushrooms can be particularly helpful, with ashwagandha building resistance and elderberry speeding up recovery times and protecting against further infection.

Pitta types suffer mostly from hot fevers and inflammation, in line with their ‘fiery’ temperament. To counteract this, they need herbs that will reduce the high levels of inflammation such as andrographis and echinacea.

Kapha types need help reducing the build-up of congestion and mucus. Stimulating anti-inflammatories such as ginger, turmeric and trikatu are perfect as they will help dissolve the excess mucus.

How do you naturally treat a cough and cold?

The best way to treat a cough and cold is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Stay away from people who are infected, ensure you are fully rested and include plenty of herbs in your diet that build long-term immunitysuch as medicinal mushrooms including reishi, and strengthening herbs like tulsi (holy basil) and ashwagandha.

If you start to feel those familiar signs of a cold - the runny nose, sneezing and headaches, turn to immune stimulants like elderberry and andrographis to help ward it off and also reduce the length of the cold.

To reduce runny noses, mucous coughs and headaches try stimulants such as ginger, turmeric and trikatu.

Pukka teas and supplements to try:

What’s the best way to get back on your feet after a cold?

Rest is crucial to aid recovery from a cold or flu. If you don't take time to recover, you risk coming down with the next bug and ending up taking more time out.

To support recovery, try immune strengthening plants such as reishi mushrooms to build up your weakened immune system.

Diet and lifestyle are also important here. This means avoiding food and drink that is going to put extra pressure on the body and/or be more difficult to process, taking energy away from re-building your immunity. So, avoiding processed, sugary and fatty foods is key and stimulants such as coffee and alcohol that could weaken our immunity.

The key take-away point here is that you must allow your body time to recover. If you can’t do this then make small changes to your diet to help support recovery and make sure you get a good night’s sleep where possible as this is the time where the body naturally undergoes repair.

Meet the author

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Katie Pande, Senior Herbal Advisor

Katie is a qualified Medical Herbalist, and member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists (NIMH), currently practicing in Shaftesbury. She holds a BSc (Hons) in Herbal Medicine and a BSc (Hons) in Plant and Environmental Biology.

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