When illness strikes you may need some herbal helpers

Flu is always a nasty business and it’s said the illness associated with Covid19 is similar in symptoms.  We know, of course, that it can be quite horrible for some and they will, rightly, be the ones who will require and receive medical treatment, or even hospitalisation.

For others the symptoms are reported as mild or not very pleasant. This group could be massive and will have to learn to rely on home treatments, with general medical advice available online.  Some herbal remedies can be very effective in soothing and alleviating the miseries of feeling ill, with a temperature, perhaps headaches and muscle pains, dry throat, and coughs. It’s an unpleasant vision.

What can be done?  The medics are suggesting paracetamol is the over-the-counter drug of choice; there is some evidence that ibuprofen can exacerbate corona virus, so keep away from that!

Drugs apart, let’s look to the garden and store cupboard.  There are many herbs with antiseptic properties: rosemary, thyme (used in Dettol – it’s strong stuff!), sage, lemon balm, peppermint, echinacea, lavender and bay leaves among them; caraway seeds, rowanberries, cayenne pepper, cloves and even that (to some) pesky achillea millefolium or yarrow can be added to that very useful antibacterial list. But use only two or three at any one time: there’s no need to complicate matters. 

Hot steam inhaling and tea

You can make a strong ‘tea’ simply by steeping fresh or dried leaves in hot water and use it to wash your hands or, indeed, to drink. 

Some advice has been that corona doesn’t like heat, so maybe a good steam of the bronchials might conquer some symptoms. In a mixing bowl, take a handful or so of any one or two from the list above, chop or tear roughtly, and pour on some boiling water. If you don't have fresh or dried herbs, you can use three or four drops of essential oils. Dangle your head over the bowl, covered with a towel, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. It's very effective! I've just tried four drops of basil oil in hot water: delightful to inhale deeply through the nostrils and mouth AND it fills the air with the most delicious aroma.

You could also try drinking hot herbal tea to prevent the germs getting into your windpipe: if they’re washed down to your stomach, your digestive juices will deal with them very efficiently. Single herb teas are excellent but there are some high functioning blends too. 

Although I can’t remember who gave this recipe to a very grateful me, for years I’ve been distributing to thankful friends and family the following mix made of six or seven (if you have all three herbs to hand) elements:

  • a handful of fresh or serving spoon of dried rosemary
  • a handful of fresh or serving spoon of dried thyme
  • a handful of fresh or serving spoon of dried sage
  • chopped ‘thumb’ of ginger
  • chopped clove or two of garlic
  • put in a jug (I used a cafetiere for easy separation of the liquid);
  • pour on a litre of boiling water and leave for ten minutes
  • add the juice of one or two lemons
  • add two dessertspoons of preferably raw/organic/local, honey.
  • Stir well and drink at regular intervals: it’s soothing and all-round helpful.

Throat soothers

You could make a throat spray to alleviate soreness or dryness. It’s simple.  James Wong, the ethnobotanist, suggests* an Echinacea Throat Spray: 3 cloves, 5 peppermint leaves, 5 sage leaves, 30ml echinacea tincture (from a health food shop or online). Pour the tincture over the herbs, cover and place somewhere dark and cool for a couple of weeks. The colour will change. Strain through muslin, squeezing out the liquid by hand. Filter into a sterilised spray bottle. Spray as often as needed.

Another of his sore throat remedies is to take a handful of fresh sage leaves, washed and dried off, put them in a small pan with enough honey to cover the leaves, heat slowly, cover and simmer for an hour. Remove from heat and allow to cool; when you can handle it (be careful!), strain the honey into a sterilised jar.  That’s it. Take 1 teaspoonful to soothe your throat or use it to sweeten and medicate hot lemon drinks.

Aching bones and muscles

If your bones and muscles are aching, or you find you can’t sleep properly, take a bath in good old- fashioned Epsom Salts, or magnesium sulphate. It’s cheap and absolutely amazing, and its effectiveness can be boosted by yet more useful herbs – ginger being a great addition, along with violet leaves, and a few drops of rosemary and basil essential oil. It smells gorgeous, eases your whole body until it feels so heavy it’s quite hard to think about getting out of that nice warm bath.  But do – and get some sleep. Bolstered by hard-working herbs, peaceful sleep will definitely give your body a great fighting chance against that awful flu.

Remember though: if you feel very unwell contact your GP by phone or NHS111 here:


* Grow Your Own Drugs, James Wong pub Collins (Harper Collins Publishers Ltd) 2009. ISBN 978-0-00784-548-4

Herbs – The Essential 21st Century Guide pub Rodale International Ltd., 200.6 ISBN-13 978-1-4050-9554-9; ISBN-10 1-4050-9554-7

The Royal Horticultural Society’s Encyclopedia of Herbs & Their Uses pub Dorling Kindersley 2002, ISBN 1-4053-0059-0