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Herbal Healing Week - The Respiratory System

Tuesday, 18 January 2005

Nicky Treacy - Medical Herbalist
Nicky will tell us what herbal medicine is and what she does as a medical herbalist.

Nicky has been practicing as a medical herbalist since 1999.  She became interested herbal medicine as she wanted to explore alternatives to conventional medicine especially in the scientific, spiritual and holistic benefits of herbs.  The study and practice of herbal medicine dates back thousands of years.  Nicky recommends two textbooks on the subject.

"The Complete Illustrated Guide to the Holistic Herbal:  A Safe & Practical Guide to Making & Using Herbal Remedies" by David Hoffman is published by Element Books.  ISBN 1852307587.
"Encyclopaedia of Medicinal Plants" by Andrew Chevallier is published by Dorling Kindersley.  ISBN 0789410672.

The Respiratory System
Nicky will discuss the herbal healing in the respiratory system, the nose, throat and lungs and will make the point that it is vital to prevent the use of antibiotics and this is where herbs come into their own.

Nicky will bring in a variety of herbs into the studio and will discuss the benefits of each one as she talks about their different benefits to the body.

The Nose & Throat
Many infections start here, particularly in the sinuses and can lead to head colds. 

Sinus congestion (also called nasal congestion or rhinitis) involves blockage of one or more of the four pairs of sinus passageways in the skull.  The blockage may result from inflammation and swelling of the nasal tissues, obstruction by one of the small bones of the nose (deviated septum), or from secretion of mucus.  It may be acute or chronic.  Acute sinus congestion is most often caused by the common cold.  Sinus congestion caused by the common cold is not discussed here.  Chronic sinus congestion often results from environmental irritants such as tobacco smoke, food allergens, inhaled allergens, or foreign bodies in the nose.

Sinus congestion leads to impaired flow of fluids in the sinuses, which predisposes people to bacterial infections that can cause sinusitis. 

The Herbal Cure
A good herbal cure for nasal congestion is elderflower.  This comes in the form of small flowers or can come in elderberry liquid.  It is anti-inflammatory and anti-catarrhal.  It works very quickly, particular if it is inhaled from a cup of tea.  Elderflower is available in most health stores priced €6 for 100g.

The Entire Respiratory System
Cold and flu are the two main infections which affect the whole respiratory system especially at this time of year.

The Herbal Cure
One of the best herbal remedies for this is thyme.  Thyme is known as a powerful antiseptic and a general tonic with healing powers.  It can be used as a tea or tincture and will help to sweat it out quickly.  It is an old method which has been used for centuries.  Although antibiotics will help in the short term, herbal remedies such as thyme tea will work better long term. Nicky doesn't recommend using antibiotics for infections.  The majority of flus are caused by viruses and antibiotics don't work on viral infections only on bacterial infections.  Thyme comes in dried loose tea form and is available in most health stores priced €6 for 100g.

The Lungs & Throat
There are a number of different infections that can affect the lungs and throat including chest infections and sore throats.

The Herbal Cure
An expectorant is a medication that helps bring up mucus and other material from the lungs, bronchi, and trachea.  A herbal example of this is liquorice.  This can come in the form of sticks or in tincture form.  Liquorice has the same chemical make up as steroid and is very effective in treating asthma.  It opens up the lungs and sifts mucus out.  Nicky recommends it highly for children with asthma.  Children can take liquorice every day, but Nicky doesn't recommend anyone with asthma coming off their inhaler until they have consulted with their doctor. 

Nicky does recommend that asthma sufferers cutting out all dairy products, as this produces catarrh.  She recommends they take milk substitutes such as soya milk, almond milk, rice and oat milk.  They are all now fortified with calcium and a good substitute for milk.

Liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) should not be used if you have high blood pressure licorice or if you are pregnant.  Liquorices sticks cost 25c each and liquorice tincture costs €10 for 100ml.  Both are available from most health stores.

The Chest
One of the more common chest complaints is bronchitis.  Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, or bronchii (the air passages that extend from the windpipe into the lungs).  The inflammation may be caused by a virus, bacteria, smoking or the inhalation of chemical pollutants or dust.  When the cells of the bronchial-lining tissue are irritated beyond a certain point, the tiny hairs (cilia) within them, which normally trap and eliminate pollutants, stop functioning.  Consequently, the air passages become clogged by debris and irritation increases.  In response, a heavy secretion of mucus develops, which causes the characteristic cough of bronchitis.

The Herbal Cure
As well as drinking a lot of water and resting, Nicky recommends eucalyptus.  If eucalyptus is massaged into the chest area it works straightaway opening up the bronchial tissues.  You can buy this in liquid form from health food shops and can put the oil onto a tissue and breathe it in.  Eucalyptus leaves should be boiled in a saucepan and the fumes inhaled.  If you can get hold of the leaves and use them in the same way.

Also thyme tea also helps with coughing by relaxing spasms.  Garlic is a natural antibiotic and taken regularly can help ward of cold and flu.  It can be added to everything and can be eaten whole.

Eucalyptus oil is priced at €5.65 for 10ml and eucalyptus leaves are grey-green colour and can be found throughout the country.

Overuse of Antibiotics
Nicky will also talk about the overuse of antibiotics in modern medicine particularly in the respiratory system.  Nicky feels that people ask for antibiotics far too readily and they should be using herbal remedies instead.  Herbal medicine has a big role to play in keep the respiratory system healthy. 

Call the National Institute for Medical Herbalists on 0044 1392 426 022 or visit their website to find a Medical Herbalist near you.