Winter Colds and Celtic Herbal Comfort
In the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, there is a character who believes the cure for all ills is Windex. In real life, I knew a woman who swore by Vaseline. Whether you had a cut, a bruise, arthritis, or a bad cough, she wanted to rub the ointment on it. Herself. I tried not to let her hear me sneeze.
Still, I guess we all have home remedies we turn to under the right conditions. For myself, I always have witch hazel, Vaporub, and prunes on hand, although I’ve never tried to heal a wound by rubbing prune juice on it! The thing is, whether you call it traditional medicine or Old Wives’ cures, these home remedies often have some efficacy, and modern science has begun to prove that using them may not be so silly after all.
With cold and flu season here, I thought discussing traditional Celtic folk treatments for symptoms of respiratory illness would be appropriate. I’ve included information on what the science says as well as the folklore, including a bit of magic here and there.
Elderberry and Elderflower
The druids classified the elder tree as sacred. It was said to be an entrance to the faerie world. Associated with protection, it was believed to have banishing powers. Scientific studies have shown that Sambucol, an extract made from its berries, is effective in fighting off both cold and flu viruses. clinical studies have shown that taking elderberry syrup can reduce the symptoms of colds and influenza and decrease the duration of those illnesses to 2-4 days.
Elderberry is used most commonly today to boost one’s immune system, but it also has anti-inflammatory properties which may help decrease the aches and pains that often accompany viral infections.
Herbal medicine recommends elderflower not only to aid the symptoms of colds and flu but also to ease inflammation of the sinuses and to reduce swelling in the nasal cavity. However, clinical studies have not yet found enough evidence to support the effectiveness of elderflower.
Stinging nettle grows abundantly across Ireland and the British Isles. While the plant can cause a painful rash if accidentally encountered during one’s stroll through the woods, the Celts found a variety of uses for it in traditional medicine. Clinical studies have shown that it does indeed have several health benefits. I will confine my discussion only to its use in aiding upper respiratory issues.
Its primary benefits are its anti-inflammatory and antihistamine properties. As mentioned above, an anti-inflammatory can reduce aches and pains as well as ease swollen nasal passages. Stinging nettle’s antihistamine properties can combat allergies, the symptoms of which often masquerade as colds.
The plant is said to be an effective decongestant. Place its leaves and stems into a pot of water. Bowl the water and inhale the steam to ease congestion.
A traditional Irish preparation of stinging nettle is as a hearty and delicious soup. Click here for a recipe.
According to folklore, stinging nettle protects against danger and evil, especially witchcraft. Additionally, it was used to remove curses and boomerang them back to the one who sent the curse.
Sometimes viruses bring on more than respiratory symptoms. The flu especially can cause gastric and intestinal issues. While peppermint can’t help with the latter, it can aid in digestion and reduce gastric distress. Scientific studies also have shown that it increases alertness and improves memory, both of which will help if you have to go to work despite feeling bleary-eyed from a cold.
Ironically, folklore lists peppermint as a sleep aid. Perhaps this is because its aroma tends to make one feel good. Peppermint also, according to folklore, increases one’s psychic powers.
I admit that ginger generally is associated with Asian traditional medicine, but I have found it mentioned in sources about Celtic folklore so I’m including it here. After all, since ginger is even more effective at relieving gastric distress than peppermint is, it seemed a pity not to include it. This herbal is especially helpful for flu sufferers as it eases nausea. I know from personal experience that simply sipping ginger ale or ginger tea can bring fairly quick relief.
According to https://www.natural-health-remedies-4u.com/home-remedies-for-colds.html, ginger contains antiviral compounds. It also, the site claims, reduces pain and fever, and is a cough suppressant.
Folklore says that ginger root promotes confidence, prosperity, and success. That thought should give one aid and comfort while recovering from the demoralizing effects of an upper respiratory tract infection.
Science has shown that sleep plays an important role in healing the body. The soothing aroma of lavender can assist with restful sleep. Clinical research also has discovered that lavender has an antibacterial effect, which might help reduce the risk of a cold progressing into bacterial pneumonia. It might also explain the folk practice of burning lavender in sick rooms as an antiseptic.
In folklore, lavender is mainly associated with romance. Young single women traditionally placed lavender flowers under their pillows in order to dream of their true love. Lavender also was considered a favorite flower of the faeries and was believed to attract faeries.
Like lavender, Chamomile has a reputation as a soothing relaxant. But chamomile tea can do more than relieve stress. Science has revealed that it is an anti-inflammatory. A compress soaked in chamomile tea can ease achy muscles. In addition, this herb, like ginger and peppermint, can relieve gastric issues ranging from gas to nausea and diarrhea.
The plant has a number of uses in folk medicine and magic. Drinking a mixture of chamomile and peppermint in a tea is said to relieve headaches. Adding rose to chamomile tea is mentioned as a cure for sadness. Perhaps most helpful when you’re suffering from a cold, folklore claims that drinking a cup of chamomile tea will give one the strength to persevere.
Unlike the other plants mentioned in this list, ivy is not to be digested in any way. Just having an ivy plant in the sick room is a benefit. This, I know, sounds like folklore but it’s not. I’ll explain in a minute. First, here is the folk tradition. The ancient Celts brought evergreens, such as ivy, into their house during the winter. They believed these plants contained powerful
magic that kept them green and alive during the cold months when other plants seemed dead. The Celts hoped the plant’s powerful magic would help keep them alive through the winter as well. Here is the science. Studies have shown that ivy works as an air purifier. Isn’t that exactly what you need when germs are circulating in the house?
One last bit of folklore: the Celts believed ivy growing near a home brought good luck to all who lived there. Unless it died. Then the family was doomed!
I hope you enjoyed today’s post and that these herbals give you comfort during the cold, grey winter.
Please Note: because of the current pandemic, if you experience cold or flu symptoms, please get tested for COVID 19. If the test is positive, please isolate according to local protocols to stop the spread and to protect the vulnerable, especially children and the elderly. This is not a matter of politics. It is a matter of love and respect for other human beings.
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Slan go foil!