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A-Z Ailments

Please note this information is based on traditional usage and the personal experience of a practising Medical Herbalist and is intended as guidance only and not to replace the advice of another health professional.

 

Anxiety

Herbs can offer great relief for mild or occasional anxiety but if the problem is chronic or becoming severe, it is important to seek help from your doctor, herbalist or other health professional. Relaxants or sedatives such as Limeflower or Valerian can be helpful in easing tension and aiding sleep. Other herbs such as lemon balm and St Johns wort can help lift the mood while adaptogens such as Rhodiola and Ginsengs increase our capacity to cope with stress better. Herbalists also look to aid other physical issues that are causing distress, typically pain, hormone or digestive problems, whilst supporting the client to address other underlying issues. Cutting out the caffeine and alcohol can help enormously making us less stressed and reactive and increasing the chance for good quality sleep. Likewise keeping sugar and refined carbohydrates to a minimum whilst increasing water, herb teas, fresh fruit and veg, mineral rich nuts, beans and seeds and oats can all help to nourish and balance our body and mind. Getting out in the fresh air everyday to walk off your worries and observe Nature all around you can help keep things in perspective… and give you chance to let your emotions out. Consider combining cardio exercise with more therapeutic exercises such as yoga that help reconnect you to your innate Relaxation response as well as releasing inner tensions. Daily meditation and guided Deep relaxations can also be very helpful. Don’t be put off if it seems difficult or boring to start with. If you’ve been used to being in a constant state of agitation, it’s going to take your body a while to realise its ok to relax and be free of tension. If you genuinely can’t remember how it feels to ‘feel relaxed’ then do consider this. Just try a recorded relaxation for 20 minutes every evening and experience the difference, usually within a week. It also works a treat at reminding you of your own Innate self-healing power which is empowering in itself. Herbs to consider: Limeflower Passiflora, Vervain, Chamomile, Lemon balm, St John wort, Rhodiola. Others: Sleep Easy tea, Relaxation tea, Flower Remedy blends eg Bach’s Rescue Remedy, Jan de Vries ‘Relaxation essence’ or Australian Bush Flower ‘Calm and Clear’.

 

Arthritis

This commonly refers to any inflammation in the joints and is generally split into osteoarthritis (described as ‘a wear and tear’ condition) and rheumatoid arthritis (an auto immune inflammatory condition where the body attacks it own joints) although both can co-exist. Turmeric powder can be helpful for both as can following a high alkaline-diet (see digestive disorders). Addressing digestive problems especially constipation or IBS symptoms is really important. Minimising the nightshade family (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, aubergines) may lead to less morning stiffness in some people. If unsure, try a homemade roast pepper and tomato ratatouille with jacket potato for supper one evening and some salmon, rice and green beans the next and compare how your knees feel in the morning going downstairs. Usually the key is to have variety of vegetables in your diet. Regular exercise to maintain muscle strength is important for both but special care not to overdo it must be taken with rheumatoid arthritis as the joints cannot repair themselves in the usual way which can lead to further damage. Swimming and gentle yoga are ideal combined with some weight bearing exercise such as walking for 30 mins every day. Exercising to 70% capacity is a helpful rule to follow and you’ll find the amount you can achieve pain-free within that 70% increases quickly.

 

Osteoarthritis

Key herbs to consider: Turmeric, devils claw, meadowsweet, celery seed, rosehips. Helpful supplements to consider include glucosamine and quality fish oil capsules (min 500mg EPA/DHA combined per capsule daily. NB this is not the same as the capsule size. You’ll have to read the small print on the container). Topically comfrey and arnica oil and warming oil preparations such as Rosemary, Bay and Ginger oil.

 

Rheumatoid Arthritis

This condition when active causes serious damage to the joints and so I would always advise seeing a herbalist or other therapist to help address the underlying aggravating factors, which are often emotional and psychological as well as digestive and diet-related issues. Accordingly relevant herbs address inflammation, stress/anxiety/mood and digestive issues.

 

Coldsores

These troublesome little blisters typically appear when susceptible individuals are under stress and may be triggered by hormones, emotional stress, exhaustion, a cold or being run down, bright sunlight (using a petroleum-free lipbalm with SPF may help) or sometimes by a prevalence of arginine-rich foods (shellfish, beans, nuts, seeds, dark chocolate, red wine). In recurrent cases, herbs like Echinacea can be helpful in boosting the immune system and St Johns wort in providing emotional support. Both these herbs have clinical proven anti-viral activity. Adaptogens such as Rhodiola and Astragalus, may also increase the body’s capacity to cope during stressful times. To combat exhaustion, avoiding caffeine, adopting self-care and relaxation strategies (yes you are worth it J ) and seeking help to improve sleep quality and other underlying issues will be helpful. If you are prone to coldsores and eat a lot of arginine-rich foods, then being aware of which foods these are may help. For example, by avoiding too many nuts or chocolate at an emotionally or hormonally sensitive time. Increasing lysine-rich foods (essentially meat, fish and dairy products) or taking L-Lysine supplements may also help. At the first ‘tingling’ sensation topically consider applying a drop of Echinacea tincture every hour or so. This is a potent anti-viral and the alcohol in the tincture can also help. Calendula tincture may also help. Applying a little petroleum-free lipbalm (use a clean finger to avoid contamination) on surrounding lip area and then rolling lips together may help prevent lips drying out and coldsore cracking.

 

  

Digestive problems

This is one of the key issues I treat in private practice. Herbs can be really helpful both in promoting better digestion and relieving symptoms as well as addressing aggravating factors such as stress but the key (and what people seem loath to do) is simply to change and improve your diet i.e what you directly potentially aggravate your digestive system with in the first place. If you’re struggling with this, it can be really helpful to seek professional support to find the best foods for you and your lifestyle. Here though are some strategies you may like to consider:
  • Minimise acidic drinks such as coffee, regular tea, orange juice and all fizzy drinks such as cola and Fanta. Ensure you stay well-hydrated with at least 1 ½ litres of water, green tea or herbal teas instead. Herb teas such as chamomile, ginger, cardamom and fennel all actively promote good digestion.

  • Avoid alcohol which negatively affects the good bacteria in your gut and consider a quality probiotic and also gradually increasing leafy greens and pulses in your diet to feed the good bacteria you’ve got. If you’ve been in habit of drinking alcohol regularly, consider milk thistle. Increase the alkaline:acid ratio of your overall diet (ie through the whole day) to 3:1. Alkaline foods include all herb teas, fruits and veg. Water is neutral. Everything else is acid-forming. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve got to cut down the meat, fish, dairy or grains just that you have to increase the fruit and vegetables! Make an honest list of what you eat during a typical day to see how acid-based it is and more importantly what you can easily switch (eg coffee to herb tea or water) and where you can add more fruit and vegetables to increase the alkalinity. A high alkaline diet not only helps digestion but allows the body and mind to perform at their optimum and prevents other health problems. A high acid diet generally makes us more reactive to and less resilient to the effects of stress and tension resulting in anything from acid reflux, muscle spasms and anxiety to headaches, skin irritations and chronic health problems.

  • Try cutting out all wheat and milk based products whilst following the suggestions above and keeping other carbohydrates to small portions. Eat 3-4 small to medium-sized meals (depending on your physical needs) at regular intervals. Avoid eating after 7pm and eat light and with extra consideration if you’re stressed or tired. Most digestive problems are aggravated by too much of the wrong food at the wrong time. So be kind to yourself and appreciate your guts by feeding yourself the most nourishing food possible.
You’ve everything to gain and nothing to lose! Other herbs to consider: Meadowsweet, Chamomile, Ginger, Mallow root, dandelion root.

 

 

Fungal Infections

For persistent cases, its really important to address your digestion. I would consider minimising bread (due to yeast), sugar, alcohol and carbs generally whilst increasing fresh fruit and vegetables, garlic and other wholesome fibre and nutrient-rich foods such as brown rice and pulses. Some people also find a course of good quality probiotics helpful. Calendula oil (usually in base of sweet almond oil) is gentle and effective and can be used everywhere from feet to skin folds/chaffing areas as well as for sensitive areas affected by thrush. Tea tree oil is popular for treating athletes foot and nail infections but be aware it is too strong for some people and I’d always advise caution if prone to eczema.

 

Gout

This painful debilitating condition responds well to herbal treatment as long as diet and lifestyle management issues are also addressed:

  • Key herbs are nettle leaf (switching from regular tea and coffee to nettle tea is a brilliant idea) and celery seed. Adding a teaspoon of organic turmeric powder to a little hot milk or your daily porridge may also help.

  • Key diet advice: avoid high purine foods such as meat and shellfish and seriously increase your fresh fruit and vegetable intake (minimising tomatoes, peppers and oranges). Ensure well hydrated with water and herb teas and consider sour cherry juice every morning.

  • Avoid alcohol especially while active inflammation present. Address any emotional issues or bad habits that are making you feel trapped or stuck including old ways of thinking (be wary of your stubborn streak) that are not serving your true needs anymore.

  • Any positive changes you make to address the gout issue will also benefit your health overall.

 

Hayfever

Thankfully, as a herbalist, I’ve only suffered from hayfever twice, once ironically the summer after completing my Herbal Medicine degree when I was totally exhausted and the second time when I was pregnant. It was admittedly quite mild and herbs really helped. It can ruin the enjoyment of the outdoors which I see as a major source of strength for everyone and so my heart goes out to those who suffer every year sometimes right through from March to September. Hopefully some of these suggestions will help:
  • Really look after yourself through the winter so that you’re physically and emotionally strong when the pollens arrive. Try and ensure some fresh air and exercise through the day to make most of the light. The dark nights are perfect for starting meditation or relaxation practices, soothing hot baths for a good nights sleep and cooking up ginger and garlic laden vegetable soups, curries and chillies.

  • Really nurture yourself. Taking a high B vitamin multivitamin, extra vitamin D (especially if you’ve not had chance to fill up on sunshine through summer or you use a high sunscreen) and extra omega oils may also be helpful particularly if you’re run down or have busy lifestyle.

  • Start your hayfever prevention regime 6 weeks before your symptoms usually begin. It’s much harder to control symptoms once membranes are irritated and inflamed. Consider either a blend of the following tinctures or infusions 2 to 3 times daily. Nettle leaf. Eyebright. Elderfower. It would be a good idea to see a herbalist at this time if its something you’re considering and they can blend specific herbs for you. You may also consider adding 1000mg vitamin C daily. Once pollens abound a little dab of Vaseline at base of nostrils and practising pollen-control measures such as tying back hair and washing hands regularly can help when youre out and about. Above all, stay well-hydrated with plenty of water or your hayfever infusion (try nettle, elderflower and/or ginger teabags) in a flask.

  • Ensure your diet is super rich in ginger, fresh fruit and vegetables which contain anti inflammatory flavonoids such as quercitin as well as other health-giving benefits. Minimise wheat and milk products which can be very mucous promoting. Avoiding caffeine and adopting stress-busting, relaxation techniques (think more breathing exercises, yoga, exercise, meditation rather than a glass of wine… alcohol will only make symptoms worse I’m afraid!) will help promote a more balanced state of mind and body which in turn makes you less reactive both to pollen and other irritations!
Other herbs of interest: Plantain

 

Period problems

Regular suncreams can often aggravate this condition by blocking the skins own heat-regulating system so consider a mineral based suncream – Green People and Lavera do good ones- if this could be part of the problem. Also stay well-hydrated and eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Seek help for any underlying aggravating conditions such as menopausal hot flushes. Chamomile teabags used as little sponges are my number one choice for treating this along with any irritated skin condition (as long as sure not allergic to chamomile). Aloe vera or distilled witch hazel may also helpful.

 

Prickly Heat

 Regular suncreams can often aggravate this condition by blocking the skins own heat-regulating system so consider a mineral based suncream – Green People and Lavera do good ones- if this could be part of the problem. Also stay well-hydrated and eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Seek help for any underlying aggravating conditions such as menopausal hot flushes. Chamomile teabags used as little sponges are my number one choice for treating this along with any irritated skin condition (as long as sure not allergic to chamomile). Aloe vera or distilled witch hazel may also helpful.

 

Sore throat

A gargle with a sage or thyme infusion (use a teaspoon of dried herb in half a mug of boiling water, cover with a saucer and infuse for 5 minutes. Caution with pregnancy or epilepsy.) can really help symptoms from worsening if start as soon as feel prickly feeling in back of throat. I use half a teaspoon of thyme with added honey for my seven year old.. its amazing what kids will take if opportunity for family gargling session to tune of their choice.. Frozen's 'Let it go' is a current favourite! Practice before you need it.. Gargling is an important lifeskill :) I would also take some Echinacea tincture in hot water and gargle before swallowing especially if I was feeling bit rundown or was aware of nasty viruses flying about and make sure I drank lots of beneficial herbal teas through the day. If my throat gets sore I try to see it as a reminder that I need to take extra special care of myself. Seek professional help if symptoms worsen, difficulty eating/swallowing or if visible pus on tonsils.

 

Travel sickness

Fresh ginger either nibbling on the root or making up an infusion of it in a flask (you can drink it cold) is my herb of choice here. Ginger capsules are also handy but the dried root has more anti-inflammatory then anti-nausea effect. For persistent cases you may like to consider seeing a recommended chiropractor to ensure not a postural problem. Ironically the more stressed we feel about feeling nauseous, the more nauseous we feel so taking a proactive approach, drinking stomach-settling and calming teas such as chamomile and lemon balm while avoiding coffee and other acidic foods and drink may all contribute to reduction in symptoms.

 

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Bel Charlesworth Medical Herbalist

Bel Charlesworth MNIMH
Medical Herbalist

BSc Herbal Medicine

Member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists since 2003

Tel: 07775 920079

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