Robin Rose Bennett is leading a class on herbal alternative to antibiotics, Jan. 15. Visit the class page to learn more.
By Robin Rose Bennett
It’s wintertime and everyone knows that in the winter you may be more likely to come down with colds, coughs, and even the flu. And many people may think something along the lines of, ‘well, no problem, if I get sick I’ll go to the doctor, get some medicine and get it taken care of. ‘
However there is a problem with that kind of thinking and it goes even beyond the first problem. When you continually hand over your responsibility for your health to experts, you lose your innate abilities to tend to your own health and well being.
The next problem is that many times we are given antibiotics that are actually irrelevant to viral illnesses like colds and various strains of the flu. Antibiotics are powerful life saving medicines that are now so overused they are often ineffective when we really need them, and that’s not a healthy situation. They also weaken the immune system, including the immune system that lives in our digestive tract, every time they are used (even when used necessarily).
One more problem worth mentioning is that there are also less commonly known, but still too commonly seen, debilitating side effects of antibiotics. Generally, the more vulnerable the individual, such as the elderly and the very young, the more likely that side effects will be harmful and even be life-threatening.
A healthy immune system is like healthy soil in a garden. It is the ground of your being, and when well it has the ability to fend off pathogens so that you don’t succumb to every virus, bacteria, or pathogenic microbe that passes by or even enters into you. It is a remarkably intelligent system that, in addition to its innate abilities, acquires new knowledge through experience. It learns how to identify, tag and neutralize or destroy foreign presences. Your combined internal defenses collectively known as your immune system know how to tell the difference between self and not-self, to know whom and what to eat, engulf, and/or render inert, one way or another.
Herbs work quite differently than pharmaceutical drugs in the body. They tend to work with your natural systems, not instead of them, nourishing and strengthening the immune system to fight its own battles, so to speak, though you don’t actually benefit from thinking of your body as a war zone. The side effects from herbal medicine tend to be beneficial, too.
Take one of my favorite winter remedies, thyme, for example. Thyme or thymus vulgaris is a perennial, many-branched plant with dense, purplish flowers in small terminal clusters. It can grow to a height of one foot. Wild thyme (Thymus serpyllum) and garden thyme (Thymus vulgaris), well known for their aromatic and culinary qualities, are also esteemed herbal medicine used interchangeably.
Thyme is particularly noted for its essential oil, thymol, known to have antibacterial properties. But thymol taken in pure form can cause adverse symptoms such as dizziness, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and headache. These side effects have not been connected with the use of thyme itself as an herbal tea. Thyme tea is used for the relief of gastrointestinal complaints, lung congestion, shortness of breath, headaches, colic, hysteria, whooping cough, and menstrual cramps.
Thyme has antiseptic, antispasmodic and stimulant properties. It is safely used in an oleaginous preparation (fresh thyme steeped in olive oil for 2 – 6 weeks) as a rubefacient for muscular atrophy, rheumatism and sprains, and even in cases of stroke and paralysis.
Thyme is considered to be an immune system tonic by contemporary herbalists. Ancient herbalists particularly favored thyme tea as a simple, effective remedy for nervousness and depression. I use it for all of the above and also agree with the herbalists who recommend thyme syrup as a remedy for colds and coughs.
Relax and heal over a cup of thyme tea with or without honey added. It is so relaxing and I favor it for helping people heal bronchitis as well as any lingering, dry cough. I also use thyme tea, rather than essential oil, for herbal steam baths.
One more benefit of herbal medicine worth mentioning is that t feels good to know you can tend to your own health and health challenges, and as a result you are calmer and don’t worry about your health so much, and that improves the functioning of your immune system! It’s a win-win-win situation.
Robin Rose Bennett is author of Healing Magic, A Green Witch Guidebook to Conscious Living and the forthcoming book, The Gift of Healing Herbs.