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What Doctors Don't Tell You

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September 2020 (Vol. 5 Issue 6)

Summer life-savers

About the author: 
Rosalee de la Forêt

Summer life-savers image

Herbal first aid for the summer: these four herbs are your go-to remedies for all manner of spring and summer ailments, says herbalist Rosalee de la Forêt



Peppermint tea strongly relieves many types of common digestive complaints: tummy ache, diarrhoea, gas and bloating, abdominal pain,1 even a stubborn case of hiccups. Also shown to be helpful for people suffering from severe digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).2 For more serious digestive problems, try capsules of peppermint essential oil that are enteric-coated—a special coating strong enough to pass through the stomach intact, dissolving only in the intestines—and safe enough even for children.


Peppermint is commonly used as a fomentation or poultice (soaking a cloth or sponge in the tea, then applying it to a specific area) to ease headaches, especially those related to muscle tension.3 Peppermint oil can even relieve intense nerve pain, including post-herpetic neuralgia, the nerve pain that follows a bout of varicella zoster virus infection (shingles).4 Infuse peppermint leaves into oil to rub onto sore muscles for relief from pain and cramps. Peppermint can also relieve the itching and inflammation of sunburn, poison oak/ivy and hives. Use the tea as a wash or add a strong brew to bathwater.


To break up lung congestion, rub peppermint essential oil directly onto the chest or inhale it as a herbal steam—both have similar effects. To make a steam, place a handful of fresh or dried peppermint in a medium-sized bowl. Pour just-boiled water over the leaves, then place your face above the bowl with a towel draped over your head to catch the rising steam. The temperature under the towel should be as warm as possible without burning. Breathe deeply, and keep a box of tissues handy to blow your nose as needed.


Both fresh and dried peppermint leaves work equally well, but use twice as much fresh as dried herb.

To make a tea simply to drink or to improve digestion, infuse 1-3 tsp or more of dried leaves into 1 cup of just-boiled water, and steep for 3-5 minutes in a covered container to avoid loss of volatile oils.

Tea: 1-3 tsp (dried) or 2-6 tsp (fresh), 3-5 times a day

Tincture: 1:5, 30% alcohol, 3-6 mL, 2-3 times a day.5


Peppermint can cause or exacerbate heartburn in sensitive individuals, so avoid it if you have active symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GORD). Taken in excess, it could dry up breast milk.

Peppermint poultice for headaches

Yield: 1 application

¼ cup (9 g) dried peppermint leaves

1) Bring 1 cup of water to a boil, remove from heat and add the peppermint. Stir well and let steep, covered, for 10 minutes.

2) Strain out the leaves, and soak a cloth in the tea once it is slightly cooled. Wring out the cloth and apply it to the forehead or back of neck. If heat feels good, place a hot water bottle over the cloth.

3) Lie down with it there and your eyes closed for 20 minutes, or as desired.



Rosemary extracts can protect against ultraviolet (UV) radiation damage from sunlight. In one study, people taking an oral extract of rosemary and lemon decreased UV damage after eight weeks, with even better results after 12 weeks.6


Rosemary's wealth of antioxidants can reduce oxidative stress and inflammation, and has long been used for the inflammatory pain of arthritis. Herbalists recommend taking it internally and also applying it to affected areas. One study showed that a proprietary extract of rosemary decreased both arthritic pain and levels of C-reactive protein, which increases inflammation and pain.7


Herbalists often recommend that students smell a sprig of rosemary while studying and then again while taking their exams. Studies show that inhaling rosemary essential oils reduces anxiety while significantly enhancing memory.8


Tea (dried or fresh): 2-4 g, up to 3 times a day

Tincture (dried): 1:5, 40% alcohol: 2-4 mL, 3 times a day.5


During pregnancy and breastfeeding, avoid large doses of rosemary and don't use the essential oil.9 Normal culinary amounts are fine. Rosemary can lower blood sugar, so those taking insulin should monitor their blood glucose levels closely.9 A small number of people develop a skin rash when exposed to the herb.9

The perfect rosemary tea

Yield: 1 cup

1) 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary leaves (twigs removed)

2) Place rosemary leaves in a mug. (As the leaves are so thin, there's no need to chop them.)

3) Boil 1 cup water, then let the water cool to 85° C (185° F).

4) Pour the water over the rosemary and infuse, covered, for 3-4 minutes, then strain.

Steep for only a very short time to bring out the aromatics, but not the tannins and bitters, and don't use water hotter than 85° C (185° F), as it will destroy some of the aromatic qualities. Use a thermometer and a clock to find out how long it takes for your boiled water to cool to this temperature. Then, next time, set a timer for that length of time.



Nettle is full of nutrients important for healthy bones, teeth and hair. Many women have increased their bone density by drinking nourishing nettle infusions. Nettle has nearly 3 g of calcium for every 100 g of dried leaves,11 a natural form of calcium that's easily absorbed by the body—unlike calcium supplements. Nettle is also high in magnesium, another crucial nutrient for bone health.10


Drinking nettle tea regularly can reduce seasonal allergy symptoms like hayfever, possibly due to its histamine content, which inhibits inflammatory responses.11 For best results, start drinking daily nettle infusions—preferably using freeze-dried nettle—at least a month before allergy season starts.


Using fresh nettle topically—which causes urticaria (hives)—can ease painful joints caused by arthritis and musculoskeletal pain. Research has also shown beneficial results with fresh nettle stings for osteoarthritic knee and thumb pain.12 Taken internally, nettle relieves pain by easing muscle spasms and inflammation.


Purchase dried nettle leaves online, and harvest wild fresh nettles in spring, when the leaves are young and tender. Nettles can be consumed as a food in large quantities, but cook before
eating as the leaves are lined
with stinging hairs.


Tea (dried): 28 g (1 oz)

Tincture (fresh): 3-5 mL, 75-95% alcohol, 3-5 times a day


Never eat nettle leaves after the plant has flowered or gone to seed. Use with caution in people with dry constitutions (thirsty; dry eyes, itchy skin; constipation). Nettle can be a strong diuretic and gives some people a headache.

Nourishing nettle infusion

Yield: approximately 1 serving (3 cups)

28 g (1 oz) dried nettle leaves (2 cups finely crumbled leaves)

Large pinch of lemongrass for flavour (optional)

1) Bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Place herbs in a 1-quart jar or French cafetière (coffee press).

2) Pour just-boiled water over herbs, stir well and cover. Leave to infuse for 4 hours or overnight. (If using a cafetière, don't push the plunger until it's done infusing.)

3) Strain and drink this warm or cold, but within 36 hours.


There are two types of chamomile—German (Matricaria chamomilla) and Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile). These recipes call for German chamomile.


In one study, chamomile capsules even at a relatively small dose (220 mg) were effective in lifting depression,13 and have been shown to ease mild-to-moderate anxiety in people.14 Chamomile tea can also bring on deep, restful sleep. Drink it at least an hour before bed (to avoid night-time bathroom trips) or use a tincture.


This antispasmodic herb can reduce pain caused by tense muscles and cramping, so it's good for menstrual and digestive cramps. In one study, after two months, both chamomile and a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) led to similar reductions in pain among women with prementrual syndrome,, but there were significantly less-intense emotional symptoms with the herb.15


Chamomile modulates inflammation and is mildly antimicrobial, making it great for wounds, burns and rashes. For best results, use chamomile externally as an oil or wash, and internally as a tea or tincture. In studies, chamomile-soaked compresses have relieved the itching and discomfort of skin lesions significantly faster than a hydrocortisone ointment,16 and its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties are similar to those of over-the-counter chlorhexidine mouthwash in treating bleeding gums due to gingivitis.17


A great choice for digestive problems like Crohn's disease, diarrhoea, ulcers and food intolerance, chamomile can also bring gentle relief to colicky infants; young children with acute diarrhoea given a chamomile-apple pectin extract have also showed significant improvement.18 Taken before a meal as a strong tea, it can stimulate a healthy appetite; after a meal, it can ease bloating, gas, heartburn and digestive spasms.


Chamomile is great at treating conjunctivitis, or pink eye. Wet a chamomile tea bag with warm water and place it over the eye for 30 minutes. Take a little break and repeat with a fresh tea bag. I once did this myself before having to lecture on herbs, by the time I was in front of the class, my eye was almost normal. I repeated the process a couple more times that day and, by the next day, I was symptom-free.


Instead of buying tea bags, buy the loose herb in bulk.

Tea: 1 Tbsp dried chamomile per cup; 9-15 g/day

Tincture (dried flowers): 1:5, 40% alcohol, 3-6 mL, 3 times a day.6


People sensitive to members of the Asteraceae (aster) family may also be sensitive to chamomile.

Chamomile eyewash

Yield: 1 cup

You'll need an eye cup and cheesecloth or a coffee filter. To sterilize, wash them all in hot, soapy water or boil them. If treating an eye infection, sterilize the eye cup after treating one eye to avoid infecting the other. Use the following solution—which has to be made fresh daily to avoid contamination—often throughout the day.

1) cup distilled water* ½ tsp sea salt or real salt (avoid using table salt)* Tap water contains chlorine, fluoride and other chemicals that aren't eye-friendly.

2) 1 Tbsp dried chamomile

3) Combine water and salt in a saucepan, bring to a boil and gently stir until salt is dissolved. Boil for 5 minutes more, then turn off the heat.

4) Add chamomile and let steep, covered, for 10 minutes. Strain through several layers of cheesecloth (or the coffee filter) Don't squeeze cheesecloth at the end to avoid getting little pieces of chamomile in the solution that will irritate your eyes.

5) Let the solution cool in a glass measuring cup with a pouring spout.

6) When slightly warm, pour the solution into a sterile eye cup to about halfway. Tilt your head forward and position the cup snugly against your eye; holding the cup against your eye socket, tilt your head back. Blink your eye several times to get the solution in direct contact with your eye. Close your eye and continue to hold the cup in place for 1-2 minutes. (Repeat with other eye if needed.)

Adapted from Alchemy of Herbs by registered herbalist Rosalee De La Foret , £17.99 (Hay House UK, 2017)

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The new pretender

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