Use nature to keep well this winter

Beating the winter blues

With the change in weather comes the inevitable coughs, colds and sore throats of the winter months. These herbs can ease the symptoms and some may help prevent illness altogether. According to leading herbalists using teas, extracts and supplements from  natural-foods stores will help keep us fighting fit over the festive season.

Echinacea

A go-to herb for colds, this plant (Echinacea purpurea and E. angustifolia) may help support your immune system to fight viruses. The root, leaves, and flowers are all medicinal.
How to use: Take 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of tincture (herbal extract) every two hours until symptoms are gone. Echinacea also comes in tea blends

Elderberry

The classic form for elderberry (Sambucus nigra) is a tasty syrup: European studies have shown it to be helpful for seasonal flus (talk to your doctor before using it for H1N1, or swine flu).
How to use: Follow package directions for the syrup at the first sign of symptoms.

Elderflower

The flower form of the elder plant (Sambucus nigra) can induce sweating, which may help reduce fever.
How to use: Look for elder in cold formulas. To make a tea, pour boiling water over a teaspoon of dried elderflower. Steep 10 to 15 minutes then strain. Drink up to three cups per day. Or make a tea that combines elder, echinacea, and a pinch of peppermint.

Ginger

A cup of tea made with ginger (Zingiber officinale) can help ease congestion and warm the body, which helps your system fight infection. Its anti-inflammatory properties make it a good sore-throat remedy, too.
How to use: Simmer fresh or dried ginger for 20 minutes; strain and add a touch of honey and a squeeze of lemon, if desired. Incorporate ginger liberally into stir-fries and soups.

Thyme

Loaded with antibacterial compounds, fresh or dried thyme (Thymus vulgaris) is a cold-season powerhouse.
How to use: Use fresh or dried thyme in stews and soups. To make a steam, pour near-boiling water into a pot. Add a pinch of fresh or dried thyme, turn off heat, and create a tent by draping a towel over your head and the pot. Breathe in steam for five minutes.

Eucalyptus

With antibacterial and expectorant properties, eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus) can loosen congestion and help you breathe easier.
How to use: Pour near-boiling water into a pot. Add a few drops of eucalyptus essential oil, turn off heat, and drape a towel over your head and the pot. Breathe for five minutes. Safety note: Do not use essential oils internally.

Eleuthero

Also known as Siberian ginseng, this well-studied herb (Eleutherococcus senticosus) can help your body resist the effects of stress and boost your immune system.

How to use: Take in tincture or capsule form, or make an immunity chai by blending eleuthero with cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon. Simmer for 20 minutes and strain; drink two to three cups daily.

Sage

Common culinary sage (Salvia officinalis) can help to ease sore throats and dry up sinuses.
How to use: For a sore throat, make a strong tea by pouring 4 ounces of water over 2 teaspoons of dried or fresh sage. Cool to room temperature. Gargle until the mixture is gone. Repeat three times daily. For drippy sinuses, drink a cup of regular-strength sage tea.

Licorice

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has immune-boosting and throat-soothing properties that make it an excellent addition to cough and cold formulas.
How to use: For coughs, make a tea that combines mullein leaf with a pinch of licorice. People who have high blood pressure should avoid this herb

Skin therapy

Dry and flaky skin is a common complaint in the winter time. Cold, dry winter air sucks the life out of silky, smooth skin. There are many lotions and moisturisers, but most come with a hefty price tag. Natural home remedies are not only cheap, but also quite effective in nourishing and hydrating dry skin back to a healthy state.

Olive oil contains many antioxidants and healthy fatty acids that are good for your skin. It can soothe and condition dry skin all over your body.

  • About a half an hour before taking a shower, rub some olive oil on your hands, legs and other areas with dry skin and massage lightly. Take a shower and then apply a light moisturizer.
  • Mix two tablespoons of olive oil, four tablespoons of fine brown sugar, and one tablespoon of honey. Rub this homemade scrub on your dry skin using light, circular motions for a few minutes. Take a shower and then apply a light moisturiser.

Honey is considered one of the best natural moisturisers loaded with antioxidant, antimicrobial, and humectant properties. It helps lock in moisture to make your skin extra soft and smooth. Plus, honey has many essential vitamins and minerals that help improve your skin’s health.

  • Before taking a bath or shower, rub honey all over your body and leave it on for five to 10 minutes. Repeat daily to enjoy well-moisturised skin.
  • Mix honey and olive oil with brown sugar and gentle rub in circles onto your face as a exfoliating scrub.

Yogurt is an excellent skin-hydrating agent. Plus, its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties help soothe dry and itchy skin. Also, its lactic acid content helps get rid of any germs or bacteria that may cause dryness or itchiness.

  • Apply fresh yogurt on your hands, face and legs and gently massaging it into your skin. Leave it on for 10 minutes and then take a bath or shower. The mild exfoliating action of yogurt will remove dry skin and leave your skin refreshed. Do this once every day for irritated skin conditions.
  • Mix one-half cup of yogurt and three tablespoons of mashed or blended papaya. Stir in a few drops each of honey and lemon juice. Apply it on your skin and leave it on for 10 minutes before washing it off with cold water. Do this once a week for added hydration.

Coconut oil is really good for treating dry skin. It has a good amount of fatty acids that make up for any loss of moisture from the skin.

  • Liberally apply warm coconut oil all over your body before going to sleep. Wash it off in the morning. Do this daily to make your skin soft, smooth and silky to the touch.
  • Or apply coconut oil on your dry skin after you take a bath or shower. When the skin is warm and supple from your bath, coconut oil is more readily absorbed.

Avocado is packed with fatty acids, vitamins and antioxidants that help improve skin from the inside and out. The high vitamin A content helps in skin maintenance and repair to restore smooth skin.

  • Mash the pulp of an avocado into a smooth paste. Rub the paste all over your dry skin. Let it sit on your skin for 10 to 15 minutes and rinse it off with cold water. Repeat the process once a day.
  • Mash one-half of a ripe avocado and stir in one-half cup of honey. Apply the mixture on your dry skin and let it sit for 15 minutes before rinsing it off. Apply this hydrating face mask once or twice a week but not more often than that as it may cause breakouts.
  • You can also drink a glass of an avocado smoothie daily to increase your intake of healthy fats that will help keep your skin hydrated and moisturised.

You can also use oatmeal to moisturise and relieve dry skin. The high protein content in oatmeal leaves a protective barrier on the skin, which prevents water loss and helps maintain moisture. Plus, it has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that are good for the overall health of your skin.

  • Pour one cup of plain oatmeal into your bathtub filled with warm water. Add a few drops of lavender oil. Soak in the bath water for 15 to 30 minutes. Enjoy this soothing bath once a week.
  • Make a face mask by mixing one mashed ripe banana with one cup of ground oatmeal and then adding a little bit of lukewarm milk. Apply this smooth mixture on your dry skin and leave it on for 10 to 15 minutes. Rinse it off with cold water. Use this face mask once a week.