Familiar kitchen foods like garlic and onions are nothing to sneeze at, especially now that fall is upon us.
Many cooking ingredients can provide relief for respiratory ailments, according to herbalist Katolen Yardley. The cold and flu season runs from November to April, so it may be a good idea to keep the pantry stocked not only with garlic and onions, but with spices, too.
“Not only are they great to season and enhance the flavour of food,” Yardley told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview, “many of the kitchen herbs have medicinal properties that can be used to quickly clear up common health issues.”
One of her favourite remedies is a tea made from ginger root, garlic, and green onion.
“Garlic, onion, and ginger contain volatile oils, which are antiseptic to the mucous membranes lining the respiratory tract and to the sinuses,” the owner of the Vancouver-based wellness centre Alchemy & Elixir Health Group explained. “So if someone has a cold or flu, is suffering from allergies or congested, these herbs can really help to open up the sinus passages.”
Preparing Yardley’s tonic is simple. Grate enough ginger to fill a teaspoon, slice three or four green onions, and mince two or three cloves of garlic. Add all to two cups of boiling water, bring to a new boil, reduce heat, and simmer for five minutes before drinking. According to Yardley, this can be consumed during the day when fighting a cold or the flu. It can also be used as a soup base to which other vegetables can be added.
For a persistent cough, Yardley says you can slice a large onion into thin rings and place in a bowl, add a chopped garlic clove, and cover with honey. Let stand overnight. Strain out the onion and the garlic, and eat a spoonful of the honey a couple of times a day to soothe a violent cough.
“It’s actually a pleasant home remedy because it’s sweet,” Yardley noted.
Flu, or influenza, affects millions of Canadians each year. Health Canada recommends an annual vaccination to help prevent an infection or reduce the severity of this respiratory illness.
Colds aren’t as severe as the flu. But they are so common that adults get two to five colds a year, and they are one of the leading causes of absence from work, according to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety.
Regular hand-washing helps reduce the risk of contracting the flu and colds.
A director on the board of the Canadian Herbalists’ Association of B.C., Yardley explained the thinking behind the use of herbs for medicinal purposes.
“The philosophy of herbal medicine is to enhance the function of the body’s natural processes,” she said. “It’s actually enhancing the body’s natural immunity and increasing the body’s ability to work efficiently on its own rather than using agents, which take the place of the body’s immune system.”
Yardley cited thyme as another herb that has medicinal properties. According to her, the dried leaves and flowering tops can be brewed as a tea. “Thyme tea can be used as a throat gargle for a chronic sore throat, laryngitis, spastic cough, and bronchitis,” she said.
For a standard adult dose, she says, a heaping teaspoon of dried thyme can be added to one cup of boiling water, steeped for 10 to 15 minutes, then strained. She recommends drinking one cup daily.
Yardley said that rosemary, either in leaf or tincture form, can be made into a tea to improve circulation. To prepare, add a teaspoon of the dried herb to a cup of boiling water and steep for 10 to 15 minutes. Drink a cup two or three times a day. It’s also helpful to gargle for a sore throat. Yardley suggests three to six times a day for acute throat infection.
Fenugreek seed is a common ingredient in Indian dishes such as curries. Brewed as a tea, the seeds help create a protective coating over irritated mucous membranes in the respiratory tract, according to Yardley. She added that the tea is very soothing for a chronic cough, a sore throat, or bronchitis.
“I do love cooking when I have the time and often add in many herbs with medicinal properties into the food I eat,” Yardley said.