Five homegrown herbs that can help ease your allergic reactions
Edible gardening guru Jane Griffiths shares growing tips and reveals how to make therapeutic infusions and decoctions from your harvest
For those who suffer from allergies, spring is a time of sneezing, red itchy eyes, sniffly noses and blocked sinuses. Using herbs can ease these reactions.
Here are five you can easily grow at home and harvest to create therapeutic infusions and decoctions:
Echinacea is a delightful plant; bees and butterflies love it and its striking pink flowers last throughout summer. Grow in full sun and well-drained soil.
It contains polysaccharides which enhance the immune system, relieve pain, lessen inflammation and have antiviral and antioxidant properties. To lessen hay fever, regularly drink a decoction made from the roots (which contain the bulk of the benefits).
Peppermint is one of the easiest herbs to grow; the most difficult thing is preventing it from taking over your garden! Either plant in pots or, if you want it as part of your herb garden, bury bottomless pots in the ground. It likes full sun and plenty of water.
In late spring buy fresh rhizomes with well-developed growth buds. Plant in well-composted soil when daytime temperatures are over 20°C. Bury at an angle, with one side about 6cm deep and the other just below the surface and the growth buds pointing upwards. Cover and press down firmly. Keep well watered and mulched throughout the growing season and it will spread by growing new rhizomes underground.
It's a powerful decongestant as an infusion or added to a steamer and inhaled.
Ginger likes warm weather and filtered sunlight.
Ginger is an anti-inflammatory, warming herb, stimulating circulation and making the body sweat. It is particularly good for hay fever, colds, coughs and chills. Use in an infusion (powdered) or decoction (fresh or dried roots).
Thyme, a hardy and unfussy perennial, bears pink and purple flowers in summer. There are numerous varieties, including variegated and lemon-flavoured ones.
It does best in hot, dry climates, but it grows happily through rainy summers as long as it has sufficient sunlight and well-drained soil.
Every year after flowering, give the plant a trim to encourage new growth and prevent it from becoming too woody and sprawling. It contains thymol, a strong antiseptic, good for loosening stubborn phlegm and strengthening lungs.
A daily infusion helps treat asthma, hay fever, sinus congestion, colds and coughs.
5. STINGING NETTLE
Stinging nettle prefers semi-shade and grows easily in any soil. It spreads and can become invasive if not controlled.
In late autumn, cut to the ground and mulch lightly. Wear gloves when working with it - it's not called stinging nettle for nothing!
Nettle is a natural antihistamine, rich in vitamins (particularly C) and minerals.
Drinking an infusion regularly boosts our immune system and rids the body of toxins, helping to reduce allergies and rashes.
HOW TO MAKE A HERBAL INFUSIONS AND DECOCTIONS
An infusion is used to extract the constituents of leaves, flowers and soft-stemmed herbs.
To make one, add 500ml just-boiled water to 75g fresh or 30g dried herbs. Cover and leave to steep for 15 minutes before straining (don't add vigorously boiling water as valuable oils will be lost in the steam).
A decoction is used for more robust plant parts: roots, seeds, stems, bark and berries.
To make one, chop 30g dried herb or 60g fresh herb and add 750ml cold water. Heat (covered) and simmer gently for 1 hour before straining.
Both infusions and decoctions can be sweetened with honey and should be made fresh daily. Drink 1 cup, three times a day, hot or cold.
• Griffiths is the author of four popular vegetable gardening books, the latest being 'Jane's Delicious A-Z Of Herbs'. Visit janesdeliciousshop.co.za
• Always consult a medical professional before taking herbal remedies. Pregnant women and children should be particularly cautious.
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