Posted by: Integra Massage | April 6, 2011

Of Colds and’Flus and Peppermint tea

Peppermint tea

Image via Wikipedia

 

Yesterday I suggested to a member of my Twitter community who was going down with a ‘flu bug to drink Peppermint tea.  The standard medical advice in this situation is a couple of paracetamol and rest.  That will certainly give some relief of discomfort, but can we do more?

Certain herbs, notably Echinacea have been greatly hyped for their supposed ability to help us fight a cold or ‘flu.  Research evidence is divided on this topic, and while I think it is likely that enough really high quality Echinacea will help, my experience has been that the results are not dramatic.

Traditionally, in both folk medicine and the ancient traditions of Oriental and Ayurvedic medicine, sweating therapy was the treatment of choice for the initial stages of acute infections.  Hot baths, saunas or sweat lodges together with sweat inducing teas were used to raise body temperature and open the skin pores.  The idea is that by raising body temperature and increasing circulation, the body’s natural defences would be mobilised to fight of the invader.

This is of course why we get a temperature when we have a bug.  The raised temperature is the body adjusting itself to the optimum state for the immune system to function. We have all experienced the sequence of chills, where the body is trying to heat itself up followed by sweat and burning as it reaches it peak.  Often the body will go through several waves of temperature rises before it finally deals with the bug.

In many ways then the approach of supressing the raised temperature with paracetamol is working against the immune system.  Sweating on the other hand works with it.

To come back to Peppermint.  This is one of a wide range of herbs which have a diaphoretic or sweat inducing effect.  Other diaphoretic herbs include Ginger, Yarrow, Sage, Lemon Balm and Elderflowers and my Twitter friend would have done best with a mixture of several of them.

The procedure is simple.  At the first sign of a bug, drink a cup or two of herb tea and either retire under the duvet with a hot water bottle or into a hot bath until you break a sweat.  Then rest.  You can do this a couple of times a day.

Does it work?  Yes, quite a lot of the time if you catch the bug early enough.  I have several times stopped a cold dead in tracks by sweating.  At the least it will help the bug through more quickly and give as much symptomatic relief as paracetamol without being toxic to your liver.

Peppermint has other healing properties that help with colds and flu’s.  It is an anti-spasmodic, which means that it relives tension in the muscles and helps with ‘fluey body aches.  It is also a pain reliever which has a mild anesthetic effect on the mucous membranes.  It also has some effect of drying up mucus secretions and decongesting the nasal passages.

Peppermint’s other main field of action is on the digestive system.  Its carminative effect means that it relieves gas, bloating and intestinal spasm.  It relieves nausea but not as effectively as Ginger; and it stimulates the flow of bile which promotes good appetite and assimilation.  A few years back Peppermint oil was hyped as the cure for irritable bowel symdrome (even GPs recommend it).  While it is certainly not a “cure” for this complex and multi level disorder, many people find Peppermint oil capsules do ease digestive pain and spasm.  As a word of caution, always take the oil in capsules – never neat!

In Chinese medicine Peppermint’s close relative Bohe is considered to release stagnant energy from the chest and upper body.  It is used in combination with other herbs for headaches, premenstrual symptoms and tension and anxiety.

So, Peppermint is a wonderful and very useful herb.  As with all herbs, the effectiveness depends on the quality of the material.  Peppermint tea bags from the supermaket will probably have a rather muted effect.  A half opened packet stored for years at the back of the spice cupboard will be dead.  So buy in small quantities from a good herb dealer like Baldwins and use within 3 months.  Best of all grow your own.

To make Peppermint tea, infuse about 15g of dried herb or a handfull of fresh leaves in a half pint of water covered for 5-10 mins.  Do not boil.

With Colds and flu’s the best thing is not to get them in the first place…. but that will have to be the subject of another blog article.

For more information on herbs, please see my website http://www.integramassage.co.uk/herbalism.html

 

 

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