4 herbs to soothe side effects of drugs and chemo: Home medicine cycle 39

I rarely visit my local doctor. I treat myself, my family and sometimes my friends primarily with simple herbs that I grow myself. I’ve successfully dealt with a lot of cuts, bruises, sprains, rashes, allergies, ear aches, stomach trouble, strep throat, anxiety. depression, parasites, viral infections, chronic coughs, flu, fungal infections, nerve and muscle cramps, immunological problems, ADHD, chronic eczema and more. 

But there a few things I can’t handle. First on that list is surgery. When it comes to surgery I have to put on a paper nightie and surrender all control to the medical establishment. And that is definitely not my favorite thing.

Creative Commons image by Jacqueline of flickr.com

Creative Commons image by Jacqueline of flickr.com

This past month I had to undergo high-risk eye surgeries on each eye with a two-week break in between. I was born with a congenital eye condition and I’ve always been legally blind. Now at 40, it finally caught up with me and it was a choice between losing what vision I have or undergoing surgery. The surgeon admitted my case was very difficult and he felt like he was setting out to “discover the North Pole.” 

This meant that there was no room for experimentation or error. For the first time, my herbalist knowledge seemed completely useless.

From experiences when I was younger, I already knew I don’t react well to anesthesia but the surgeon said it would be necessary. In fact, the first surgery entailed about an hour and a half of anesthesia, much longer than I’ve ever undergone before. It took me about two hours more to even become fully awake again. And then I was sorry I was. 

My operated eye barely hurt at all, but I was sick to my stomach and all around miserable from the toxins in the anesthesia for five days. Even ten days after the surgery, I still wobbly and easily tired, as if I was recovering from a serious illness. 

During the first two days all I could really stomach was salt crackers and ginger tea. In my groggy state, I was not very good at treating my own discomfort, but I did manage to remember and ask for ginger. The ginger helped and soon I could eat a bit, if I first drank a cup of very strong ginger tea.

When my brain started working again, I remembered my herbalist research and specifically some studies that mentioned that ginger is used to reduce nausea and mitigate the effects of toxins in chemotherapy, surgery and radiation treatments. I wondered if ginger could help with the toxins in the anesthesia and topical antibiotics I was dealing with. However, the results of the research appeared to indicate that high doses of ginger right BEFORE toxic exposure may have much greater beneficial effects than merely consuming ginger after the fact.

So, for three days before my second surgery, I consumed about eight ounces of fresh ginger per day in tea and food. And after that second surgery, the grogginess of the anesthesia was gone within an hour. I barely felt nauseated at all. I continued to drink ginger tea and be gentle to my stomach. But my energy and strength returned much more quickly, resulting in a recovery less than half as long as the first.

The surgeries were successful. My world-class surgeon Petr Novak did an excellent job in a complex situation. My family and friends provided much needed physical and emotional support. In all this, And I learned a bit about how herbs can help work together with modern medicine, rather than separate from it.

Detoxifying herbs

I have read a lot about detox treatments and natural medicinals for those undergoing chemotherapy or taking pharmaceuticals with potentially harmful side effects. Many posts and books on the subject list less than organic compounds and almost all push certain products and brand names. Some list things like colloidal silver, which while possibly a useful natural antibiotic is still a heavy metal and more likely to be part of the problem than part of the solution in this case. These are red flags for me. My approach to home medicine is based on the use of simple herbs that can be grown or found near your home. 

Creative Commons image by Alex Graves

Creative Commons image by Alex Graves

While these herbs are not without risks and I carefully note warnings or potential problems in my posts, they are herbs that have been used medicinally for thousands of years and have been proved in the ultimate test of time across many different cultures. They are also herbs that I have tried myself or seen in action.

While I encourage all herbalists, whether professionals or home herbalists, to keep up on the ongoing research on herbal medicinals, there is nothing like personal experience to give a deep understanding of what an herb can do. Before I used large doses of ginger to protect myself from a known reaction to pharmaceutical toxins, I had read the optimistic-sounding research but I had little understanding of how it would actually work. 

I have four herbs to list that I use for detox and protection from toxins. These are all considered low-risk herbs which are consumed by many people as foods. Certainly, each individual is different and you should exercise caution with any herbal medicine and consult with your doctor, particularly if you take any regular medications. However, these herbs are among those that are usually safe and protective in action. Unlike many herbs and other detox treatments, these four can often be consumed by pregnant women and those with fragile health.

Ginger

Ginger acts in the body as a gentle stimulant and protector. It protects the integrity of cells and helps to flush out toxins, particularly many of those connected with pharmaceuticals.

Several studies have shown that women who underwent chemotherapy for the treatment of breast cancer used ginger aromatherapy effectively to curb resulting nausea. In other chemotherapy studies ginger extracts have been found to significantly reduce post-chemo nausea. Many herbalists say holding a piece of ginger in your mouth while undergoing chemotherapy markedly reduces nausea.

Another study has found similarly beneficial effects for patients experiencing nausea after surgery involving anesthesia. Radiation therapies also entail similar cell damage and exposure to toxins. Several studies have shown treatment with ginger extracts before exposure to radiation helped reduce the risks to animals (including severe radiation sickness and death) of the exposure. 

My own experience bears out these results. And even more exciting to me is the fact that I was able to achieve these results without having to depend on a processed ginger extract or essential oil. I was able to eat pleasant ginger curry and drink three or four cups of strong ginger tea per day (brewed by grating fresh ginger into hot water and letting it steep without boiling). The use of ginger as a simple was sufficient to significantly improve my recovery after my second surgery. 

Ginger has a vast array of other medicinal uses beyond detoxification and protection. Further studies and recipes for everything from coughs and migraines to cancer and Alzheimer's can be found in my home medicine post on ginger here

Red Clover

Red clover is a humble, almost ubiquitous plant with some surprising properties. Some studies claim it fights breast. prostate and skin cancer. Other research shows its effectiveness in mitigating the side effects of chemotherapy as well as toxic inflammation associated with cardiovascular disease. It has also been used for women's health during menopause.

My only personal experience with red clover is in preventative skin care. I am at an age where it is a good idea to monitor one’s skin for strange new moles or bumps that grow instead of going away. Some years ago, I had such a mystery bump on my leg and I was considering going in for testing. 

But then I read about the efficacy of fresh red clover in preventing skin cancer. I thought I’d just try it out while I waited for my dermatology appointment. But when I mashed up a fresh red clover bloom and stuck it on the bump with a band aid, the effect was dramatic. This bump which had grown and itched and bugged me for months despite all the other herbal sales I tried, subsided and nearly disappeared within three days. And it stayed gone. I occasionally put another red clover bloom on it for prevention, but it has never troubled me since, though it has returned to the normal-sized mole it used to be. 

I can’t generalize from such a one-off personal experience. I definitely suggest you take any suspicious moles and bumps to be tested. Skin cancer is nothing to play around with. The red clover treatment also works far better in the summer when red clover is fresh and in bloom, but it’s something to keep in mind.

Nettle

Nettles are often considered a noxious weed and a mere annoyance. However, they have some powerful beneficial effects and are delicious steamed and seasoned with butter and lemon.

Image by Arie Farnam

Image by Arie Farnam

Stinging nettles lose their sting when cooked, steeped or dried. The chemical compounds which cause a localized allergic reaction in many but not all people (the sting) break down when exposed to heat or UV rays. What is left is beneficial in many ways and strongly anti-allergenic.

I use nettles in my home primarily as anti-allergy medicine, often with dramatic results. See my post on nettles and allergy rashes here.

But there are other uses for nettles. Many herbalists use them for spring detox protocols. The usual recommendation is a cup or two of nettle tea every day for three weeks, no longer. This will flush an amazing amount of heavy metals from the body and often leave the patient feeling significantly more energetic.

However, there is an important warning to go along with this. The compounds in the nettles that help to rid the body of toxins make no distinction about iron. Iron is a heavy metal and toxic in larger amounts. Nettles flush it out. If you do have too much iron in your body, this could be helpful. But some people have an iron deficiency, leading to anemia.

The only time I have tried a nettle detox, it exacerbated my preexisting anemia and I was chronically tired and had to take iron supplements for weeks afterward. I don’t recommend longer nettle detoxes for anyone who struggles with anemia. I would recommend it if you are concerned that you may have been exposed short-term to toxic heavy metals and want to ensure that they don’t accumulate in your body. 

The action of nettle tea and nettle greens used as food to flush put heavy metals is well documented and unquestionable. It’s just a good idea to take it seriously and exercise caution. They are delicious but they are also real medicine.

Dandelion

Dandelion has been considered a "detoxifying" or "tonic" herb for centuries. Many herbalists recommend a "spring tonic" which consists of drinking dandelion root tea (sometimes combined with nettle leaves or burdock root) for a couple of weeks in the spring to cleanse the body of the chemical residues of winter smog and mold. This can be very helpful and result in a burst of energy.

The chemical reactions that make this tonic work, lead to even more startling uses. 

A study has found that dandelion and other herbs protect DNA against damaging toxins. Dandelion is particularly valuable in protecting the liver from toxins, including alcohol poisoning. This is why dandelion is used in drug and alcohol detox and rehabilitation.

Dandelion root has also been found to combat the formation of cancerous tumors in mice and to assist in the treatment of prostate and breast cancer. Even more exciting is a study that shows dandelion to be potent in treating chemo-resistant melanoma, one of the most dangerous cancers for younger people. It may also protect against chemically induced lung injuries.

In short, science is just beginning to make use of the wonderful ability of dandelion root to mitigate the harmful effects of the toxins that have proliferated in our modern environment. How fortunate that dandelions are as prolific as the dangers.

Dandelion also acts as an anti-viral, anti-microbial, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory agent. It can help in the treatment and prevention of a list of digestive problems including intestinal infections and chemical-induced pancreatitis. Further details about dandelions can be found in my home medicine post on the herb here.

Soothing a sore throat while beating infection: Home Medicine Cycle 32

The immune system is our defense against infection. But it is not one monolithic shield. Instead it is a system that works together with the other systems of the body. And as such it has stronger and weaker points. There are often--in specific individuals--weak points that provide infections with an easy gateway to the body—a literal Achilles’ Heel. 

Image licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Image licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

For many the vulnerable place is some section of the respiratory pathways and infection creeps in through colds. Others have vulnerable inner ears. For me the weak point is my throat. 

Most viral illnesses begin with a sore throat, even if that isn’t among their primary symptoms. And if I am weakened by a viral infection, the chances are high that I may develop bacterial strep throat. Almost all antibiotics I have ever taken were for strep throat. 

As a result I’ve made a study of the herbs that are useful for sore throats and throat infections. And in the last few years, my throat troubles have largely evaporated. 

There is a difference in how I treat a tickling in the throat or a raging inflamed throat. And there are things I do to prevent sore throats when other illnesses are around. Here are the things that work for me, which have resulted in two years without any significant sore throat, despite my personal vulnerability. 

Prevention:

When there are viral infections around or particularly if others have an illness involving a sore throat, I am particularly careful. I use echinacea tincture (recipe here) and echinacea flower tea for general prevention. Beyond that I drink strongly brewed lemon balm tea. See this page on how to brew potent herbal teas. I personally like it without honey and I use honey for acute infections, but that’s optional.

A tickling in the throat

Whenever I get a tickling sensation in my throat and feel that something might be coming on, I do the same as with prevention—echinacea and lemon balm. Plus I take a dose of plantain syrup. You can find the recipe for that here

Acute sore throat

If an infection takes hold and the throat is inflamed and painful, I will make strong lemon balm tea with added raw honey and fresh lemon juice. This will often cut the pain very effectively. Another option is lemon balm popsicles. Simply brew a strong lemon balm tea with honey, add yogurt and lemon juice and freeze. While some infections do better with hot treatment, popsicles are sometimes the only way to get a child to take medicine and it may be worth it. 

In an acute situation I also take lemon balm tincture. New studies are showing some surprising results with lemon balm, which appears to be specifically active against the bacteria that is responsible for most bacterial infections in the throat.

A simple herbal antibiotic is fresh garlic, either eaten in food (without cooking) or drunk as juice. It works both topically and systemically so the more the garlic or its juice touches the inflamed parts of the throat the better. The difficulty with raw garlic is that many people cannot swallow enough of it for it to work as a systemic antibiotic. Even a small amount of raw garlic eaten in food can help to prevent or treat throat infections however.

Another effective treatment is propolis tincture. It's made with 80 proof alcohol and must be diluted in water. When treating a sore throat it is best to gargle with the water and propolis tincture solution for as long as possible. Those with bee allergies should be very careful of propolis, since it Is a bee product.

Some people may find gargling with propolis to be unpleasant due to its distinctive taste. I am not sure why I dislike the taste of propolis. It smells good to me but I find the tincture to be unpleasant and it is hard for me to gargle with it. Still I do it because the combination of propolis and lemon balm tinctures is the one way I know of to prevent the need for synthetic antibiotics for strep throat.

There are herbal antibiotics which may be effective against strep throat, however most of them are not available locally and I haven’t been able to grow them myself or gather them in the wild yet. Purchased herbs are highly variable in their effectiveness and strep throat can become very serious and lead to permanent health problems if left untreated. Therefore I would only rely on herbs to treat a bacterial throat infection if I could see a professional herbalist with reputable supplies.

A sore throat that continues for many days or is accompanied by a significant fever should be treated as a potentially serious illness. Medical and healing professionals should be consulted. 

Ginger - the great protector and comforter: Home Medicine Cycle 30

It can feel like a hostile world out there. It seems like every other day that I read about a new substance, product or pollutant that threatens my family with cancer, toxicity or liver damage. Gone are the days when I drank water from free-flowing streams as a child and ate wilderness snow without fear. From packaged foods to pharmaceutical (some of them very necessary) to  the very air we can't help but breathe, carcinogens and toxins are everywhere. 

Ginger root - Creative Commons image by  Andrés Monroy-Hernández 

Ginger root - Creative Commons image by  Andrés Monroy-Hernández 

Wouldn't it be wonderful if you had a strong and comforting defender that could protect you and your family from many of these hazards. Research is showing that you might have just such a friend, and unlike so many herbs I feature here, this is one you can buy fresh at most grocery stores. 

Ginger.

That's right. The knobbly root that you may have overlooked as a nice spice, tea or at most an addition to Tai soup has some serious defending and comforting powers. Not all of the uses are fully understood yet and the research is ongoing. But there are a couple of things you can be sure of.

Ginger's easy and proven home remedies extend to: 

Fresh ginger and lemon tea - Creative Commons image by Jacqueline of Flickr.com

Fresh ginger and lemon tea - Creative Commons image by Jacqueline of Flickr.com

  • Ginger tea for coughs, colds and flu: I used to think I just loved the taste and warming feel of ginger when I had a cold or the flu. As it turns out ginger also eases coughs and fights many respiratory viruses. Not only is ginger tea (made by grating fresh ginger root into a cup of hot water) a good idea (and delicious) for coughs and colds, ginger syrup and even tincture can help too.
  • Ginger syrup, ginger candy or fresh ginger root as a food for stomach troubles and nausea: Ginger is most famous among herbalists for being a nausea calmer.As the results of scientific studies come in, we are finding out that it isn't just nausea it helps with. It helps to heal difficult-to-treat-stomach ulcers through antimicrobial activity. It is specifically helpful for nausea during pregnancy and for post-operative and chemotherapy-induced nausea. Of course, it also helps many children with motion sickness, though not all children can handle enough of the spicy taste.
  • Ginger tea or powdered ginger root for  menstrual cramps: Ginger tea  (made with grated fresh ginger root) can be a great help with menstrual cramps of the inflammatory variety. I've read that some preparations of powdered ginger root are as powerful as Ibuprofen in mitigating cramps, but I always take any preparation I can't make myself at home with a large grain of salt, because buying herbal preparations from non-local sources is always a gamble. You might get lucky and find ginger root powder that is fresh enough and as effective as the studies show it can be, but you could easily buy over-processed and aged preparations and have nothing. For now, I stick to a combination of yarrow tincture and ginger tea for cramps.
  • Ginger essential oil aroma therapy for post-operative and chemotherapy induced nausea: Several studies have shown that women who underwent chemotherapy for the treatment of breast cancer used ginger aromatherapy effectively to curb resulting nausea. Another study has found similarly beneficial effects for patients experiencing nausea after operations.
  • Ginger tea or powder for migraine headaches: Ginger tea can be a great comfort for migraines. A study has found that ginger root powder (if properly stored and kept fresh) can be as powerful as pharmaceutical migraine medications.
  • Ginger tincture for muscle soreness and inflammation: Ginger is strongly anti-inflammatory and it has been taken by competitive athletes in many countries to reduce the wear and tear of training. It can also help with joint and muscle inflammations and strain.
Detail of ginger - Creative Commons image by Miran Rijavec

Detail of ginger - Creative Commons image by Miran Rijavec

There is exciting research showing new areas where ginger shows great potential, but it is less clear in these areas how a homecrafting herbalist could make the right kind of herbal extract from ginger to achieve these effects. It is very likely that with some experimentation and work we will soon be able to tap into the amazing protective qualities of ginger.

  • Ginger treating diabetes: Ginger extracts are being used in trials to treat type 2 diabetes in people and type 1 diabetes in animals. Ginger powder and extracts have been studied in several trails and found to be effective against type 2 diabetes and found to be an "effective treatment." Considering the number of studies in this area, it is too bad that there isn't more information on the use of dietary ginger or ginger tea to treat diabetes.
  • Ginger fighting cancer: Ginger extracts have been shown to be effective in treating many types of cancer, particularly in animal studies. Some of the specific types treated by ginger are liver, pancreatic, gastrointestinal, skin, lungprostate and breast cancers. Ginger has been shown to stunt the growth of cancer sells and prevent the spreading of cancers to other areas of the body. Ginger has been found to assist in treating cancers that are chemo-resistant or inoperable. It is particularly interesting, given that almost all studies are done with powdered ginger root, that some of the compounds  most helpful in treating cancer in ginger are best accessed when the root is steamed (i.e. made into tea rather than dried and powdered). And yet, we don't know exactly what does are needed in these treatments because studying a simple tea wouldn't make for an expensive drug and high profits. 
  • Ginger helping with chemotherapy: In addition to the aromatherapy studies, ginger extracts have been found to significantly reduce post-chemo nausea
  • Ginger protecting against radiation: Several studies have shown treatment with ginger extracts before exposure to radiation helped reduce the risks to animals (including severe radiation sickness and death) of the exposure. 
  • Ginger helping the brains of middle-aged women: Due to its amazing antioxidant qualities ginger extracts have been used in studies to protect against oxidative stress that causes mild cognitive impairment in many healthy women. The medical industry isn't particularly interested in studying how fresh ginger tea compares to the expensive ginger extracts used in such studies, but the amounts of the compounds involved suggest tea may work just as well.
  • Ginger preventing Alzheimer's:  Ginger root extract has been used to prevent Alzheimer's symptoms in animals. More study is needed but the right compounds are present in ginger and it clearly would make a good supplemental treatment at the very least.
  • Ginger wiping out microbes:  Ginger extracts have been shown to have a lot of antimicrobial power in test tubes. It's not entirely clear how it can be applied to daily use in the right concentrations.
  • Ginger battling HIV and other dangerous human viruses: Some studies have shown ginger to be effective in the fight against difficult-to-treat viruses that infect humans. However, these studies have mainly been done on animals or in test tubes. So, it isn't clear how to replicate these results at home.

It's great to see so much scientific research being done with a medicinal herb. On the other hand, one of the significant problems with medical studies in this day and age is the bias of profit margins. Even if a simple herbal tea has fantastic and easily demonstrable effects, you aren't likely to find a study proving that it does because that would cut into the profits of the pharmaceutical companies that finance such studies..Many of the studies show that a small amount of ginger powder has a great effect, but there is no study on using fresh ginger or ginger tincture, which are much more easily obtained by individuals and less easily marketed as an expensive "dietary supplement" or pharmaceutical. At the same time, some of the best medicinal compounds in ginger are best accessed when the root is steamed, rather than dried. It is possible that ginger tea is actually more effective, despite the lack of studies looking into it. It is important to remember that while the presence of favorable scientific studies is a good sign, the absence of scientific studies isn't proof of a lack of usefulness. It is often a sign that a medicinal is too easy to use at home and thus not a good bet for marketing.

I love to hear from you. Drop a comment below and share your experience.

The season of coughs looms but the herb cupboard is well-stocked: Home Medicine Cycle 25

Whether you've been busily flitting from wildflower to wildflower this past summer to gather your herbs or you are looking for a good local supplier of freshly dried and tinctured herbs, this is the time of year to take stock of your herbal supplies. The season of colds, coughs and flu brings infections, seasonal light deprivation, slumps in immune function and other problems that modern medicine has difficulty solving is at hand. 

Wild thyme - Creative Commons image by Summi of German Wikipedia

Wild thyme - Creative Commons image by Summi of German Wikipedia

I dread taking my kids to a doctor for a checkup at this time of year because we're sure to catch something in the waiting room. And if someone in our family is sick with a viral infection, we're much better off staying home to rest with a cup of tea than we would be exposing ourselves (and others) to more problematic infections. As hard as doctors and nurses try (and they do try mightily) to combat bacteria, serious infections from antibiotic resistant bacteria are widespread in hospitals and spreading to all types of medical facilities. When you are already weakened by a virus, your chances of contracting a life-threatening resistant bacterial infection are higher.

As much as I love having a good doctor nearby, I would rather chat with her in line at the grocery story than visit her office. And one of the most important ways to avoid that office at this time of year is to know how to handle a cough on your own. Here are my tips:

Know your cough

There are two basic types of cough--a productive cough (where you are actually coughing up mucous) and a dry cough.  And these different types need different approaches. While most of the pharmaceuticals sold over the counter attempt to suppress a cough at all costs, this can actually lead to worse infection and often simply doesn't work. With a productive cough, you don't need to be hacking and coughing all the time to get the troublesome mucous out. If you can loosen up the mucous a productive cough doesn't have to be a too unpleasant or last more than a few days.

In these posts, I try to stay away from terms that aren't clear to lay people, but there are two herbalist terms that are really worth learning. The first is "expectorant." An herb or a chemical compound that is an expectorant has the property of helping to loosen mucous and make it easier to cough out. You may feel like your cough is suppressed after taking an expectorant herb because you will not have to cough so many times in order to release the mucus, but in reality this type of herb does nothing to suppress a cough. It does, however, make it easier to breathe, prevent further infection, hasten the end of the cough and often reduce the frequency of coughing.

Herbs for a phlegmy, mucousy cough: 

  • Mullein leaf (good as tincture, syrup and tea and it's soothing as well)
  • Thyme (my all-time favorite--makes a delicious tea and a good tincture as well)
  • Ginger (a tasty and helpful addition to any cough tea)
  • Eucalyptus (use one drop of essential oil in a steam bath to clear up congestion)
  • Hyssop (a pleasant tea)
  • Horehound (extremely bitter as a tea but can be made into taste cough drops)
  • Garlic (fresh garlic is good sprinkled on soups and salads whenever you're sick)
  • Horseradish root (It's possible that just smelling the fresh root will cure what ails you! Caution!)
  • Elecampane flowers (good for cough syrups)
  • Anise Seed
  • Black Cohosh root
  • Colt's Foot

For a dry, irritating cough

The other important term is "demulcent." An herb or compound that is demulcent will sooth mucous membranes and help get rid of irritations that cause dry, hacking coughs. This second type of cough--the dry cough--is the kind you do want to suppress. The cough itself doesn't do much to rid your body of mucous or infection. It simply serves to further irritate already inflamed places in your throat and airways. That's why this type of cough can go on for months and become chronic. It is often self-perpetuating and it disrupts sleep, further harming the body's ability to heal. 

My husband has battled dry, chronic coughs in the winter for years and the remedie that has finally brought some relief is a combination of thyme, mullein and ground ivy tinctures along with syrup made from mullein leaves, plantain leaves, elecampane flowers and marshmallow flowers. You may have to experiment to find the right combination for a chronic cough but the most common demulcent herbs are:  

  • Mullein (For chronic coughs I find regular tincture to work best but if you can ensure that you drink the tea every day, that could work as well)
  • Marshmallow flowers (not made into candy but rather into syrup)
  • Plantain (helps to sooth whatever it can physically touch, so it is good for irritations close to the throat)
  • Coltsfoot (another good tea)
  • Lungwort (the flowers particularly make a nice tea)
  • Liquorice
  • Slippery Elm
  • Wild cherry bark (It's said to be a strong cough suppressant but I don't have personal experience with it.)
  • Lemon, and honey (Drink a warm lemonade made with honey. It may only provide temporary relief but sometimes temporarily relief is all your body needs to recover.)
  • Onion (you can make a syrup from cooked onion that is used widely for coughs in some parts of Eastern Europe.)
  • Sage, peppermint and rose hips are good additions to many of these teas and syrups for the nutrients they provide when you are dealing with a chronic cough.

Whooping cough

Another kind of cough is whooping cough and this is quite different from a the two other kinds of coughs. True whooping cough (pertussis) is a dangerous bacterial infection that can sometimes be fatal in infants. The signature sound of whooping cough is a cough followed by a whooping noise. The noise comes from the sick person (usually a small child) trying desperately to pull air in through swollen tissue. You can see the hollow at the base of the throat depress as the child strives to take a breath and this is a critical sign of danger.

My son had a cough like this when he was two and again last winter, although he wasn't treated with antibiotics at the time. Sometimes a whooping-type cough comes even when a child has been vaccinated against pertussis and it is frightening and possibly very dangerous. One of the ways that whooping cough is treated in an emergency room is to put the child into a cool steam tent. The reason is that the cool steam soothes the swollen tissue that makes it so difficult to breathe. This is also why many people start out to bring a child with a terrible whooping cough to an emergency room, only to have it disappear by the time they arrive, because of the exposure to the cool, damp air (given that most attacks of whooping cough occur at around 10:00 pm to midnight). 

I learned this the first time my son had such a coughing attack and couldn't breathe. After trying several things that work with other types of cough (to no good effect), I took him out at night and the cough subsided within a half an hour. I didn't get much sleep the rest of the night but he did. The second time it happened, I didn't wait but immediately bundled him up and went outside, where I held him until the attack stopped. Interestingly enough, as a child of barely four, he cried and insisted that he didn't like the cold air. The cough was so powerful, he though he would vomit but couldn't and within ten minutes it passed. 

Please be aware that I'm not a doctor and this isn't medical advice for any specific ailment. My experience shows that the only thing you can do at home for something resembling whooping cough is cool steam or night air. Otherwise, I would seek out professional medical attention.

Other times to seek out professional help with a cough

Coughs can be a symptom of a number of bacterial infections or other breathing problems. Beyond whooping cough, there are times to leave the home herb cupboard and find professional medical help, particularly if...

  • There is a fever for more than several days,
  • A fever, wheezing or headaches are severe or get worse rapidly,
  • you develop fast breathing or chest pain,
  • it is difficult to get a breath,
  • you cough up blood or rusty-colored phlegm,
  • you become sleepy or confused,
  • a cough lasts for longer than four weeks or keeps coming back.

Please feel free to add your comments and experiences with herbal cough remedies in the comments.