Herbs for a Healthy Christmas by Fiona Shannon, Naturopath and Dynamic Yoga Instructor


Herbal medicines have been used therapeutically for thousands of years. The plant world is our natural pharmacy and can help in many conditions; from acute to chronic, heart to digestive, sleep to skin, hormonal imbalances to emotional issues. If used appropriately, their healing power can be remarkable.

With the season of excess officially in full swing, late nights and compromised immune systems are a threat to us all. I thought it would be a good idea to outline some of our friends from the plant world that can be of great benefit to us at this time.

Cold or Flu:

Elderberries – The Elder is a native Irish tree. The berries from this tree are specifically useful for cold and flu, respiratory infections and lowered immune systems. When you feel the onset of any of the above, they work by preventing the virus breaking into cell walls. If they do not stop onset they can reduce severity and length of symptoms. Elderberry supplements are widely available in health shops, although nothing can beat going out and picking your own berries, if you have the time/patience/interest!


This culinary staple is extremely beneficial at this time of year. It is a natural anti-biotic, anti-viral, antiseptic, has the ability to shift mucus, to promote sweating and can also stop bacteria from growing. It can even kill parasites and lower blood pressure. Adding it to soups and stews is a great way of increasing immunity and warding off colds and flu. A traditional remedy for colds is a Garlic Honey. Chop garlic finely, place into a jar and cover with honey (add some thyme or sage for additional benefits). You can use this throughout winter by spreading some on a bit of toast each morning (prevention is better than cure!).

Cough and Sore throat:

A great remedy for a sore throat is licorice. The root is used to treat bronchitis, coughs and hoarse throats. As well as soothing the mucus membranes of the throat and digestive system, it can also be used for bladder and kidney ailments and it is highly regarded as an adrenal tonic. It can be taken as a tea, or for more effective therapeutic doses, as a tincture (an extraction of the herb in alcohol) or capsule form (dried and powdered).

A more native plant to use is this situation is Sage. The beautiful Sage plant is used for throat infections, laryngitis and pharyngitis. It is a natural anti-septic and anti-spasmodic. It can be gargled, taken as a tea, through diet, or it can be purchased in capsule or tincture form from a health shop or herbalist.  It’s a fantastic herb to use in cooking as it is full of anti-oxidants and aids the digestion of fatty foods.

Stress, anxiety, insomnia:

This time of year is known for being fun and sociable. However, for so many it can be an extremely stressful. If you are feeling a little more stressed, anxious or having trouble sleeping, there are many herbs that can help.

Valerian root is one of my favorite nervous system herbs. It can be used for anxiety, insomnia, panic attacks, excitability, cramps, nervous indigestion, palpitations, nervous sweating and even stage fright or performance anxiety. It can be used for all stress related conditions! It works by blocking the neurotransmitters thus reducing our response to stress. If using it to help you sleep it is best taken throughout the day, preventing a build up of stress, to allow you to fall asleep easily.

Another one of my favorite herbs is Avena sativa, commonly known as Oats. Good old-fashioned porridge oats are highly nutritious, full of B vitamins, calcium, silica and vitamin E. They can also be used to treat depression, reduce cholesterol, improve stamina and muscle function, are an excellent food for children to build bones and teeth, and can even be used topically to treat skin conditions, such as eczema. To get the most out of your oats they are best soaked over night (this breaks down difficult to digest phytic acid) and cooked on the hob (as opposed to microwave!).

Another herb that is great for stress is Lavender. Some of the uses for lavender include sleeplessness, irritability, depression and tension headaches. Lavender loves to grow in Ireland, so it is easy to find in the garden. A few sprigs in the bedroom or in the bath can do wonders. Lavender essential oil on a burner works very well too. Also, it is a great oil to keep in the kitchen in case of a burn, as it is antiseptic and very soothing for burnt skin.

Overworked liver:

There are so many herbs I would love to mention. However, as this article must come to an end, I have picked just one more. Milk thistle – With the excess alcohol, cream and mince pies many of us indulge in at this time of year, our livers can end up with a lot of extra work. Milk thistle is a fantastic plant that supports liver function, liver cell regeneration and detoxification. So, if you find you are indulging more than usual, it may be a good idea to give your liver a little extra support by taking a Milk thistle supplement.

As I mentioned before, the plant world is our natural pharmacy. It is truly amazing how nature provides and how many healing plants are literally at our doorstep. I hope that this article might help you get through the season with a little more vitality, and perhaps encourage you to reach for a more natural remedy the next time you feel out of balance.

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