Anti Viral Potions in February

A photograph of a viola flower

It’s coming towards the end of February and here in the Lake District we’ve been having some breathtakingly beautiful days of cold, clear sunshine with just a hint of Spring in the air.

Today I had a pile of paperwork to do but the day was just too lovely to spend indoors!

Instead I had a ride on a friends horse along an open, grassy stretch of estuary. Toby (the horse) had just recovered from a long spell of mud fever which had left one of his legs swollen and tender with a lot of bare, sore looking skin showing.

I was checking his leg over before riding and a Chinese herb sprang to mind. The herb is a type of Viola flower which is used to help fight infections. In Chinese medicine it’s used a lot, both as a tea and also as a compress of the whole plant, for conditions like boils and skin infections. It’s also used as a component in mixtures of other herbs to help fight bacterial and viral infections, especially those in which there’s a degree of swelling or inflammation, for example tonsillitis.

I found a couple of Viola plants in my vegetable patch this weekend, so I’m planning to pick them, roots and all, and make an oil based lotion for Toby’s leg. Hopefully it’ll protect his skin while the hair grows back, and prevent infection if his skin is broken.

It’s really easy to grow Viola’s. The type used in Chinese medicine is the beautiful little violet and yellow hearts-ease Viola that grows wild in the UK. Here in Cumbria I’ve seen them thriving in sand dunes. They’re robust plants and would grow well in a pot, or out in the garden, as long as some sunshine could get to them and they weren’t overwhelmed by other plants.

Other useful plants to get planting for your home herbal medicine kit would be Marigolds (preferably open flowered rather than the pom-pom type bedding plant), and Dandelions (you might not need to buy seed for these!)

Calendula flowers are fantastic in creams and balms for their anti-inflammatory effect, and Dandelions are used in Chinese Medicine to ward off viral epidemics. My Chinese Herbal Medicine tutor, Professor Shulan Tang, used to reminisce about her childhood in the country side of China, living on community farms. She told us that if there were an outbreak of meningitis in the area, then huge vats of whole Dandelion plants cooked in water would be prepared, for every one to drink, as a preventative.

I like the idea of being able to make some remedies with ingredients that you can grow yourself. I’ll add to my medical chest list as I think of things over my next few posts.

Now I’m off to the kitchen myself to cook up my ointment for Toby.

Seasonal colds, aches and pains.

I’ve been seeing a lot of people with bad colds in my clinic this winter.

The one that seems to be around mostly starts with a sore throat and headache and can turn into a chesty cough that lasts for weeks.

In Chinese medicine this would be thought to be due to a few different things. The first would be how windy the weather has been this winter. The wind was historically considered to be the ‘spearhead of disease’ , not only making people vulnerable to catching colds, but also to starting up or worsening existing aches and pains. Old injuries can also be seen to flare up again, with discomfort varying from tooth-achey dull pain, to fixed acute pain. Backs, knees, necks shoulders and hands are particularly vulnerable.

Supporting this, modern research has shown that peoples’ immune systems function poorly in windy conditions.

The mild, wet weather that we’ve had for most of the Winter encourages phlegmy, chesty, achey, tired conditions and there are certainly a lot of these around at the moment!

In Asia Chinese herbs are often used in a way to supplement a persons diet, and many Chinese herbs are also commonly used foods in Asia. We use a lot of Chinese herbs as spices and seasonings in this country and so I thought I’d post a cold cure remedy based on Chinese herbs  which uses things that can easily be bought from local shops.

In your biggest mug place the following;

  • 1 desert spoon of spiced berry cordial (its the elderberry juice that you want, so check the cordial contains this otherwise it’ll just taste nice and not give you the therapeutic benefit we’re after).
  • 4 thumb nail sized slices of raw ginger – no need to peel it but wash well.
  • Quarter of a cinnamon stick.
  • An eighth of a whole orange, including peel (wash well before cutting).
  • 2 brown cardamon pods (or 4 green ones if you can’t find the brown nb. brown are sometimes called black!)
  • A quarter of a liquorice stick (bash it well with a rolling pin).
  • 2 stars of star anise.

Now just top up with boiling water and leave the mug for a couple of minutes, before you drink it. You can reuse all of the spices once more if you like-just add more cordial and hot water.

Aim to drink 2 mugs daily as soon as you feel the cold symptoms starting.

The year of the Dragon.

More coming on the conditions that acupuncture is used for. In the meantime here’s a link to what the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends. It is based on a review and analysis of reports of controlled clinical trials and ranges from migraines to shoulder, neck and back pain and includes a lot of things that might to be unexpected, like induction of labour, depression, and insomnia.

It has recently changed to the year of the dragon and what I really felt like talking about at the start of this baby-focussed year, was fertility; specifically how acupuncture is currently used to help with fertility issues. The dragon is considered the luckiest sign of all in China. The last two dragon years have both meant a ten percent increase in births in Asia because of this link with increased fortune!

Chinese medicine has a long history of helping with all types of fertility issues, from recurrent miscarriage to IVF support and even increasing sperm motility and mobility! I have worked alongside Zita West’s fertility clinic in London for the last 2 years. This gives my clients access to a whole wealth of her experience and expertise. There are so many different ways in which it is possible to optimise both female and male fertility and to help give IVF treatment the maximum chance of success.

Dietary advice is key, looking at a couples dietary and life style habits and making sure that they are getting it right. I can draw on advice here from Zita West’s London based top nutritionists and clinicians.

For women embarking on IVF a whole host of benefits can be derived from acupuncture treatment.
There are acupuncture points and combinations to help de-stress, to enhance blood flow to the endometrial lining, to promote ovulation, to regulate the menstrual cycle, to extend the post luteal phase… the list is endless. I’ll attach a few published articles and research papers.

At the moment 1 in 7 women are seeking help to have a baby.
Chinese medicine has a long history of being part of helping things along.

What conditions can acupuncture be used for?

When I’m at work there are some questions which I’m asked a lot, and this is one of them; “What conditions do I see most of at work?”

I wondered this myself when I first started working as an acupuncturist fifteen years ago. What problems would people in the West go to an acupuncturist for? And more specifically, because I had just moved to a very rural part of the Lake District, what would local people feel acupuncture could be helpful for?

The answer was a surprise to me, probably because of my own work history.

My background, before becoming an acupuncturist, had been in main-stream medicine; I’d always been in medical research in some form or other with a specialism in the genetics of cancer.
I had ended up in Japan developing a medical genetics research centre in the middle of no-where, a couple of hours outside Tokyo. While I was there I saw acupuncture used as front-line medicine. It was what you got first if you went to your local Japanese GP equivalent.

My own experience, a visit to the company doctor to check up on a minor stomach upset, resulted in a traditional Chinese medicine consultation, some Chinese herbs and my first experience of acupuncture. I emerged waving my packet of herbs and asking to “be sent to a proper doctor now”!
My nonplussed Japanese work colleagues, who had access to the most sophisticated and expensive technological advances available replied, of course, “but that was a proper doctor”!

I left Japan at the end of my contract with a considerably expanded view of medicine. I could see the strength of using Chinese medicine alongside the conventional medical approach that is currently available in the West, and I wanted to learn more about acupuncture.

I’m not sure why I had thought that acupuncture could just be useful for pain relief.

Certainly my experience in Japan, seeing Chinese medicine routinely used in action, was to see it being used to treat almost anything that a person would consult a doctor for.

My subsequent training, three years of acupuncture and four years of Chinese herbs, taught me the same message; there are acupuncture points and Chinese herbs that treat every condition that a person might suffer from, from low energy to eye infections. Because Chinese medicine is still a developing and current system of medicine, with new acupuncture points and herb combinations appearing all the time in hospitals and clinics, it has a frame-work for treating more ‘modern’ problems like assisting with IVF.

Healthy Winter skin

Apologies for such a long break from writing!

It’s nearly the end of January now. Still mid-Winter out in my garden. The first snowdrops are just starting to push through appropriately snowy flower beds, and my bees are fast asleep. At least I hope they are! This is my first year of keeping bees and I’m keeping a very close eye on my new hive.

In Chinese medicine, the cold weather and lack of sunshine take a toll on our skin. It’s a good idea to spend some extra time taking care of it.

I like to make my own skin balms. Collecting herbs and flowers to infuse in oils is a favourite late Summer activity for me.

Now, in Winter the same oils can be used for making muscle rubs, lip balm and nourishing,moisturising skin cream.

My favourite base for Winter skin cream is organic callendula flowers infused in safflower oil. I cover the flowers with oil and leave on a sunny window sill for a couple of weeks until the oil has taken up the beautiful, rich, marigold colour. This oil is used as a natural anti-inflammatory in Chinese medicine and is gentle enough to use on children.

I mix the infused oil with aloe vera, apricot kernel oil, arnica, wheat germ oil, rose hip oilneem, coco butter, shea butter and bees wax.

This is another reason that I’m keeping such a close eye on my bees!

Next year I’m hoping to be able to use my own organic bees wax. I’m going to try using the hive propalis too as a natural anti viral for a cold-sore treatment.

In the meantime the days are getting longer at last, but the dark mornings remind us that it is still Winter. Keep wrapped up, stretch, catch up on sleep and try to include nourishing, warm, soups in your diet so that you’re ready for the extra hours in the day when they finally arrive!


Welcome to this clinic “blog”, I hope that it will provide useful background information for those interested in being treated with Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese herbal Medicine (TCM).