Medical herbalist Nicola Parker writes about taking clear of that cough that won't go away.
January and February are the months of stubborn infections. Long after the stress and excitement of Christmas and New Year, it’s easy to find ourselves still stuck with a stubborn cough or cold that just doesn’t seem to shift.
Many people I see during these months have already taken antibiotics, multiple courses in some cases.
Yet the stubborn chesty coughs seem to take root, refusing shift and let the chest finally clear.
Whether you’re on your first or second course of antibiotics, or you’re just trying to avoid them altogether, it’s important to know that they are only half the battle when it comes to chest infections.
While antibiotics kill off bacteria, they don’t help you shift mucus.
This could mean that they treat the infection, but your chesty cough stubbornly (and irritatingly) remains.
After a chest infection and antibiotic treatment, you’re in a weakened state, with your body and lungs needing time to rest, recover and shift any lasting mucus.
Unfortunately, we don’t always get this recovery time before the next infection comes along and hits our weakened, mucus-filled lungs, causing another infection that doesn’t appear to be any different from the first.
Whether it’s in your nose, throat or lungs, mucus is an awful symptom that can linger long after any initial infection has worn off.
So why don’t antibiotics treat it?
Mucus isn’t made by bacteria, it’s made by our body. The right amount of mucus is a good thing as it helps us kill off and cough up dead bacteria that our body (or antibiotics) are killing off.
Continued mucus production after an infection can greatly prolong symptoms, though, worsening the weakened state that we are left in once an infection passes.
You know that exhausted feeling of trying to cough up thick catarrh or repeated coughing fits that refuse to let you relax or sleep?
That exhaustion is no friend to immunity, so addressing the mucus alongside an infection can make a huge difference to how you recover from a cough or cold.
Garlic, chilli, ginger and thyme are all culinary herbs that go into my cooking in high doses whenever anyone in the house has a cough or cold.
These herbs thin mucus, making it easier to cough up.
When I want my herbs to pack a punch though, I usually go with a herbal tincture of ivy, thyme and liquorice.
Tinctures, in my opinion, are far more potent than the sugary syrups available, getting to the root of the problem rather than just temporarily relieving the symptoms.
The ivy and thyme blend is not my own recipe, but one formulated by a herbalist born in 1902 named Alfred Vogel.
It is a recipe I first came across during my earliest training and one I still keep on my shelves today.
If you know me, you’ll know it’s the old remedies that I have the most faith in because I believe if something better existed, they would already have been replaced.
With a history of COPD in the family, lung herbs have been a specialist interest for me and I have yet to find
anything that can replace Vogel’s trusted Ivy and Thyme.
The herbs in the ivy and thyme blend don’t just thin mucus.
They help to relax the airways and make a cough more productive, easing those coughing fits to help you cough only when you need to bring mucus up.
Clearing the lungs helps the tissues heal, breaking the cycle of exhaustion and mucus production, helping us return to full health.