Wednesday, 17 February 2021

A true picture of modern British farming

Demand for cheaper food and lower production costs is turning green fields into industrial sheds to process vast amounts of meat and poultry

A short walk along a public footpath a few miles from the river Wye in Herefordshire brings you to a field where large white polyethene tunnels stretch dozens of metres down a hill. They are met at the bottom by five mammoth sheds - each as long as a football pitch. Tall metal silos rise up from between the imposing units.

It looks like something out of a sci-fi film - but it is in fact a typical modern UK farm. Inside the warehouse walls, nearly 800,000 chickens are being bred for slaughter at any one time.

This facility is one of nearly 1,700 intensive poultry and pig farms licensed by the Environment Agency. A Bureau investigation shows that the number of such farms in the UK has increased by a quarter in the last six years.

Many of these units are giant US-style “megafarms”. In what are well publicised, nearly 800 of these occur throughout the UK. The biggest of these megafarms house more than a million chickens, 20,000 pigs or 2,000 dairy cows, in sprawling factory units where most animals are confined indoors.

The growth in intensive farms is concentrated in certain parts of the country where major food companies operate and many are in the process of expanding. In Herefordshire, intensively-farmed animals outnumber the human population by 88 to one.

Get the data

Information from the Environment Agency and local authorities to get a comprehensive picture of modern British farming. The two biggest farms we have recorded have the capacity to house 1.7 million and 1.4 million chickens apiece. Behind the data lies a fundamental debate about what we want to eat as a nation, and what price we are prepared to pay for that food.

The big farms say they are led by consumers - people want to buy cheap meat, and intensive farming is the only way to efficiently satisfy that demand. But critics say factory farms blight local communities, subject animals to prolonged distress and push out small producers - and that we do not need the vast quantities of meat we consume.

There have been many calls on the government to review whether the regulations around intensive units were robust requiring of domestic regulations to meet the emerging landscape and to take the place of European Union legislation post-Brexit.

The majority of Britain’s poultry meat is produced by a handful of large companies all of which are privately-owned. A number of the main supermarkets and fast food chains now source meat from companies operating such megafarms.

Most permit-holding intensive farms (86%) in the UK are poultry farms

High demand for low-cost meat

The rise in intensive farming has been fuelled by Britain’s demand for cheap meat, especially chicken. Close to a billion birds are slaughtered each year, almost all of them intensively-farmed. The majority of the UK’s megafarms are poultry units. Growing free-range and organic chickens requires a lot of space - about four square metres per animal for organic birds. Intensive farms typically have about 15 chickens per square metre, or an area about the size of an A4 sheet of paper for each bird.

Space per chicken on intensive farms = 4 square metres

Space per chicken on organic farms

Intensive farming also allows farms to carefully control the temperature and humidity of chicken units, and give just the right amount of additive-boosted feed and chlorinated water for optimal growth in a short time. The lifespan of an average intensively-farmed chicken is 35 days.

The efficiency of the system is illustrated in the product prices. A review of five major supermarket chickens shows basic, value or own brand chicken – raised on intensive farms - costs between £1.99 and £2.73 per kg for a whole roasting bird. Organic chicken – i.e. birds kept in a smaller flock, given access to the outdoors, and fed on additive and GM-
free grain grown on that farm - costs between £6.00 and £7.04 per kg per roasting bird. 

While demand for free range eggs has risen substantially in the last two decades, free range and organic chicken still only accounts for a tiny proportion of the market - just 3% and 1% respectively.

Some farms producing free-range poultry products - mainly eggs - are actually large enough that they are classified as intensive. But the Bureau has calculated at least three quarters of intensive poultry farms are factory-style units with some or all birds permanently housed indoors - and the figure could be higher as not all records have been made available.

Advanced technology

Currently there has been little demand to stop the growth of intensive farms and move to organic farming since organic farms would take up much more space. Intensive farms maintain high environmental, hygiene and welfare standards when they are run properly. I think people think of hens roaming around a farm but that image is no longer the case – sadly, that is not how chicken is farmed any more.

One billion chickens bred and slaughtered for meat in the UK per year

The industry body for pig farmers  argue that farmers had to operate intensive systems to compete with cheap European imports. Intensive farms have to meet many different regulations to get an Environment Agency permit, she said, and the biggest farms have excellent resources to maintain welfare standards, such as specialist vets on site. There was also a lack of consumer demand for free-range meat.

Many people like the idea of a family farm but they don’t know what an actual farm looks like and the scale of big farms allow them to afford to invest in green technologies. On large modern farms it’s easier to create and maintain the right environment, meaning that our animals are raised somewhere that is warm, dry and clean, and the risk of air borne diseases, such as avian influenza, is greatly reduced.

Through investing in fewer, larger facilities it may be possible to make the best use of scarce agricultural land and reduce the environmental impact of such farms. For example, the use of energy derived from biomass that can be used on these farms. 

Inside a poultry megafarm

A typical megafarm such as the one described in Herefordshire, there are  four sheds each housing 42,000 chickens. From this farm nearly 1.3 million chickens a year are produced for the giant food company Cargill, which supplies Tesco.

Inside, the sweet sickly odour is overpowering. You can’t see the floor for chickens. The sheds have some hay bales and wooden perches.

Apparently, there is enrichment: windows so they get daylight and fresh air… 

The chickens are bred to grow quickly, provide a good yield of meat, eat little feed and be disease-resistant. They are trucked in as chicks. Each batch of chickens is called a “crop” and he has about eight crops a year, cleaning the sheds in between each one.

Not a single antibiotic has been used since the site was set up two years ago. Instead, a product which changes the birds’ gut flora is used (rather like a probiotic but for chickens). The sheds are heated by a biomass boiler fuelled by recycled timber waste. The hatchery, feed mill, and factory, all owned by Cargill, are within 15 miles. Responding to complaints from neighbours, the farm keeps local people in work, like the truck drivers who deliver chicks, feed and shavings. 

An inhumane industry?

The critics paint a different picture, saying cheap meat comes at a cost for society at large. Intensively-farmed animals suffer more disease and other health problems, they say, also pointing to the stress created by early weaning and confinement, which can lead to animals starting to injure and cannibalise each other.

The campaign group Compassion in World Farming (CIWF) believes intensive farming is inhumane, and cannot be justified by efficiency arguments. It has launched a campaign highlighting what it calls the UK's factory farming hotspots. According to CIWF there are nearly 17 million factory farmed animals in Herefordshire, 15 million in Shropshire and 12 million in Norfolk.

Bringing animals off the land and cramming them into factory farms is not only cruel to animals but also has far reaching effects on human health, wildlife and the planet and whilst it sounds like a space-saving idea, it ignores the fact that vast amounts of land are used elsewhere to grow food for them – often in huge crop fields doused in chemical pesticides and fertilisers – squeezing wildlife out, as industrial farming methods sweep the planet.

Farms can be breeding grounds for food poisoning bugs such as campylobacter, E.coli and salmonella. In intensive farms the close proximity of the animals can mean diseases spread quickly. This has historically meant the widespread use of antibiotics, the use of such drugs by poultry farmers had dropped significantly in recent years.

Industrial-scale farming also produces huge amounts of manure, carcasses, silage and dirty water, all of which can have significant environmental impacts even when disposed of properly. People living in the shadows of megafarms complain of lorries clogging up local roads as they transport grain and waste, and picturesque rural areas being spoiled by foul smells and ugly buildings.

More importantly, the continued overuse of antibiotics on intensive farms is contributing to widespread antibiotic resistance and consequently the biggest human health threat we face.

Unacceptable’ bacteria levels found on US meat may fuel fears over UK trade deal. Samples of pork and poultry showed high levels of salmonella and E coli in new study

Campaigners fear that a failure to protect UK food standards in law means that a future trade deal with the US might allow more cheaply produced meat to flood the UK market. Downing Street has repeatedly refused to agree to any parliamentary restrictions or so-called “red lines” on its negotiating position in US trade talks. Campaigners may feel their arguments are bolstered by the preliminary findings of a five year study being carried out at George Washington University by Prof Lance Price, which tested meat from US shops and found that about 14% of the poultry samples and 13% of the pork had traces of salmonella.

Testing also revealed that more than 60% of the pork products had E. coli on them, as did around 70% of the beef products, 80% of the chicken products, and more than 90% of the turkey products. 

Unclean greens: how America's E. coli outbreaks in salads are linked to cows

Meanwhile a review of the impacts of Covid-19 on US livestock found that several poultry plants were given government permission to increase the speeds of their production lines, the amount of chicken meat being condemned and discarded owing to suspected contamination fell 10% from the same period in 2019. During the Covid pandemic some poultry plants were given government permission to speed up their production lines. 

A successful farming future rests on how the government shapes trade deals with countries around the world and supports farming in the months and years ahead.

Many are worried that a US trade deal would open the floodgates to worsening standards. The UK’s Food Standards Agency advice is that if raw meat is handled correctly and the correct cooking procedures are followed, the risks to health from E coli and salmonella are eliminated.

The cocktail of chemicals, carcinogens, poisons, hormones, faeces and other health hazards in American food processing, and the effects they have on the human body and mind, is stomach-churning. So is the way they treat their farm animals.

We live in a society where the wealth of the few is more important than the health of everyone else but many fear that this is where we are heading if we don’t break the Westminster stranglehold.

American pork is SIX times more likely to contain salmonella than the British variety, claims study amid fears over food standards in a US-UK trade deal. Other worrying statistics from a recent programmes aired on Channel 4 Dispatches:

  • E. coli allegedly found in 90% of turkey products destined for US supermarkets
  • US pork up to six times more likely to have salmonella than UK pork, study claims
  • 13% of pork samples tested for salmonella in US meat were positive for bacteria
  • E. coli was also found by experts in 80% of chicken, 70% of beef and 60% of pork

European regulators are much more rigorous in their testing of how farming practices could impact the health of consumers. British farmers are rightly concerned that quantities of such products could begin appearing on UK supermarket shelves if standards are lowered in order to strike a post-Brexit trade deal with countries like America.

References:
  1. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/18/rise-of-mega-farms-how-the-us-model-of-intensive-farming-is-invading-the-world
  2. https://www.globaljustice.org.uk/blog/2017/jul/19/how-do-we-deal-nightmare-mega-farms-post-brexit-food-insecurity
  3. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/17/uk-has-nearly-800-livestock-mega-farms-investigation-reveals
  4. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/17/uk-has-nearly-800-livestock-mega-farms-investigation-reveals
  5. https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/stories/2017-07-17/megafarms-uk-intensive-farming-meat

Monday, 24 August 2020

The Art of Self Care

Our world is moving quickly. Many of us have very little down time and lots of pressure to constantly perform at a high level. We need to have a great career, be in the best shape, and have a fabulous marriage. Our kids need to be academic geniuses, athletically gifted, and get into prestigious colleges and universities. Having the latest designer clothing and the most expensive car we can afford (or not) proves our success. We then post it all on Facebook so we can compare ourselves to each other. 


stress and anxiety

In reality, our job isn’t the dream we thought it would be, and we are working long hours. Our second job as parents includes shuttling kids all over town and finding time to cook and eat dinner.

What can all this frenzy lead to? Stress. We are frazzled, rushed, and trying to do it all. As a result of all this stress we can experience weight gain, anxiety, fatigue, depression, and digestive issues. The physical symptoms of stress become normal and the doctor prescribes medication. Long term chronic stress can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other serious illness.

Even though we cannot completely eliminate stress from our lives, the good news is that there are better ways of coping with stress in order to reduce the effects on our health. Self-care is essential for your physical and mental health and well-being. Self-care is at the bottom of the list for most women, giving way to the mother, wife and any other role that needs to be filled. So how do you keep up?

Self-Care Action                           Infusions and herbal teas: recipes and preparation in the ...

1.   Herbal Help

Holy Basil Tincture Holy basil, also known as tulsi, is an adaptogenic herb that works to keep the body in balance. It can increase energy and is often used for chronic fatigue. Used regularly, it has shown to be very effective in dealing with life’s aggravating daily stressors, as well as the stress of traumatic life events.  A typical tincture dose is 2-4 mL, 3 times per day.

Herbal Tea: Teas offer additional benefits when treating stress. Making tea, inhaling the aromas and slowing down to sit and drink the tea enhance the experience and the actions of the herbs.  Try using a single herb tea first so you can feel the effects and get to know the herb and its effects. You can then get creative. Use the chart below and pick the herbs based on what you are feeling.


HERB

USES

chamomile (Matricaria recutita)

relaxing, sedative, antianxiety, digestive issues

milky oats (Avena sativa)

overall stress, fatigue from stress, anxiety

california poppy (Eschscholzia californica)

restless sleep, sleeplessness from worry

motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)

parenting stress, new mother stress, frazzled nerves

skullcap (Scutellaria laterifolia)

busy mind, insomnia from overthinking, nervousness, edginess, overwhelmed

linden (Tillia Americana)

relieves tension (headaches, shoulders), palpitations

Lime tree (Tilia europaea)

Good for restlessness, mild insomnia, tension headaches, hypertension

rose (Rosa rugosa)

mood lifting, calming, soothing, relaxing

catnip (Nepeta cataria)

restlessness, nervousness, winding down for sleep

lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

life stress, nervousness, tension, digestive issues


Start by using chamomile or milky oats as a base, then pick and choose other herbs from the chart. Use two parts of the base herb and then add one part of the additional herbs. Sweeten to taste with honey if desired. Sip and relax. 

1.   Diet and Exercise

Simply put, our diet needs to consist of whole foods, organic or locally grown when possible.  We need to eliminate or minimize processed food and sugar as much as we can from our diet.

Move your body every day. If you are a gym enthusiast, that’s phenomenal.  There are other options though. The trick is finding something that you love doing like Zumba, yoga, or hiking. Walk with a friend and have great conversation. Walk on the beach. Walk the dog, or dance to some great music. It will rock your body and your soul.

2.   Holistic Wellbeing              Essential oils to improve digestion, aid relaxation, and ...

Aromatherapy: can be highly effective for stress reduction and is easy to incorporate into your everyday life.

·       Add a few drops of EO (essential oils) to a cotton ball and put the cotton ball in my heating vent in your car.  Lemon is great for anxiety, refreshing, rejuvenating and uplifting. These little things start the day off right and makes commuting much calmer.

·       Add one cup of Epsom salts and 2-3 drops of lavender essential oil diluted in a carrier oil to a hot bath. Relax, sit back, and light some candles

·       Diffuse essential oils in your bedroom

Lavender – for relaxation, insomnia and headaches

Clary sage – for exhaustion, anxiety and tension.  Very calming

Sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) – refreshing, cheerful, and nourishing

Patchouli – anxiety, mood swings, centering and grounding

·       Add a drop of lavender to two tablespoons of olive oil.  Massage for muscle soreness and on temples for headaches (keep away from eyes) or tension relief after a long day.

Sing! So it comes as no surprise that scientists have shown that not only does singing in a choir make you feel good, it's got health benefits, too. ... They showed that singing has a dramatic effect on heart rate variability, which is linked to a reduced risk of heart disease. There are a host of psychological and emotional benefits of singing too.

Self Development: Everyone needs to consider their personal goals and experience personal development through their lives. You can routinely monitor your personal development in several ways. Here are some behaviours you complete to keep your growth on track. You don’t need a career change to take a look at your self development targets. You can use these techniques in every area of your life.

·      Decide a specific goal. Whether you want to lose weight, get better at painting or go to school to get the degree you always wanted, you need to set a goal.

·       Once a goal is set, plan what you need to do to get there. Making a plan gives you a head start and a path to your goal, whether you apply for financial aid to the school of your choice or sign up for exercise classes,

·       Start your development process. If you are building new habits, be patient with yourself, but also be determined to succeed.

·       Create a personal development record to keep track of your successes and work through parts of your plan that aren’t working as you’d like them to.

Personal development skills need to continue during people’s lives to ensure that the individual’s life experience is satisfying.

Social and Emotional Well-being: making time for friends and family, a work-life balance as well as having time for your hobbies all help to improve your social and emotional wellbeing. Many people ignore or neglect this part of their life and consequently suffer the ill effects of it.

Mindfulness: It can be easy to rush through life without stopping to notice much. Paying more attention to the present moment – to your own thoughts and feelings, and to the world around you – can improve your mental wellbeing. Some people call this awareness "mindfulness". Mindfulness can help us enjoy life more and understand ourselves better. You can take steps to develop it in your own life.

Digital Detox: In this digital age of online shopping, 4D movies, navigational systems, and social media stalking, we spend more time a day on high-tech devices than we do asleep: 8 hours and 21 minutes to be exact. This growing reliance on technology is taking us down a fast track to becoming mindless robots, fully incapable of functioning without our industrial gadgets. The initial purpose of technology was to serve mankind, but it can hurt us. That’s why an increasing number of health experts are recommending periodic digital detox, or an extended period without gadgets. 

Limiting exposure to social media: Anything that takes up large amounts of your time, including work, watching TV, exercising or driving has some impact on your health. The question is whether social media is good or bad for us. The simple answer is that it can be both. Fortunately, there are ways to help reduce its harmful effects while maximizing the benefits.

Ways That Social Media Impacts Your Health

There are a number of ways that social media can have an influence on your health.


·         Addiction to social media. People who are addicted to social media may experience negative side effects such as eye strain, social withdrawal or lack of sleep.

·         Stress. If you spend your time researching problems or arguing with people, you may experience stress, which can have a negative impact on your health.

·         Emotional connections. Social media can help you connect with more people and stay in touch with those with whom you’re already close. Connecting with people has proven health benefits.

·         Information. You can find a large amount of health-related information on social media. This can be quite helpful. On the other hand, if you take random advice without doing proper research, it can also be harmful. Finding reputable websites for health advice can be a challenge.

As these points illustrate, there’s no simple answer to whether social media is good or bad for you. Because it’s such a pervasive influence on modern life, it has many positive and negative effects. Let’s look at some of these in a little more detail.

Social Media Addiction

Social media addiction is a real phenomenon. As more people carry around smartphones and other devices wherever they go, it becomes harder to escape the internet. And people increasingly spend their online time on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. For people who are addicted to these sites, it can have a harmful effect on their lives and even their health. Any addiction is potentially harmful if it saps your energy away from other activities, such as work, physical activity and offline relationships. There are various ways that social media addiction harms your mental health.

Emotional Impact

People use social media for many things, such as socialising, finding and sharing information, shopping and simply as a diversion. Some of these activities are fairly neutral while others may cause strong emotions.

Positive connections with people are important for your mental and even physical health. There’s plenty of evidence that social isolation is associated with a shorter life span, not to mention a diminished quality of life. While interacting with people on social media is not enough, and not a substitute for live interactions, it can be beneficial nonetheless.

The elderly and those who are disabled, who may have limited mobility, can use social media to connect in ways that they otherwise could not. Elderly people can talk to their grandkids. Someone stationed overseas in the military can talk to his or her spouse back home. Friends who live in different countries can chat online. These are just a few of the ways that social media can improve people’s lives.

On the other hand, social media can cause stress and other negative emotions. The issue of cyber-bullying is a good example of this. There are also people who are attached to trolling or arguing about everything from politics to sports. If interacting on social media causes stress, it’s not good for your health.

Impact on Physical Health

Social media can directly impact physical health. This is usually associated with the way you use it. For example:


·         Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. If you do too much typing, you may experience problems that affect your hands or wrists. There are also specific problems associated with typing on mobile phones, which can strain the tendons of your fingers. These problems aren’t all caused by social media. It can just as easily be caused by having to type term papers for school or reports at work.

·         Eye problems. You can get eyestrain from staring at screens for too long.

·         Fatigue. This is another symptom of overusing social media. If you’re staying up too late posting on Twitter of Facebook, you may be losing valuable sleep.

·         Lack of exercise. Social media can cut into time you might otherwise be spending outdoors or exercising.

·         Distraction. One of the most dangerous potential consequences of social media addiction is driving while being distracted. As recent stories have confirmed, you can even get hurt texting and walking.

The above are harmful effects that aren’t caused by social media per se, but by overdoing it or being online or texting while you should be concentrating on something else. Some of these, of course, also apply to activities other than social media, such as texting on the phone, writing emails or browsing internet sites.

Accessing Health Information

There are innumerable places to get health information online. If you’re active on Facebook, you probably have friends who post their favourite health advice. You may subscribe to the pages or tweets of celebrity doctors or people who have created diets. You could learn about a potential therapy, cure or drug that’s truly helpful for you or someone you care about.

On the other hand, if you accept everything you see on social media uncritically, you could end up taking bad advice. You should never mistake a tweet or Facebook post as expert opinion. Even if it’s given by a qualified expert, that person hasn’t examined you. At most, you should use social media as the first stage of your research and not the final solution.

Staying Healthy on Social Media

When used consciously and in moderation, social media can have a positive impact on your life and even your health. Here are some general tips to keep in mind.


·         Use social media at certain scheduled times. Don’t let it interfere with your work, studies or offline relationships.

·         If you have difficulty getting off social media, try productivity apps that limit your access to certain sites. If you have a serious addiction problem, seek professional help.

·         Use social media to research health issues, but always consult with your own doctor before taking any advice.

·         Stay off social media and any communications platforms while driving or doing anything else that’s potentially hazardous.

·         Stay positive. Don’t waste time arguing with people online.

Sunday, 5 July 2020

Emerging from lock down with natural healthcare

10 Common Mistakes When Using Herbs
This month’s blogpost has been written by a good colleague of mine Jane Robinson who is also, like me, a medical herbalist. The link to her Foxglove Apothecary website and homepage is also at the bottom of this post along with a recommendation to subscribe to her newsletter and articles packed with useful information on natural, herbal remedies. 

It's been an unforgettable year so far and here we are in the middle of summer. I hope you & your loved ones are well!  As we begin to return to a more normal world this is a good time to look at how we approach dis-ease and wellness from a refreshed perspective, I firmly believe that we have the ability to manage our health in a more natural and sustainable way, using holistic methods which are mostly easy to do and these practices give us a better physical and emotional connection with our own healthcare. I'm not an epidemiologist and don't know all of the answers from a natural, scientific or spiritual perspective but as a herbalist I repeatedly see how a natural approach to disease prevention, treatment & recovery can make a very significant difference. 

I wanted to share some principles of practice that I apply in clinic and give an overview of things you can do at home. I've gone into more detail about herbal medicine and it's application because I speak to many people who have some confusion about herbal medicine, often people think we're homeopaths (this is a different discipline altogether) and many people don't realise it's the oldest and most natural form of medicine and still used extensively today across every continent. I've concentrated on tips relevant to Coronavirus protection but these can also be applied for protection against the range of illness's that commonly circulate throughout the year. Importantly, we should remember that we're built to heal from within, if we nourish our physical, mental and energetic bodies, most of us have the ability to maintain good health. The layers of our immune system and our ability to adapt are integral to how we stay healthy & we can easily enhance these processes with diet and plant medicines. We have an abundance of plants readily available to give us medicine, food & oxygen and though they don't always completely prevent or cure an illness, when used correctly, they assist our physiology to work to a fuller potential and do this without causing own side effects. 

Be careful! Herbal remedies are dangerous to your health ...
Even the smallest good habits you introduce make a difference and they don't need to be complicated, most of these recommendations just require a little bit of organisation and maybe adding a few things to your stock or medicine cupboard.

Eat well - decrease sugar, carbohydrate, fat and protein, small amounts of these are good but don't need to be eaten with every meal. Decrease processed foods and increase plant foods. Increase grains, nuts, seeds, pulses and fungi and if organic or local is an option, even better. 
  • Eat your rainbow of food every day. Red, yellow, blue, purple and green fruits and veg contain an abundance of varied substances and compounds which are used by the body to stay in good shape.
  • Maintain good levels of hydration with plenty of decaffeinated drinks and don't forget you can chill herbal infusions in hot weather.
  • Oats actually nourish our nerve fibres, eating oats regularly can help with functional nerve problems such as pins & needles.
  • Excess weight makes us more vulnerable to certain conditions, if you need to lose weight remember that exercise is as important as diet.
The 9 Best Herbs for Lung Cleansing and Respiratory Support | Lung ...
Microbiome health -  can affect our overall health, some of the negative influencer's on our microbiome include sugar, sweeteners, yeast, antibiotics, stress and lack of exercise. The good guys include pre & probiotics, fresh fruit & vegetables, allium foods such as garlic & onions, fermented food and drinks and herbal bitters.
  • Traditional Herbal Bitters are a mixture of  bitter tasting herbs which are are taken in dropper doses every day, normally before meals. They directly stimulate our digestive juices, enzymes & liver, which helps food breakdown, digestion, excretion and intestinal flora.
Supplements - The question of supplements for me, concerns diet, environment and body function. If your diet's lacking something specific or there are issues such as digestive disorders which may impair absorption of vitamins and minerals then supplements might be appropriate. Age is another consideration, as we get older we absorb and assimilate nutrients less optimally and a lack of sunlight in winter months may leave us low on Vitamin D. 
  • Vitamin D is necessary for many cellular functions and a deficiency can affect muscles, bones & joints. Importantly, Vitamin D enhances immune system responses to bacteria and viruses by its influence on the various cells of immune defence. Lack of vitamin D may also increase the risk of Diabetes & Hypertension. Our skin makes Vitamin D on exposure to sunlight and small amounts are found in mushrooms, eggs, oily fish, cod liver oil & fortified foods.
  • Extensive Vitamin C studies show assistance in prevention of colds and flu, in addition, Vitamin C may help prevent respiratory infections. It's found in citrus fruit, strawberries, red peppers & chili peppers, kale, broccoli, watercress, cauliflower, cabbage. Because Vitamin C is water soluble some prefer liposomal vitamin C, which is encased in tiny lipids making absorption easier. This can be good for the elderly & people with decreased digestive function but beware with raised lipid disorders. 
  • Zinc is found in every cell in our bodies and is essential for a huge range of cellular processes. It can interfere with viruses and may help reduce the duration of the common cold. It's found in grains, nuts, seeds, shellfish & offal. Beware of not taking too much in supplement form.
  • Mushroom's contain compounds called beta glucans which stimulate the immune system to defend the body against viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungal infection. Maitake & Shiitaki may be particularly useful.
Respiratory health - our defence against many pathogens begins in the upper respiratory system so keeping the tissues of our nasal passages, mouth and throat healthy can directly enable these parts of our barrier defences to prevent microbes from penetrating the body. Salt or herbal gargles, nasal flushing, throat sprays, good oral hygiene and promoting tissue health from within can be beneficial.
  • An excess of dairy foods can promote mucus formation and therefore congestion, limiting dairy intake and using alternatives as well as increasing fluids can actually thin the consistency of mucus which allows the body to breakdown and expel an excess. 
An overview of Herbs
Many herbs work to increase our natural barrier systems and innate defences. Using herbs regularly can improve your overall health and enhance physiological processes in a safe and gentle way. Mother nature is a far more competent pharmacist than we're led to believe and the myth that herbal medicines don't work, are inferior as drugs, or are dangerous is propaganda spread by those who wish you to believe that the medicine freely found in nature is not scientific or effective.

The beauty of our herbal allies is that they can be easily used to help prevent infections or as direct treatment during illness. All plants have a range of active constituents, most have more than one specific use and when used in their whole state the plant's chemical profile gives a balanced effect on our bodies so we experience less unwanted additional actions which we refer to as side effects. Plants work with the body to moderate health and maintain optimum function, they're often so effective but gentle it's hard to distinguish why we simply feel more normal, this is truly harmonious healing!

Herbs can be immune stimulating or modulating, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-oxidant, diaphoretic, adaptogenic, detoxifying, anti-congestive and much more. This means we can apply herbs for specific purposes as well as for general health and in doing so we're using the best of both a holistic approach and a targeted purpose. An example is Elderflower & Elderberry which are anti-inflammatory and immune mediating, they're also diaphoretic, which means they enhance sweating but keeps it at a controlled and sustainable rate. This helps to ensure a fever is more healing than harming and at the same time Elder (flower and berry) helps the immune system function better.

Coronavirus: 10 Ayurvedic Ways to Boost Your Immunity During the ...

Top 10 herbs for immune defence:
  1. Echinacea - is an immune modulator, it actually help's to regulate the body's innate immune responses creating faster responses where are needed and slowing overactive responses which may be detrimental. It has particular influence over certain cells of the immune system and is anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and topically healing. Traditionally used for respiratory infections and is safe to take for prolonged periods.
  2. Elderberry - good antiviral properties and has been shown to improve immune system activity. It stimulates certain immune cells which combined with an anti-inflammatory action, improves the defences of our innate immunity.  Elderberry extracts are traditionally used for colds and flu and have an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant & diaphoretic action.
  3. Astragalus - an adaptogenic herb (helps the body overcome & adapt during stress), it's used especially for respiratory infections and can increase respiratory function with asthma. Immune enhancing, immune modulating, anti-viral, anti-oxidant. It has a positive effect on the heart, endothelial function and the liver. In Chinese medicine it's called Huang Qi & is used in menopausal preparations and as a blood tonic.
  4. Andrographis - a bitter tonic which stimulates and modulates the immune system, an effective anti-viral which also protects the liver and is hypoglycaemic. Adrographis is used for respiratory infections and the bitter element helps strengthen a weak digestive system. 
  5. Liquorice - has a wide ranging profile and is truly multi-purpose herb! It's soothing both internally and externally and is used extensively in mixtures for respiratory infections, especially conditions that produce mucus. Shown to have anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and anti-allergenic actions, another immune modulator, liver herb and supports the adrenal function. It has a mild hypertensive effect so large amounts should not be used in high doses for prolonged periods by people with high blood pressure.
  6. African Geranium - the root can help decrease excess mucus in the lungs and it's valuable for acute respiratory and sinus infections as it actually helps the body expel excess mucus. Has immune cell enhancing properties is anti-viral.  
  7. Ginger - has been shown to have immune & antiviral activity, ginger heat is useful for increasing body temperature and the anti-platelet and anti-inflammatory actions can help keep blood vessels healthy. Ginger aids digestive function and is good for nausea, rheumatic conditions and migraine.
  8. Marigold - is a great external remedy which promotes skin healing and often used internally for gastric disorders. In addition it has a mild oestrogenic effect making it very useful for gynaecological conditions. It's anti-inflammatory, antiseptic and is a mild immune stimulant.
  9. Eucalyptus - often forgotten about as a herb, eucalyptus has an affinity for the lungs and upper respiratory system. Its good for all respiratory complaints including infection, asthma, catarrh & bronchitis and is anti-tussive which helps stop a cough. Its anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic. Do not use for young children, in pregnancy and for very frail people. 
  10. Turmeric - this plant has wide ranging benefits and has become known a bit as a wonder herb in recent years, with good reason. Turmeric is excellent for pain and inflammation, for both chronic and acute conditions and regular use can give outstanding relief. It has a powerful anti-oxidant activity and influences cell life cycles in a positive way to be helpful in cancer prevention. Also being an immune modulator, anti-microbial, cardio & liver protector and digestive herb, turmeric is useful to include either via the diet or supplement.  
All of these herbs can be taken individually or in a combination. When it comes to infusions, blending a drink that's tasty and medicinal is as important as is the quality of the product, which is why I spend so long perfecting my range of pre-blended teas, they're made to be enjoyable as well as for a purpose. Or you can have individual dried herbs to drink on their own or blend your favourites. Dried or fresh herbs (loose, good quality herbs) can be made into a Decoction, which is a method that simply involves simmering the herbs in a pan with water for 5-10 minutes, this by far increases the availability of all the helpful active compounds responsible for the medicinal effects and makes a stronger tasting drink. If you need to sweeten you can add a little bit of honey or any plant based unrefined sugar.

Tinctures are stronger liquid extracts of individual herbs and herbalists normally make a combination of several tinctures when making an individual prescription or remedy. Because tinctures are much stronger than teas they're taken in much smaller amounts, usually between 1-5ml at regular intervals (5ml = one teaspoon). Tinctures are fairly safe to take but as with anything you're ingesting, you should know what you're taking, make sure you're taking the correct dose and if you have pre-existing medical conditions, are on medication or are not sure of dosage then seek advice from a professional.

The level of support needed when it comes to taking herbs will be individual, it's a matter of choice as to whether you take a remedy every day for immune modulation and virus protection or if you take a remedy when you begin to feel ill, show symptoms or have had exposure to a pathogen. The sooner herbal treatment begins after exposure to a pathogen has occurred the better, from this point of view I encourage having these herbs at hand for when you need them.

For herbal medicine to be effective it's best to take herbal teas, decoctions, tinctures or capsules for several days (to weeks or even months for chronic medical conditions) as you will need more than one dose for it to be efficient. Natural remedies work in a gentle and accumulative way, to put into context, immune stimulation or modulation would not occur from a single dose or a sub therapeutic dose (not enough) just the same a single antiviral or antibiotic tablet would not work. 

If you buy herbal remedies from a herbalist apothecary or a health shop you'll be given guidance on the best dose. Just be aware that over the counter remedies available from chemists, supermarkets & online often prescribe very small drop doses for safety reasons, sometimes these doses are sub therapeutic and not properly effective. If you buy an over the counter remedy you should do a bit of research or check with someone who knows to make sure you're taking the right dose. Herbal Medicine books are useful and as your local herbalist I'm always happy to give guidance if you're unsure. Growing and foraging your own is a lovely thing to do and really connects you with your food and medicine and you can store your bounty by drying or even making your own tinctures, oils, oxymels and vinegars. 

Looking at natural options and holistic health has never been more important. As we emerge from global lock down we'll be much better off if we harmonise more with nature and use a lighter touch toward our health and our environment, with mindful thinking we can all learn to take better care of ourselves using less toxic and more sustainable self-practices. To share these ideas and knowledge with each other sits with the true nature of herbalism and brings us back to more natural and grounded thinking. Take care, be well and practice Ahimsa* towards yourself and the beautiful planet we share!

*the practice of non-violence in all aspects of life from physical to mental and emotional

With grateful thanks to Jane Robinson, medical herbalists. Please go to her website homepage to subscribe to her newsletter if you want to see more articles like this: