As we settle into fall and winter and the holiday season, do you find yourself dreading the cold, flu, and COVID-19 season? At Spaces of Grace, we have a few suggestions to bolster your arsenal of wellness tools. Let’s consider how herbs and essential oils can help you have a healthy holiday season — or make you more comfortable if you do get sick.
Note: I am not a doctor, and this is not medical advice. Consult your healthcare practitioner with specific questions regarding any contraindications between the herbs and essential oils you wish to take and the medications you are on or health conditions you have. Always check with a doctor before administering to children. This article is for educational purposes only.
In addition to culinary wonders, many herbs pack a medicinal punch. During Christmas, if you don’t have access to fresh herbs, dried herbs, teas, and tinctures can help keep you healthy over the holidays. Consider these:
- Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea and E. angustifolia). Root and leaves. Also known as coneflower, echinacea turns on immune system function, activates immune cells for swifter battle action, interferes with a virus’s ability to spread, kills bacteria, and keeps your lymph flowing. Use as a tincture and tea. By itself, the tea is not tasty, so mix it with a tastier herb. Concerns: Its immune-boosting properties may cause an auto-immune flare-up. If you are allergic to the daisy-flower family, you may have a problem with echinacea.
- Elder (Sambucus nigra, S. canadensis). Berries and flowers. Elder is an antimicrobial, antiviral, an immune stimulant, an antitussive (reduces the urge to cough), a respiratory antispasmodic, and a relaxant. It can be prepared as a tea, tincture, elixir, syrup, and honey infusion. Artisans also use elderflowers to make flavored liqueurs. Concerns. Don’t eat the berries raw. Cook them first. Large amounts have a laxative effect.
- Ginger (Zingiber officinale). Root (rhizome). Ginger is an anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and relaxant. It can be made into tea, tincture, added to food, and even candied. It can also be used topically in a remedy to help with aches and pains. Concerns: Ginger has a blood-thinning effect, so consult your doctor if you take blood-thinner medication. Also, ginger may increase the menstrual flow of those with already heavy cycles. I like to use the fresh root (really, it’s a rhizome) to make tea, but prepackaged tea is fine too.
- Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis). Flowers and leaves. Lemon balm is an anti-viral specific to the herpes family of viruses and HPV and is a nervine for depression, anxiety, and agitation. Very gentle and excellent for children and elders. Use in teas, tinctures. Add fresh leaves to salads. Cautions: Some herbalists consider it a thyroid inhibitor, so if you have low thyroid, consult your doctor before using. This is one of my favorite teas. Light and lemony.
- Mullein (Verbascum thapsus, V. densiflorum). Mullein is an antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, anticatarrhal (removes excess mucus), moistening expectorant, respiratory relaxant, and nervous sedative. It’s excellent for coughs. Mullein can be prepared as a tea, tincture, or applied topically. Concerns: Mullein leaves have tiny hairs. If you are using the leaves fresh, be sure to strain the tea well.
- Thyme (Thymus vulgaris). Thyme is an antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, a respiratory antimicrobial, and a relaxant. It can be prepared as a steam, infused in water as a tea, infused in vinegar for topical use, or used as a tincture. You’re probably most familiar with it for cooking. Concerns: Thyme is very warming and may be too much for young children. Try sage or fennel instead internally and try pine for steams. My Note: Thyme is my favorite herb for COVID-19 and any respiratory condition. My entire family did about three thyme steams a day when we all had COVID and felt it helped immensely with the coughing and congestion. (Keep reading for instructions on how to do a thyme steam).
- Tulsi, also called Holy Basil, (Ocimum sanctum, O. tenuiflorum). Tulsi is an adaptogen, an antimicrobial, anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), nervine, and immunomodulator. It can be used as a tea, a tincture, and infused into honey. Use the fresh leaves in salad. Concerns: Tulsi can have a significant blood-sugar-lowering effect, so if you take medications for high blood sugar, monitor your glucose levels regularly. Fresh tulsi makes a delicious tea all by itself, but I also love to pair it with fresh lemon balm.
How To Use the Herbs
Thyme is a perfect herb to use in a steam for respiratory issues. Its antimicrobial action is in its essential oil, which is released in the steam.
Effective Against Pathogens
In the book Herbal Medicine for Beginners, Katja Swift and Ryn Midura state that “Breathed deeply into the lungs, thyme steam kills respiratory pathogens on contact, warms and moistens the lungs, and loosens phlegm.”
If you’d like to explore the science more, here’s a link to the study Antimicrobial Properties of Plant Essential Oils against Human Pathogens and Their Mode of Action: An Updated Review. It’s published in the journal Evidenced-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. The article lists some of the specific pathogens that thyme kills. The article also lists several other herbs and the pathogens they are effective against too. To find that information quickly, just scroll down the article until you see the chart.
How To Do a Thyme Steam
Now that you understand how a thyme steam can be beneficial, let’s look at how to do one.
1. Boil from 1/2 to 1 gallon of water in a large pot. Remove from heat.
2. Set the pot on a heat-proof surface.
3. Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of dried thyme leaves to the pot.
4. Create a tent with a towel and sit under the tent with your face about 12 inches above the pot. Deeply inhale the steam for about 5 minutes or so.
5. Be careful not to spill; carefully monitor children if they are nearby. If using with children, pine needles (Pinus strobes) may be a gentler choice for them. Also, don’t put children under the tent. Just let them be nearby and inhale from that distance.
6. You can also do a steam with the thyme essential oil. Add 3 to 7 drops of essential oil to just-boiled water and inhale. The reason you need such a small amount of essential oil is because the concentrated EO is 80-100 times stronger than the herb.
TIP: A thyme steam can also be done preventatively. If you are exposed to a respiratory illness, do a few thyme steams to help fight it off.
How To Make Herbal Tea
All the herbs discussed here can be infused (even the ginger) in just-off-the-boil water. You can use these herbs individually or mix and match them together for a blend.
• Boil about 8 ounces of water.
• Add from 1 tsp. to 1/2 tbs. of dried herb, depending on how strong you like your tea. If using fresh ginger, cut about one inch of the root into thin slices. Cover the top of the cup with a saucer or tea cover (so the constituents don’t evaporate with the steam) and steep for 5 to 10 minutes. For more medicinal benefits, steep for 15 minutes.
• Strain and drink.
TIP: If you want to make a large batch of tea to drink throughout the day, use a thermal carafe(this is the one I use, and it keeps the tea hot well into the afternoon). Adjust the recipe to 2 to 3 tablespoons of dried herbs for 1 quart of tea.
Tinctures, or herbal extracts as they are also called, are another simple way to enjoy the healing benefits of herbs. They are stronger than tea and can be used simply by adding a dropperful to a few ounces of water and drinking. It’s a several-week process to make tinctures at home, but they are widely available online and in local health food stores.
Bulk Herb Resources
If you need larger quantities of herbs, purchase locally or online. I purchase my bulk herbs at the Good Earth store in Broad Ripple, Indiana. For online resources, I’ve used the following businesses and can vouch for the quality of their products.
• Starwest Botanicals
• Mountain Rose Herbs
Aromatherapy DIY Cleaner
Now let’s look at how to make a natural cleaner for your home.
Essential Oil Spray Cleaner
The synergy yields enough for 4 14-oz spray bottles.
Use this lovely-scented spray for general cleaning in the kitchen and bathroom.
• Eucalyptus Eucalyptus globulous or E. radiata 5 drops (antibacterial, antiviral)
• Geranium Pelargonium graveolens 6 drops (antibacterial, antifungal)
• Lavender Lavandula angustifolia 9 drops (antibiotic, antiseptic)
• Lemongrass Cymbopogon citratus 7 drops (antibacterial, antifungal, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antiviral )
• Tea Tree Melaleuca alternifolia 6 drops (antibacterial, antifungal, antimicrobial, antiviral)
• 14 oz of filtered water
1 Mix this synergy of essential oils and store in a colored, glass bottle.
2 Fill a spray bottle with 16 oz. of water and add 8 drops of the synergy to the bottle.
3 Shake well before spraying.
4 Keep out of reach of children.
Practice Makes Perfect for Healthy Holidays
Try one of the above ideas for a healthy holiday season and beyond. It’s always easy to start with tea. Pick a favorite and make a cup. Bonus: It’s a fun way to relax too!
Do you have a favorite herb or essential oil? Let us know how you use it. We always love to hear your ideas too.
Disclaimer: All material provided in this article is provided for informational or educational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your healthcare professional or physician. Please consult your healthcare professional before using aromatherapy products to see if they are contraindicated for physical, mental, or emotional conditions you may have or for a medication you are taking.
The School for Aromatic Studies. This is where I received my Level 1 aromatherapy training and certification.
Body Into Balance: An Herbal Guide to Holistic Self-Care by Maria Noel Groves.
Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art by Kathi Keville and Mindy Green
Commonwealth Holistic Herbalism. I am currently enrolled in their Family Herbalist class.
Note: A few of the above links are Amazon affiliate links. If you purchase a linked product, we will make a small commission. We only share links to products that we use or have experience with. Thank you for supporting our ministry.