Bearing in mind the current climate, I felt that now might be the time to write a blog post about convalescence (or recovery). Convalescence is an old-fashioned word, and quite an old-fashioned concept really, that doesn’t fit into today’s world of everything on demand. Put simply, it involves allowing the body (and often the mind as well) to rest and recover; after illness, a shock, a period of hard work/studying, training for sport, or after a long period of stress. If we don’t allow ourselves time to convalesce – and it is difficult with all the external pressures we have to get well, not to say the pressures we put on ourselves! – then it will take us longer to get back to normal and in some cases we might never quite get there.

An old-fashioned concept, and old-fashioned advice – if you want to get back to fighting fit, it’s all the things we know really: fresh air; light exercise; sunlight (we’ve been lucky recently!); a good, varied diet with plenty of fruit and veg, water, lean, good-quality protein and less processed, fatty or sugary foods; and cutting down on smoking and drinking to reduce the strain on the body. And of course, I’m going to try and explain how herbal medicine comes in.

Long term followers (and my patients) will know that medical herbalists treat everybody differently, and as with other conditions, I don’t have a bottle of one-size-fits-all “convalescence medicine”. It depends what the patient is recovering from, as well as their general health, any pre-existing conditions, their lifestyle and so on.

When the body is recovering from something, often one or more of its organs may have been damaged or put under strain, as a result of, for example, chemotherapy, a virus or other illness, or perhaps long term stress (leading to a stomach ulcer). I select the relevant herb(s) to support and in some cases help rebuild the structure of the lungs, the heart, the kidneys, the liver or the digestive or nervous systems. Some herbs are “trophorestorative” which means they restore the tissues of a certain part(s) of the body. They could be anti-inflammatory to inflamed membranes; contain constituents which the body can use as building blocks to restore structure and function to damaged parts; or help protect against further damage for example an expectorant to help the lungs expel any catarrh/phlegm. If someone has had to take a lot of medication for whatever reason then I can help support the organs with waste removal.

The next step I use in prescribing is to choose a type of herb which is classified as an adaptogen. There are lots of definitions of adaptogens but this is a simple one: they support your body and help it adapt to “stressors”. Those stressors can be physical; such as illness, environmental pollutants or even strenuous exercise; or they can be mental/emotional. They work on the HPA -axis – that’s the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis which is implicated in stress in the body. They may tone down the activity of over-functioning systems or increase the activity of under-functioning systems, leading to balance or normality in the body.

There are many different herbs that are classed as adaptogens, but as all herbs have many more than one medicinal action, we use a different adaptogen (or adaptogens) in different circumstances. For example, I use one adaptogen when there has been a lung condition, a different one when keeping white blood cell levels up during chemo, or another if stress is causing insomnia. Often I may use two or even three adaptogens if I feel they are required for a patient. There’s been a fair amount of research into the use of adaptogens in sport so I use these for my patients who train hard! Adaptogens gently increase the energy reserves of the patient without “writing cheques the body can’t cash” – it’s not like having an espresso and being able to stay awake to finish a film or an essay, more like suddenly realising over the last week you’ve gradually been able to do a little more without having to have a nap in the afternoon, or falling asleep in front of the TV.

The next stage in formulating my prescription is to focus on those annoying residual symptoms after the main illness/situation has finished. These could include:

  • an injury or niggle from overtraining,
  • low energy after a virus or long period of hard work/studying,
  • digestive symptoms like a stomach ulcer from stress,
  • leftover catarrh or phlegm from a chest complaint or flu,
  • Problems sleeping after an emotional upset

As always, I’d choose whichever herbs are relevant to the patient in front of me.

Finally, I look at emotional support - really important (but often forgotten about) in convalescence. How frustrating is it when you start to feel better but still can’t quite do what you used to? Sometimes patients have had a real fright and find that they are tearful, scared, angry, grieving even. They can be anxious, depressed, lacking in motivation, having trouble sleeping. They might blame themselves for whatever has happened, or they might be pushing themselves too hard to get back to the (home) office or gym. There are so many herbs that are used for emotional support and it really does depend on the individual person as to which ones I choose.

So, I've spoken about how I go about building a herbal prescription, which varies for each person, as they could be consulting me after a virus, during or after chemotherapy, after a long period of stress or hard work, or maybe training for sport. They will have a different story, different symptoms (both physical and emotional), and a different past medical history.

This means that a first consultation involves a lot of questioning on my part to ensure I get a full picture of you and can choose the most appropriate and safe herbs for your prescription. For an adult this tends to last an hour. At present I'm taking new patients via Zoom so you can be in the comfort of your own home! I then post your prescription out to you and provide a detailed report of the rationale behind the herbs you will be taking.

Usually when I see a patient, I see them two weeks later, then every 4-6 weeks after that. However, in more acute situations where symptoms can be changing on a daily and weekly basis, I prefer to speak to a patient weekly (and keep in contact in between) so their medicine is up to date for their needs.

If you are interested in how herbal medicine can help with your recovery, have a look at my website www.billericayherbal.com for more info. If you'd like to discuss it with me, you can message me on Facebook (@BillericayHerbal), email me at info@billericayherbal.com or phone me on 07596 842642. I look forward to helping you get back to normal!

Elecampane (Inula helenium) - decongestant, expectorant, antibacterial

Are you looking to keep your immune system fighting fit this winter? This time of year there are all sorts of nasty cold and flu bugs going around. How can we keep ourselves well?

Are you looking to keep your immune system fighting fit this winter? This time of year there are all sorts of nasty cold and flu bugs going around. How can we keep ourselves well?

Elderberry

First, make sure you’re eating a healthy, varied diet. My advice to everyone is “eat a rainbow”: fruit and veg of as many different colours as you can as the different colour pigments contain different nutrients. Plenty of water and herbal tea to allow your body to flush everything through. Garlic, ginger, onions, mushrooms, spices…these all have anti-viral/antibacterial properties.

What not to do? Eating too much sugar and processed foods, stress, smoking, poor sleep, lack of exercise…all these factors are bad for your immune system. If you do go out and people are coughing and spluttering everywhere, wash your hands as soon as you can and try and avoid touching your face and transferring viral particles to your nose/mouth/eyes.

I have a number of patients who like to take herbs to keep well over winter and so I mix up specific blends for all of them. There are a few herbs that I use for most people, such as elderberry (Sambucus nigra, see above), as it has been found to inhibit the growth of different strains of flu and other viruses. However, no two people are the same and so for those with “weak chests” (from growing up in smoky homes for example) I can use herbs specifically for this; or for those who generally have blocked sinuses I can help get rid of the catarrh. I can help with stress and sleep issues too! As we all know, viruses don’t respond to antibiotics but secondary bacterial infections can get in, and I have a number of antibacterial herbs that I can use if this happens. I also frequently work alongside prescribed medication so that isn’t a problem.

If you’d like to talk about keeping your immune system tip-top then please get in touch!

Lyme disease is in the news at the moment as it is a condition that’s becoming more and more prevalent. Caused by a bacteria transmitted by ticks, often in woodlands or heathlands, it’s estimated that there’s 2-3000 new cases every year in the UK.

Lyme disease is in the news at the moment as it is a condition that’s becoming more and more prevalent. Caused by a bacteria transmitted by ticks, often in woodlands or heathlands, it’s estimated that there’s 2-3000 new cases every year in the UK.

If bitten by an infected tick, the most obvious symptom is the “bullseye rash” but this only shows in less than half of people. Other symptoms are fever, flu-like symptoms (sore throat, swollen glands, aching muscles/joints), headaches, fatigue and poor concentration/memory, nausea and diarrhoea, and vertigo. At this point many medical herbalists (including myself) would send a patient to their GP to get several weeks’ worth of a specific antibiotic. At the same time as the antibiotic, we would use herbs for immune support that are specific to this particular type of bacteria, anti-inflammatory herbs and herbs to help the liver deal with the infection. This regime could last many months as it is a difficult bacteria to deal with!

What if you didn’t realise you had been bitten at the time, or didn’t treat it at the time? Unfortunately, untreated Lyme can lead to chronic Lyme which can be extremely debilitating. Symptoms can include muscle, nerve and “migrating” joint pains, brain fog, random tingling/numbness (it can be confused with MS), palpitations, dizziness, chronic fatigue and depression, food sensitivity, and seizures. It’s often difficult to diagnose at this point as the symptoms can mimic many other, more common, conditions (MS, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, Lupus/SLE, rheumatoid arthritis…) and testing is less reliable later on.

How do medical herbalists deal with chronic Lyme disease? Again, we would use immune-supporting and anti-inflammatory herbs but we would also look at each individual patient and the symptoms they are showing. The nervous system is very much involved – pain, tingling, numbness and dizziness so we would use herbs that can help restore the nerve cells and ease these symptoms. In addition to this, “brain fog” or problems focussing and concentrating can be addressed herbally. Anxiety and depression can be tackled too. We look at supporting the gut flora and food intolerances, and the most common symptom: exhaustion. It’s not just a herbal prescription – we look at diet, lifestyle and often supplements as well. Chronic Lyme, as I’ve said, can be extremely debilitating as it affects so many systems of the body so severely, and it can take many months to years of a herbal regime to get a hold on it. But it’s worth trying as it can be very effective! If you have Lyme disease, please feel free to get in contact for a no-obligation chat about how we could work together to help you feel better.

Do you know anyone with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), sometimes also known as ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis) or post-viral fatigue syndrome? It can be hard to understand from the outside, which is one of the reasons it can be so frustrating if you have it. CFS, as I’m going to refer to it, is a chronic, or long-term, condition with the main symptom of extreme tiredness. Other symptoms can include sleep problems, muscle/joint pain, headaches and other pain, problems concentrating (“brain fog”), dizziness, sore throat, digestive issues and sensitivity to some foods, smells, medications or alcohol. It can also be associated with other conditions such as fibromyalgia.

It’s really important to know that the extreme tiredness is completely debilitating. What we would think of as a light mental or physical task can cause exhaustion for days afterwards. People can differ hugely as to the extent CFS affects them – symptoms vary, as does the time it affects them for (weeks to years) and the severity of the symptoms.

How does it start? This isn’t clear, but various theories are: after a viral/bacterial infection where recovery may have been hampered in some way; physical trauma such as an accident, operation or medical treatment; severe emotional trauma; or it could run in the family.

The NHS may recommend cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), graded exercise therapy, or patients may be prescribed medication such as painkillers, sleeping tablets, or antidepressants. However, people withCFS are often more sensitive to the side effects of these drugs.

How can herbal medicine help? It’s important that I remember that in the same way that CFS patients may be more sensitive to drugs, foods, smells etc, they could be more sensitive to herbs than the previous patient I saw. So lower doses are often used, gradually working up. I also look quite deeply into diet as sometimes CFS is aggravated by food intolerances. Herbally, it’s also important not to just prescribe herbs to “give more energy” when there is nowhere to get that energy from…as another herbalist once said it’s like “writing cheques your body can’t cash”. Instead we work slowly and gradually on building energy reserves. Different symptoms can be looked at such as insomnia, low mood, brain fog and so on, depending on what the patient wants to concentrate on. Please feel free to get in contact if you’d like to discuss further with me.

Do your gums often bleed when you brush your teeth, or are they sore and red rather than a nice healthy pink colour? Around a third of us have gum disease and it’s easy just to ignore it, but did you read the recent news that researchers have found that a key cause of Alzheimer’s disease is a bacterium found in gum disease? While it’s fantastic news that they’ve made this breakthrough, it’s scary stuff. The good news is that gum disease is preventable. So what can we do about it? I’m going to discuss dental hygiene, what to do if you already do everything by the book, and how to cope if you’re terrified of seeing a dentist.

Do your gums often bleed when you brush your teeth, or are they sore and red rather than a nice healthy pink colour? Around a third of us have gum disease and it’s easy just to ignore it, but did you read the recent news that researchers have found that a key cause of Alzheimer’s disease is a bacterium found in gum disease? While it’s fantastic news that they’ve made this breakthrough, it’s scary stuff. The good news is that gum disease is preventable. So what can we do about it? I’m going to discuss dental hygiene, what to do if you already do everything by the book, and how to cope if you’re terrified of seeing a dentist.

Often gum disease can be halted with improvements in dental hygiene. We all know what we should be doing – brush twice a day, floss, don’t smoke...but often we shave off a bit of time brushing or skip flossing because we just want to go to bed. This is the first place to start. Secondly, you may go to the dentist once or twice a year, but do you visit your hygienist? This is so important, as the hygienist will be able to give your mouth a deep clean to reach the parts you can’t get to, and spot any potential problems before they get worse.

What if you already do this and still have problems? This is where herbal medicine can help. A medical herbalist will take your entire medical history, and maybe see if you have any other problems with inflammation that might be contributing to the gum disease. If so, we may prescribe an internal medicine to take to help calm this inflammation, support your immune system and help build the connective tissue (the tissue that makes up your gums). We would also prescribe a mouthwash to do all of the above from the outside as well, and look at nutrition. I’ve had some really good results with this approach, alongside visits to the hygienist.

But what if you don’t want to visit your dentist or hygienist as you are simply terrified of going? It’s nothing to be ashamed of, more people than you think are affected in this way, usually from a bad experience earlier on in life. First, ask around. There are dentists who specialise in taking nervous patients. Secondly, herbal medicine can help here again. I’ve prescribed mixtures of herbs for anxiety and nerves for patients who were petrified of going to the dentist – it takes the edge off and calms you down.

As always, give me a call if you’d like to discuss this further!

Are you thinking of trying out herbal medicine for minor ailments but don't want to commit to an appointment right now? Why not try herbal teas? Mine are handmade one at a time so that exactly the right amount of each carefully chosen herb goes into each one. I have two brand new ones too!

Clean 'n' green: for when you've overindulged and would like a fresh new start. This is my "detox" type tea which may help the body get rid of waste by supporting the liver, kidneys and lymphatic system. (Nettle, dandelion leaf, burdock, cleavers, milk thistle, fennel)

Strength & Support: for difficult times when you need to look after number one. It contains herbs called adaptogens which are supportive when the body and mind are under stress, plus other herbs to help with mood. If you're finding it difficult to focus, this is the tea!  (Tulsi, ashwagandha, lemon balm, rosemary, wood betony)

And some old favourites:

Chill out: says it all really! This is a best seller and many people love to drink it after work or just before bed. (Chamomile, lemon balm, limeflower, passionflower, rose)

Slay-fever: contains herbs traditionally used for hayfever and allergies (nettle, ribwort, eyebright, elderflower, peppermint)

Feeders' digest: can help support the digestive system - good after dinner, or for bloating. (chamomile, cinnamon, fennel, marigold, peppermint)

Achoo! brew: contains herbs traditionally used for colds and flu (echinacea, elderflower, peppermint, ribwort, yarrow)

All teas are loose and can be made in a teapot, cafetiere, or using a tea strainer of some type (I also stock one-cup "tea ball" strainers for £3 each).

Each tea is £4 and makes at least 25-30 teas, depending on how strong you make it. (Many people will also get a second cup out of each one!)

Teas are not suitable during pregnancy or breastfeeding.

I'm not a "shop" as such so if you would like to buy you can Facebook message, email me at info@billericayherbal.com or just ask if you see me! I take Paypal or bank transfer or cash in person. Please note that my primary job is seeing patients so I may not get back to you immediately but will do so as soon as I can.

P&P if required is £3 second class or £3.50 first class.

People often ask me what qualifications you need to become a medical herbalist. It’s not a profession that you can do an online or weekend course in! In order to practise in the UK, you need to have studied a degree in Herbal Medicine (that’s one of the BSc (Hons) you see after my name). The degree very rarely takes the usual three years to complete as we had the added requirement of at least 500 hours of clinical experience – I was lucky enough to do over 750, including in an NHS hospital dermatology department – so if you study it full time it tends to take at least four years. Longer if, like me, you had a full time job as well!

In the news recently, there’s been a couple of articles about cancer patients using alternative or complementary medicines (such as herbal medicine – Western or Chinese, vitamin regimes, homeopathy, naturopathy and specialised diets) and sadly, not having a good outcome. I just wanted to add my thoughts on this.

First of all – it is ILLEGAL IN THE UK FOR ANY PRACTITIONER OF ANY KIND TO TELL YOU THEY CAN CURE CANCER. If anyone tells you they can do this (and that includes herbalists), run a mile and report them. No reputable practitioner should be doing this in the UK!

(This post is part of a week-long series on my Facebook page starting herefor Mental Health Awareness Week - click "not now" if it prompts you to join).

I see a large number of people with stress. Even if that’s not why they come to see me in the first place, it often underlies the symptoms they describe, or makes them worse. Prolonged periods of stress can have a negative effect on your physical and mental health, causing problems with your digestive system, hormones, cardiovascular system (possibly even leading to high blood pressure, angina, heart attacks) and perhaps contributing to inflammation in the body. Many people with long term conditions such as psoriasis, arthritis, eczema or depression feel that stress makes their symptoms worse.

Dinosaurs used to activate our "fight or flight" response!

...continue reading "How can herbal medicine help with stress?"

Chelidonium majus (greater celandine) - sometimes used in endometriosis

You may have read in the news last week that the actress Lena Dunham has had a hysterectomy at the age of 31 after battling endometriosis for many years. Endometriosis is where the cells that make up the lining of the womb (the same ones that gradually build up throughout the month in preparation for egg fertilization and then break down as your period) are found elsewhere in the body.

...continue reading "Endometriosis"