This guest article, written by Karen Lawton, first appeared in The Green Parent Magazine.
My son Harry has the proverbial constitution of an ox - having only been ill three times in all his thirteen years. The first time was at two months old when he contracted bacterial meningitis, which was really scary.
I awoke in the early hours of the morning to a screaming baby, which was totally unusual for him. He had been extremely content and chilled up until that night. He wouldn’t feed and his father noticed a rash so we rushed him to Brighton’s accident and emergency.
The first doctor we saw told us that it looked like chicken pox. He gave us some advice and discharged us. As we were leaving a ward sister asked to look at Harry more closely. I passed him to her and she literally ran down the corridor with him shouting ”I need a lumber puncture now!”. He was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis and we spent fourteen very stressful days in a glass room on the children’s ward - my first ‘baba’ and such a potentially disastrous illness. Harry was given penicillin, which saved his life (the first and last time that he has taken orthodox medicine).
Interestingly this is where I made the decision not to vaccinate. Various healthcare professionals were pressuring me to vaccinate him but I just kept thinking that there was no vaccine for what he’d just suffered and he pulled through, so he must be strong enough to fight off illness by himself.
The second time he was ill was ten years later in Morocco when he suffered food poisoning from scrambled eggs we’d eaten in a café. It predisposed a migraine and he was in agony for days. As we were travelling in our truck I had quite a few herbs to treat him with. I mostly used valerian capsules and thyme and chamomile teas. It was quite a shock having to nurse a ten year old as I had never been needed for this before!
This last time the illness was tonsillitis. Harry’s glands were red sore and swollen, he had a bunged up nose and couldn’t breathe at all well. He felt utterly miserable. As his fever increased he got quite desperate and asked me if I thought we should go to the doctor. I explained that the doctor would almost certainly give him a course of antibiotics and some form of painkillers or NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and that these would probably get rid of the swelling and make him feel more comfortable. However, his digestion would also suffer since antibiotics normally affect people’s digestive systems, also he would more than likely suffer the same illness again in a few months as his immune system would be weakened.
At thirteen Harry is rebelling against me. He insists on wearing Lynx, loves anything Nike or xbox and is embarrassed about my ‘witchy ways’. So I was very happy when he made his own decision to take herbal medicines for his tonsillitis, especially as he had made many of them himself.
Harry has grown up with herbs, at four years old he knew the Latin names of our local flora – although we called them their ‘magical names’. I was studying for a degree in Herbal Medicine at that time and learning their names so a walk to school would be filled with stories of the king Quercus robur (oak) and his many subjects (the fairies and elves), Urtica dioica (nettle) became Urti the cruel magician who always put painful spells on folk, Gallium aparine (sticky bud) a gallant knight, Hedera helix (ivy) the head chef in the palace kitchen and so on…
The tonsils are lymph nodes in the back of the mouth and top of the throat. They help to filter out bacteria and other micro-organisms to prevent infection in the body. Tonsillitis occurs when a particularly virulent bacterial or viral infection causes them to swell and become inflamed. Signs and symptoms of viral and bacterial tonsillitis are often similar, however, minor differences are frequently present.
In bacterial tonsillitis although the front neck glands are usually distended and sore there is little or no swelling of the back neck glands. In viral tonsillitis both front and back neck glands are usually enlarged and tender. Viral tonsillitis is more likely to be asymmetric, that is one tonsil may be much more swollen and painful than the other.
Harry’s tonsillitis was bacterial; I could tell this by the white spots on his enlarged tonsils. The herbs I chose to use were strongly anti-bacterial together with immune enhancers. I used teas, a throat spray and essential oils. I also made vegetable broth with lots of garlic (naturally antibiotic) and bribed him with the promise of soothing cooling ice cream for pudding!
Our garden path is lined with the most delightfully scented aromatic herbs and is a constant wonder to children and adults alike. Hands are trailed along the herbs and wonderful smells are released on each journey up or down the path. Amongst others there are the uplifting and protective rosemary, calming lavender, pungent thyme, heady sage, smoky wormwood, tasty marjoram and sweet myrtle.
For Harry’s tea we used some bay leaves, thyme (which was in flower), sage (also in flower), marjoram, elderflowers and rosemary. They were all thrown into a teapot and left to infuse for fifteen minutes. He then drank a whole pot with plenty of honey every few hours.
I made a throat spray using a mix of elderberry (Sambucus nigra) syrup and tinctures of pokeroot (Phytolacca americana), marigold (Calendula officinalis), ginger (Zingiber officinale), sage (Salvia officinalis), thyme (Thymus vulgaris) and rosemary (Rosmarinus offincinalis). The mixture was put into a spray bottle so that Harry could spray his tonsils regularly.
I make elderberry syrup every autumn and have a years supply in my fridge. It is extremely immunostimulating and antiviral and so is effective against flu as well. Harry, like many children, loves the sweet taste of syrup. Hypocrites called the elder 'the medicine chest', as all its parts are useful in medicine, The blossoms are extremely affective at drying up snotty secretions and brilliant mixed with yarrow to bring down a fever, the bark is an emetic (induces vomiting), the smelly leaves when decocted can be employed to keep midges and mosquitoes at bay and the berries are antiviral and immunostimulating.
Sage, thyme and rosemary are called aromatics in herbal medicine and are full of antiseptic oils and help fight off infection. Pokeroot and calendula are powerful lymphatics, which means that they encourage the immune system by helping to remove infection from an area so that it can be safely excreted from the body.
The way I make tinctures is very simple in fact Harry had prepared many of the tinctures he took. I like to pick my herbs on their planetary days (a copy of Culpepper is great to have for reference - I prefer the simplified Colour Herbal). Basically Monday is ruled by the moon, Tuesday by Mars, Wednesday by Mercury, Thursday by Jupiter, Friday by Venus, Saturday by Saturn and Sunday by the Sun.
I harvest the plants on a dry day after the morning dew has evaporated with these planetary correspondents in mind i.e. calendula is a herb of the sun so pick on Sundays, thyme is a herb of Venus so pick on Fridays. Then I chop it up and pack as much as possible into a jar and cover with good quality organic vodka. I then label and date the tincture. One lunar cycle later I strain the herb out and retain the liquid, which is the tincture.
We also burnt essential oils of lavender, eucalyptus and geranium in oil burners all over the house. Essential oils are distilled extractions of the herbs and extremely powerful medicinally. This blend helps to clear infection whilst also being uplifting and beautifully scented. It also prevents the spread of infection to other members of our family.
Harry recovered from his bout of Tonsillitis after 3 days taking all the herbs. However, he is insistent that is was ice cream that cured his tonsillitis!!!
I am Karen Lawton, a green witch living and working with plants in Hertfordshire. During the summer I tour around festivals and fayres all over the UK with ‘Sensory Solutions’ Witch Theatre’. We dress up in witchy costumes and teach folk about the joy of herbs through practical sensory workshops.