Or, When the Hell Should We Interfere, Anyway??
I was recently afflicted with a moderately unpleasant bout of food poisoning, following the ingestion of some shellfish that evidently had one or two bad ones in (damn those mussels – I’ll never look at them the same way again!) Unfortunately the aforementioned shellfish were pre prepared, so I had no way of knowing whether or not they were still in the land of the edible. Evidently these were not – but I digress.
I was woken up in the early hours of Tuesday morning with some thoroughly unpleasant stomach cramps and nausea, spent the next few hours running a fairly high fever, vomiting, and curling around my stomach praying for the cramps to subside. This was then followed by a very nasty bout of acute diarrhoea, which certainly seemed to tie into the stomach cramps. I spent most of Tuesday lying on the sofa wondering feverishly when – and if – there was going to be a good time to intercede with the herbs. I was already using the ‘nil by mouth’ attitude, and anyway, anyone who has had food poisoning or any other kind of stomach bug will know from experience that when you feel that bad, eating is just about the last thing on your mind anyway! Here, in case it proves helpful to others, is how I’ve dealt with the food poisoning thus far (hoping I don’t get another relapse!)
First, I didn’t eat anything for the better part of a day, until the diarrhoea had stopped, and then I nibbled on dry toast with nothing on it. Unfortunately for me, I thought I felt better that afternoon after a nap and had toast with margarine on it, and a small dish of cereal with soya milk. That kicked off another bout of diarrhoea that left me lying on the sofa like a wrung out dish rag all day Wednesday – the moral of the story is don’t eat anything other than dry toast and drink anything other than boiled water for at least 24 hours, even if you do feel better! Anyway, back to the herbal side of things. It’s pretty important to remember that, even though you feel like death warmed over, diarrhoea in this kind of circumstance is actually helping your body to remove the toxins that were making it ill, so interfering with it too much isn’t overly wise. I drank peppermint, fennel and catnip tea to help with the stomach cramps and provide a little rehydration, so that I could at least lie down with a little more comfort.
I also began taking some home made cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylandicum) tincture that I made last year, at a dose of 5mls 3 times a day. Cinnamon is quite an interesting plant. Not only is it carminative, aromatic and anti nausea, it also inhibits and outright kills E.coli, the bacteria that is usually responsible for food poisoning. It’s also anti diarrhoea, so use it with a little caution – fortunately my home made tincture is not hideously strong, so it didn’t inhibit my body’s efforts to expel the foreign invaders that were making it ill. I am still taking 5mls of this tincture three times a day, despite being back on my feet today – because I still feel very weak and shaky and my stomach is questionable to say the least. I’d rather ward off another possible outbreak of the horrible bacteria!
Yesterday afternoon, feeling a little better, I switched teas to Meadowsweet and Comfrey, with a wee bit of Peppermint in for flavour. This certainly helped me to feel even better, and reduced the horrible aches and pains down to a more bearable level. Lastly, I knocked back two cups of Meadowsweet, Peppermint and Passionflower yesterday evening, in the hopes of a decent night’s sleep – which did the trick, as I slept through til morning without any mishaps!
I suppose what I am trying to say with this rather rambling blog post is don’t be too hasty to interfere with the body’s workings. A fever is the body’s way of raising the temperature enough to kill foreign bacteria – so I generally wouldn’t interfere with any temperature I was running unless it had gone too high or had lasted too long, in which case the body is clearly on a losing battle to expel the invaders. If this had happened, I’d have been knocking back Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and Elderflower (Sambucus nigra) as hot as I could stand it, as these are great febrifuge and diaphoretic herbs. It’s always important to know when you’ve hit your limits in terms of what you can treat, both in yourself and your friends, family and patients. If I’d still been feeling very ill this morning after three days of dry toast, boiled water and herbal remedies, I’d have gone post haste to the GP. I’m not too proud to admit that I don’t have all the tools at home to treat a more serious bout of food poisoning! With regards to diarrhoea, this works in much the same way as feverishness. It’s usually the body’s way of clearing out toxins that it doesn’t want. If it lasts more than about 6 hours or the patient is getting clearly dehydrated, then its time to try more drying herbs, such as Black Horehound (Ballota nigra) which, in addition to being anti nausea is also a very good anti diarrhoea herb. Frankly if this does not do the trick, hie thee to the doctor or your local herbalist! Long term severe diarrhoea strips water and nutrients out of the body at an alarming rate, and this can be very dangerous, especially to the very young or the elderly.
The final point here, I guess, is that it has become increasingly clear to me these last few days just how important it is to trust your body to have a damn good bash at healing itself, and to listen for the cues that say ‘hey, dude, I can’t cope with this any more’.
And now, dear readers, I throw the floor (metaphorically speaking, anyway) open to you all – how do you cope with illness at home? Where do you draw the line at what you can treat in terms of the more common place illnesses? What are your favourite go to herbs for your own personal medicine chest? I eagerly await your responses! 😀