Herbal medicine can be great for convalescence

My husband and I just returned from two weeks of hanging out on a West Coast beach. It was revitalizing.

My husband and I just returned from two weeks of hanging out on a West Coast beach. It was revitalizing.

On the beach, I was reminded of another time in my life when I spent on a West Coast beach.

At 25, I walked out of the hospital after surviving a life threatening illness, weighing eighty-five pounds. My doctor, an excellent doctor in a health crisis, told me to eat meat in order to regain my strength. There must be more I can do, I thought.

A few weeks later, standing in front a wall of white plastic bottles, a health-food clerk recommended many products to help me recover my health. My pockets, however, were empty. Poor health brought financial crisis. I left the store feeling overwhelmed by the choices and prices.

I found solace at the edge of a Vancouver beach under a giant maple tree. I spent days there, wrapped in a blanket while others soaked up the sun in bathing suits. Although it was June, I was cold. By breathing the sea soaked air, watching the dabbled sunlight filter through the broad maple leaves and a twice daily walk where the sea meets the sand, I slowly over several months renewed my health. I also ate meat everyday as my doctor had advised and feasted on B.C. fruit. I convalesced.

The art of convalescing, once considered an important period in recovering fully from of any illness, has been lost. In many ways, it was during my convalescence that I decided to study herbal medicine. I know modern medicine saved my life. But it offered little help in getting my health back on track. Sitting on the beach, I began my study of herbal medicine and made my first batch of nettle tea.

So what is convalescence? Convalescence is the period needed for recovery of health after disease, injury or shock. It is a time of rest, good food and gentle exercise. If convalescence does not follow illness, the recovery period can lengthens and in some cases chronic disease sets in. Chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia are illnesses associated with inadequate recovery periods after viral infections.

Herbal medicine shines in its ability to support convalescence.

Nutritive herbs are frequently used to replenish minerals and vitamins spent during the illness. My favourite nutritive tea is nettles (Urtica dioica), alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and rose hips (Rosa spp.). Soothing nerve tonic like green oat seed (Avena sativa) can be added to the tea in order to relax the body and mind during what can be a very frustrating period.

With the illness in the past, there is a sense of wanting to get on with life. However, the body just is not yet strong enough.

Nerve tonics can ease the restless associated with convalescence.

As illness can take its toll on the immune system, herbs that build white and red blood cells have a part in convalescence. These herbs include astragulus (Astragulus membranaceus), medicinal mushrooms and schizandra (Shisandra chinensis). These herbs play an important role in the recovering from chemotherapy treatment.

Old herbals list herbs that relieve anorexia.

These books are not referring to the modern illness, anorexia. The herbals refer to loss of appetite due to illness.

Eating can be a real challenge during convalescence. Frequent small meals and snacks are often the best choice. Soups made with bone broths and fresh vegetables are an excellent choice, offering high levels of easily absorbed nutrients. Bitter herbs, such a gentian (Gentiana lutea) are used to stimulate the appetite as well as digestion.

Illness and its treatment can weaken specific organs. Herbal tonics are used during convalescence to strengthen affected organs.

For example, in illness involving the heart, hawthorn (Crataegus oxycantha) is used to strength the heart’s blood vessels and the force of its contraction. If the illness compromised the liver, milk thistle (Silybum marianum) will protect fragile liver cells. If the skin became thin and fragile, salves of comfrey (Symphytum officinalis) and calendula (Calendula officinalis) will help it regain its integrity.

Herbs for Life is written by Abrah Arneson, a clinical herbalist. It is intended for information purposes only. Readers with a specific medical problem should consult a doctor. For more information, visit www.abraherbalist.ca. Arneson can be reached at abrah@shaw.ca.

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