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Herbal survival guide for the festive season

Most of us make the same festive resolution not to indulge every year and whilst it is obviously a good idea to take it easy on the extra food, treats and alcohol, here are a few herbal tips if you don’t quite keep your resolve. Whilst there is an array of different herbal remedies that could be utilised, below is a list that should be readily available, either as part of your cooking supplies or at local health stores.

Photo by Marina Khrapova via unsplash


Whilst sources of long term stress need to be addressed at the source, it is normal for most people to feel a little stressed during the holidays as there always seems to be a never ending list of things to do, places to go and people to see. If you need a little help to unwind, lavender essential oil can be used in a bath, as a pillow spritz to inhale or rubbed on key points such as soles of your feet, wrists and temples in a carrier oil like coconut or almond oil. Lemon balm and chamomile teas have relaxing, soothing effects, as does rosemary. A fresh rosemary plant it’s a great addition to the kitchen to use in cooking or to inhale its delightful aromas.


There are many myths and theories surrounding what causes hangovers, how to avoid them and how to survive them. A study in 2003 demonstrated that alcohol had an effect on the immune system, promoting inflammatory substances which may cause side effects such as memory impairment, mood changes, weakness, decreased appetite, reduced activity and sleepiness. If inflammation does play a role, anti-inflammatory herbs such as turmeric, ginger, Korean ginseng, chamomile, marigold and ashwaghanda may be helpful.

Some studies show that your choice of beverage impacts on your hangover. Congeners are substances that occur as part of the fermentation process and are higher in drinks such as brandy, rum and red wine than in beer vodka and gin. Drinking higher congener containing beverages leads to worse hangovers.

Many people swear by milk thistle supplements as their hangover cure. Milk thistle is known as a liver herb as extensive studies show its ability support and protect the liver from toxins and damage. Milk thistle increases levels of glutathione, which plays a key role in liver detoxification processes. Whilst it might not be as effective as a one off, use as a regular supplement may well aid with staving off those hangovers as well as providing the added benefit of supporting a healthy liver.

If in doubt, drink less, stick to lighter coloured drinks, alternate with water and have some food. Eggs contain cysteine (an amino acid), which aids in the metabolism of acetaldehyde, which has been shown to contribute to hangovers. This might go some way to explain the tradition of a morning after the night before fry up!

*Milk thistle may react with some prescription medications so check before hand.

Indigestion & Heartburn

Indigestion and heartburn can be triggered by over eating and alcohol. Meadowsweet has an antacid effect and can be taken as a tea to reduce symptoms. Chamomile and ginger tea (fresh, chopped ginger can be used) can both go a long way to settling indigestion and an unhappy stomach. Slippery elm contains mucilage which can have a soothing effects on irritated membranes (as is the case with indigestion). One teaspoon of powder in an 8 ounce glass of water 1-3 times a day is best and should be taken 2 hours away from any medication. Potters do a pretty palatable tablet form, which might be more appealing for some.

*Meadowsweet contains salicylates so if you have an allergy to aspirin (which also contains salicylates) it should be avoided. It also should not be used by people with stomach ulcers or irritable bowel disease.

Bloating & constipation

Bloating and constipation are some of the commonest complaints over the holidays. It is very easy to consume large amounts of foods you might not normally eat so much of (cheese board anyone?) which can result in a change of bowl habits. Add in sometimes eating in a rush to get to the Christmas party or standing up whilst nibbling on canapés and it is easy to fall into this trap. If you do find certain foods trigger these symptoms it is best to limit their consumption as much as possible. However, if you are finding yourself bloated, fennel seeds and cardamom are known as carminative herbs and can reduce uncomfortable wind. The seeds and pods should be gently crushed and then can be steeped in hot water for 10-15 minutes to make a tea. Ginger and rosemary can also be brewed as a tea. Chamomile and peppermint tea bags are readily available and also helpful (why not try a combination of chamomile, ginger and fennel for a refreshing and warming brew).

If constipation is a problem, rather than reaching for the laxatives or suffering in silence, linseed (also known as flaxseed), is a good source of soluble fibre and therefore works as a bulk laxative. One teaspoon twice a day should be taken with water, this can be increased gradually to 4 tablespoons twice a day for the desired results. Aloe vera juice can help to ease constipation, drink a small amount daily as per product instructions. Dandelion leaves and root are bitter and can stimulate digestion, (they can increase bile production which encourages digestive action) these can be purchased in health food stores or harvested from your garden, making weed removal a more useful chore. Swedish bitters is a time tested remedy of a collection of different herbs which can be useful for supporting digestion.

*It is advisable not to use peppermint if you experience acid reflux or heartburn. Dandelion should not be used in gall bladder disorders

This information is provided as general guidance and should not be considered a substitution for personalised advice. If you have any specific medical conditions or are taking prescription medication, it is always advisable to discuss with your doctor, pharmacist or a trained medical herbalist before taking any supplements or herbal treatments.

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