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Thursday 30 November 2023 Dublin: 2°C
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Opinion Summer thyme and the remedy's easy...

Gardening expert and holistic practitioner Fiann Ó Nualláin shares some of his secrets on how to survive the summer.

NO MATTER HOW careful I am, I never make it through a summer without a touch of sunburn, a nettle rash or indeed an insect bite or sting of some kind – being an active gardener it is almost an occupational hazard but being a gardener with a holistic background means I have also picked up some simple and effective remedies that come from ordinary plants growing in the garden, often at the very site of the accident. We all remember as children searching for the dock leaf to stop a nettle sting – well the ‘doc’ is not the only doctor leaf out there.

Aloe vera is often proclaimed as a first aid plant – the exuding sap from a broken open leaf, once coated on the skin surface, can soothe a burnt thumb fresh from the barbecue or cool the heat of sunburn. Better still it has phytochemicals that help the skin regenerate and recover quicker from the injury. That said, you don’t need an expensive aloe if you have sempervivums growing in your garden or in a windowbox on your balcony – the humble ‘houseleek’, as it is commonly known, also has soothing sap – remedial to burns and mixed with a little vinegar can prevent peeling.

Skin problems and stings

Even with the highest SPF sunblock on, or wearing long sleeves in the shade, hot days like those we have been blessed with recently can still deliver a prickly heat rash. The acetic acid in vinegar (be that plain old white malt or fancy apple cider vinegar) is principally a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory that will take down the itch and irritability of the affected sweat ducts. I have a spray bottle with vinegar and a sprig of rosemary (extra antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties) inside as a quick spritz for such occasions and also to counteract the alkaline venom of a wasp sting or an ant bite.

When it comes to bees, the trick is bicarbonate of soda: it neutralises their acidic venom, but always endeavour to get the stinger out quickly, as it can keep pumping venom for up to 20 minutes. Comfrey root and leaf is anti-inflammatory and a poultice of either is good for stings, bites, sunburn and even to remedy the wear and tear on gardeners’ joints.

In this weather we can be prone to heat cramps – triggered by deficiencies in the electrolyte ‘sodium’ – which can be the first red flag on the road to heat exhaustion or, worse, heat stroke. So you have to take this one both seriously and with a pinch of salt. The aim is to rehydrate and to get a blend of nutrients and mineral agents into the bloodstream and into the muscles quickly; a berry smoothie is ideal, handpicked from your own strawberries and garden fruits – mixed with some apple or orange juice and a pinch of salt to replace the lost sodium. Most commercial isotonic drinks have a little salt to make the fluid absorb easier into the blood stream.

Cuts and scrapes

If you scrape a knee or knuckle or get a cut, one of the best natural antiseptics is garden thyme – it can be rubbed on like the dock or made into a fridge-stored rinse (lasts one week) by simply infusing a sprig in a half cup of hot water and letting cool before applying. Internally and externally an infusion of thyme is effective treatment to candida albicans. Thyme in culinary terms is a very good source of vitamin C and A, as well as iron, manganese, and copper – just what you need in hot weather.

Calendula petals are packed with lutein and are great as both healthy garnish and as skin conditioners. Chamomile tea really calms and a mix of chamomile, thyme and calendula can boost our system to the environmental stresses of summer. Culinary mint is refreshing in flavour but added to a basin of warm water as a foot soak with a little Epson salts, will regenerate tired feet, swollen ankles and ward off wellie foot. In the same foot soak, add two tablespoons of mustard powder to relieve sinus congestion, migraine and summer flu.

And, lastly, if the warm evenings have had you sample an extra glass of red wine or two then remember that not only is the fragrance of lavender very effective for hangovers but strawberries for breakfast rehydrate the body and brain, lower stress levels in the body and naturally whiten teeth – lifting the most stubborn stains of coffee, nicotine and red wine. So there are more reasons than good weather to keep us smiling.

Fiann Ó Nualláin is an advocate of gardening for health with a background in horticulture, nutrition, naturopathy and ethnobotany. His new book, The Holistic Gardener, published by Mercier Press, is available to buy now. 

Column: Plants are at the heart of many crucial global issues facing us today

Read: 23 scientifically-backed ways to reduce stress

Fiann Ó Nualláin
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