You hear a sneeze from the back of the bus followed by a rather watery nose blowing on a tissue, you get to work and get a call, 'I ban't come in today, I'm ball bunned up'.
Yes, we are in the midst of the cold and flu season.
It's only a matter of time before you are laid out with a bunch of paracetamol down your neck and a cup of some expensive powdery tonic that is supposed to get you back on your feet in no time.
Or is it? before you start to take the usual over the counter remedies why not consider trying out some remedies that will actually help your body rather than just mask the symptoms?
Snogging is OK
The easiest way to stop a cold or flu is not to catch it in the first place. I once offended a friend with a cold when I refused to drink out of the same pint glass. I might have been too hasty as you cannot catch a cold from someone's mouth meaning sharing a drink or even kissing someone with a cold does not make you susceptible to the virus.
The mouth is too cold and rhinoviruses (cold viruses) prefer the warmth of your nose. So avoiding items that my friend may have sneezed on or touched after sneezing on her hands would be strongly advisable. If you have a cold try to wash your hands and use a good clean hankerchief.
You will also avoid colds and flu and not offend your friends if you help your body's natural defence against viruses. It will benefit from staying hydrated with plenty of water, a healthy, well balanced diet, lower stress levels and a good night's sleep.
Sometimes though, even the healthiest of people will succumb to the horrors of the common cold or worse a proper dose of the flu.
Cold and flu: yarrow, peppermint and elderflower
Whenever I get a cold I will nip out to the local park, pick a load of yarrow, mix it with some peppermint that I have growing in the front garden and infuse it in hot water. If it is also elderflower season or I have some dried from the previous season then I mix some of that in too. I use about 1 teaspoon of each dried herbs or 2 teaspoon of each fresh herb per cup. If the taste is not to your liking it can be sweetened with a little honey.
Each of these herbs is also just as effective if you use herbal tea bags. The ideal dosage for herbal teas is about 3 times a day, for ease of use I tend to make a big tea pot full in the morning and drink it cold throughout the day - but this might not be to your taste. Perhaps decant it into a thermos flask instead.
This tea mix helps because each herb works in a different way to help your body get rid of its illness. The yarrow helps reduce a temperature in the early stages of your illness.
The peppermint will, according to David Hoffmann, 'Inhibit mucous secretion temporarily because of its menthol component'. In plain English this means it will help stop your nose running. Lastly the elderflower will also help stop the build up of catarrh.
Sore throats: honey, ginger, cinnamon and sage
My girlfriend takes a spoonful of honey to ease a sore throat, which works well as an immediate and easy fix. However, it does not last for long, so if you wish to be a little more adventurous you might consider taking advice from Max Drake, the qualified herbalist and proprietor of Bristol's Urban Fringe Dispensary, a new-but-old-style herbalist shop.
He gave me two concoctions last time I visited him with a sore throat. First he simmered a cup of water and added a walnut sized piece of ginger, chopped into small pieces and a 8cm (3 inch) cinnamon stick. This was kept simmering for about 10 mins so that the flavours infuse and then served hot.
Max's second tip is to take a few cups of sage tea, and I can vouch for its effectiveness! I would not hesitate to recommend it to even the most ardent herbal sceptic.
Good old chicken soup
When all of the above fails, I like to turn to the age old cure of chicken soup. As I live in a 50/50 vegetarian/meat-eater household, we tend to only have vegetarian soups as it is easier to share them. Therefore, on occasion I look forward to having a cold as this is the only time I ever get to eat Chicken Soup!
It is perhaps this association that makes me feel better. Although, there does seem to be some scientific evidence to back this up too. A number of studies have been conducted and they suggest that chicken soup really does help cure a common cold. The University of Nebraska Medical Centre found that, amongst other benefits, the broth has anti-inflammatory properties.
Here is my chicken soup recipe which includes some foraged yarrow. Remember, when picking yarrow from the wild make sure you are 100 per cent certain of what you are picking. This video may help you.
• 500 g chicken
• 1 small onion
• 2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
• 1 bunch celery tops with leaves, chopped
• salt and pepper to taste
• 1 teaspoon fresh dill, chopped
• 2 teaspoons of fresh yarrow
• Oil for frying
Slice the onion and fry lightly in a large pot until softened then add all of the other ingredients and cover with water.
Bring to a gradual boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for up to an hour until the meat is cooked through and tender.
Pour the whole thing through a colander and serve straight away.
The chicken can be cooled and used in sandwiches. The vegetables can be cooled then fed to your pigs, dog or can be composted.
Above all else, don't be that person who has never had a day off sick but instead comes in coughing and spluttering all over everyone.
If you are ill stay at home, follow the above advice (ensuring you have consulted a medical practitioner), rest and drink plenty of fluids.
Andy Hamilton is co-author of The Selfsufficient-ish Bible (£20, Hodder & Stoughton)
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