Friday, July 10, 2009

Things That Go Cough In the Night

Elecampagne Plant

He never has been a cooperative child. Even before he was born, Dog refused to change his presentation to accommodate me and the OB. In a stubborn transverse position the entire final trimester, the best compromise he would yield was a single footling breech. He's been digging his heels in ever since.

We've been fighting Dog's cough off and on for over a year now. Tried lots of stuff, including pulling the passionately favorite ghee, thinking that the dairy was a contributing factor. For once, though, it wasn't a food issue. Go figure. Getting rid of that musty-smelling mattress did improve breathing conditions for the remainder of the winter. Bug and Tool Guy are sequestered in the shop, cranking out a bunk bed set reminiscent of Stone Henge to replace the former sleeping arrangements.

However, we are now in the height of pollen season. My email inbox is daily peppered with pollen reports of maximum measures of oak, hickory, birch, grass and other delectables which have left their yellow evidence sprinkled over every conceivable surface. When pollen counts aren't spiking, this very chilly, damp...I believe the season might be considered "summer" yielding sky high mold counts. So I'm breaking out all of my big guns to deal.

Our first line of defense is a neti pot. This cute little pot hasn't been welcomed as a best friend among the Hobbits, but application three times a day has certainly reduced the nightly wheezing and coughing. For such an intransigent child, Dog is really pretty good about putting up with my whack-job remedies.

This is the season to forage and what I'm looking for grows in abundance where we live. A few plants that are historically used for coughs are mullein, elecampagne, and coltsfoot. The Herbalist says these are her "go-to" plants for lung complaint.


Foraging can be a relaxing outing, but when one is on a mission and there's mileage to be covered, many hands make light work. One sunny (rare, this year) afternoon, the four of us set off with totes in one hand and clippers in another in search of some off-road infestations of coltsfoot and mullein. A bit of land that fell to the ax of tax arrears has just opened up to public access for fishing in our neighborhood "kill" (shirespeak for "creek"). Rich pickings there, not only in coltsfoot, but also mullein. Off the road yet. It's always recommended to try to harvest plants that live at least eight feet off of any roadway, in order to avoid any toxins that the plants may absorb from proximity to passing vehicles. Score! I'll be watching for these mullein plants to be flowering soon. Earache season will be here before we know it and it never hurts to plan ahead.


As we clipped, Bug began to unpack his own personal recollections of herb lore, surprising me with the amount of information he'd retained. Things I either didn't remember telling him or assumed he never processed. Astonishing, since this is the child whose lowest scoring domains are in listening skills. Guess it requires the right motivator.

Eager and enthusiastic hands make light work of filling our bags. The dehydration process didn't finish quite so quickly, but at the end of three days, the yield was such that I felt we'd collected enough.

Elecampagne Flower

Elecampagne is another big gun for respiratory difficulties. It rocks for things like pneumonia, bronchitis, and this coughing that is plaguing Dog. It certainly helps to clear up the gunk that clogs his lungs. This is one that has to be harvested in the fall after the second hard frost, since the tincture is made from the roots.

Every day, we check the pollen and mold counts the way some folks check their stock portfolios. So far, no single remedy is the silver bullet for us, but a combination of applications...and some cooperation from the "participant" and all of us, Dog not the least, are breathing easier and sleeping better at night.

*Peterson's Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs has this to say about coltsfoot:
"Contains traces of liver-affecting pyrrolizidine alkaloids; potentially toxic in large doses. In Germany, use is limited to 4 to 6 weeks per year, except under advice of a physician." p. 147

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