Natural health: Eye infections and elder flower uses

Megan Sheppard says it can be difficult to treat an eye infection without using drops or bathing the eye, whether you use conventional or natural treatments. 

Q. What do you recommend as a natural remedy to treat eye infections? 

My son, aged eye, is prone to them, and does not like eye drops or eye washes.

A. It can be difficult to treat an eye infection without using drops or bathing the eye, whether you use conventional or natural treatments. 

The best topical solution to have on hand, and very straight-forward, is a box of chamomile tea bags.

Simply brew the tea bag as per usual in a cup of near-boiling water, and then set the used bag aside until it is cool enough to apply directly as a compress. 

You can use a cotton pad or ball dipped in the tea instead if the texture of the tea bag is not to your son’s liking (my eldest prefers this method).

Be sure to use a separate tea bag or cotton pad if you need to treat both eyes. 

A cotton bud or tissue dipped in the tea can be used to carefully remove any discharge as well. Drinking chamomile tea will also assist in relieving the symptoms.

I’m sure that you will be well aware that personal hygiene is vital when clearing an infection — changing pillowcases and facecloths daily, washing hands, and avoiding rubbing or touching the infected area.

If his eye develops a thick crusty discharge, becomes very swollen or puffy, is extremely painful, sensitive to sunlight, if his vision is disturbed, if a foreign object is in the eye, or if a simple infection does not begin to improve after four days then you to go straight to the doctor.

Q. I have a number of elder trees in my garden. Do you know of any other uses besides the elder flower cordial and wine? 

They are very prolific, with masses of flowerheads and then berries.

Natural health: Eye infections and elder flower uses

A. The elder tree (Sambucus nigra) is found throughout the world and can be kept as a bushy shrub or develop into a 6m high tree (around 20 feet). 

It grows very rapidly, and as you have noted, it is covered with lovely creamy flowerheads (best harvested during early summer) which then develop into dark berries to be harvested in autumn.

The various components of the elder tree have a range of uses outside of the well known refreshing cordial and wine. 

The flowers have an expectorant, anti-catarrhal, anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, and diaphoretic effect as well as stimulating circulation.

The berries contain vitamins A and C, and are both diaphoretic and diuretic — if you eat too many fresh berries they can have a laxative effect. 

Elder leaves can be used topically to assist in healing wounds.

You can make a simple infusion by steeping two teaspoons of fresh flowers or one teaspoon of dried flowers (if you have collected and dried them for later use) in 200ml of near-boiling water for 8-10 minutes. 

This tea is useful to treat seasonal coughs and colds, catarrh, and fever. 

This same infusion can be set aside for use as a gargle or mouthwash for ulcers, irritated throat, or inflamed tonsils.

The berries are wonderful as a syrup for coughs, colds & ‘flu. Simply make a strong infusion or decoction using fresh berries – I use around 40g of elderberries per litre of water and simmer for around 20 minutes, strain the liquid decoction from the berries, and then add an equal quantity of local raw honey to the resulting liquid.

Simmer the honey and decoction gently until the two are combined — this shouldn’t take long, so keep a close eye on the pot. Pour into sterilised bottles and store in a cool dry place for up to six months.

Once opened, this syrup should be kept in the fridge. Remember to label your syrup with the ingredients, date, and dosage instructions (take 5-10ml as required).

If you are keen on making your own balms and creams, then the leaves can be prepared to help with healing bruises, sprains, haemorrhoids, and chilblains, while the flowers are useful in treating swollen or chapped hands and feet.


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