Ageing With Attitude: Get to the root of your health problem with herbs

It becomes necessary to re-evaluate your health regimes in light of how your body changes, but a reliance on drugs isn’t the only option, writes Margaret Jennings.

WANT to stay healthy as you age? Then learn to tune into your body and treat it well, without becoming obsessive, says Galway-based herbalist Dr Dílis Clare.

Too many people nowadays focus on what she calls the ‘small print’— whether a food is organic or not, or whether coffee or chocolate is good or bad.

Then they end up drinking green tea, though they might hate the taste of it.

“You need to tune into out how your body works,” says Dílis.

“For example, as you get older if you find you have less tolerance for alcohol, caffeine, wheat, or dairy — not everyone is the same, then knowing how much of something you can now take, is the way to self manage.

“Take caffeine, for instance — it has some cardio-protective aspects and if you find it doesn’t cause insomnia or other side-effects, then having a couple of cups a day might work for you.

So a little bit of anything — moderation, is fine. And most importantly, add variety to your diet.

“What we need to focus on to maintain a healthy lifestyle — particularly as we age — is the ‘big print’. The sneaky way to stay healthy is to keep inflammation down.

All of the general diseases are as a result of inflammation, which is the body’s healthy response to healing from irritants, but then it gets stuck in the process and degenerative disease comes. Too much sugar, for instance, adds to the inflammatory response, as does stress.”

Dílis, who started her herbal practice when she returned to Ireland from working as a GP in London in 1999, says she uses herbs as antioxidants to clear the blood and to keep the bowels empty and to promote sweating. There are also nervine anti-stress herbs to support the system.

She wants to get more people interested in helping themselves and has found more older Irish people are wary of taking drugs and becoming curious about the alternative.

Statistically, it has been found in the US that 25% of over-65s are on five or more medicines daily.

Although there are no stats for Ireland, when she attended a monthly GP professional meeting recently, the response there, to the US figure, was ‘is that all?’, which she feels speaks for itself.

“I’m not anti-drugs,” she says. “I work collaboratively with patients’ doctors if needed. But there is no magic pill — it goes back to finding out how your body works.”

She says that she loves teaching people about their health — so they can be more confident about managing it and advises that herbalists work best when a condition is at a mild to moderate stage, rather than when a chronic condition presents.

Dílis is 59, so what does she do to stay in tip-top form as she ages?

“I manage my health — I don’t wait for it to fall apart,” she says. “I go to a herbalist myself. I get massage, acupuncture, and go to an osteopath. I cycle to work, do yoga, meditate and so I manage my health in a pro-active way.”

Here are some of the herbs she recommends for certain conditions that present as we age:

Anti-inflammatory: Turmeric is a wide ranging anti-inflammatory — get it in powder form in Asian shops, or buy as a root. Dílis puts a teaspoon of it in lots of dishes including omelettes.

Cleaning the blood: Fresh nettles — plenty around at the moment. pick and cook like spinach. Later in the year, when more stringy, use for soups or as tea.

Blood pressure: Rosemary is very good for normalising blood pressure and for improving circulation to the brain.

Relaxation: Camomile relaxes the gut and the brain.

Lemon balm: Calms the nervous tissue in the brain.

Digestion: For windy digestion and as an antiviral, use peppermint. Lemon balm is also good for digestion.

Aside from herbs, she says she cannot stress enough that general self-management is not complicated. You should include essential fatty acids; exercise that suits you and you enjoy; eat seven fruit and veg portions a day; and drink lots of water daily.

* For those who want to learn more about herbs, Dr Dílis Clare has started an online course: Introduction to herbal medicine – how to use 44 herbs, at 

* Ireland’s first National Herb Week will be held May 23-29. To check out events go to 


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