One Friday night in June, I was traveling back from Wales and, at the airport, with a very narrow selection of mainly high calorie foods to choose from, I went for the scrambled egg. In the early hours of the morning I quickly learned that that was a big mistake!
Skip this paragraph to be spared the gory details of the symptoms! Enough time had passed, by the time I woke up, to miss the vomiting stage but basically I had food poisoning with severe diarrhea and dysentery including internal bleeding. This was accompanied by nausea, severe stomach, intestinal and lower abdomen pain and cramps. Sweating followed intense shivering. I was as white as a sheet. Emotional. Shaky. Scared.
The bleeding was worrying and I called NHS Direct to check the symptoms of E coli and salmonella. They were not very helpful. I could take a stool sample to the hospital but it would be several days before they got the results. In the meantime they suggested I drink lots of water, take Imodium for the diarrhoea and Paracetamol for the pain. Well I wasn’t interested in those medicines so I crawled out of bed long enough to see what I had in the cupboard. Here is what I found in my kitchen cupboard which turned into an extremely effective and fast-acting treatment plan.
Ginger Root. Ginger Zingiber officinale is one of my favourite medicinal plants, in fact I cannot praise it enough and do so with obsessive zeal. It is no accident that it was used in ‘ship’s biscuits’ as it is well known to counteract nausea. This is great in travel sickness, chemotherapy nausea and also in morning sickness where clinical trials have shown it to be the most effective (and safe) product tested. Ginger also helps to reduce griping pains so is commonly included in traditional herbal laxative formulas as a soft extract. As a child in Kenya we were often given Ginger Ale for stomach upsets and to stop diarrhoea. I have been struck down by dysentery while travelling in China and restored within twenty minutes of sipping extremely strong Ginger Tea which will stop diarrhea in 20-30 minutes.
Clinical work has shown that the active constituent in Ginger called zingerone (vanillylacetone) is the likely active in treating diarrhea caused by E coli (Escherichia coli) and other microorganisms that release toxins into our intestines. Interestingly, fresh ginger does not contain zingerone. It is only by heating ginger that gingerol, which is present, is transformed into zingerone. Ref: PMID 997589, PMID 17880155
Directions for a therapeutic Ginger Tea
I slice a knob ginger root thinly (no need to peel it unless it is dirty), cover it with a small amount of water in a saucepan, bring it to the boil and then boil it for a full 5 minutes. Then I dilute it with cold water in a pint glass with a spoonful of honey and keep sipping it until the diarrhea passes. This takes 20-30 minutes in my experience.
The other ingredient in my kichen cupboard was a bottle of Napiers Best British Bitters. Bitters are herbal mixtures normally used as an aperitif/digestif with Angostura Bitters and Swedish Bitters being the most famous. During the last century, every herbal house had a secret formula for this own bitters mix. They were once sold as patent medicines but are now classified as digestifs and not as medicines. More about bitters from Wikipedia.
Normally bitters are used just before or after a meal, however I ended up dosing myself on 5 ml (one teaspoon) in water every half hour until the symptoms had passed and then used it three times a day for the rest of the weekend. The reason I chose bitters to support the Ginger Tea, and it certainly helped me, is that it contained the following ingredients which have specific actions:
Ginger Zingiber officinalis – for the diarrhea, cramping and griping. As mentioned in detail above under ‘ginger tea’.
Gentian Gentiana lutea – it stimulates the appetite by stimulating the production of saliva and bile. It is extremely bitter as it contains a glucoside called amarogentin, one of the bitterest substance known to man! I wanted my digestive system to process whatever it was I’d eaten as quickly as possible, so increasing stomach fluids seemed like a good idea. Gentian is often used in herbal medicines to treat stomach disorders and to stimulate the liver & gall bladder as well as the digestive system. It is anti-inflammatory and antiseptic, and was used in the Middle Ages as an antidote to poison. The second major glucoside in Gentian is gentiopicrin, often extracted for use as a gastric stimulant, specifically for dyspepsia.
Peppermint Mentha piperita – we all know that Peppermint Tea helps indigestion and, although this was a lot worse than indigestion, it certainly wouldn’t do me any harm! Peppermint is also cooling and soothing. In the herbal clinics we use it to treat IBS symptoms and this has been given weight by clinical trials proving its effectiveness. Ref: PMID 17420159
Dandelion root Taraxacum officinalis – an anti-inflammatory and a great diuretic. Certainly helping to flush all the fluids I was now drinking through my system quite fast and keep my kidneys well flushed through was a bonus.
Meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria – this is a massively underestimated painkiller. It contains salicylic acid like willow bark and aspirin. In 1897 Bayer AG were working on salicin derived from meadowsweet (not willow) when they invented Aspirin. They names it Aspirin after meadowsweet’s old botanical name Spiraea (A-Spirin). Well I was certainly in pain and I also knew that meadowsweet on its own is also helpful with an acidic stomach and for stopping diarrhea.
Silver Birch Betula alba – Silver Birch bark was used in Neolithic times to make containers for carrying perishable food. The ancients had observed the antifungal properties of birch bark retarded the growth of fungi and kept their food fresher! It often used as a diuretic to cleanse the body of toxins and especially to treat cystitis, gout and kidney stones. Birch bark has also been used to treat diarrhea in dysentery and cholera.
Milk Thistle Silybum marianum – Last but not least, milk thistle is one of the fastest acting herbs on the liver, supporting it in getting rid of toxins from the body. Interestingly, it is the only known antidote against certain types of wild mushroom poisoning. So if you end up in hospital because you mixed up your Amanitas and ate a Death Cap instead of a Blusher you may find yourself with intravenous milk thistle extract – if you’re lucky that is! Until the EU and MHRA banned the wide availability of it with the new regulations, it was widely and cheaply available in capsule form. The binge-drinking generation often started the night with a round of milk thistle capsules knowing it would prevent hangovers from alcohol poisoning the following day! I have also heard it is used by people working in industries where drug and alcohol tests are routine, in their hope it will get the weekend out of their system before a Monday morning. In herbal medicine, it is used as a detox herb and to treat liver cirrhosis and chronic liver disease.
Although the majority of the symptoms cleared up in 30-60 minutes after I started treating myself, I had slight intestinal bleeding for another 12 hours, and it took me until the Sunday evening to fully get my strength back. The moral of the story is “Never eat scrambled eggs in Cardiff Airport”.