Convalescing – A Lost Art


The word convalescence brings with it visions of wan weak spinsters sent to the seaside for a ‘cure’, after suffering a painful bout of something vague.

The only distractions to be soup and blancmange, writing letters to dear aunts and taking long solitary walks along pebbly, wind-swept beaches.

Not allowing our body to rest after an illness lowers our immunity. In my clinic, very often a patient reports that they have ‘never been well since’ a bad flu, tummy bug or some other infection, operation or accident. The symptoms may vary, but often they can pinpoint the time from when they haven’t felt well. After further probing it often turns out that they returned to work or study too soon.

Nowadays we don’t have time to convalesce. Got a cold? Get over it. Take some tablets and get back to work. Serious conditions such as glandular fever and Influenza are not treated with the respect they deserve. Getting better takes time. Unfortunately, deadlines, exams and work schedules don’t take this into consideration. This last winter particularly, people scarcely recovered from one bout of the flu before falling prey to the next, lurching from illness to illness all season.

Time out

A little bit of coddling goes a long way. No medicine can compete with a couple of days in bed together with a hot water bottle, a cat and a good book. Rest is number one for full recovery. If you can farm out work including housework — do it. Try to shorten your hours if you really must work, and work from home if possible. Go to sleep earlier and get up later. Convalescing from a cold is obviously going to take less time than convalescing from major surgery.

Foods for convalescing

The convalescing digestive system does not need any challenges. Keep food simple and nourishing. Soups are perfect; in fact chicken soup was created for this purpose. Eggs are also good; poached, scrambled and of course coddled. Toast soldiers are a well known healing food. Pureed food is good if the convalescent is not up to chomping. Even good quality baby food may be used. Smoothies are also easy to get down. A value-added smoothie could include milk or soy milk, a spoonful of yoghurt, fresh or frozen fruit (berries are nice and bananas add oomph), an egg for protein, and perhaps some honey. Reduce coffee, cigarettes, sugar and alcohol.


Now is not the time to start training for a marathon. However, a certain amount of exercise is a good thing during convalescence. Gentle strolling in the sunshine is therapeutic. The rule of thumb is that if exercise gives you more energy, then do it. But if exercise tires you, desist until later.

Herbs and supplements

Herbal medicine has a long history of ‘tonic’ herbs that assist the body to heal. The herbs for convalescing depend to a large extent on what you are convalescing from. For instance if it is bronchitis, then lung herbs such as mullein, garlic and thyme are the order of the day. Nevertheless, you will also need adrenal strengthening herbs such as siberian ginseng and licorice; nervines (nervous system tonic herbs) such as St. John’s wort, vervain and valerian; in addition to immune supporting herbs including astragalus and echinacea. Other tonic herbs include; oatstraw, withania, fenugreek, alfalfa and nettles.

Many of us are scared of being labelled sooks if we take time off to get well. However, time spent recuperating means you will have invested in a strengthened immune and nervous system. Take rest.