Outside, fresh snow blankets the land and graces the trees, softly shimmering in the light of early morning. The white snow softens all it covers, creating a mantle of peace in the cold of January here in the Northeast. We welcome the clarity and beauty of winter, even as we begin to notice the lengthening days and dream of Spring.
Yet now is the time to rest, renew and take care of our immune systems that can become taxed with the cold winter weather, and perceived times of stress. For those of us that embrace the winter days that call us outside, along with others who are not as fond of this chilly season, protecting ourselves from wind, wet and cold conditions is an important factor. Colds and flus may catch us by surprise, yet there are herbs to help strengthen immunity, support our lungs, warm us to the bone, and help us deal with anxiety and seasonal sadness.
Wishing you warmth, confidence, support and tender care for body, heart and mind as you move through these winter days.
Here are a few herbs and ideas to support and protect:
A cup of Ginger tea~ warms us from within and increases digestive fire (not for those who experience acid reflux). I like to begin each morning with a cup of hot water, ¼ lemon and a bit of grated fresh ginger, which is not as hot as dried ginger, along with a little pine honey. Delicious, warming and soothing.
A sprinkle of ginger powder in my boots before heading out for cross country skiing, snowshoeing or long walks keep my toes warm which allows me more time to be outside!
If I do become chilled or get a cold, a 10-15 minute ginger footbath warms me right up, and helps relieve some of the cold symptoms. 2 teaspoons ginger powder in hot water, adding more hot water ( take feet out of the basin when doing this!) as the water cools. After the footbath, I put on wool socks and head to bed where often I will perspire and “break” the cold symptoms.
Fire Cider~ (recipes abound on the internet) a combo of onions, garlic, ginger, horseradish and a bit of cayenne. I learned to make this version from herbalist Rosemary Gladstar many years ago, and make sure to have it on hand for winter.
Herbs that nourish one’s immune system:
Elderberry: My favorite for warding off colds and flus. I’ve used this delicious berry in syrups and extracts for over thirty years, as a staple in keeping my four children and now grandchildren more protected.
Astragalus~ Astragalus root has been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine as an overall tonic to support the lungs and immune system. This root has been used to strengthen one’s Wei Chi- (one’s natural defenses) and ward off the effects of the cold, wet, windy winter conditions. The mild, sweet root slices are often added to long simmering, immune nourishing soups, but can also be used to prepare as an extract. The root is considered a metabolic restorative, hepato-protective and an adrenal tonic, and is known to strengthen primary energy.
Codonopsis~ ( also known as “children’s ginseng) is another marvelous and delicious root used in TCM, and can be added to nourishing soups. Codonopsis supports the immune and respiratory systems and helps to increase overall energy. My children used to call it “Chinese carrot” and we would also add small pieces of the root to brown rice or other grain when cooking.
Thyme~ Fragrant garden thyme is a must for use in cooking and can also be enjoyed as a honey, or prepared as an extract. Thyme has a long history of use to help with coughs, bronchial distress, sore throat and upset stomach. It can also prevent certain infections as it is considered an anti-microbial. When my children were young, I would prepare a honey by chopping fresh thyme into a small jar and then covering the thyme with local honey. After leaving it in a sunny window for a few weeks, the thyme honey was ready- and easy to use. If a cold, sniffles of cough started up, I would heat some water and stir into it a spoonful of this herbed honey. A soothing, tasty and helpful remedy!
For Seasonal Sadness/ Winter Blues
Our Mood Support Formula was developed over years of my herb practice for many people who experienced an increase in moodiness and sadness once the days became shorter each autumn and through winter. A combination of three sunny herbs- St Johnswort, Lemon balm and California Poppy along with a few flower essences to enhance the formula, this is like a bottle of sunshine!
For Seasonal Stress with Anxiety
- A simple breathing technique I use when feeling overwhelmed, stressed or anxious is this: Take a minute or two to sit quietly and simply pay attention to your breath, Slowing it down until you are able to consciously breathe in while thinking the words “I am” and then slowly breathe out with the words “at peace”. Do this for a minute or more until you feel calmer.
“ I am, at peace. I am at peace…” This can be so helpful.
- There are herbs and flower essences that can also help. Several years ago I prepared an extract formula we call “ Peaceful Center” which has supported many folks through challenging moments. Banyan Botanicals carries a wonderful tablet called “Tranquil Mind”, and the Flower Essence Society (fesflowers.com) offers a spray called Fear-Less which combines flower essences and essential oils that has become quite popular. Each of these products helps one feel more centered, grounded and relaxed. And that’s when we are able to truly listen to our hearts.