Herbs for Winter Health
I’ve spent most winters of my life in the cold, rainy regions of northern California. There was always a wood fire burning and the soft sound of rain. Those long peaceful nights and short silver days were great for “burrowing in”. Reading, writing, dreaming, working with the herbs, were favorite winter activities and kept me busy til spring. My herb shop, too, was always busiest in the winter as people succumbed to the dilemma of winter’s health problems. The nature of winter, Saturn’s Season, is a test of both physical and emotional strength for many people. Over the years I’ve listened to folks tell me what herbs and remedies worked for them for these “woes of winter”.
There was a marvelous sharing of information in those 15 years of listening “over the counter” to people’s favorite remedies. All are “simplers” ways, bits of earth wisdom that, when used, work. Most of what I know and share is of such simplicity: eat the abundant autumn harvest; be thankful for life’s gifts; cold water shower; play in the winter weather; drink warm herbal teas; dress for the weather. Nothing complex or profound here, but it works. When winter comes this year, be ready for it. Follow the simple advice offered here and be prepared. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself helping your neighbor and coworkers. Your friends will have a way of finding out about your unusual interest in herbs and when they see how well they work, they’ll ask to try them also.
I sincerely wish you a winter of good health and winter cheer.
General Guidelines for Winter Health
I. Eating for Winter Health
Nature provides all the necessary vitamins and minerals needed for a healthy immune and respiratory system for winter health. The seasonal harvest, both wild and cultivated, provides exactly what this season demands. Walk in the garden, take a stroll in the woods or even your local market.
You’ll find there:
Winter squashes- high in vitamin A, C, D
Rosehips- vitamins A,C, Bioflavonoid
Persimmons- vitamins A, C
Root Crops (carrots, beets, turnips, potatoes)- vitamins A, C trace minerals, Iron
Dandelions- vitamins A, C, Iron, Potassium, trace minerals Elderberries-vitamins A, C, Bioflavonoids
Sumac Berries-vitamins A, C, Bioflavonoids
Green and Red Peppers- vitamins A, C, Bioflavonoids
Seaweeds-Protein, vitamins, minerals, trace minerals
The Brassica family (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, mustard green, etc.,)-vitamins A, C, trace minerals, Iron, Calcium
Pomegranates- vitamins A, C
Lemons/Citrus Fruits- vitamins C, Bioflavonoids
In most areas in the United States, after the first fall rains, many of the early spring wild herbs poke up again for a few short weeks. They are a special gift from nature; vitamin laden, fresh, wild greens rich with a spirit energy that nourishes us deeply. Get out there and use them!! Accept the gifts that are given you. There are far more than just vitamins and minerals in those fresh tender young greens; there is life and more.
Foods should be Warming and Building to the body. Plan meals around soups, stew, steamed greens, grains, root vegetables, hot teas. Always eat a warming, nourishing breakfast as it will be the foundation of your day’s energy.
II. Tonic and Building Teas
Keep the tea kettle on the stove filled with your favorite winter tea(s). When off to work or journeys fill your thermos with teas and take them along with you. For a tonic or building tea to be effective it is necessary to drink 3-4 cups daily. Emphasize those herbs that are tonics to the respiratory system and the immune system. (See Herbs for Winter Health list for suggestions.) You can experiment and mix your own tea formulas now that you are learning to formulate and/or drink daily several of my favorite blends.
The following are two of my favorite tea recipes you can mix yourself. Formula 1 is a toner for the immune system. Formula 2 is a general tonic and strengthener for the respiratory system. Both are excellent teas to drink on a regular basis during the winter months. (Using the diagram given for formulas see if you can understand how I formulated these).
Formula 1-Immune System Tonic
1/4 part Echinacea Rt.
1/4 part Yellow Dock Rt.
1 part Burdock Rt.
1 part Raw Dandelion Rt.
2 parts Roasted Dandelion Rt.
4 pans Sassafras
1/8 part Dong Qui
1/2 part Astragalus .
* You may adjust proportions to suit your personal taste.
Formula 2-Respiratory System Tonic
1 part Comfrey
2 parts Nettle
4 parts Peppermint
1 part Chamomile
1 part Coltsfoot
1 pert Mullein
2 Part Grass
1 part Cinnamon
1/8 part Orange Peel
Stevia to taste
* You may adjust proportions to suit your personal taste.
Dress for winter. Heat will leave the body rapidly through the hands, feet, the top of the head, nape of the neck, and the kidneys. It is essential to protect and warm these areas should you be prone to winter illness and/or depression.
Buy cotton tights and cotton and wool long johns. Depending on the weather, you can choose which warmth to wear under skirts/pants. Wear wool socks and/or silk liners if your feet tend to get cold. Invest in a good wool hat, scarf, and wool gloves. In Japan a simple but very effective technique used to keep heat in the body is to take a long, soft wool fabric and wrap it snugly around the belly and kidney area (lower back). This will warm your whole body and is especially useful for those who suffer from kidney and bladder infections, lower back pain, emotional instability, and depression. Best of all, it feels good.
IV. Cold Water Bathing
I can feel the resistance already from my students!! However, this is one of the oldest and most effective forms of natural therapy there is. It has been used effectively for centuries for poor circulation, sluggish digestion, building chi/energy, and for various health problems. This is the time of year to enjoy your cold water showers as never before.
Our body has its own natural thermostat. It is located at the nape of the neck. The body’s thermostat atrophies through lack of proper stimulation, i.e., overheated houses, too much clothing, over use of hot water, not enough exercise. By properly stimulating the body’s thermostat, we can naturally regulate our body temperature.
Begin in the autumn to acquaint yourself with cold showers. Start with a regular warm water shower. Then slowly or quickly, whichever method is your style- begin to turn the water to cold. Stand under it as long as possible, at least 20 seconds, being sure to expose all parts of your body.
To some of you this may sound torturous. Let me assure you that of all the hundreds of people I know who cold, water bathe, all agree on the invigorating effects. Most even come to enjoy it!
I have students, though, who can’t for the life of them understand why anyone would ever want to cold water shower. It is an unthinkable idea to them. It’s interesting to note that even though native peoples had access to gorgeous hot mineral pools, seldom did a tribe elect to live by those hot springs. They were places of celebration, healing, and generally considered sacred areas. Wild animals never choose to bathe in hot water even when it is available. There is wisdom in observing and emulating the wisdom of wild things and native teachings. If you have problems with circulation, are always cold, and don’t tolerate temperature changes easily, consider introducing this ancient health practice into your daily routine. For an excellent introduction to the health benefits of hydrotherapy, read Dr. Svevo Brooks book Common Sense Diet and Health.
Herbalists love the winter. It’s quiet out there in the meadows and fields and calming on a silver grey day. There are few others out. Earth’s inner mysteries are unveiled to those who dare to look; the trees are bare, the earth lies naked, her bones show. One experiences earth’s magic at its finest. Take a hike along the sea shore in a great northern storm; it’s powerful and challenging and awakens the soul’s vision. Winter camping, too, is a treat, a rare “fool’s treat”. The stars are never so bright as on a clear cold winter’s eve. Should it choose to rain or snow, there’s nothing quite as comforting as being snug in a tent in a winter storm, so long as your tent doesn’t leak!
Set up an exercise program for yourself over the winter and abide by it. Be sure it includes some time each week outdoors. Don’t lose touch with winter. You’ll lose touch with what is most magical about the cycles of life. Keep the essence of winter bundled snugly, close to your heart. If you live in the city or a very cold climate, exercise can be done on a regular basis in your home or gym; but still, plan to include time for the out-of-doors. There is magic and mystery out there that ignites the heart.
VI. Herbs For Winter Health
Stock your herbal pantry well with the herbs that will come in handy during the long cold months of winter. Label your containers so that you know how and when to use the herbs.
The following list is rather extensive and it is not necessary to have them all on hand. But you do want to stock your pantry well with your favorite winter time healers. Use the same method you use in researching herbs for your Materia Medica to learn about the wonders of these plants. Keep a reference file of your notes. It is also important to know what each herb tastes like so you will know how to properly blend it with the flavors (and effects) of other herbs.
A. For Sore Throat and Mucus Inflammation
Slippery Elm Bark
Comfrey Rt and Lf
B. For Strep Throat
Golden Seal Rt
Propolis (fresh or in tincture)
Comfrey Lf and Rt
Pleurisy Rt ,