Herbs of Fire
Naturally, when it is cold we effort to keep warm. Some tolerate the cold better than others, just like some thrive in the summer heat while others wilt – it depends on ones constitution.
As a Nova Scotia resident you likely have well established rituals and habits for keeping warm during our cold winter season, like staying indoors more, cooked foods, wool, whisky, and fires. My best winter survival techniques are soups, teas, and baths, and they all involve herbs.
If you want to warm up quickly, eat some horseradish. It is traditionally eaten with meat and fatty foods to improve their digestion. It also goes well with eggs, beans, fish, and sushi. Horseradish has been used as a medicine for centuries. It is a powerful circulatory stimulant. It can be used internally and topically for arthritis, gout, and inflammation. It is one the most effective remedies for clearing lung and sinus congestion. Eat ½ tsp. 2-3 times daily to clear up a persistent congestive cold.
Ginger is always in my winter teapot, either fresh or dried. In addition to being a good cold and flu remedy, it is a digestive stimulant, anti-inflammatory and a remedy for nausea. It makes a great poultice for congestive colds. To 2 cups boiled water add 1 tsp. ginger powder. Soak a cloth in the liquid, wring it out then drape it across the chest, covering up with blankets to keep warm. Repeat several times on the front and back. Try it in a foot bath – in a basin full of hot water add 1 tsp. ginger powder, soak for 15-20 minutes to take the chill off.
When I need to thaw out after being out in the cold, nothing feels better than a hot soak. With the addition of herbs, an ordinary bath can become fragrant and therapeutic. Herbs have been used as part of bathing rituals for centuries. In addition to immersion, water was sprinkled, splashed, poured and sweated to heighten the spiritually cleansing aspect of bathing.
“A daily spiritual bath is an easy way to start paying attention to your spirit and soul as well as your body.” ~ Tieraona Low Dog, M.D. and Herbalist
A herbal bath can ease the stresses of daily life, bringing a peaceful state of mind. If you don’t have a full tub, a hand or foot bath will work. I recommend herbal baths for people who have anxiety and insomnia. To prepare a healing bath you simply make a super strong tea and add it to the bath. In 3 lt boiled water, steep 1 cup of your chosen herb (s), covered, for 20 minutes. Strain the liquid and add to your bath water.
For relaxation: lavender, hops, hibiscus, lemon balm, rose, and chamomile
For skin irritations such as eczema or rashes: calendula, lavender, yarrow, and chamomile
For sore joints and muscles: lavender, chamomile, wintergreen, rosemary
For colds: peppermint, elderflowers, thyme, pine needles
A hot bowl of soup is comfort food at its best. Hot soup can help to banish sickness and increase vitality. Herbs are great when making stock – many are mineral rich and will enhance the nutrition of your soup – nettle, burdock root and dandelion roots and leaves are good choices. Astragulus root is a powerful immune tonic and I add it to all of my winter soup stocks to prevent colds and flu. Shiitake mushrooms are equally valuable for strengthening the immune system – they go in the pot too. For extra fiery potency add ginger or chili powders to intensify the medicinal value of your soup.
Speaking of fire – don’t forget to get a daily dose of sunshine. Brave the cold and get outside on your lunch break or for an afternoon walk to enjoy the beautiful and shapely trees that line our city streets. We need as much sun exposure as we can get to chase away the winter blues.