The thermostat is turned up.
You’re wearing about 28 articles of clothing at all times, and all you want to do is have a warm beverage in your hands and snuggle up by a fire.
Winter is here folks, and everyone is feeling its effects.
But if you want to thrive (instead of just survive) this winter, then you can’t just put on a sweater and call it good.
Because winter health isn’t just about avoiding colds and flus.
It’s about feeling as good as you possibly can, every. single. day.
And that means you’ve got to adjust your diet and lifestyle to balance the inner environment of your body with the outer environment around you.
Using herbs is one of the simplest and most effective ways to do this.
So, for example, if you live in a cold and dry climate- like New England in the winter- then you’re going to want to use some herbs that add warmth and moisture to your system.
And if your environment is cold and wet in the winter -like my rainy hometown in the Pacific Northwest- then you’re going to want to use more drying warming herbs.
Here are some of my top herb choices to stay healthy & happy all winter long.
My favorite herbal recommendations for all people living in cold climates include fresh ginger, astragalus root, angelica, and hawthorne berries.
Ginger is slightly warming, pungent, slightly drying, and it’s my #1 go-to herb to help soothe an upset stomach.
Ginger adds gentle warmth into the digestive process and body as a whole.
In Chinese medicine it is one of the main herbs used to treat the common cold and warm the lungs. Ginger is also known to increase circulation, helps relieve migraine headaches, and reduces chronic inflammation and pain.
To use, chop up about 2 inches of fresh ginger root and boil in a small pot of filtered water for 20 minutes. Drink straight or with some honey to cut the spice.
Astragalus root is a fabulous herb to bolster your body against the winter cold.
It’s warming and sweet and slightly moistening, and is used to strengthen the immune system and build vitality, especially when you’re feeling run down, get sick easily, have night sweats, poor digestion, or even prolapsed organs.
That said, it’s also a great boost for people who are generally healthy but need a little pick-me-up, feel extra stressed out, or just want to avoid getting sick in the winter.
It’s a good idea to start using astragalus in the fall to help close your pores and keep warmth in your core, but it’s never too late to start adding it into your daily regimen so long as it’s cold outside!
You can decoct astragalus root as a tea, add it to soups, or cook it with warm grains.
And because astragalus is slightly moistening, and ginger is slightly drying, it’s great to use them together for a balanced warming effect.
Angelica (also known as dang gui) is a warming, stimulating herb that is especially indicated for women’s issues like menstrual pain. But because it nourishes blood, invigorates circulation, aids in digestion, and has anti-microbial properties, angelica can benefit pretty much anyone in the wintertime.
To use, crush and infuse 1 heaping teaspoon of angelica root in a cup of hot water.
Hawthorne is also a lovely herb to use in the wintertime. Best known as a heart tonic, hawthorne gently warms and soothes your spirit when you’re feeling irritable, nervous, broken-hearted, resentful, or disconnected from your Higher Self.
On a physical level, Hawthorne has antioxidant, circulatory, and nutritious effects on the body, and makes a noticeable impact on overall resiliency when it’s used regularly over the long-term for 3 months or more.
Because it has such a strong effect on the heart, it’s a good idea to be monitored by a doctor if you’re on any sort of heart medication, because your need for medication may decrease with extended use of hawthorne!
Use dry hawthorne berries in teas, jams, soups, and even home-made liquors if you’re feeling ambitious.
Herbs for Cold and Dry Climates
If your environment is relatively dry in the winter, or if you have a tendency to experience symptoms like thirst and dry skin, then it’s a good idea to add moistening herbs into your mix as well.
Good options include licorice root, schisandra, milky oat seed, marshmallow root, and slippery elm bark.
Licorice isn’t the same as the candy, but it’s just as sweet!
Used in a large number of Chinese herbal formulas, licorice has a lovely soothing and moistening effect, especially on inflamed mucous membranes of the throat, lungs, stomach, and intestines.
If you have a cough, UTI, chronic stress and exhaustion, chronic inflammation, or tend to feel down and depressed in the wintertime, licorice can help soothe your body and lift your spirits, as well.
It should be noted, though, that while licorice is gentle and safe for short-term use in most cases, it does have a list of contraindications with extended use.
If you have high blood pressure, heart failure, kidney disease, or liver problems, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor before using large amounts of licorice on a regular basis.
As a general rule, it’s not a good idea to use more than 3 grams of licorice for more than 6 weeks without doctor supervision.
Still, it’s great to add into teas and foods in small doses to lubricate your system. Try adding 1/2 a teaspoon of the dried root to spicy or less-palatable herb decoctions for a sweet and tasty rounding and harmonizing effect.
Schisandra is a sour warming herb that replenishes vital energy and can treat dry cough at the same time.
It’s also used to bolster weak digestion and a weakened immune system, especially when you’re dealing with chronic coughs, weakness, night sweats, chronic diarrhea, liver congestion, and exhaustion.
It has antibacterial and antioxidant properties and is used to increase brain efficiency, mental alertness, endurance, and strength.
To use schisandra, bring to boil and then simmer 1 teaspoon of ground dry berries in 2 cups of filtered water for 20 minutes, strain and enjoy! You can also use schisandra as an ingredient in jams and syrups.
Milky Oat Seed, Marshmallow Root, and Slippery Elm Bark
Although their thermal effect on the body is neutral (or even slightly cooling in the case of marshmallow root), all three of these herbs are excellent choices to add a more lubricating element in combination with other, more warming herbs.
Milky oat seeds are used to calm and soothe the nervous system, especially when you’re exhausted, weak, have trouble concentrating, are experiencing insomnia, or feel blue and melancholic.
It’s also a great herb to turn to if you’re trying to kick a habit like caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, or even stronger addictions like morphine, opium, and so on.
Marshmallow root, as I said, is slightly cooling, but it’s so soothing to inflammatory conditions that I can’t not include it in this list.
On a physical level, marshmallow root is used to soothe irritated mucous membranes, including the lungs, so it’s a good choice to include in cough remedies, especially with dry symptoms.
And just like milky oat seed, marshmallow root gently and safely soothes on an emotional level as well.
So if you hit a rough patch this winter, marshmallow might be a good herb to turn to for support.
Finally, slippery elm bark is another mucilaginous herb that soothes mucous membranes, inflammation, and irritation.
To reap the moistening benefits from all three of these herbs, mix 1 tablespoon of the herb of choice (or all three!) into two cups of warm water.
You can also use regular oatmeal oats instead of milky oat seed and make a watery oatmeal drink, also known as a congee, for the same lubricating effects.
Combine with herbs like ginger, cinnamon, and hawthorne to add more warmth to your remedy.
Herbs for Cold and Wet Climates
In wet climates, or if you have a tendency toward damp symptoms like foggy-brain feeling and bloating, then it’s a good idea to keep yourself balanced with herbs that help you process water out of your system more effectively.
These include rosemary, cinnamon, turmeric, and black pepper.
Most people are familiar with rosemary’s ability to make mediterranean dishes even more delicious, but few people realize that it has incredible effects on your body as well.
Rosemary is warming and drying, and is a great herb to use if you want to boost circulation in cold weather.
It’s also known as a potent antioxidant that can soothe the nervous system and help with stomachache, headaches that are associated with stomachache, as well as mental and physical exhaustion that comes when we overwork ourselves in the wintertime.
And if you feel a cold or flu coming on, definitely don’t skip out on the rosemary, because it has the ability to dispel cold and mucous from the body.
To reap these benefits you can either make a tea by infusing a teaspoon of the fresh or dried herb (dried will have a more drying effect on the body) in a cup of hot water, sprinkle generous amounts into your winter soups and stews for added benefit, or soak in a rosemary infused hot bath when you feel yourself getting sick.
Cinnamon is one of my all-time favorite herbs in the winter because it’s so comforting.
Pungent, warming, sweet, slightly drying, and stimulating, cinnamon has a whole laundry list of beneficial properties, including (but not limited to) aiding in digestion, boosting vitality, lowering blood sugar and cholesterol, and having potent antibacterial, anti-fungal, and antioxidant effects.
I like to boil up 2 cinnamon sticks in a small pot of water in combination with other herbs to make a delicious addition to any herbal tea.
But despite its incredible tastiness and long list of medicinal uses, cinnamon is stronger than it appears.
To be on the safe side, drink it only when you need it to treat something, or as a special treat once or twice a week, and avoid using it in large doses over an extended period of time without the supervision of an experienced herbalist.
The jury is out as to weather turmeric is warming or cooling in nature, but because it has so many wonderful medicinal properties I always mention it whenever I talk to someone about winter health.
Mildly bitter and pungent, turmeric is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, antioxidant, and is great for clearing up congestion in the pelvis, liver, and GI tract.
Turmeric is also helpful in drying phlegm and moving cold out of the system when you’re feeling run down.
The powder is more drying, but I prefer using the fresh root whenever I can find it.
And here’s a pro-tip:
Studies have found that combining turmeric with black pepper helps your body absorb turmeric’s most medicinal constituent, curcumin.
I like to include turmeric and black pepper in any Asian-style cooking that I do, once or twice a week, but I also include it in medicinal teas when I feel a cold or headache coming on.
About 1 teaspoon per cup of hot water usually does the trick.
And finally, black pepper.
Black pepper might activate turmeric’s superpowers, but this humble herb has some incredible potential in its own right, as well.
Black pepper is hot and pungent and is known cross-culturally to aid in digestion, restore appetite, stimulate blood circulation, and even relieve pain.
Spice up your tea blends with a few grinds of peppercorns, or add spice to your winter soups and sauces.
And there you have it.
Some of these herbs are great to use on a daily basis to keep yourself balanced, healthy, and thriving in the winter.
Others should be used more sparingly as a special treat or to address a symptom or set of symptoms that you might be experiencing.
Go ahead and play with these herbs as teas and in recipes and meditate on how they make you feel when you consume them.
When you use these herbs regularly and with the intention of balancing out your body with the cold winter weather, chances are you’ll start feeling calmer, more energized, and stronger than you have in past years.
Want even more benefit from your herbs?
Then it’s always a good idea to consult an experienced herbalist to learn which herbs will work best in your unique body, and for your specific health & wellness concerns.
And now I’d love to hear from you.
What drags you down in the winter, and what strategies do you use to feel better?
Leave a comment below, because I’d love to hear from you, and there’s a good chance that your advice is just the thing that will help someone else feel better!
’Til next time,