Herbs for the Winter Season:
Happy New Year! Happy Full Moon! Happy "Blue" Moon! How time flies...and what a flight it is! The Winter Solstice has come and gone and the energy shifts as the days grow longer and the second full moon of December fills the sky with light, beauty and a force that can't be described. Even though our herbs are buried deep below the snow, they can still help us stay well during this festive season, acting as preventative medicine and additional nourishment for our intertwined systems of the body. I've compiled a list of tonifying and supportive herbs that I've been using, along with my Wise Woman ways, in my quest to stay healthy. May they bring renewed vitality, optimal health and a joyous spirit to you and your loved ones as we spiral towards the light during the winter months ahead.
Garlic (Allium sativa)
Garlic is widely used as an antiseptic, antifungal, antimicrobial herb that supports our immune system. It is effective against viral lung and sinus infections, colds, ear infection and antibiotic resistant pneumonia. It kills disease-causing bacteria, prevents secondary bacterial infections and increases our resistance to influenza virus A & B. Garlic also helps to improve our digestion which is another key to enhancing overall health. Use either fresh or powdered garlic liberally in salad dressing, soup, sauces, egg dishes and dips and on veggies, bread or toast.
Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)
Simmer a handful of astragalus root in three cups of water. Let them boil for a half hour or more until the roots get soft and limp. Then strain this slightly sweet, healthful decoction, keeping the roots so you can repeat the entire process again (it'll be slightly weaker but still very nourishing). This revitalizing immune tonic is now ready to be used as the liquid in your porridge, rice and grain preparations, or to replace the water in your water bottle or reconstituted juices. Astragalus is a wonderful immune boosting herb that you can take any time you're healthy to decrease upper respiratory infection and increase levels of antibodies in your bloodstream. Due to its stimulation of interferon production and release, avoid taking astragalus when you're sick...echinacea, elder and/or boneset would be better choices in the event of a cold or flu.
Nettle (Urtica dioica)
We tried to convince Daniel Gagnon that Stinging Nettle was indeed an adaptogenic herb in Quebec while he was lecturing in Montreal for the Guilde des herboristes this fall! He disagreed, defining it as a healthful tonic instead. But knowing that it is consumed as a nourishing herb, supporting the respiratory, endocrine, cardiovascular, digestive, musculoskeletal, urinary and immune systems, it can't but help our bodies deal with the many stressors that surface during these busy, fast-paced days. Make an infusion of the dried leaf overnight and sip a liter, hot or cold, throughout the day, at least 3-4 times per week. Or freeze nettle in the spring and early summer before it flowers, and use it in any recipe that calls for frozen spinach... delicious in soup or quiche.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinale)
Lemon balm leaves are a pleasant tasting member of the mint family that benefits both our digestive and nervous systems. It can be consumed alone or blended with St. Johnswort to treat seasonal affective disorder or other stress-induced symptoms. Infuse a large handful of dried lemon balm in a mason jar in boiling water overnight and drink hot or cold throughout the next day for stress management and a brighter outlook.
Burdock (Arctium lappa)
If you want to get to the root of a problem consider adding burdock root to your meal menu. The mild, sweet roots are sold in Japanese markets as "gobo", or in the refrigerator section at your health food store. Add them to stew, soup or along with other roasted root vegetables in the oven...mixed with olive oil and garlic! Or make sweet and sour pickles by infusing chopped burdock root (and garlic cloves) in a vinaigrette of equal amounts tamari and (herbal) vinegar, sweeten with honey if desired.
St. Johnswort (Hypericum perforatum)
St. Johnswort, voted Quebec's Herb of 2010, is both a nervine and an anti-viral herb. A tincture made from its aerial part s can be effectively used as preventative medicine against herpes simplex virus l & ll, Epstein Barr virus, influenza A & B, and Hepatitis B. It is also nourishing for our nervous systems and has been outstanding as a dependable remedy for SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) without the frequent side-effects of antidepressant drugs. Take 20-40 drops tinctured St. Johnswort, two to three times per day.
Medicinal mushrooms strengthen the immune system making it an excellent preventative tonic. Reishi, Maitake, Shitake and Cordyceps are potent adaptogens that enhance immune function in a variety of ways...reducing inflammation, balancing antibody levels and enhancing internal organ function. Add a handful of dried mushrooms to soups, stews and beans or reconstitute in boiling water and add to stir-fries and sauces.
Seaweed is a nutritional powerhouse offering us a wide range of nutrients including vitamins A,B,C,D,E,K; minerals, amino acids, trace elements, and alginic acid which protect our bodies from environmental pollutants and revitalize our cardiovascular, endocrine, digestive and nervous systems. Add a handful of dried kombu, wakame, or arame to soups, broths or a crock-pot of beans. Leave a bowl of kelp on the counter and munch the dried kelp "chips" regularly or grind seaweed with toasted sesame seeds and sprinkle on your food instead of salt.
Pick one of the suggested herbs listed above and add it to your routine this week. Once it feels right, try adding a second herb to your lifestyle and then perhaps a third. In the blink of a moment the snow will be melting and we'll be taking a deep breath of spring. Until then, enjoy the winter by walking on the sunny side of the street, getting out in the winter wonderland to cross-country ski or snowshoe, dressing warmly and eating lots of hearty soups and stew, with an abundant helping of herbal delight in every bowl.Wishing you a healthy season filled with peace, joy, and love,
Over the years I have been blessed with many inspirational teachers. I thank them for sharing their wisdom and knowledge through their lectures, workshops, websites and books. Enjoy these insightful and informative resources for more information about herbs that nourish and promote good health.
Opening our Wild Hearts to the Healing Herbs by Gail Faith Edwards
|(Ash Tree Publishing, 2000) Click for website|
Cercle de guerison du systeme immunitaire lecture by Daniel Gagnon (Montreal, October 2007)
|Click for website|
|Family Herbal by Rosemary Gladstar
(Storey Books, 2001) Click for website
|Healing Wise by Susun Weed
(Ash Tree Publishing, 1989) Click for website
If you'd like to visit my medicinal garden or organize a weed workshop next spring or summer contact me!
Please join me for the following “Wonder of Weeds” lectures and herb walks in 2010:
Tuesday/ May 11th ~ 7:00- 9:00
August 20-22 ~ Women’s Herbal Conference in Keene, New Hampshire, USA
©2017 Monica Giacomin