Written by Philippa Joly and Yarrow Willard
November and December can be hard months, as living this far from the sun, the transition into winter is challenging for many people. This is a time of dark, often rainy or snowy skies, damp cold that gets into the bones, short days and long nights. But it doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. With a little preparation and some daily self care, this can be a wonderful and important time of year for inside projects and introspection.
There are many helpful herbs and foods that can keep our inner light alive through the dark season. Three main areas that need care this time of year are mental health, inner warmth, and immune strength.
For many people the simple lack of Vitamin D available from the sun this time of year can lead to depression. This can also be exacerbated by the holiday season, stress, lack of exercise, poor diet and tiredness. There are some proactive ways to lessen the impacts of the season on your mental health. Taking a high quality cod liver oil or liquid Vitamin D drops equaling at least 2000 I.U. a day along with fish oils that have the whole range of Essential Fatty Acids available (3, 6 and 9) will give your brain a good boost of healthy fats and energy it needs to keep depression at bay, as well as upping your immune and joint function.
Make sure you get enough exercise during the winter and when the sun does shine, get out into it. If you have a chance to go up on the mountains and ski or snow shoe, this can be a great place to get above the clouds and access more of that valuable Vitamin D.
Saint John’s Wort is a well known antidepressant that helps with mild depression. Often effective taken as tincture made from fresh flowers. You can also apply it topically as an oil, and reap it’s direct anti inflammatory benefits. It is not a good idea to take Saint John’s Wort if you are already taking any kind of antidepressant medication.
A hot cup of tea is always good medicine to uplift you on a cold day. Some herbs to consider for keeping your spirits warm are Lemon Balm, Holy Basil, Rose petals, Milky Oats, Nettles, or Lemon Grass. These all make wonderful, safe tea either on their own or combined, and will keep you nourished, warding off the “down in the dumps” feeling that winter can bring.
You can also try Harmonic Arts Uplifted Spirits tincture to lift your spirits from the winter blues.
At this time of year, it is really important to keep your inner fire kindled. Try to stay away from cooling foods like ice cream or milk, lots of uncooked veggies and fruit, and soda. Instead top up on herbal teas, stewed fruit like spiced apple sauce, and lightly steamed veggies and greens. Soups and broths are especially nourishing foods for this time of year and can be made so many ways, you can never get bored! Keep on hand bones or veggie trimmings to make rich broth and experiment with adding herbs and spices early on while the broth is simmering to impart the health and the flavour of your ingredients. Some warming ingredients you might consider adding are garlic, onions, leeks, shallots, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, chilies, cayenne, cloves, black pepper, coriander, or cardamom. You can also add root herbs like Astragalus, Dong quai, or medicinal mushrooms to your broth.
The cold season can really bring down one’s spirits and immune system. Try wearing many layers, ideally some wool and natural fibers, so you can adjust your warmth as needed. If your toes are cold you can try adding a pinch of cayenne pepper into your socks. This does wonders for staying warm, just be careful not to add too much, and wash your hands right away after handling it. If your feet are cold at night, you can easily multitask by making your herbal tea in a mason jar before bed, then cozying your tea in an old soak and putting it at the foot of your bed. You will fall asleep with warm feet and wake with nourishing tea to start your day!
This is the time of year everyone is sneezing and coughing. The best way not to catch what is going around is to boost the immune system, rather than fight a sickness once it gets you. We mentioned Astragalus above, and this is one of the very best herbs for strengthening the immune system. You can use it in soups, as a tea (simmered for 15-30 mins), or as a tincture.
Taking Vitamin C, or foods and herbs that are high in bioflavonoids will also help your immune system stay strong. Rose hips, hawthorne, schizandra, elder berries, blueberries, goji, acai and camu are some of these herbs. Any colourful foods like berries, yams, squash, or peppers are also going to be high in bioflavonoids. Our Berry power blend can be ideal for good Vitamin C/flavonoids.
The moment you do feel that you are coming down with something, take action! The sooner you activate your immune system, the faster it will work for you. This is the window when Echinacea is helpful, but if you have been sick for a week already, it is past the Echinacea point. Now it is time to be specific with what herbs to take. If you have a viral infection try Elderberries, Lomatium, Thyme or Lemon Balm. If you have a bacterial infection try Garlic, Oregon grape, Goldenseal or Usnea. Whether its bronchitis, the flu, a common cold or winter blues, there are always herbs that can help when you get imbalanced. With some discernment, lots of water, tea and rest, the herbs you take and the foods you eat should be enough to keep you and your family healthy throughout the winter months.
Some great Immune supporting products from Harmonic Arts that you may find useful during the winter months are:
Tea Blends- Immune Boost , Tonic Immuni-Tea, Lung Love, Throat Harmony, and Chia Spice
Tincture combinations– Cold Defence, Bronchi, Immune Strength, Antiviral, Uplifted Spirits and 6 Mushroom
Glycerites- Immune glycerite, Lung glycerite, and Elderberry