Archive for December, 2009

Winter Herbs

The streets were filled with snow as we celebrated Winter Solstice this year. When I shook the rattle and thought about the people and things I am thankful for, plants were high up on my list. Not being able to interact with the plants in nature during the winter means that my relationship to them transforms. I let what I have learned in my apprenticeship sink in. I continue drinking infusions and tend to the medicines I have made during the last three seasons. I realize that I too have cycles and that just like the plants, this is a time for me to grow quieter, nestle in the warmth and gather my energy for the upcoming year.

That said, there are certain herbs that I make sure I have in my cabinet when it gets cold. These are most of them.

Garlic-I cook with garlic every single day. Really, I love the stuff. I make a garlic honey and use it as part of my salad dressings. I also give teaspoons of it to anyone with a sore throat or cold symptoms. It works. I got another great use for garlic from a fabulous book Natural Healthcare at Home: Doctor Mum’s Quick Reference Guide by Kathy Duerr.  I have used this on both of my children at the onset of fevers and I am still amazed that in the morning, their fevers are gone.

Here’s the recipe:

Garlic clove

olive oil

three pinches of goldenseal powder

Chop the garlic very finely, mix the garlic and  goldenseal in the olive oil. Bathe the feverish babe’s feet in warm water. Dry his/her feet and have two pair of cotton socks handy. Rub the mixture on the soles of her feet and put the socks on over the mixture. Put that funky-footed baby to bed and s/he should be better in the morning.

Ginger-Oh, oh, oh. Winter without ginger? No way. I make strong ginger tea, I am about to experiment with ginger beer and I keep ginger honey handy for colds and sore throats. Warming ginger helps with congestion and bronchial issues. (With all those heavy holiday meals, it’s a nice digestive too.) I know folks who take ginger foot baths to clear their sinuses. I also met a woman recently who swears by ginger tea for keeping her asthma at bay.

Nettles-This is one of my favorite herbs. Deeply nourishing, smooth, and warming this herb helps build the blood, it’s great for the kidneys, the adrenals and its serious mineral content helps me keep up with myself. Iron, potassium, zinc, magnesium, protein, chlorophyll are just a sampling of what this great herb has to offer. Who could ask for more?

Echinacea-Yes, sophisticated/experienced herbalists would put this herb low on their winter lists (if at all). But I stick with what works and this fabulous flower fits the bill. I have used echinacea at the onset of colds, coughs, fevers, bouts with blocked ducts and it always-and I mean always- does the trick. I tend to use echinacea in tincture form. In fact I have a (root) tincture that is ready to be decanted as I type. But I recently started drinking my beloved echinacea as an infusion and I enjoy that as well. Some folks say that after two or three weeks of using echinace, it’s a good idea to take a break. Honestly, I have never needed to use this herb that long. It’s just that effective.

Elder-This plant recently let me make its acquaintance and I don’t want to be without it ever again. (yes, it’s that serious)  I recently made an elderberry syrup and used it when my two and half year old started exhibiting cold symptoms. Not only did she ask for this syrup every day, it halted the cold symptoms in their tracks. While non elderberry syrup taking folk in our house got sick, she stayed healthy and energetic. Infusion of elderberry is heavenly. Take a teaspoon nightly–ok, try to just take one teaspoon nightly–this is some of the best preventative  medicine I know. My teacher, Robin, also uses elder flowers against fevers. As soon as I can get my hands on some, I’ll try it.

Elderberry Syrup recipe:

1) Make an infusion from dried elderberries by placing dried elderberries in a mason jar and filling the jar entirely to the top with just boiled water. The ratio would be 1 cup berries to a quart of water. Let the infusion sit overnight.

2) Place your infusion in a pot on the stove and turn the heat on so that the liquid is evaporating without simmering or boiling) When you have half of the liquid you started with left in the pot, you have a decoction.

3) Add honey to taste and a teaspoon of brandy to preserve. Put this in the fridge.

4) Voila! Elderberry syrup. A teaspoon at night is good medicine.

Mullein-I don’t know this herb well at all, but that hasn’t stopped it from working when I’ve needed it. I have really needed it as of late because my four year old (who started school in September) has had a stubborn cough for a few weeks. I have tried many of my old tricks, but whatever she picked up does not want to be put down. One night, I was awakened by her coughing. It was dry and spasmodic and scary. I grabbed some St John’s Wort oil and tincture and some dried mullein. I rubbed the oil on her chest and gave her a few drops of tincture under her tongue. My husband put the mullein in a smudge pot and lit it. The mullein smoke filled the room, her coughing subsided and she slept for the rest of the evening without making a peep.

Last year I gave mullein glycerite to my daughter who was stricken with a dry cough. I was stunned to hear her cough turn productive (with mucous) within an hour. That was the beginning of the end of that cough. Herbalist Karyn Sanders says that when there are any issues with breathing (asthma,chronic bronchial problems) think of mullein.

Evergreens are robust in winter and by working with their medicine we can be too. Last year I had an inkling that their was something special in the pines and cedars, so I gathered some pine needles and made a honey from them and I made a cedar tincture. The pine honey is absolutely delicious. Turns out the needles are high in vitamins A and C and some indigenous folks have used them to make teas that treat colds, coughs and flu. (white pine in particular). Gail faith Edwards writes that pine infused oil “helps soothe and ease rheumatic pains, and it treats eczema and psoriasis.” She also writes that pine resin can help heal sore throats and a tea made from it helps clear lung congestion.

Cedar is a sacred tree for many around the world. I have used it as a smudge for ceremonies and I recently read that it strengthens the immune system and has anti-fungal qualities. I have just started to work with the tincture I made and I promise to report on my experiences with it soon.

That’s it for 2009. I hope you have a fabulous holiday season full of light and love.

And hey: What herbs do you depend on to get through the winter?

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