Here on the farm, we have the unique opportunity in this day and age to stay so closely tied to the seasons. As the days elongate and the field bursts with energy, so too must we. Now, as the daylight hours crawl into bed earlier and the fields hunker down for the winter, we find ourselves nestling in with a blanket or two, admiring a winter sunset early in the evening. Winter is the time of year to nourish our bodies and our families while preserving, preparing, and sharing what we grew throughout the warmer months. The best way to experience and share good daily health throughout the winter is by exploring herbal medicine.
There's a special intuition in nature where it produces exactly what we need when we need it. My favorite example of this is tomatoes being plentiful in the height of the summer. Their flesh is watery providing us with hydration, and their skin is filled with a carotenoid called lycopene, which has been found to have skin-protecting qualities, shielding us from the sun's harsh UV rays. But another wonderful example of this is one of my favorite herbs, goldenrod. As fall enters the landscape so too do our fall seasonal allergies. And likewise, as fall fades into winter, so too fade our allergy symptoms *hopefully*. But if you happen to find the fall season extending further this side of Halloween than you would like, your fall allergy symptoms may not be that far behind. For this experience, I take my goldenrod tincture out of the cupboard. Goldenrod is excellent at drying out the sinuses and providing relief from congestion. Therefore, it's a go-to herb for colds, flu, and sinus infections. It can be dried and used as a tea or tincture. It's also well known for aiding in kidney stone relief and other urinary tract health benefits. You can dry it and add it to your favorite tea or make a tincture by filling a mason jar 1/4 to 1/2 of the way full with dried herb and covering it with a high-proof alcohol (the higher the better), cover the jar and label it and store it safely in a cupboard for 4-6 weeks. When you take it out, it should be a beautiful yellow-to-yellow-green color. Strain this mixture and store it in an amber dropper bottle. Or if time is against you, you can order goldenrod tinctures like these from Mountain Rose Herbs.
Garlic is the undeniable hero in our kitchen this time of year. "What's this dish missing?" "Let's add more garlic!" But beyond delicious, did you know that garlic is also highly medicinal? Through studies, garlic has been found to have health-promoting and disease-preventing effects for cancer, cardiovascular and metabolic disorders, blood pressure, and diabetes and is highly anti-inflammatory as well as contains lipid-lowering properties.1 Garlic has also been found to be antiviral, antimicrobial, and antifungal, making it the perfect medicinal and culinary addition to every wintertime meal. Besides adding garlic to every meal, we can also partake in it medicinally by creating a delicious garlic honey. It’s important to note though that this honey is perishable and should be used within 24 hours. Therefore, it’s slightly more labor-intensive in that it needs to be made every day. But it’s quite easy to make! Just finely mince a few fresh cloves of garlic and pour enough honey over it to cover all the cloves. Allow this honey mixture to sit for at least 15 minutes. It has been suggested to take it by spoonful 3-4 times a day during cold and flu season and every 1 hour while actively fighting off an illness.
I don’t like saying I have a favorite herb, but if I did, it would probably be Tulsi, or holy basil. As I walk through the fields of Woodside, I love to brush up against the volunteer mounds of tulsi that we have popping up every few beds. I suppose I’m a bit of a tulsi spreader at my own home. As the plant goes to seed, I like to gently pull seeds off and throw them into any bit of soil I can, attempting to ensure the next generation of tulsi in my garden. Tulsi is not only delicious, but it’s also incredibly anti-inflammatory, with antimicrobial properties, and has been studied for its adaptogenic effects. It helps improve congested nasal pathways and helps fight against the common cold.2 I like to make fresh tea every day as my own little daily treat. I also look at it as daily preventative medicine. Tulsi makes the perfect addition to any tea mixture, but you could also add it to a juice, make a gargle out of it, or infuse it in honey by grinding tulsi leaves down to a powder before mixing it into honey.
When we reminisce over family-favorite winter recipes a hint of ginger graces my tastebuds like a zesty little ghost. Ginger has a warming effect on our bodies and has been known to ignite digestive fire. This isn’t as scary as it sounds, it just means it helps our body’s furnace (the stomach) keep going to digest our heavy wintery meals. Ginger is a carminative, which means it helps disperse digestive gas, and as such, it also helps soothe the GI tract while also reducing gut inflammation. And speaking of inflammation, ginger has been known to relieve inflamed throats and congested nasal pathways. Ginger is also antiviral and antimicrobial3 and has been found to help prevent viruses from attaching to cell walls. Luckily, ginger is a go-to ingredient for so many tasty recipes this time of year!
This is just a suggested winter herbal medicine cupboard. You should experiment and add your favorites throughout the winter and let us know which ones work the best for you.