This time of year, with its 60 degrees one day and snow flurries the next, always brings the sniffles. Here are some herbal suggestions from YES! Magazine that are good to keep around the house regardless of what season it is (and if you’re local, join herbalist Sue-Ryn Burns at the North Country Arts Council for the Lucky 7 Lecture on April 5th to learn more about herbalism):
6 Recipes for Winter Wellness
Thyme has a natural antiseptic called thymol, which is an active ingredient in some mouthwashes. It also soothes the throat. Thyme tea can also be used as a gargle for a sore throat, or drunk to ease stomach cramps.
Steep one tablespoon of dried thyme in one cup boiling water. Strain, let cool, and gargle or drink.—K.M.
Organic Lip Balm
Immune systems aren’t the only things that take a hit in winter; skin also shows the wear of those chilly months. Lips lose moisture more quickly than other parts of the face because they don’t have sweat or sebaceous glands. Gentle protection from homemade lip balm is an appealing alternative to using store-bought brands made from petroleum jelly.
For this version you’ll need 2 tbsp. coconut oil, 1 tbsp. grated cocoa butter, and 1/4 tsp. vitamin E oil (or the oil from 3 capsules). If you like scent and flavor, add a drop of rose, peppermint, vanilla, or sweet orange essential oil.
Melt the coconut oil in a stainless steel pot over low heat. Stir in cocoa butter until melted. Remove from heat, add vitamin E oil and stir. Pour the mixture into a container—empty baby food or cosmetic jars, or small tins from the beauty supply store or herbalist. Let set for three hours.—J.K.
During World War II in Britain, when torpedoes halted the shipment of imported foods like citrus fruits, volunteers gathered 450 tons of wild rosehips a year to make vitamin C syrup for the nation’s children.
Rose Hip Syrup
Rose hips are the berry-like seed pods left after rose blossoms fall. These overlooked fruits contain up to 20 times as much vitamin C as oranges. It’s best to harvest rosehips in the autumn, after the first frost turns them bright red and soft. Be sure not to use rose hips from plants treated with pesticides.
Gather about 4 cups of rose hips and wash them thoroughly. Remove the stems and any flower remnants. Boil in 2 cups of water for 20 minutes in a covered saucepan. Strain the mixture through a jelly bag, cheesecloth, or fine sieve. Return the clear juice to the saucepan, add 1 cup of sugar, and boil for 5 minutes. Pour into warmed, sterilized jars or bottles, seal and store in the refrigerator. The resulting glowing red syrup makes an attractive gift, tastes great with desserts or diluted as a drink, and helps keep colds at bay throughout the winter.—J.K.
Stave off a cold with fire. Well, almost—fire cider. This unusual concoction of immune-boosting ingredients will also clear sinuses, but it’s not for the weak of heart. Some people like to age their fire cider for several weeks, so they start a fresh batch every autumn for winter cold season.
You’ll need: 1 small onion, peeled and chopped (contains natural antihistamines), 5 cloves garlic, peeled and minced (anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-viral, anti-parasitical), 3/4 cup peeled, grated fresh horseradish (increases blood flow to the head), 1/2 cup peeled, grated fresh ginger (increases circulation to the extremities), 1 tsp. ground turmeric (anti-inflammatory), 1 heaping tsp. cayenne pepper (blood stimulant), 1 cup honey, preferably raw and local, and apple cider vinegar to cover, approximately 2 cups.
Put the ingredients in a quart jar and stir until the honey is dissolved. Cover the mouth of the jar with a square of waxed paper, and fasten the lid tightly. Put in a cool, dark place, and let sit undisturbed for six to eight weeks. Once your fire cider has matured, strain and squeeze the mixture through cheesecloth. Stored away from light and heat, fire cider will last up to six months.
When needed, take by the spoonful. It can be also be used as a salad dressing or as a chest rub.—K.M.
Garlic has been used for medicinal purposes since the Egyptian pyramids were built. In the early 1700s, French gravediggers drank a mixture of crushed garlic and wine as protection against the plague. During World War I, soldiers were given garlic to prevent gangrene.
Roasted Squash Seeds
Squash and pumpkin seeds are a great source of zinc, a mineral that supports the immune system. If squash or pumpkin is on your autumn menu, you can also roast the seeds to stock your winter wellness pantry.
Here’s the fun part: Remove seeds from the gourd, de-gunk, rinse, and strain to remove any stringy bits. Pat dry and place in a small bowl. Use about 1 tbsp. olive oil per cup of seeds, and about 1/2 tsp. salt. Stir in the olive oil and salt until the seeds are evenly coated. Feel free to spice up your seeds with a pinch of cumin, curry, or even cocoa powder. Roast in the oven on a baking tray, or in a cast-iron skillet on the stovetop on medium heat for 15 minutes or until the seed husks begin to pop. Stir occasionally.—J.K.
Ginger Honey Tea
There’s nothing like the combination of ginger and honey to fight off winter illness, whether it’s tummy trouble or a head cold. Ginger promotes healthy digestion, eases nausea, and can help dry excess mucus in the nasal passages, while honey is a natural antiseptic. A touch of lemon adds an antioxidant that’s high in vitamin C, too.
Take a 1-inch piece of peeled ginger root, 6 cups water, 1/3 cup honey, the juice of one lemon and four bags of your favorite tea. Add a slice of rind if your lemon is organic. Slice the ginger into coins, and combine with the lemon rind, water, and honey. Bring to a boil in a small pot. Add the tea bags and steep. Add lemon juice, strain into a teapot, and serve.
Many people keep ginger and honey in their pantries and prepare a ginger-honey mixture whenever someone falls ill.—K.M.