Winter Herbal Companions Part 1

This is the first in a series of blog posts where I’ll be sharing about herbs that can be helpful to use in the winter months.

Safety Note: Please remember that each individual person has different wellness needs and responds to herbs in unique and varying ways. Always do your homework and research herbs for yourself, including the contraindications of herbs with pharmaceutical medications or medical conditions, and check with your healthcare practitioner before taking any new medicine, herbal or otherwise.

The Northeast is getting a taste of Winter at last, and at our house soup is simmering on the stove and cups of herbal tea warm us throughout the day. As someone who is waking up to the wonders of herbs a little more each day, I look for ways to bring them into my life each season.

With Winter comes the desire to keep well, to strengthen our immune systems, to aid digestion, to encourage calm and grounding, and to get a good night’s sleep. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share about herbs I am working with as well as why and how I’m using them.

The first herb I’ll introduce is Tulsi. It’s an Indian, Ayurvedic herb in the basil family that grows year-round in warm climates and as an annual in cooler climates. Its minty, floral, herbal aroma and taste has a warming, energizing quality to it.

Why I use it:

  1. Tulsi is beneficial for and supports the respiratory system. It helps keep airways clear and decreases Kapha congestion. If one has a cough or cold, it suppresses coughing (it’s antitussive).
  2. Tulsi strengthens and supports the immune system. In Ayurveda we say that it builds ojas (strength, immune system) and prana (vitality). Read more here.
  3. Tulsi soothes the digestive tract, particularly the colon/large intestine. If you ever have Vata-type issues with your digestion like gas, Tulsi will ease this problem (it’s carminative).
  4. Tulsi is beneficial for moods: helping us cope with stress and feel less depressed or anxious.

How I use it:

  • I drink Tulsi tea. Right after we got our boosters in December, Alan and I drank Tulsi for several days straight. An easy way to make it is in a French press, but you could use a tea strainer as well.
  • I diffuse Tulsi essential oil in this aromatherapy blend.
  • I rub this Immune Boost Balm I made with Tulsi essential oil on my lymph nodes on my neck and under my arms ( as I did after my vaccines and booster) as well as whenever I’m feeling like I need some immune system support. I also will rub the balm on the bottoms of my feet.
  • I also use this massage oil with Tulsi essential oil after a shower when I need a boost.

Want to read more about Tulsi? Check out herbalist Rosalee de la Foret’s article here.

What herbs would you like to learn more about in this space? Let me know in the comments below!

Contraindications: Tulsi is not recommended for those who are pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or those who are nursing. Also not recommended for those with low blood sugar. Always check with your healthcare practitioner before using any supplement or essential oil.

Health Disclaimer: Any statements or claims about the possible health benefits of any herbs I mention in this blog post are my own opinions and have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any disease or condition. Please see your health care professional if you need medical treatment of any kind.)

Weekly Wrap-Up

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Hello, readers, and happy August Saturday to you! May you savor the day, move a little more slowly, and find a way to live toward more ease. These are intentions I have set for myself that I want to extend to you.

In case you missed the blog posts from this week…

On Monday, I shared the review of The Temple House Vanishing by Rachel Donohue. (I am ordering her newest novel, The Beauty of Impossible Things, from the UK because it’s not out in the US yet.)

On Tuesday, I blogged about the new novel We Are The Brennans by Tracey Lange published by Celadon Books.

On Wednesday, I talked tinctures and shared my super simple herbal tincture recipe.

And on Friday, in the For Your Weekend blog post, I gathered some weekly podcast, book, and visual inspiration to share with you.

Have a lovely Saturday!

How To Make Herbal Tinctures (Wellness Wednesday)

Herbal tinctures are a form of plant medicine used by Western herbalists. Whether you’re a clinically trained herbalist, a folk, community, or family herbalist, tinctures are easy to make, easy to use, and effective.

My formal herbal training so far has been based in aromatherapy (Western) and Ayurvedic herbalism (Eastern). Ayurveda differs from Western herbalism in that it usually requires rather large doses of bitter or otherwise not very palatable herbs. (If you can get Americans to swallow several grams of powdered herbs in hot water a few times a day, it’s a small miracle. Let’s face it, we’re wimps.) I usually put powdered Ayurvedic herbs, such as Triphala, Shatavari, and Dashmula, into capsules with my capsule-filling machine.

Large doses can make sense because most herbs are gentle and subtle compared to a tiny pharmaceutical pill. And sometimes a pharmaceutical option is what we need. But for all the times when it’s not, we can use plant medicine, along with other modalities, to work with our bodies and nurture them back to balance.

When it comes to Western herbalism, tinctures are an easy way to take medicine. Just put the drops in water and drink. My number one tincture, my favorite plant ally, is St. John’s Wort. Depression runs in my family, and it’s something that’s always with me, along with its friend, anxiety. Sometimes it’s just a small shadow in the corner and sometimes it threatens to take over. But it’s always been something I address in natural ways.

And before I talk about St. John’s Wort any further, if you’re thinking of trying it, make sure you read this article that lists side effects as well as contraindications with many pharmaceuticals. Educate yourself about your own health and always check with your health care professional before taking any new drugs, herbal or otherwise.

St. John’s Wort may reduce the symptoms of mild to moderate depression, anxiety, PMS, menopause, ADHD, can improve sleep, and more. My experience with it has been excellent, but I don’t take any pharmaceuticals and was aware to look out for possible side effects when I started taking it. (I never experienced any side effects.)

OK, so how do you make a tincture? Here you go!

Easy Tincture Recipe

1 clean pint mason jar with lid

bulk dried St. John’s Wort or other bulk dried herb

vodka or other flavorless alcohol

Label or tape

Fill the jar 1/3 to 1/2 full of dried herbs. Cover with vodka and screw on the lid. Label and date the jar and put it on a dark, dry shelf. Check it every day or so, giving it a gentle shake, topping up the jar with more vodka so the herbs stay covered. Let it sit for 4-6 weeks, shaking every once in a while, then strain through cheesecloth into a clean jar or into clean dropper bottles. Label and date the jar or bottles.

Health Disclaimer: Any statements or claims about the possible health benefits of herbs, essential oils, flower essences, or other plant medicine I write about on my blog have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent, or cure any disease or condition. The words in this post are my own opinions, based on my own experiences. Please see your health care professional before you take any supplement and if you need medical treatment of any kind.