Winter Health

Welcome to Winter!

herb school

winter sculpture

And quite a dramatic solstice we had last week with the beautiful lunar eclipse. We were fortunate to have the clouds part from moonrise until after the eclipse so we were able to see the beauty of the event. 

Today, I want to write about winter, the energy of the season, strategies for being in harmony with the season and staying healthy. Around each season change there is a two week period during which the energy is shifting from one season to the next. Since the energy is less stable because it is transitioning, it is good to be aware of this and not only keep up our self care but give some extra care. Remind and support your loved ones to do this as well. 

Season changes are naturally times of re-organization, increasing self awareness and looking at priorities, which often shift to reflect the season. So, on the emotional level we can feel a little out of sorts or find ourselves reflecting on our lives. This is natural and good to do. Just remember to be gentle with yourself while you are doing it. 

Winter is that time of going within, hibernating, slowing down. A time to replenish, relax, dream. In the plant cycle, winter is represented by the seed. That dormant state, seemingly dead, but not dead, just resting in its potential. Being in harmony with the season is about being in harmony with nature, being in harmony with self. So let yourself slow down, sleep more, dream, reconnect with self. Allow yourself to be more inward, less outward. 

Many of us are also dealing with gray days, less light and colder weather. We know that spring is coming, but winter has just begun. Since winter is a time of rest and introspection, if you are challenged by slowing down winter may be a difficult season for you energetically. 

It is always important to exercise, whatever form moving your body takes, and as the weather is not always as pleasant, exercise can be challenging in the winter months. So, your exercise may be more indoors than usual which you can use to your advantage. Consider slowing down your exercise to activities that are more gentle, more meditative, do more stretching. Keep your body moving, you’ll feel better, but save the vigorousness for spring and summer. Short bursts of vigorous exercise is fine if you really love this, just make sure you are doing the slow stuff too.

 You may have gotten out of your routines during this past holiday season, so work to get back on track. You have worked hard over the years to develop those good habits. So, if you let go of them for a short time, try not to let that be the new norm. Avoid the all-or-nothing trap.

 On a physical level, I’m going to focus on plants that help our digestion as well as our deep immunity and vitality. I so often focus on digestion because, while it can get easily thrown off, it can also often get back track pretty easily. At this time of year, you might be challenging your body by eating richer foods than you are used to. Those overindulgences, especially the older we get, can throw our systems off.

On that physical level digestion is really a cornerstone of good health. Both the quality of foods we put into our bodies and how well our body is able to make use of those foods are important.

 During winter we want to focus on foods that produce more heat (like garlic, ginger and cayenne), more fats and carbs and, as always, to eat seasonally. Eat more well-cooked foods, your digestion slows during this season and we also tend to have less physical activity. It’s not so much about increasing caloric intake as it is making sure your food is deeply nourishing. If you spend a lot of time outdoors in the cold weather, you will need to increase your calories in order to maintain your body heat.

Before I start mentioning specific herbs, remember before taking anything consider who you are and if you have a chronic illness, are pregnant or on pharmaceuticals consult a professional before taking anything.

Peppermint and/or ginger are wonderful for settling an upset stomach. Peppermint is cold and stimulating and ginger is hot and stimulating, so consider your constitution. If you are feeling really chilled a footbath can warm you right up; and if it is a ginger foot bath you will be toasty in no time.

 If you know you will be eating rich food, have some bitters on hand. Five drops of gentian tincture 10-15 minutes before you eat will help your digestive system be ready for food and therefore process it better. You can take bitters after a meal as well, to help settle things down.

 Be nice to your liver as well; burdock root and dandelion root can be really nice as tea to take throughout the season. They even work well as a base for herbal chai. What I mean by herbal chai is chai without black tea (because, of course, all chai has herbs in it). Burdock or dandelion and a touch of peppermint help give some depth and round out the usual chai spices if you want a caffeine-free version. Sometimes, supporting/fine-tuning the liver is all you really need to get your digestion back on track.

When I talk about health I’m talking about being in balance  and resiliency.  Ideally, we are resilient, which to me means that we can stay in balance in the face of challenges; physical, emotional and spiritual. How big of a challenge can you handle without falling out of balance is a measure of how resilient you are and a sign of your health. Maybe physically you can ‘get away’ with a lot, but emotionall, you get through off of your center very easily. This is a part of your health as well. An important part. 

A part of our resiliency, or ability to stay in balance, is connected to vitality and deep immunity. Medicinal mushrooms and astragalus are adaptogens and help us maintain our deep immunity and vitality. You can eat your medicine by cooking astragalus or medicinal mushrooms into your stews or beans, anything with a sauce that you cook for a long period of time. If cooking isn’t your thing, you can always take a tincture of astragalus or shitake or another medicinal mushroom. If you are taking one of these tinctures as a tonic, take 10-15 drops once a day. You can do this for a couple of months if you like and then give yourself about a week long break if you want to continue. It is good to give your body a break from herbs so that you do not become dependent upon them, physically or emotionally.

herbal medicine school

frosted leaves

Because our mind, body and spirit are all interconnected I enjoy using flower and gem essences as well to work on physical conditions and well as the deeper emotional and spiritual concerns. Rarely is anything strictly physical. Here are some essences that I consider useful for this time of year.

Brazilian quartz (from Alaskan Essences, ) brings a cleansing white light, stimulates healing on all levels; cleanses, energizes and synchronizes the subtle bodies, chakras and physical body to the earth’s natural vibration

Buffalo Gourd (Desert Alchemy, ) out of balance, overextended, mood swings, depleted, maintaining deep inner place of healing and calm while participating in activities; balance of inner and outer, soothes nervous system

Fireweed (Alaskan Essences) indicated when there is energy stagnation on any level, feeling burnt out, carrying the past into the future – stimulates renewal of energy on all levels, catalyst for growth and transformation that encourages release of anything that is no longer appropriate or useful, frees from limitations of the past

 If the cloudy weather and diminished sunlight  impacts your mood, there is some help for you:

Solstice Sun (Alaskan Essences) energy of the sun; affects the movement of energy through our physical bodies; opens heart and energy pathways in body so we are able to receive more light and make more efficient use of the energy within that light; also works with integration, helpful during life changing times

Sun (Keeping Time Essences, ) warm, uplifting, radiant; direct energy of the sun

Yellow Rose  (Rose Chakra Essences,  ) bringing in your own sun

Additional essences helpful this time of year:

Deep Rest Combination (Hawaiian Essences, ) get beneath the stress to retune, recharge and reconnect in deep embodied peace

Moon Milk  (Keeping Time Essences) comforting, nourishing, gentle

Persian Lilac (Essences of Greece, ) relates to crown chakra, recognizing our wings to take flight into the realms of the spirit world; when you cannot see the beauty of your life; helps keep your heart in your perspective

Bristlecone Pine (Ancient Forest Essences, ) sense of eternity, letting go of momentary drama, helps choose love over fear, clarity and persistence; ability to thrive amidst constantly changing conditions

Aleppo Pine (Greek Essences) for those who hold onto everything too tightly and hoard until they are bloated with ‘stuff’;  helps you to donate some of the old to make room for the new; eliminates the overload, detoxifies

Chalice Well   (Alaskan Essences) unconditional love and support; the well of flowing water that never stops – connects us to support that we may not be aware of , a message that we are never alone; challenges the belief systems and emotional blockages that stand in the way of a stronger connection to the Universal love and support

As you can see, the essences can be very specific while still having a universal appeal. If you want to try some, I suggest one at a time. That way you can get to know that essence and feel it in your body, before adding in another one; like meeting someone one-on-one as opposed to meeting someone with a big group.

I encourage you to feel the season, allow yourself to slow down and enjoy the gifts of the dark.