I feel like it’s been a pretty chilly Winter already and we still have a long way to go before Spring. I actually quite enjoy the Winter months but, as one who tends to feel the cold, I always go out of my way to keep warm by wrapping up well and consuming plenty of warming spices in my food and drinks. Apart from Cardamom, which I have already waxed lyrical on, the spice I enjoy most is probably ginger. It’s so warming, revitalising and restoring and is packed with medicinal benefits, as well as being delicious.
I always start my day at the moment with a few thin slices of fresh ginger in hot water as soon as I rise. It helps move the circulation, stimulate digestion and wake me up when I’d frankly much rather still be in bed! Ginger, Zingiber officinale, has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for hundreds of years and is thought to protect against damp and cold, two of the dreaded ‘six evils’. Many people are affected by these in the UK where our climate at this time of year can undermine the immune system, even in those with a warmer constitution.
Ginger is a great ally against cold and flus as it is warming and drying to the whole body but also has a special affinity to the respiratory system where it helps to resolve excess phlegm and mucus. Due to it’s anti-spasmodic and expectorant actions it is great in catarrhal coughs, chest infections or any condition with mucus and spasm. Do be a little wary in dry coughs however or any situation where there is heat coupled with dryness as ginger may exacerbate it. As a general immune tonic tea I love some fresh ginger gently simmered for 15 mins with elderberries and orange peel.
In his lovely guide to Traditional Chinese food energetics, Helping Ourselves, Daverick Leggett describes ginger as being helpful to combat ‘wind cold’, the term given to an invasion of the body by a pathogen such as the common cold which manifests with cold symptoms. He says ‘Wind invasion is treated through the use of the pungent flavour which assists the body to expel pathogens by directing Qi outwards.’
Dry ginger, usually taken as a powder, is considered both hotter and dryer than fresh ginger which is always a gentler option. Even though it’s still considered drying, I often find the fresh ginger to have a very slightly moistening quality too which prevents it being too aggravating to dry conditions.
In Ayurvedic medicine ginger was referred to as ‘vishwabhesaj’ or ‘the universal medicine’. In The Yoga of Herbs, a lovely recipe is given for making ginger pills by mixing the juice of fresh ginger to powdered dry ginger and rolling into balls about the size of a pea, to be taken three times a day. I really fancy giving this a go, perhaps with a wee bit of honey, so I’ll report back when I do so.
Ginger is also great for other winter ailments such as reduced circulation, Raynauds syndrome and chilblains as it stimulates the heart and circulatory system and helps reduce blood clotting. Some evidence also suggests that it can help in lowering cholesterol. In these actions we can see again its ability to move the vital force outwards to the extremities.
Ginger is probably best known as a digestive remedy however, used by many to relieve nausea, especially during travel. It stokes the digestive fires, stimulating the appetite and improving digestion thus reducing bloating and gas. I like it taken as a tea after meals with peppermint or chamomile. Do be aware however that Ginger is best avoided in cases of gastric ulcers.
It is also a great anti-inflammatory and has a long history of topical use for relieving joint pains and arthritis which can often be worse in colder weather.
Apart from Ginger, my other top tip for staying warm this winter is to buy or make yourself a haramaki. A haramaki is a Japanese belly band that you wear around your middle to keep your internal organs toasty warm. In Asia I always saw people wearing blankets tied round their middles in cold weather rather than big bulky coats and certainly in Chinese medicine, keeping the kidneys and internal organs warm is seen as key to good health by protecting the ‘batteries of life’ which reside in the kidneys.
I bought myself a haramaki this autumn and it hardly feels like an exaggeration to say that it has completely changed my life! It’s incredible the difference wearing one makes to your body temperature. I usually wear mine under my clothes but here I am modelling it over them for you to see.
I got mine from this company here but you can also buy them from these people here. I have recommended them to so many people this winter I am considering ringing up and asking for commission! For those of you with a sewing machine and a bit of free time they are not difficult to make and instructions can be found online here.
Wishing you all a wonderful and warm weekend.
The Yoga of Herbs – Dr. David Frawley and Dr. Vasant Lad
Helping Ourselves – Daverick Leggett
The Complete Herbal Tutor – Anne McIntyre