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Archive for the ‘Winter’ Category

I woke up last week to a bright, sunny day and felt a surge of energy in me, almost as if it were already Spring.

So I headed out after breakfast to admire the many wonders of the world around me. In the shade, frost still hung to the leaves and young plants but elsewhere all was aglow with a freshness and vitality that seemed to sing from the rising sap of those first heralds of warmer days.

All about me were the signs that Spring is not so far away.

Spring bulbs in the garden.

Young nettles.

Perfect new Yarrow leaves.

Beautiful baby cleavers.

Fresh and vital Herb Robert.

First teeny Speedwell flower.

Even the autumn leaves, resplendent in death, were aglow in the wintery sun.

My favourite Elder tree, who is one of the most powerful plant spirits I have ever encountered, is just coming into bud and atop the escarpment the gorse was in flower. You know what they say… ‘when gorse is in flower, kissing is in season.’

Elder buds.

Give us a kiss then!

There were others out enjoying the day too and catching a few rays.

Sheep sunbathing.

'Wild' Exmoor ponies.

And when I got home I added a handful of fresh, young cleavers to my seaweed salad and felt the energy of a new year running through me. Cleavers are so delicious and green when they are young and tender so enjoy them over the next couple of months before they get tough and stringy later in the year.

Cleavers, dulse and rocket salad with a tahini and lemon juice dressing.

It was such a joyful day and enough to keep my spirits up for the last of winter and the cold spell they say is coming.

Even in the darkest months there is still so much to be thankful for.

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Virtually everyone I have spoken to recently has a cold and I also began the week with copious amounts of mucus pouring from my nose (too much info, I know!). Luckily it passed quickly and I’m back on form but it inspired me to share my top 5 simple tips for dealing with a cold and restoring the immune system.

People always bemoan the fact that there is no cure for the common cold and fill themselves full of paracetamol, noxious inhalers and antibiotics when all these things will tend to stress the body further, even if they bring temporary relief.  In most peoples’ cases a cold will move through fairly quickly and it’s not necessary to do very much at all other than eat a nourishing diet and stay warm and rested. It’s good to avoid foods that are too rich or mucus forming such as dairy, white flour products, sugar, bananas, sweet fruits like pineapples and mangoes or an excess of nuts. Generally I think when it comes to colds, the simpler the treatment the better. That’s why these tips are arranged from simplest to most complicated, for most people number 1 will be enough, though I did engage all 5 this week when the need arose. There’s nothing here most of you won’t already know but I guess it’s good to have a nudge in the right direction sometimes. 😉

These tips are very general as specific symptoms, chronic infections and low immunity will all require individualised treatment. For most of us just suffering from the occasional seasonal chill however, they should suffice.

  1. Rest: This is without doubt my top tip for colds. It allows the body space to heal itself which is, or at least should be, the ultimate goal of any treatment. I think the reason I tend to get over colds pretty quickly is that I have no problems at all with being grossly lazy! When I start feeling ill it’s straight to bed with a hot water bottle some ginger tea and a good book. In fact, I secretly quite enjoy getting sick on the odd occasion (don’t tell anyone) as it gives me the opportunity to do just that and no one can make me feel guilty for it. So if you’re one of those Type A personalities thats not happy unless 101 things have been achieved in your day and never give yourself time to rest and recuperate, listen to my words of wisdom and get thee to bed.
  2. Steam: A good steam, preferably in a hot bath with some lovely herbs, is wonderful for opening up the pores, clearing the sinuses and helping to move illness out of the body. Teamed with a herbal body rub prior to the bath this is a simple but very effective way to boost immunity. I included a recipe for a bath and shower rub in my post on using essential oils for the immune system here.
  3. Raid the kitchen cupboards: Ginger, lemon, honey, cinnamon, garlic, onion, thyme, sage. black pepper and rosemary are all useful in treating some of the symptoms of a cold. The majority of households will have one if not most of these things in their cupboards so no special herbal medicine stash is needed to get you back on form. Gargle with sage tea for a sore throat, indulge in a thyme foot bath if you have a cough or make a chest compress using a wrung out flannel soaked in thyme tea. Sip lemon and ginger in hot water with a spoon of honey and finely chop garlic in olive oil to spread on your bread. Make a spicy chai with cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, black pepper, cloves and a pinch of rooibos or green tea to sip by the fire and add herbs and spices to your soups to fight infection and boost immunity. Treating colds is where kitchen herbalism really comes into its own.
  4. Diaphoretic teas – Diaphoretic herbs are those that encourage sweating and thereby help to rid the body of infection. If you have a feverish cold but are mostly cold and clammy to the touch with cold extremities you’ll benefit most from warming diaphoretic teas like ginger, cinnamon, angelica, sage, thyme and cayenne. However if you are hot and restless and need to release this through sweating, a cooling or relaxing diaphoretic will be of most use to you. These include delicious teas like Lime blossom, elderflower, catnip, chamomile and yarrow. Most colds are kapha, or damp and cold, in nature (hence the name!) so warming diaphoretic teas will be very helpful. However some colds are more pitta or hot and come with inflammation, sore throats a red face and excessive heat. In these cases a warming, stimulating herb will exacerbate the problem whilst cooling and relaxing ones will allow for a gentle release of tension, heat and discomfort.
  5. Elderberry and Echinacea: If you want a bit more support for your immune system then these two herbs are the first port of call for most folks. Lots of studies have shown elderberry’s effectiveness in both treatment and prevention of colds and flus and it’s so delicious taken as a syrup that it becomes no great hardship to take your medicine. Great as a preventative and at the first signs of illness, Echinacea works on the immune system in a variety of ways so it can also be useful as a treatment once you’re already sick if there is heat and infection present. The root is the part most commonly used but this year I’ve been using a lovely Echinacea seed tincture made by my friend and herb grower Therri. She describes it as more nourishing and supportive than the root which is more stimulating. I made up a mix of equal parts Echinacea seed tincture, elderberry tincture and elderberry syrup and it was impressively efficacious.

Elderberry

Echinacea

What are your favourite tips for treating colds?

 

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The festivities are over for another year and lots of us will have overindulged in rich foods, alcohol and sweets as the season dictates. Many will have made the New Year’s resolution to cut back and an ever increasing number of companies, never missing the chance to make a quick buck during their dry spell, have capitalised on this to produce a wide range of detox products.

However in traditional medicine, which is bound to the cycles of the Earth, Spring was seen as the time to embark on any cleansing routine and certainly this is when we find an abundance of fresh green herbs which will help our bodies to slough off the sluggishness of winter. January is still cold and dark and our bodies need deep nourishing to support them through the second part of the winter rather than being stressed by excessive cleansing and detox routines.

Having said that, I do believe that it’s beneficial to give our bodies some support in clearing out the indulgences of Christmas and the New Year but, as with all things, it’s about having a balanced and sensible approach to what is healthy and seeking always to support the body rather than force it to cleanse which can result in over-burdening the organs of elimination and creating stress.

People have different understandings of the term ‘detox’ and because of this, like all overused words, it can actually be a hindrance rather than a help when describing what I think of as a period of clearing and renewal. Perhaps instead of a January ‘detox’ which can imply actively forcing the body to release toxins in a potentially unbalanced way, what I propose is a January ‘no-tox’. By this I mean removing toxins from our diet and focusing instead on natural, whole and unprocessed foods. Whilst January is not an ideal time for juice fasting, restrictive diets or active cleansing programmes, it’s a perfect time to nourish ourselves with better nutrition and whole foods.

A January no-tox might also involve analysing and recognising what a toxin is and how it gradually poisons us. A toxin can be a T.V. program that leaves us agitated, unhappy or with violent mental images. It can be reading incessant negative comments about the lives of others in popular magazines. It can be a food, a thought pattern, a conversation – absolutely anything. Everything we come into contact with affects us and, as a result, becomes part of who we are. We can’t avoid all the possible toxins in our world but we can make intelligent choices about what we fill our bodies and minds with and as a result, make much more lasting changes than taking strong eliminative herbs for a month then going back to our old ways.

Like the Earth, our bodies can purify themselves… but only when we stop filling them with poisons. We view illness in this society as the body ‘going wrong’ but apply so little thought to why this might be. Cause and effect is a natural law, nothing happens without it.

There is a lovely Buddhist teaching story which underlines the importance of balance beautifully. Before his enlightenment the Buddha sought realisations through excessive fasting as was common practice in Indian spiritual traditions of the day. Finally, weak and emaciated, he was approached by a young milk maid by the name of Sujata who offered him a bowl of sweetened milk and rice.

Accepting the offering gratefully he found the strength to continue his practice and reach enlightenment. Though his companions rejected him as weak for breaking his fast and beginning to eat normally again, they eventually returned to benefit from his teachings and became his first disciples. Later Buddha is said to have remarked that we must be like the strings of a lute, neither to tight or too loose, else we will be unable to fulfil our true potential, just as the lute will be unable to make beautiful music.

There are two traditional sayings that I like to share with people when discussing cleansing and I think each person’s road to health lies somewhere in the balance between both sentiments. The first, Mosquitos are only attracted to a swamp, refers to terrain theory, the idea that disease can only flourish in an impure environment. The second, No fish can live in pure water, is a saying from Traditional Chinese Medicine and is teaching us that seeking to cleanse the body in an obsessive way can actually be detrimental to sustaining life itself.

So, in the spirit of balance, I like to try and support my body after the Christmas excesses with some of the following techniques.

* Body Brushing – My skin spends the whole of winter swaddled in numerous layers of clothing so taking time to do 5 minutes of body brushing before a bath or shower is a lovely way to encourage elimination from the skin by sloughing off dead skin cells, boosting the circulation and lymph flow and encouraging vital processes and renewal.

* Juniper Body Rub  – After my bath I like to use a body oil which again helps boost the lymph and aids gentle cleansing of my whole body. To 100ml of jojoba oil I add 20 drops organic juniper essential oil, 20 drops organic grapefruit, 5 drops organic cypress  and 5 drops organic black pepper.

* Gentle Exercise – Getting out for a walk in nature is really one of the most lovely cleansing, revitalising and renewing activities as it not only boosts circulation to all the body organs but also stimulates peristalsis in the bowel and encourages deep breathing which expels toxins or build up in the lungs.

* Seaweeds and Green Foods – Seaweeds and all fresh green foods are naturally cleansing and nourishing and I love adding them to my meals. I also use spirulina or blue green algae in powder form as they are so dense in vital nutrients.

* Hot Lemon Water –  Drinking a cup of hot water with a squeeze of lemon first thing in the morning is a good way of waking up the liver and stimulating gentle detoxification. I also have been enjoying this simple lemony smoothie which is great for the immune system as well as being cleansing and clearing. The garlic may seem like a strange addition but it actually tastes fairly pleasant!

 

1 Apple
1 Kiwi
Juice of one lemon
1 Garlic clove
Chunk of ginger to taste
Filtered water to cover

And on the topic of good intentions, do have a look at Danielle’s lovely post on sticking to New Year’s resolutions!

Photo of The Buddha and Sujata courtesy of Root Institute.

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Solstice night this year was apparently the longest, darkest night in 500 years, due to the lunar eclipse.

When all is dark and appears to be sleeping I love to imagine everything that’s going on under the earth, which is also a winter wonderland in its own way.

When we were snowed in recently, this is what I dreamt of.

 

Wishing you all a magical Solstice, an enchanted Christmas and an auspicious New Year filled with many blessings xxx

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For me there is something special about trees in winter. You get to appreciate the beautiful subtlety of twisted trunks and broken branches, the soft hues and the sinewy masses that are normally overshadowed by leaves. I wrote about my appreciation of tree barks here some months ago and this too is part of the fascination of winter tree gazing. But there’s more than that; it seems to me that trees, especially deciduous ones, somehow embody the spirit of winter. Once their leaves drop they cast a spell of sleep and withdrawal across the land- and us, if we are alert enough to perceive it. They look aged, wise and full of secrets, but ones that have no intention of being told until Spring begins to wipe the sleep from our eyes and comb last year’s leaves from our hair.

It’s fun to learn how to spot different trees without being able to rely on their leaves to identify them.

Ash are one of the most distinctive due to their black buds and the ash keys still clinging to their branches at this time of year.

Ash Keys

Oak too can be easy to spot due to it’s lovely ridged bark and twisted branches. It helps too that there are still some leaves, despite the high winds, snow and torrential rain of the past few weeks.

Oak Branches

Beech trees are always a pleasure to spot with their smooth, silvery bark and great sinewy limbs.

Beech trunk

It will come as no surprise to those who have been reading this blog a while that one of my favourite trees to admire at this time is the Hawthorn. These three wind blasted beauties on top of the Downs are some of my favourite trees in the local area.

I love gazing at how the elements and the landscape have moulded them, shaping their stories into form.  Though Hawthorns are abundant in this area, each one is completely unique, just like humans they reflect their own natures and that of their environment.

Winter is generally the least popular of the seasons for it’s cold, dark days and biting winds but if you are open to finding the beauty in nature, you’ll find it year round, even if sometimes you have to look a little harder than others.

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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.

Botanical Illustration of Ginger courtesy of Wikipedia

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. 🙂

References:
The Yoga of Herbs – Dr. David Frawley and Dr. Vasant Lad
Helping Ourselves – Daverick Leggett
The Complete Herbal Tutor – Anne McIntyre

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The world outside truly is a wonderland at present.

These photos were taken this evening just as the light was starting to fade which gives them their blue tinge.

Do excuse my lack of herbal posts this week, I’m so excited by this wintery beauty that I had to share some more pictures!

I’ll aim to write something more informative in the next few days. 🙂

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