The weather outside may be frightful, but there are a few delightful ways to get through these shorter days that don’t involve going into full hibernation mode. With some help from the herbalist’s toolkit, you can look forward to renewed energy, deep nourishment, and enhanced moods all winter long, even on the coldest days of the season. If the winter funk is creeping up on you and you’re feeling especially sluggish, just know it’s completely normal to be struggling with powering through the day.
Additionally, If you’re among the 3 to 25 percent of people who experience SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), herbalism has more than a few herbs and tonics to bust the blues. But even if you’re just feeling more down than usual, and not quite on the SAD spectrum, the cold and flu season is also a defining feature of winter. While many people spend more time than they might like indoors, viruses spread more easily in enclosed spaces that are warm and possibly have other sick people around.
Winter Is ‘Kidney Season’
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), winter is considered a time when the body’s yang energy is hibernating. According to Kit Harlow at the Northwestern Health Sciences University, “The qi and blood tend to move inwards, the skin pores are denser, and the water we drink does not easily change to sweat and leak from the body surface.” TCM considers winter to be “kidney season”, with the kidneys being the essence or “jing”, our concentrated life force from our parents, defining our constitution and influencing our growth. Michael Tierra, herbalist and prominent leader of the North American Natural Health movement, elaborates: “The kidneys are the root of yin and yang, regulating endocrine response throughout the body. They also regulate water by maintaining the optimal balance of intracellular and extracellular fluid and elimination of waste through the urine. Another vital function of the kidneys is calcium metabolism, and the maintenance of the bones.”
Herbal remedies, deeply ingrained in traditional practices, also play a vital role in supporting kidney health. In the tapestry of herbalism, the kidneys also emerge as pillars of vitality, embodying a crucial role in maintaining balance and purifying our inner milieu. Here are a few ways the kidneys impact our overall well-being:
Serving as nature’s filtration system, these bean-shaped organs regulate fluid balance and aid in detoxification. They also are responsible for bone marrow production and helping to keep the bones strong and healthy.
In TCM, the kidneys are considered the doorways to our primal Essence, the seat of our Spirit. The kidneys are also linked to fear, which can manifest as anxiety when out of balance.
It is said that individuals who lack personal motivation, inspiration, or a sense of will power have a kidney imbalance. A constant state of confusion, unable to make decisions, and lost in other people’s worlds, they may identify with other people’s personas instead of their own.
Supportive herbs for the kidneys include:
🌿 Dandelion Leaf + Root - helps cleanse the kidneys
🌿 Chanca Piedra - Amazonian “stone breaker” for kidney stone relief
🌿 Horsetail - boosts kidney health + lowers levels of uric acid (cause of kidney stones)
🌿 Marshmallow Root - demulcent, soothing herb that helps ease discomfort from water retention
🌿 Stinging Nettle - helps to prevent kidney infection and inflammation; enhances blood purification
🌿 Juniper Berries - powerful diuretic commonly used to clear UTIs
Lungs + Respiratory Health
The winter season can be a time of sadness, grief, and turning inwards for many. In TCM, the lungs represent grief and are deeply connected with the large intestine. Beneath the skin, lung energy helps the blood circulate, which is what we consider to be the body’s defensive layer against outside pathogens. Astragalus in particular exemplifies this energy and is used in TCM to support the lungs, to build up the immune system, and to protect against pathogens. It is said that astragalus is like a plastic wrap for the immune system, protecting it from bugs, viruses, and other potential intruders.
The lungs are also said to help process grief and trauma, and are very sensitive to an excess of worry and sadness, spiritually and emotionally speaking. With the ability to yield and demand, give and take, hold on and let go, the balance of the lung (metal) energy is vital to keeping our body supple. When an imbalance occurs, order and discipline are rigidly maintained in an attempt to tightly control our emotions. Our rules and routines become inflexible, and the body begins to stiffen as a result of this constriction. To learn about the top respiratory health herbs, check out this simple holistic guide, and to keep reading our herbalist tips for healthy lungs, click here.
Among other top health concerns in the chillier months are colds, flus, and winter allergies. As traditional medications become less effective against today’s potent and aggressive viruses, natural alternatives are proving capable of fighting off many common viral threats. Viral infections play an important role in human diseases, and recent outbreaks in the advent of globalization and ease of travel have underscored their prevention as a critical issue in safeguarding public health. Despite the progress made in immunization and drug development, many viruses lack preventive vaccines and efficient antiviral therapies, which are often beset by the generation of viral escape mutants. Thus, identifying novel antiviral drugs is of critical importance and natural products are an excellent source for such discoveries.
Antiviral herbs inhibit the development of viruses. Many of the best antiviral herbs boost the immune system which allows the body to attack viral pathogens. This can be even better than attacking specific pathogens, which antiviral drugs are designed to do, because pathogens mutate over time and become less susceptible to treatment.
Not only do antiviral herbs fight viral infections, boost the immune system and work as natural flu remedies, they have a number of other health benefits, such as being cardio protective, liver protective, brain protective, digestive aids rich in antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory tonics. As a little bonus to wrap up 2023, here are the top herbal antivirals you need to know this winter.
To stay grounded, build up your immunity against viruses, mental and mood slumps, and to win over winter’s many potential roadblocks to a life lived to its fullest, check out our little playbook below.
1. GROUNDING MEALS
In the Ayurvedic holistic medicine system, the three doshas (Vata, Pitta, Kapha) are considered within each person’s unique constitution. Incorporating warming foods (think: moist, oily, nourishing, smooth) at each meal can help with balancing excess vata. The goal is to lubricate the tissues by opting out of frozen or other cold foods to avoid dryness in the skin. Soups, stews, berries, avocado and coconut are just a few examples of healthy choices for the winter season, but also stock up on turmeric, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and similar warming spices to help you prepare a variety of nourishing dishes for the week.
Dressings are also a great conduit to intaking herbal medicines. Firstly, you don’t even taste some of the more off-tasting herbs. Secondly, fat and good vinegar are excellent bases to absorbing medicinal compounds. Healthy fats are a great vehicle that can facilitate digestion, metabolism and depending on the fat it contains a wide array of medicinal components. Vinegars, particularly if raw, are rich in naturally occurring probiotics, which also allow for a deeper and more efficient absorption of just about anything. Essentially, if you pair your remedies like metabolism boosters and adaptogens with a food-based probiotic and/or fat, you’re ensuring that the medicine gets absorbed properly. Try this Winter Salad with Happy Belly to get a nourishing bowl of goodness in the rotation.
If you’re in need of serious rejuvenation and deep immune protection, try making this Mushroom Miso Immortality Soup, especially if you’re recovering from an illness, healing from a major life change, battling an acute condition, or recovering from an accident. While this meal can be made with any number of vegetables or meats, consider choosing local, seasonal ingredients like root vegetables, which are also high in potassium, and making in big batches to freeze for lazier days.
2. DAILY TONIC TEA PLAN
Cozy season is all about warm beverages, which provide a hug in a mug for the soul and spirit. But many commercially available hot drinks are not necessarily beneficial (and could be harmful) for your health when you take into account the excessive added sugars and other artificial ingredients. The preparation of tea is one of many ancient rituals that crosses cultural boundaries, offering us a greater sense of connection, healing, and nourishment. It is also one of the simplest forms of ancestral wisdom and medicine, activated with one simple ingredient: hot water.
Tonic teas are strong brews of herbal infusions that contain a concentrated amount of nourishing vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. And while winter tonics like elderberry syrup and vinegar infusions (with fire cider being a longstanding herbalist favorite for this season) are also great practices, many health professionals would agree that the best chance medicine has to work is if you’re willing to take it. Herbal tonic teas do their best work when you consume them regularly. So in order to prioritize all the dimensions of your wellness at a time when the lack of sunlight and cooler temperatures practically force us to stay inside some days, try making yourself a daily tonic tea plan.
Browse our collection of tonic teas and handmade accessories for steeping like an herbalist here.
3. GET OUTDOORS
For those who live in climates where it gets cold and dark earlier, it’s no surprise most of us are vitamin D deficient. Nature’s healing powers have tons of science-backed proof, but anyone attuned to energetic frequencies will note the transformational powers of earthing, grounding, walking barefoot outside, moving meditations, and forest bathing, just to name a few of the reasons to push yourself to get outdoors this winter, even if it’s for briefer spans of time than in the warmer months.
One conscious movement practice you can try when the weather allows is to go for a quiet walk barefoot and outdoors in nature. Especially if there have been a stretch of chilly days and the sun comes out to play for a few hours, this sacred combination can be even more beneficial when you add in a walking meditation or just a few rounds of intentional, slow, conscious breathing. Barefoot walking can help to improve sleep, increase antioxidants, and reduce inflammation. The British Journal of Dermatology also found that “people who practice more mindfulness experience less distress and a better quality of life than those who do not,” and stress reduction is key to better skin.
Another tip, though possibly an unpopular opinion: stop saying the weather is bad! If we can appreciate colder weather as part of a natural and necessary cycle of birth, death and rebirth, we are likely to better see the beauty in this precursor to spring—with the proper warm attire, of course.
4. BEAUTY ROUTINES
Humans are such beauty and love oriented creatures, sometimes all we need is to give ourselves some basic tender loving care. The inner glow is a garden that we must keep up with on a daily basis to truly reap the results of beauty and radiance externally. The herbs and potions usually recommended to prevent the winter blues also naturally fall under the category of beauty elixirs.
Chemically speaking, this group tends to contain loads of vitamins C and D, phytonutrients, serotonin enhancement, and oxygen for the blood. In TCM, the health of the kidneys are reflected in a variety of ways, like the vitality of head hair, for which He Shou Wu is a classic herb often used to strengthen hair. And if you’re like the numerous respondents in this survey who say that the state of the world’s current events are keeping them up at night, it’s time to unplug with deep intention before you turn out the lights. To get started, read up on some of our favorite winter self-care rituals, and choose at least one to implement this week. Give yourself a deadline for when you’ll turn off all screens (at least 30-60 minutes before bed), and stick to it. Consider a facial and body care routine for your skin that has at least a few steps—wash, exfoliate, moisturize, for example—and take your time lavishing over that vital, often taken for granted organ of yours! To close out the routine, try a body scan or a yoga nidra practice, a sort of shutting off the lights in the rooms of the house that is your one precious vessel. Here are a few beauty practices to enhance your winter wellness routines:
While traditional DIY rinses for hair growth include mostly nettle, we’ve upgraded the recipe with other allies that nourish, strengthen, and support hair growth and scalp health. With garden fresh nettle as the main base, we also love adding silica-rich powerhouses like horsetail and oat straw, as well as gynostemma, steeping for eight or more hours for full medicinal potency. Get the recipe here.
Make an antioxidant rich beauty blend with healing, mineral-rich bentonite and vitamin C powerhouse mangosteen hibiscus. Absorb and remove toxins, heavy metals, and other impurities while oxygenating and rejuvenating the skin. Or try one of these herbalist-recommend homemade clay masks for every skin type—get all the recipes here.
In devotional ceremonies, this blossom has been a symbol of love, protection, and the blessing of higher consciousness. Click here for the full ritual remedy, and prepare to sink into a bless-full bath. For our full medicinal bath guide for energetic cleansing and deep relaxation, visit our blog here.
Simple daily skincare is an excuse to spend time taking good care of yourself, face first. As Certified Lymphadema Therapist Lisa Levitt Gainsley writes, “Lymph constantly replenishes us. Every cell in your body is literally bathed by its fluid; it’s the often overlooked missing link to vibrant health.” Caring for our skin—especially in the dryer and colder months of the year—is not only a way to beat back the signs of aging and to appear more attractive. It’s a way to gently attend to our lymphatic system, which is often overworked and ignored. Healthy skin builds confidence and boosts the lymphatic system all at once. For even more beauty practices to start this winter, try one of these Ayurvedic self-care rituals to make this a whole season of nurturing you.
5. SUPERCHARGE YOUR FOOD + MEDICINE
Some recent studies have demonstrated that talking to your plants can help them grow faster. So why wouldn’t talking to your food and medicine have a similar effect? Consider offering a prayer of gratitude and wonder for the nutrients your body is about to receive, singing a song from your heart, or manifesting excellent health before you consume your food or medicine. Then, eat slowly and mindfully to reap all the benefits of supercharging your consumable treasures. The impacts are not just those science has sought to identify and measure; your psyche, your emotional body, and your spirit are more likely to receive the maximum potency of your plant medicine potions when they are being activated by meaningful words and intentional acts of preparation, serving, and enjoying them.
As winter is a time of slowing down for nearly all creatures, it may also be the perfect pause for you to reconsider whether or not your food and medicine has been treated with love and care—where it comes from, how it is harvested, and what it had to endure or overcome to get to you. Give thanks!
HERBS FOR WINTER WELLNESS
Colds & Flu Tonic for fast relief + recovery from viral infections
Black Elderberry Elixir for potent organic herbal antivirals
Mangosteen Hibiscus for a vitamin C antioxidant boost
Pau D’Arco for an antiviral, anti-inflammatory “heal all”
Chaga for immunity + mental performance boosting
Breathe Tea for anti-microbial respiratory health support