The summer months have faded into fall as many look forward to the winter adventures the Comox Valley has to offer. In order to take advantage, it’s important to care for our bodies in a way that is unique to the season. Three main areas that need care this time of year are mental health, inner warmth, and immune strength.
BEATING THE BLUES
For many people, lack of vitamin D from the sun during winter can lead to depression. This can be exacerbated by the holiday season, stress, lack of exercise, poor diet and tiredness. There are proactive ways to lessen the impact of the season on mental health. High quality cod liver oil, or liquid vitamin D drops of 2000 I.U. or higher per day, can help. Essential fatty acids—especially fish oils—give your brain the boost it needs to keep depression at bay, and support immune and joint function.
Be sure to get exercise during the winter. When the sun does shine, get out for walks, jogs, or bike rides. Getting into the mountains to ski, snowboard or snowshoe can help access that valuable vitamin D.
Recommended: Saint Johns Wort
Saint John’s Wort is a well-known antidepressant that helps with mild depression. It’s effective taken internally as a tincture, or applied topically as an oil. It is not recommended to take Saint John’s wort if you are already taking antidepressant medication. Other herbs for keeping your spirits up in the winter months are: lemon balm, holy basil, rose petals, milky oats, nettles, or lemon grass.
At this time of year it’s important to keep your inner fire kindled. Try to stay away from cooling foods such as ice cream or milk, lots of uncooked veggies and fruit, and soda. Instead, top up on herbal teas, stewed fruit like spiced apple sauce, and lightly steamed veggies and greens. Soups and broths are especially nourishing foods, and can be made in many ways so you never get bored. Keep bones or veggie trimmings on hand to make rich broth, and experiment with herbs and spices early on while the broth is simmering to impart health and flavour. Some warming ingredients to consider: garlic, onions, leeks, shallots, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, chilies, cayenne, cloves, black pepper, coriander, or cardamom. You can also add root herbs like: astragalus, ginseng, dong quai, or medicinal mushrooms such as reishi, chaga, and turkey tail.
Everyone is sneezing and coughing during winter. The best way to avoid catching sickness is to boost the immune system, rather than fight a sickness once it sets in. Astragalus and medicinal mushrooms are great for strengthening the immune system. You can use them in broths, as a tea (simmered for 1545 mins), as a powder added to drinks, or as a tincture.
Recommended: Vitamin C
Taking vitamin C, or foods high in bioflavonoids, help your immune system to stay strong. Rose hips, hawthorn, schizandra, elderberries, blueberries, goji, acai and camu are some examples. Any colourful foods like berries, yams, squash, or peppers are also high in bioflavonoids.
Take action the moment you feel you’re coming down with illness. The sooner you activate your immune system, the faster it works. Echinacea is great for early stages of immune imbalance, though if it lasts longer than a day or two you will have to go deeper. For viral infections try elderberries, lomatium, thyme or lemon balm. If you have a bacterial infection try garlic, Oregon grape, goldenseal or usnea.
There is always a herb to help when you get imbalanced. With some discernment, lots of water, tea and rest, the herbs you take and the foods you eat should be enough to keep you and your family healthy throughout the winter months.
All of the herbs suggested in this Article are available at Harmonic Arts Botanical Dispensary in the Comox Valley or at harmonicarts.ca. For more information on herbal medicine and local plants go to youtube.com/TheHarmonicArts.