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Herbs and tips for winter wellness

As days get shorter and colder - warm blankets, cracking fires and hot drinks become particularly appealing. Yet, just because the weather is chilly, it doesn't mean you need to go into hibernation. You can be healthy and fit all winter long and not succumb to colds, flu, low moods or seasonal sluggishness with the help of diet, exercise, herbs and immune boosting wellness therapies.

1. Diet
As many fruits and vegetables are out of season in autumn and winter, exploring fermented and sprouted foods will provide you with the most nutrition. Most of your food, however, needs to be warm, cooked and easy to digest, as our body is sluggish and does not metabolise as effectively in the cold months of the year.

It is a perfect time for healthy comfort food, but if you are craving a salad, spice it up with ginger, garlic or cayenne pepper. In Ayurveda winter is often linked to kapha dosha characterised by cold, heavy, damp and stagnant qualities and hot spices are extremely useful for balancing these states. Mushrooms is another great ingredient to add to your meals. They contain high amounts of polysaccharides that are known for their ability to boost the immune system, fight inflammation and positively modulate gut flora. Eating cooked mushrooms, such as shiitake, maitake and others, at least twice a week, is an easy and powerful way to maintain and build resistance against pathogens.

Finally, don’t forget about root vegetables. They are packed with fiber, minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. Ask yourself at each meal whether vegetables make up 70% of your plate as it is the fibre from the vegetables that provides nutrition for the beneficial microbiota that fights pathogens and is responsible for serotonin production, very important nutrient for keeping our spirits high.

2. Exercise
Regular exercise encourages body’s production of endorphins and moves the lymph, which houses our immune cells and that help us fight infections. It also keeps our body warm, promoting better circulation and nutrient supply to organs and tissues. Take a brisk walk daily, go for a run, do some yoga, take up cycling or join a dance class.

3. Wellness therapies
Salt therapy, or Halotherapy involves breathing in air with tiny salt particles. It dates back to the mid-1800s when a physician in Poland noted that miners who worked in salt caves did not develop lung disease. Indeed, salt therapy is believed to aid in relieving respiratory ailments, such as asthma, allergies, bronchitis and other chest infections. It is a 100% natural therapy, which triggers anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and anti-allergic responses in the body. A sterile brine solution is injected into the air to create a salty climate. Once inhaled, these salt particles absorb irritants, including allergens and toxins, from the respiratory system. This process also breaks down mucus, resulting in clearer airways. It is recommended to use salt cave once a week for 20 minutes for prevention of colds and flu. Such an easy and enjoyable way to boost your immunity in preparation for winter! See below our Himalayan Salt Room in The Spa at Cloud Twelve.

4. Herbs
There are many beneficial herbs that can support us at this time of the year. Firstly, the adaptogents, such as Siberian ginseng, astragalus, ashwagandha and Rhodiola, will work to boost energy and vitality and enhance resilience to stress and disease. In fact, adaptogens are very gentle and can be taken all year round, whenever your body requires extra support.

If you do catch a cold or flu, take a hot infusion of elderflower, peppermint and yarrow to reduce fever and clear catarrh. Ginger tea with rosehips, lemon and raspberry preserve is also excellent, but make sure you also chew the ginger and feel it burn your throat to make the most of its antimicrobial action. Other immune-enhancing herbs, like echinacea, elecampane, olive leaf and mullein can be taken simultaneously, in a tincture form.

Aromatic inhalations or hot foot baths with eucalyptus, tea tree, rosemary or thyme will help clear catarrh and unblock nasal congestion. Mustard compress is another great preparation to decongest the lungs. Mustard has potent rubefacient properties, which means it promotes blood circulation, helps open the airways and makes it easier to cough and release phlegm. The simplest recipe is to mix one tablespoon of dry mustard with equal parts flour and add water to create a paste. Spread the mixture thinly on a paper towel and apply another paper towel on top so the mustard is sandwiched in the middle. Apply to chest area and cover with a blanket to encourage sweating. Keep for 10-15 minutes until the skin turns red and you feel a mild burning sensation. With children watch the skin carefully to avoid blistering and never apply mustard directly to the skin.

Another effective herbal preparation that you can make in the comfort of your kitchen is a cough syrup.

Herbs for coughs are ideally taken in soothing syrups that coat and ‘stick’ to the respiratory tract. Syrups are palatable and are particularly useful for dry cough due to their ‘moisturizing’ properties. I often use a combination of thyme, sage, oregano and ginger in my syrup preparations. Thyme and sage are great respiratory herbs with antimicrobial and decongestant properties. They are my go-to for wet cough, excess mucus, sore throat and chest infections. Oregano is an all-round immune booster, while ginger is an anti-septic warming circulatory stimulant which enhances immunity by warming the body and moving the lymph.

You can use many other aromatic herbs, as they all contain volatile oils which have antimicrobial and antiviral properties – eucalyptus, chamomile, rosemary, cloves, turmeric, lemon balm and mint.

Make an infusion of 50g of dried herbs - equal parts thyme, sage, oregano - (100g of fresh herbs) by soaking them in 600ml of boiling hot water for 20-30 minutes. Measure the strained liquid, add the same amount of sugar or any other sweetener (I used agave syrup due to its low glycemic index). Heat gently until the sugar is dissolved, simmer for 20 minutes, stirring until thickened. Keep in a cool dark place for up to 1 year, once opened keep in a fridge and use within 2 months. For extra preservation, you can add 5% of alcohol. (I used Ginger tincture)

Take as is or in hot liquid with lemon, it tastes lovely! Stay well and healthy!

Jenya Di Pierro
Herbal Medicine Practitioner, BA, MA, AMH, ANP

Tags: Health, Wellness, Tips, Herbs, Naturopathic Remedies | Author: Jenya Di Pierro, Herbalist & Naturopath

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