Winter is here and Yule (Christmas) is fast approaching. This time of year it’s very important to slow down, to take time to be introspective and right now is a good time to redefine your health. I hear all too often that people actually put their health on the back burner during this time to buy presents for friends and family. What is a better gift for your friends and family than to take care of yourself? A healthier you means more memories with family. Let’s take a look at 5 of my favorite winter herbs to keep you healthy and happy.
Yarrow, easily my favorite herb of all time. The flowers are beautiful, it smells good, and all the benefits it provides are astounding. Yarrow grows all over the world but more specifically in temperate and subarctic regions, making it useful and available to a large number of people. I personally try to use herbs that are directly available in my area or that I can grow myself.
Why do I recommend this herb to everyone, everywhere, all at once? That is a great question! Yarrow is probably one of the oldest known herbs and easily the most fascinating and no home herbal first aid kit can be complete without it. It helps in coagulation of cuts or deep wounds (styptic) and it is considered antiseptic. There is a ton of information from modern herbalists and scientists researching the benefits of yarrow and its next awesome ability, inflammation. Inflammation is something that most modern humans deal with on a daily basis due to lifestyle choices. Yarrow has a cold and moistening energetic signature. Inflammation is typically due to heat and a dry constitution so Yarrow goes in and helps to bring this heat down and restore moisture to inflamed areas. Ibn-Sina (a muslim physician and philosopher) observed that yarrow can also help act as a blood thinner and clear obstructions. If you have ever had the opportunity to smell fresh Yarrow then you are probably very familiar with its sinus clear effects. As a salve Yarrow is great to help support the healing of burns and bruises.
I want to mention that Yarrow on its own can be a very overwhelming flavor. We highly recommend combining it with other more enjoyable herbs to reduce its bitter and intense taste. Even back in the day when we were making our Igni Exire Yarrow was a very prominent flavor in that blend and made it difficult for some people to enjoy. Nowadays we have combined yarrow with Raw Cacao and a few other herbs to make an herbal hot chocolate. It’s a delicious way to enjoy all the wonderful benefits of Yarrow.
Lemon Balm. I feel this delicate plant is very overlooked as a winter support herb. It helps open the heart and the mind while feeding the soul with happiness. Lemon Balm has delicate looking white flowers that come out right before fall but her leaves are where all the amazing medicinal value is held. Lemon Balm smells great and is typically found in bug repellents, which isn’t surprising. Lemon Balm can also grow to heights of 3 feet! That’s a lot of leaves. Did you know that you can add fresh Lemon Balm to a salad?
Lemon Balm is a calming nervine meaning it helps with mild symptoms of mental stress, supports a healthy sleep pattern, and eases gastrointestinal upset (brain-gut connection). The European Medicines Agency (2013) listed these three well documented applications. Modern herbalists use Lemon Balm when working with children to make teas or tinctures more palatable and even desired. There have even been a few trails of working with Lemon Balm to help with hyperthyroidism and hyperadrenalism. Lemon Balm has been used for centuries to uplift the spirit, helping to support those going through anxiety, nervousness, or depression. It’s also called a trophorestorative which means that Lemon Balm can tone, nourish, and restore balance to the body as it works. Pretty cool if I do say so myself.
Ginkgo Biloba, the world's oldest singular medicinal tree (don’t fact check me on that one), there is only one variety of Ginkgo while most other medicinal herbs have many different varieties. Most resources consider Ginkgo to be a living fossil with some plants being dated back 250 million years old. This tree bears little resemblance to any other tree that we know of and I think that makes it all the more unique further touting its special medicinal properties.
Ready for a really long word? Proanthocyanidins aka tannins in Ginkgo have been shown to strongly contribute to antioxidant effects, meaning Ginkgo is a powerful plant when dealing with all the free radicals we put into our bodies. Vegetable Oils (especially when heated) produce a large amount of free radicals in the body. Ginkgo strongly supports the circulatory system and the vascular system making it a great ally for the winter months. It has been shown to help support the balance of blood pressure, support vasodilation, and improve blood vessel tone. Your blood vessels are actually supposed to be more football shaped than round. This makes it a great herb for all the organs in your head! Ginkgo has positive effects on ocular blood flow, balancing issues with the inner ear, and supports the brain in cognitive function and memory.
All in all I think Ginkgo is a powerful full body herb that goes great in anyone's herbal cabinet. The trees are strong and hardy, lasting 1,000s of years. To me that really speaks to the constitution that you are inviting into your body, strength, wisdom, and longevity. We offer Ginkgo in one of my favorite tinctures, Clear Mind.
When working with medicinal plants such as these three, Yarrow (Achillea Millefolium), Lemon Balm (Melissa Officinials), and Ginkgo (Ginkgo Biloba) it’s important to source your material properly. If you are making tinctures any defect, heavy metal, or weed killing agent is going to be present and amplified. Make sure you know exactly how your plants are being taken care of or ask for a testing certificate, places like Starwest Botanicals and Mountain Rose Herbs will be able to provide you with certificates showing exactly what they tested for and how it ranked.
If you’re trying to work with a local farmer make sure they know what they are doing, are willing to give you an open door farm tour, and are being totally transparent about their growing practices. Just because they have an organic certificate doesn’t mean they aren’t spraying pesticides on their plants. Yes, there are pesticides approved by the USDA for use on organic farms. This is why testing is so important. But don’t let that stop you from working with local farms or independent growers, just be mindful. Maybe double up on your Clear Mind that day.
Medicinal herbs are all around us every day, even hiding under the snow in some cases. It’s so important to make ourselves familiar with these powerful plants so that we can support ourselves and make informed decisions around our health. If you enjoyed this article consider taking a look at our e-book “Your Guide to Seasonal Herbal Support” for more information about great winter herbs and delicious herbal recipes to give your body that extra bit of support this winter.