Herbs for Fall and Winter Wellness
As summer gasps its last breath, fall comes rolling right in on its heels. Fall brings coolness and warm, bright colors—but it also brings the dreaded cold and flu season.
While fall and winter are wonderful times of rest and rejuvenation, they can also be very draining on the body. Inactivity and being indoors spreads viruses and germs that constantly bombard the body’s immune system. This can lead to an overall decrease in health and wellness.
Luckily, we can preventatively stave off many common illnesses by using herbs. Herbs are a great way to treat illness by addressing the root of the issue—not just the resulting symptoms. In particular, seven herbs, specifically chosen for their ability to strengthen and heal the body, can improve health throughout the fall and winter seasons.
One of the most important health-boosting herbs is Astragalus (Astragalus memabranaceus). Also called milk-vetch, the root of this herb has deep immune-building properties, due to a high Vitamin A content and glycosides. These sugar-based molecules help to bind toxins and remove other harmful substances from the body.
One of the most famous herbs used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Astragalus can increase white blood cell immune activity. Oral doses given over several months have been shown to increase immune substances, antibody levels, and lymphocytes.1
One great way to integrate Astragalus into your daily routine is to simply add it to soups and stews. Simmer a few sticks for a couple of hours, and you have a great-tasting and immune-building meal. It can also be prepared as a tea by simmering a few sticks in water for 2 to 3 hours. Astragalus is great for digestion, as well.
In addition to supplementing your body with a deep immune-booster, it is also important to enrich your diet with vitamins and minerals. Nettle (Urtica urens) is the perfect herb to assist you with this. It contains many important minerals such as iron, silica, potassium, manganese, and sulfur. Vitamins A and C are also present in high amounts.2
Medicinally, the herb stimulates the lymph system, affecting the glands and lymph nodes. 1 Throwing a handful of Nettle into soups, sauces, or dips is a great way to integrate it into your diet, as is steaming Nettle. A tea can also be prepared by steeping the aerial parts (leaves and stems) in hot water. Also good for anemia and eczema, Nettle provides your body with the nutrients it needs to stay healthy and strong.
Another delicious way to increase your immunity is to take Rose hips. These hips, from the Rosa spp., form in autumn and are the fruit surrounding the Rose seed. Each tiny little hip is packed with Vitamin C, a well-known immune system booster.
Rose hips also support adrenal function and act to improve glandular function during times of wear and tear to the body.1 Drinking Rose hip tea or making hips into a delicious spread are two pleasant ways to add this vitamin to your diet.
Echinacea is another popular immunity remedy. First used by the indigenous North Americans, the root or leaves of Echinacea purpurea or Echinacea angustifolia plants have a reputation for enhancing the immune system.
Research has shown that Echinacea stimulates the production of white blood cells, which fight off infection, and Echinacea’s polysaccharides (complex carbohydrates) also have an antiviral function.2 In addition, it has shown antifungal properties and helps to clear the lymphatic system.
This amazing herb is best taken in tea or tincture form (15 to 30 drops daily). Steeping leaves in hot water makes an excellent tea; decocting, or boiling down, the root for 20 to 45 minutes is another great way to add Echinacea to your diet.
For best results, begin using Echinacea immediately after being exposed to a pathogen or when you are exhibiting illness symptoms. Discontinue use after 10 to 14 days, as this herb is most beneficial if it is not taken on a daily basis. After two weeks of continuous use, Echinacea actually may wear on and depress the immune system. 3
Even after preventatively building and strengthening your immune system, illness, such as respiratory ailments, may still occur. Elder (Sambucus nigra) flowers can be used to soothe and heal the upper respiratory system.
Elder protects the mucous membranes from infection and congestion. Elder berries are high in flavonoid compounds, which act as antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and immunotonic agents.2 When simmered with honey or sugar, elder berries make a delicious cough and cold syrup. You can also gargle a cold tea made from elder flowers to alleviate a sore throat.
However, Slippery elm bark (Ulmus fulva) is an even better herb to soothe sore throats and hacking coughs. Also called sweet elm, the dried inner bark is used for its mucilages, starches, and tannins. This chemical structure of the plant decreases irritation to the membranes that line the respiratory passages by coating the passages and creating an astringent environment.1 The finely powdered inner bark also can be flavored with a little cinnamon or nutmeg and used as a nourishing food for children.
The most common Slippery elm bark preparation is a tea or gruel, in which the bark is steeped for 10 to 15 minutes in order to release soothing mucilages that coat the throat and ease pain.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is often combined with the previously discussed herbs. The flowers of this beautiful herb are commonly prepared as a hot tea to induce a therapeutic sweat, which cools fevers and expels toxins. This is due to the presence of flavonoids in the plant, which dilate the peripheral arteries and encourage blood flow to the skin. 2
Encouraging this blood flow also brings more oxygen to the tissues, which enables immune cells to function at their peak and ward off infection.
Staying healthy during those long winter months can be challenging. Combat illness by providing your body with the essential nutrients it needs to stay healthy. Strengthen your immune system to fight off pathogens, and treat illness with medicines that ease symptoms and heal the root issues. It is a formula which will bring you optimal health and wellness throughout the seasonal cycle.
Elder berry syrup
2 cups fresh elder berries
1 cup raw sugar or ¾ cup pure vegetable glycerin
Combine the berries and sugar and slowly heat to a simmer for 3 minutes.
Remove from heat, mash, and steep the mixture for 30 minutes.
Puree, strain, and bottle.
Use ½ to 1 tablespoon per dose, 3 times daily.
This is an excellent base for mixing with other immune-boosting and antiviral tinctures to make them more palatable. Keep refrigerated when storing for longer than 2 months.1
Rose hip spread
2 cups rose hips
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
Put water and sugar in a pan and boil until the sugar has melted. Slice hips in half and add to sugar mixture; cook gently for 1 hour. Strain through a sieve and cool.
Kristin Henningsen is an adjunct professor with Kaplan University’s School of Health Sciences and teaches courses such as Vitamins, Herbs, and Nutritional Supplements and Contemporary Diet and Nutrition. Ms. Henningsen has deep roots in the fields of ethnobotany and herbal medicine. After receiving both her Bachelor of Science in Botany and Bachelor of Arts in Cultural Anthropology, Ms. Henningsen went on to complete her Master of Science in Biology at Northern Arizona University where she studied the medicinal plants of the area, focusing on their traditional uses by the 13 Native American tribes in the region. She has also worked as a research assistant with the nonprofit organization the Arizona Ethnobotanical Research Association, completing a field guide to the native plants of Arizona amongst other projects.
Ms. Henningsen has extended this work into the field of complementary and alternative medicine. She is a certified and practicing consulting herbalist, and is the proprietor of an herbal health and healing company. She has been researching, using, and teaching about medicinal plants for more than 10 years. Ms. Henningsen is also a certified yoga instructor and utilizes yoga therapy as an alternative healing technique.