The theme of this season is warming up, slowing down, and allowing the body to rest and recuperate from the hectic pace of modern life. While we give a lot of our attention to special diets and recipes that can enhance wellness, there is a type of food that often goes overlooked: HERBS!!
Yes, herbs. And one of the most satisfying ways to introduce their healing powers into our bodies is by brewing them into a tea. Enjoying a few mugs of herbal tea a day is an easy and inexpensive way to include a powerful, health-supportive habit in our daily rhythms. A mug of hot tea can calm the mind and relax the body and soothe the mind. And the array of available herbs makes for a wonderful opportunity to experiment with new herbs and flavors (more on that in a moment...).
While spices can come from the roots, rhizomes, stems, leaves, bark, flowers, fruits, and seeds of plants, herbs are typically thought of as non-woody plants. The list of herbs used by humankind over the millennia is truly impressive, with each continent offering an amazing variety of herbs to utilize. As far back as 4,500 years ago, humans made use of herbs as healing and flavoring agents - they harnessed the power of botanicals for immune support, hormonal balance, and overall wellness.
Happily, the wisdom of using herbs is alive and well - there are many, many books explaining the properties of each and every herb under the sun*. We like to include herbal teas throughout the day, sipping them with our meals (many improve digestion) and enjoying them between meals. We love that herbal teas do not caffeine, which means they are kind to the adrenals, kidneys, brain, skin, and more. A few of our favorites during cooler weather are:
Holy Basil (Tulsi)
Holy Basil is a traditional Ayurvedic remedy for colds and flu, which are so prevalent in the fall and winter months. It is a strong antioxidant with demonstrated antibacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory properties. it is also a powerful adaptogenic herb, which means it supports the body's response to stress. Tired adrenals love tulsi tea! According to Dr. Josh Axe, tulsi tea can be used to reduce anxiety, alleviate adrenal fatigue, and manage blood sugar levels. We love tulsi tea for it's herbal, almost-grassy flavor and there are many lovely combinations to be found on your grocer's shelves. As with any food, choose organic whenever possible.
Part of the botanical family that includes cardamom and turmeric, ginger has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic Medicine for over 4,700 years. The key component of ginger is gingerol, a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. Ginger can be enjoyed in a ready-made teabag, or you can grate the fresh root into a cup or pot of hot water. Ginger is known for relieving nausea, reducing inflammation, improving circulation, and warming a chilled body on a cold day. It is great for the cooler months since it aids digestion of proteins and boosts immunity. Win, win!
Though you may not have heard of this herb quite yet, know that it is a strong ally in your journey of balance and wellness. As recently as 2008 the National Institute of Health called moringa (moringa oleifera) the “plant of the year,” stating that “perhaps like no other single species, this plant has the potential to help reverse multiple major environmental problems and provide for many unmet human needs.” Wow, what an endorsement! So what can it do for our bodies? Like many herbs, moringa is a potent antioxidant. It is used to treat diabetes, cancer, allergies and asthma, arthritis, digestive issues, thyroid disorders, kidney stones, and bacterial, fungal, viral and parasitic infections. What's more, it is quite high in vitamins A and C, as well as protein, potassium, and calcium. Once again, herbs aren't simply for making good-tasting teas, they are FOOD!
A well-loved tea for relaxing before bedtime, chamomile also supports the immune system. A study published in American Chemical Society’s Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry found that when German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) tea was consumed five times a day for two weeks, markers of antibacterial activity increased in participants. And chamomile tea elevates levels of glycine, a known nerve relaxant, which makes it an effective anxiety and stress reliever. Perfect for the holidays...
Echinacea is one of the most widely known herbal medicines in American folk herbalism and is famous for its ability to strengthen the immune system. The University of Connecticut evaluated 14 studies and determined that echinacea cuts the chances of catching a common cold by 58 percent AND reduces the duration of the common cold by almost one-and-a-half days. Echinacea is available as a tincture (add to water), in capsule form, or as a tea. There are many brands on the market; Yogi Tea and Traditional Medicinals both have a great variety of teas and are among our favorite brands.
What are some herbs you are excited to add to your daily routine? What are some old favorites?
*A few of our favorite authors are James Green (The Herbal Medicine-Makers Handbook: A Home Manual and The Make Herbal: The Definitive Health Care Book for Men and Boys) and Juliette de Baïracli Levy (Common Herbs for Natural Health); there are many more.