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The Herbalist Guide to Winter

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

Just as nature changes from season to season, so does we.

Seasonal wellness is a philosophy embraced by Ayurvedic & Traditional Chinese Medicine Herbalists..

These ancient medicine systems have a fundamental belief that we should adjust our diet, lifestyle & herbal remedies with each season to optimize our health & wellbeing.

In this guide you'll learn about the effects that winter has on the body & how we can optimize our wellbeing for the season ahead.

Winter marks the end of the seasons. This is a dormant time of year when the external energy that accumulated during Summer migrates inwards. During this time we are naturally more introverted and introspective as we begin our own process of "hibernation" and rest.

How Winter Effects the Body

Each season is dominated by one of the main four elements - water fire, air and earth.

During winter the predominant element is water. This water element is associated with the kapha dosha of Ayurveda which has the constitution of being damp, heavy, sluggish and cold.

We too can expect to develop these tendencies of kapha which may manifest as the following ailments in the winter months:

  • Low Energy/Sluggishness

  • Fluid Retention

  • Blood Sugar Imbalances

  • Low Immunity

  • Swollen Lymph Nodes

  • Wet or Heavy Cough

  • Sinus Congestion

  • Indigestion

  • Excess Mucus & Phlegm

  • Depression

  • Weight Gain

The water element is also associated with the lungs in Ayurveda and the kidneys in Traditional Chinese Medicine. These medicine systems believe that we should keep our lungs & kidneys healthy throughout winter to prevent seasonal illness.

Mental & Emotional Tendencies of Winter

In Traditional Chinese medicine there is a fundamental concept that every organ corresponds to the energy of a certain emotion. Therefore, every physical disorder can be caused by an emotion. The reverse is also true that an imbalance in that organ can heighten or cause that associated emotion (talk about a vicious cycle!).

The kidney is linked with the emotions of fear and wisdom.

When the kidneys are out of balance you may experience fear through an excess of anxiety, worry, lack of trust and willpower, low motivation, paranoia and overthinking.

When the kidneys are in balance you can expect an increase in willpower, ambition, purpose, destiny, force and self-determination.

The lungs are linked with the emotion of grief.

When the lungs are out of balance you may experience feelings of heaviness, grief, sadness and depression.

When in balance the lungs are a source of pride and courage.

Winter is a chance to support the lungs and kidneys to release fear & grief, build inner willpower, enhance courage and pride. In doing so we can "spring into action" in the following season.

This healing is a "yin" or passive process which can only be done when we retreat inward, rest, slow down. Winter invites us to withdraw and take that much needed time to explore our inner depths, emotions, busy mind and understand ourselves more deeply.

Consider winter by society-standards an "unproductive" time.


What to Eat During Winter

  • Limit raw, cold & damp foods which exacerbate kapha qualities. Kapha inducing foods include dairy products, sugar, smoothies, cold food & drinks, banana, dates, mango, grapes, juices, ice-cream, frozen desserts.

  • Increase intake of warming herbs and spices such as ginger, fennel, cinnamon, turmeric

  • Winter is the only season in which stimulants are recommended. This is an optimal time to consumes hot spices, garlic, cacao, coffee and ginseng to counteract the sluggish kapha energy.

  • Include warming foods such as soups, slow cooked meals, stews, casseroles, broths and herbal tea to warm up the cold kapha energy of winter.

Specific foods to include more of this winter:

  • Ginger, Cardamon, Clove, Fennel, Cinnamon, Cayenne, Anise, Black Pepper

  • Ceremonial Grade Cacao

  • Dark Green Leafy Vegetables

  • Beans, Legumes, Lentils

Ayurvedic Kapha Balancing Kitchari Recipe

  • Spices: 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, 1/2 tsp brown mustard seeds, 1/4 tsp black pepper, 1 tsp ginger powder, 1/8th tsp cayenne pepper, 1 tsp turmeric, 1 tsp fennel seeds, 1/2 tsp

  • 5C Water

  • 1C Lentils

  • Vegetables: 2 celery stalks (diced), 1C Cauliflower, 1/2C Broccoli, 2C Spinach, 1 parsnip (diced)

  • 1/2C Quinoa

  • 1 Lemon (juiced)

  • Coriander (for topping)

  • 1 Tbsp Olive Oil

1. Warm the olive oil over medium heat in a large sauce pan. Once hot, add in the spices. Sauté for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.

2. Add in the water and increase the heat to high. Cover the pan and bring it to a boil.

3 Once boiling, reduce the heat to medium and add in the lentils. Stir well and cover the pan, leaving a large crack in the lid. Cook for 15 minutes stirring halfway.

4. After 15 minutes, add the quinoa & vegetables. Stir well and cover, keeping the lid slightly cracked. Cook over a medium-low heat for 10 minutes, stirring every 3 to 4 minutes. If the kitchari becomes too thick, carefully add more water by the quarter cup.

5. In the last 5 minutes add the spinach, stirring every 5 minutes to avoid kitchari sticking to the bottom of the hand

6. Turn off the heat, but leave the pan on the hot burner. Add in the fresh lemon juice and salt. Stir well. Cover the pan and let the kitchari sit for a few minutes to allow the flavors to harmonize.


Lifestyle Practices for Winter

Dry Skin Brushing: During winter there is a tendency to have a sluggish lymphatic and circulatory system. The lymphatic system is the garbage disposal system of the body. Sluggish lymphatics can give rise to swollen nodes, frequent illness, skin conditions, cold hands & feet and fluid retention. Try a daily skin brushing practice to move the lymphatic system, increase circulation & warmth in the body.

Yin & Restorative Yoga: During winter we should embrace the yin energy of rest and rejuvenation by putting to rest any endurance or competitive exercise. A weekly yin or restorative yoga practice is highly recommended to provide space for inner contemplation.

Rest, Rest, Rest: Winter is a period of hibernation and so you will likely have less energy over these next few months. Take this time to go slow, rest and rejuvenate. The recommendation is to avoid over-committing, simplifying your schedule and prioritize rest. Do only what you have the capacity to do. A daily meditation or journalling practice would be extremely beneficial during winter.

High Intensity Exercise: A weekly yin yoga session creates space for us to receive the beneficial yin energy of winter during the busy of our everyday life. However, if you are someone with an inactive or sedentary lifestyle this is also a great time to start high-intensity interval training towards the end of winter. Too much inactivity over winter can cause excess "kapha" to accumulate in the body. Balance is key!

Cacao Ceremony: Consider coming along to the monthly cacao ceremonies hosted here at The Herb Farm. Cacao is a gentle stimulant which counteracts the heavy kapha energy of winter. Cacao also invokes a state of inner clarity, meditation, internal reflection, deeper wisdom & knowing.

You can also purchase your own ceremonial cacao HERE. You can use the discount code STORM on checkout for 10% off.

For a guide on how to make ceremonial cacao you can check this recipe out HERE.

Sauna: A regular sauna during winter can warm up your core temperature to produce a temporary artificial fever. The benefits are increased sweating which can eliminate excess water or "kapha" accumulating over winter. A sauna can also reduce risk for infection, increase circulation & warmth.


Herbal Remedies for Winter

Winter is the perfect time to dose up on herbs which are:

  • Warming - to combat coldness of the body, increase lymphatic flow

  • Stimulating - to reduce winter fatigue and heaviness

  • Drying, Diuretic & Lymphatic - to eliminate excess phlegm, mucus and dampness in the body

  • Immune Boosting - to ward off winter ills & chills

  • Beneficial for the Kidneys & Lungs - the key organs of winter

Specific herbs for winter include:

  • Calendula

  • Siberian Ginseng

  • Echinacea

  • Thyme

  • Dandelion

  • Reishi Mushroom

  • Ceremonial Cacao

  • Chaga Mushroom

  • Ginger

  • Cayenne

Immune Boosting Ceremonial Cacao Elixir

30g Ceremonial Grade Cacao Paste

1C Plant Based Milk

1/2 Tsp Reishi Mushroom Powder

1/4 Tsp Dried Ginger

1/2 Tsp Chaga Mushroom Powder

1/2 Tsp Cinnamon

1 Tsp Agave

Directions: Add all ingredients to a pot. Warm slowly on the stovetop for 10-15 minute. Enjoy daily.

About the Author

Storm is a Qualified Naturopath & Medical Herbalist. She sees clients both in-person and through zoom for one-on-one health consultations, custom herbal formulations & care plans.

Storm also hosts regular herbal medicine retreats & workshops to help you can discover your own version of wellness.

You can connect with Stor through her website or instagram (@functionalnaturopathy)

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