Have you ever wondered, what does it really mean to be healthy? And why do we get sick in the first place?
Winter season, though beautiful and cozy, can sometimes bring health challenges along with it. Particularly now, when the pandemic continues to affect populations all over the world, it urges us to reflect on the state of our health and wonder how to avoid falling ill. Winter, in general, is a time when people tend to fall under the weather, and battle colds and sniffles.
However, it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way. There are many things you can do to support your wellbeing this winter and ensure your body makes it through the cold months with a beaming state of health. Let’s explore some possibilities for how to maintain your immunity this winter.
Traditional Views of Winter and Immunity
Many ancient medicinal systems look at the body as an ecosystem, and see nature reflected within it. Winter brings the quality of inertia (or a state of rest), as nature returns down and inward, towards its roots. Many parts of the world experience a cold, damp quality to the environment during the winter. As the season builds, this cold and dampness can accumulate in our bodily systems, which can lead to imbalances like lower immunity.
It is helpful to pay attention to your natural surroundings as they change throughout the seasons, and learn how you can make choices that will balance the qualities in your body in accordance to the conditions outside. We’ll take a look at some healthy lifestyle habits that can help you to stay in harmony with nature.
When the body is in an imbalanced state, disease and its symptoms begin to occur. Symptoms should be viewed as an intelligent communication from the body, alerting us to imbalances in our health. Usually, rather than treating a specific symptom, ancient medical systems look at the entire person through various diagnostic techniques to best understand the root cause of the issue, and will aim to treat that root cause first, while often prescribing medicines to help alleviate its accompanying symptoms.
Traditional forms of medicine are slow medicine. Disease takes time to form, and therefore, time to untether. The aim of many traditional systems of medicine is preventative medicine – helping people find and maintain balance to avoid falling into disease. Strong immunity requires a lifestyle that is continuously supportive of keeping the body in a state of harmony in relation to the external world.
Rhythm and Routine for the Body
Nature moves in rhythms. In order to maintain resiliency and experience longevity in our life, it is crucial that we mimic nature. Just as the world around us flows through cycles, the body too, loves to have a routine.
Plants have a specific timing for everything. They move along with the changing energetics of their environment. If you saw a leafless plant go to flower in the dead of winter, then sprout new leaves, drop those leaves, then flower again, all in the same week, you might think something is very wrong.
In this same way, our bodies need some form of rhythm in order to operate optimally. Establishing a rhythm or routine in your life could look like waking up at the same time every day, always starting your morning with a cup of warm water or herbal tea, or lighting some incense. It could also mean eating in accordance to what foods nature is providing with each new season. Things like this will create regularity, and help support your body’s natural rhythm.
Immune Boosting Aromatic Plants
To say any one specific plant is ‘good for immunity’ would be a very generalistic statement. Every individual will have a different response and connection to a plant, so it is not accurate to say that for every person, a particular plant will help their immunity. It is most important that you get to know your own body, and learn what works best for you. However, any plant that is supportive to returning the body to its natural state, will ultimately help the immune system.
Here are a few of my favorite immune boosting herbs:
Ginger is a universal medicine for colds and flus. The Indian healing system of Ayurveda considers it to be one of the best plants for flu-like symptoms . It is said to work on all tissues of the body, with a particular affinity for the digestive and respiratory systems . Ginger has also traditionally been used to help aid with nausea and cramping . In general, it is a great herb to use for colds and flus.
Ginger is known to help keep circulation flowing during the cold weather, increasing your body temperature. It can be added to your cooking, or sipped as an herbal tea throughout the day. Another way to use Ginger for digestion is to make a Ginger pickle. Before a meal, cut or shred a small piece of Ginger, then add lime juice and a pinch of salt on top. Eating this will increase your appetite and prepare your digestive fire for a meal.
The Mint family can be both pungent and cooling in nature, and is often used to help aid stomach upset, indigestion, and sore, inflamed throats . Some common Mints that are used in traditional medicine are Peppermint, Spearmint, Catnip and Horsemint.
Mint family plants are often used to calm the mind and nervous system, and are helpful in relieving headaches, fevers, and flu symptoms. Ayurveda considers Mint to have ethereal qualities, which allows it to have clarifying and expanding effects, and helps to relieve mental tension .
Like Ginger, Cinnamon is considered a “universal medicine” used often for colds and congestion. Cinnamon has an affinity for the circulatory, digestive, respiratory and urinary systems . Traditionally, Cinnamon has also been used to relieve mild aches and muscle pains .
Evergreens such as Cedar, Fir, Cypress, Juniper, Spruce and Pine are staples in folk medicine for their effects on respiratory health and the immune system. Antibacterial and antimicrobial qualities can be found in the volatile oils of these plants, and when inhaled, can help mitigate unwanted pathogens in our respiratory tract.
Evergreens are traditionally thought to bring healing and protection. Throughout history, they have been used in people’s homes during the winter to help ward off negative energies, cleanse the air, and promote health throughout the cold months.
To enjoy these benefits, you can try burning evergreens as incense, put their essential oils into a diffuser, or simply simmer their needles in a pot on the stove this winter and let their fresh, woodsy scent fill your home.
Eucalyptus is typically used in clearing nasal passages and helping with colds and coughs due to its antibacterial properties . This plant has been valued all over the world throughout history for its essential oil, gum, pulp, timber and medicinal qualities.
Adding Eucalyptus essential oil to a diffuser or burning its leaves as incense is a great way to cleanse the air in your home. The powerful, fresh scent of Eucalyptus is uplifting and clarifying to the mind and senses.
The resin of Myrrh has been used therapeutically throughout history as incense, paste, in capsules, infusions, and ointments . It is one of the initial plants used as incense in many religious ceremonies and spiritual practices, and was burned as a way to honor the dead . Ancient cultures believed the aromatic properties of Myrrh helped to elevate consciousness .
Myrrh has antiseptic and antibacterial qualities and is commonly used for cold symptoms like congestion. It is also traditionally added to topical herbal salves for the treatment of wounds . Ayurveda says that Myrrh acts on the lungs, helps dispel repressed emotions, and its purifying effects can help reach our subtle bodies .
Many people have likely come across this essential oil in their life, as it has become widely used all over the world for its medicinal effects. Tea Tree oil is derived from the Australian native plant Melaleuca alternifolia. It is known for its antibacterial, antimicrobial, anti-fungal and antiviral qualities .
Ancient peoples traditionally used Tea Tree oil for easing colds and flus, insect bites and skin infections . Add a few drops of Tea Tree essential oil to simmering water on the stove, use in an essential oil diffuser or burn as incense to bring qualities of this plant into your space.
Immunity Herbs (Non-Aromatics)
Echinacea is known for its antibacterial, antiviral and antiseptic actions . In both western herbalism and eastern medical systems, it is used as a detoxifier, with a particular indication for the blood and lymphatic system .
Echinacea can be helpful in relieving lung infections, and is often used in a tincture form . Due to its antibacterial and detoxifying properties, use caution with this plant, as long time usage may not be necessary for your body.
Elderberry is commonly used in folk medicine for supporting the immune system . Elderberry can be found in most grocery stores today, as the plant is well known for its protective qualities against colds and flus. The plant is a great source of vitamins A and C, calcium, iron and vitamin B6 .
Elderberry is traditionally indicated for relieving cold and sinus congestion, sore throats, improving respiration, and treating an upset stomach . There are many ways you can introduce Elderberry into your system, as it is commonly prepared in food, syrup, cough drops, gummies, tea, capsules and liquid extracts.
Ashwagandha is revered in Ayurvedic medicine for its rejuvenating effects on the body. It’s said to support vitality and the aging process, relieve nerve exhaustion, emaciation, tissue deficiency, weakness, fatigue, coughs, infertility, breathing difficulties, memory loss, and loss of muscular energy . It is also said to be nurturing, clarifying and calming to the mind, helping to support sound sleep . Deep, restorative sleep can be extremely supportive to building the immune system.
Ashwagandha in powdered form can be taken alone with warm water, or added to warm milk with chai spices for a nourishing, restorative drink. It can also be found in capsule and tincture form.
Mullein is helpful in loosening and dispelling congestion and heat from the respiratory system and nasal passages . It is considered supportive for the lymphatic, respiratory, circulatory and nervous systems, and is commonly indicated for swollen glands, ear aches, fevers, asthma, bronchitis, sinusitis, coughs and insomnia .
Mullein is anti-inflammatory and cleansing in action, and overall helps to relieve any tension or irritation in the body . Mullein can be made as tea to relieve a cough, and help with poor sleep due to congestion .
Licorice root is effective in loosening mucus and helping to expel it from the lungs . In traditional medicine, it is indicated for coughs, colds, congestion, laryngitis, inflammation, bronchitis, sore throats, stomach aches, supporting the respiratory systems, and is considered rejuvenative for the body . It is sweet and mildly laxative, and can help to cleanse the lungs and stomach .
Ayurveda considers Licorice to be sattvic in quality, meaning to enhance a feeling of peace and serenity within. It is said to calm the mind, nourish cerebral spinal fluid, improve the voice, support the eyes, and give strength to the body .
Before taking any herb, it is highly recommended that you speak with a healthcare professional. As mentioned above, every plant will affect a person differently, so it is necessary that you find out whether or not a particular plant is going to be beneficial for you. It’s also important to consider drug-herb interactions if you are taking any pharmaceutical medications. Additionally, always read labels before purchasing an herbal product, to ensure that the plant has been sourced ethically and sustainably.
When considering holistic health and looking at the body as a whole system, it’s important to understand that using herbs to support your immune system is just one part of it. Other factors to consider include food, exercise, sleep, and mental health.
A healthy diet, eating with the seasons, and using food as medicine makes a big impact. In addition, having some form of movement and meditation practice can help you enter a state of rest and digest by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. This can be anything you like – going for walks, practicing yoga, hiking, biking – whatever brings you joy!
Furthermore, sleep plays a vital role in the quality of our health. Going to sleep at the same time every night greatly helps with balancing our body’s natural rhythm. If you have trouble falling asleep, or staying asleep through the night, there are some plants that can help, like previously mentioned Ashwagandha, as well as Passionflower, Skullcap, Valerian, Camomile, and Milky Oats. Typically, herbs indicated for the nervous system can be helpful in bringing relaxation. Again, not all of these plants will work in the same way for everyone. It’s important to learn how to understand your own body’s constitution and speak to a professional herbalist to help guide you to the herbs that will give you the best results.
Additionally, in Ayurveda, the mind and emotions are in direct correlation with the body and our wellbeing. How well we connect with others (and ourselves) has an incredible impact on our health. You could be doing everything right: eating the proper foods, using herbs, exercising, and going to bed early every night. But if you have dis-ease within your relationships, you may never find the state of health you are seeking.
To be alive means to be in relation to others and to nature. The inward direction of winter initiates a natural time for us to be reflective. This offers us a chance to look inward and see how we relate to all aspects of our life. If we have clarity in our relationships, our lives flow more harmoniously. But, when there is criticism of the self or others, it creates disruption in our system. How we relate to the world is everything. The more we can find ourselves in a state of love and peace within, the better our bodies will function.
There are an infinite amount of things we can do to help support our bodies through the winter season, as well as the pandemic. But the single most important thing we can do is listen to our body. We live in such a fast paced world, it becomes far too easy to drown out the subtle calls from within. But the body doesn’t lie – and if you learn to listen closely, it will reveal to you exactly what is needed to maintain a healthy existence.
As we move into a New Year, we can choose to live in a new way. Honor your energy levels by giving yourself permission to rest when you need to. Life is not a big race to win, but a journey to enjoy. Your body is ready to hold you through this transformation, and carry you through to a new level of vitality and alignment. All you have to do is trust in the healing potential of the plants, learn which ones you resonate with most, sit quietly, tune in to the subtle voice within, and let that innate wisdom be your guide.
Article Written By Dawn Gibson
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© 2022 The Northwest School of Aromatic Medicine. All rights reserved.
*The statements above have not been evaluated by the FDA, and are for educational purposes only. This article is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This article should not be taken as medical advice. Please consult your physician before you use this information for health purposes.