Winter Forest Remedies

Pine and spruce are abundant here in Nova Scotia. In this video you’ll learn some of the ways we can identify them and use them to keep us healthy in the winter.

Coltsfoot

Coltsfoot is the first bloom to appear in spring. Learn how it can help you transition into spring after a long winter.

April 2016 New beginnings!

Spring greetings! Welcome to my new website and first blog post. T’is the season for new beginnings. I am excited, and I’ll admit, a bit overwhelmed, by the technology at my disposal, yet I am ready to explore its worth – which to me is connecting more closely with you, my fellow herb enthusiasts.

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Herbs to Keep You Warm in Winter

Herbs of Fire

Naturally, when it is cold we effort to keep warm.  Some tolerate the cold better than others, just like some thrive in the summer heat while others wilt – it depends on ones constitution.

As a Nova Scotia resident you likely have well established rituals and habits for keeping warm during our cold winter season, like staying indoors more, cooked foods, wool, whisky, and fires.  My best winter survival techniques are soups, teas, and baths, and they all involve herbs.

If you want to warm up quickly, eat some horseradish.  It is traditionally eaten with meat and fatty foods to improve their digestion.  It also goes well with eggs, beans, fish, and sushi.  Horseradish has been used as a medicine for centuries.  It is a powerful circulatory stimulant.  It can be used internally and topically for arthritis, gout, and inflammation.  It is one the most effective remedies for clearing lung and sinus congestion.  Eat ½ tsp. 2-3 times daily to clear up a persistent congestive cold.

Ginger is always in my winter teapot, either fresh or dried.  In addition to being a good cold and flu remedy, it is a digestive stimulant, anti-inflammatory and a remedy for nausea.  It makes a great poultice for congestive colds.  To 2 cups boiled water add 1 tsp. ginger powder. Soak a cloth in the liquid, wring it out then drape it across the chest, covering up with blankets to keep warm.  Repeat several times on the front and back.  Try it in a foot bath – in a basin full of hot water add 1 tsp. ginger powder, soak for 15-20 minutes to take the chill off.

When I need to thaw out after being out in the cold, nothing feels better than a hot soak. With the addition of herbs, an ordinary bath can become fragrant and therapeutic.  Herbs have been used as part of bathing rituals for centuries. In addition to immersion, water was sprinkled, splashed, poured and sweated to heighten the spiritually cleansing aspect of bathing.

“A daily spiritual bath is an easy way to start paying attention to your spirit and soul as well as your body.” ~ Tieraona Low Dog, M.D. and Herbalist

A herbal bath can ease the stresses of daily life, bringing a peaceful state of mind. If you don’t have a full tub, a hand or foot bath will work. I recommend herbal baths for people who have anxiety and insomnia.  To prepare a healing bath you simply make a super strong tea and add it to the bath.  In 3 lt boiled water, steep 1 cup of your chosen herb (s), covered, for 20 minutes.  Strain the liquid and add to your bath water.

For relaxation: lavender, hops, hibiscus, lemon balm, rose, and chamomile

For skin irritations such as eczema or rashes:  calendula, lavender, yarrow, and chamomile

For sore joints and muscles:  lavender, chamomile, wintergreen, rosemary

For colds:  peppermint, elderflowers, thyme, pine needles

A hot bowl of soup is comfort food at its best.  Hot soup can help to banish sickness and increase vitality.  Herbs are great when making stock – many are mineral rich and will enhance the nutrition of your soup – nettle, burdock root and dandelion roots and leaves are good choices.  Astragulus root is a powerful immune tonic and I add it to all of my winter soup stocks to prevent colds and flu.  Shiitake mushrooms are equally valuable for strengthening the immune system – they go in the pot too.  For extra fiery potency add ginger or chili powders to intensify the medicinal value of your soup.

Speaking of fire – don’t forget to get a daily dose of sunshine.  Brave the cold and get outside on your lunch break or for an afternoon walk to enjoy the beautiful and shapely trees that line our city streets.  We need as much sun exposure as we can get to chase away the winter blues.

Keep warm!

Winter Tree Medicine

We are fortunate to have many  trees in our city and surrounding area.  Trees and other plants oxygenate and purify the air we breathe.  I value trees simply for their beauty; at this time of year I love to see their tall, slender, naked branches reaching for the sky, and I value the vibrancy of the ever-greens.  Trees bring me comfort and peace.  I am one of those people you may see hugging a tree on your walk through the park.  Trees give the best hugs, try it, you’ll see.

At this time of year there is very little wild medicine to be found.  You can always dig through the snow in the forest and find goldthread roots and wintergreen leaves.  Up above we have access to several trees offering winter medicine.

My current favourite is the balsam fir.  It is found all over Nova Scotia.  In some places it is called “the church steeple” due to its upper spire-like form.  It is widely used as a Christmas tree.  It is easy to identify due to the raised resin blisters found on the trunk of young trees.  The needles are flat, and are white underneath with a green line running through the middle.

Balsam fir has a pleasant and stimulating scent which is released upon rubbing the branches.  The resinous sap that oozes from the blisters is very tasty and fragrant.  American First Nations people used it on cuts, burns and sores as an anti-septic and analgesic. The leaves are high in vitamin C, and are used in a tea for coughs, colds and asthma.  I had the dry, persistent cough that was going around in January; finally it was a decoction of balsam twigs and marshmallow root that cured me.

Balsam is a strong medicine; ¼ cup can be taken two-four times daily.  It should be avoided by those with kidney disease and during pregnancy.

White Pine is another of our medicinal trees.   They grace our forests with their majestic height and branches that sing with the wind.  It is the tallest growing conifer in eastern Canada.  The bottom 2/3 of the tree is often branchless.  The long needles are grouped in clusters of five.

This tree was used extensively by our first nations peoples.  The pitch was used topically to draw out fluid and infection from abscesses and boils, for rheumatism, broken bones, cuts, bruises, and inflammation.  The bark, needles and twigs can be steeped to make a tea for cough, colds, and sore throat.  Like the balsam fir, the needles are rich in vitamin C.  It would be far more sustainable if we derived our winter vitamin C from tree tea than from oranges imported from Florida!

Pine is used as a flower essence to help people overcome guilt and self-blame, and for those who tend to be hard on themselves.  It helps us to forgive ourselves for past errors or life events.  Dr. Bach, discoverer of the Bach Flower Remedies wrote “One trace of condemnation against ourselves, or others, is a trace of condemnation against the Universal Creation of Love, and restricts us, limits our power to allow the Universal Love to flow through us to others.”