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Herbs to help you ease your way through the long winter months!

Eucalyptus, Echinacea, and elder are powerful winter allies. Befriend these herbs, and they’ll help keep your immune system strong and provide relief for ailments once the cold winds blow maladies in your direction.

Eucalyptus

Think about recuperating from a cold or the flu, and the fresh, penetrating aroma of eucalyptus is bound to come to mind. One whiff confirms that it’s a stimulating herb, thanks to its main constituent, eucalyptol — found in the leaves, roots, and bark of the tree. Throughout history and across continents, eucalyptus has been used for teas, chest rubs, and inhalations. When included in ointments, liniments, and poultices, the cleansing properties of eucalyptus benefit skin problems (like eczema, boils, and skin infections), while the warmth is soothing to muscles, joints, and bruised or strained areas.

Note: Consult an experienced practitioner before using eucalyptus for babies and young children, or for those with digestive or liver problems.

Suggestions for use:

  • Add dried eucalyptus leaves to your bathwater when your muscles are feeling achy. (You can put them in a tea infuser or a muslin bag first, if you like.) Or just soak your feet in a basin of hot water to which you’ve add a very strong eucalyptus tea. Wrap yourself in a blanket and relax as the eucalyptus aroma envelops you.

  • Sip a strong tea of eucalyptus once or twice a day to sooth sore throats and respiratory ailments. (Simply pour 1 cup of boiling water over 2 teaspoons eucalyptus leaves. Steep 10 to 15 minutes, strain and drink.)

  • Apply a poultice of eucalyptus to boils and skin eruptions.

  • To loosen phlegm and enhance breathing, enjoy a eucalyptus steam. Place a handful of eucalyptus leaves in a large bowl. Cover with boiling water. Lean over the bowl, with a towel draped over your head to capture the steam. Stay in a warm place for about half an hour after your steam, to maximize its effectiveness.

  • Apply externally for coughs and sore throat. Make a strong eucalyptus infusion, dip in a clean cloth, wring, and drape around your neck.

Echinacea

Dubbed “the herbalists herb,” Echinacea has enjoyed the spotlight for many years—and for good reason. The most researched plant in the world, Echinacea has a long history of use as a powerful tonic for the immune system. The herb is used to help the body fight all kinds of bacteria and viruses—from staph and strep to the flu and gum disease—by encouraging the production of white blood cells, which fight infection.

The root is the most medicinal part of the plant. Both E. purpurea and E. angustifolia are used, though E. purpurea is more plentiful. (You’ll want to purchase only cultivated Echinacea, or Echinacea you grow yourself—purple coneflower— to protect the species.)

Note: If you have an autoimmune disorder (such as rheumatoid arthritis) you’ll want to avoid taking Echinacea without the advice of an experienced practitioner.

Suggestions for use:

  • Make a tonic tea by simmering a couple of teaspoons of Echinacea in a cup of water for about 15 minutes. Ginger, slippery elm bark, wild cherry bark, sage, and/or licorice root are good additions if you have a sore throat or cough. Take every two or three hours when you first feel an illness coming on.

  • Use an Echinacea tincture as a sore-throat gargle. It will stimulate healthy tissue production and soothe and cleanse your throat.

  • Place an infusion of Echinacea flowers in a foot bath and soak for about 15 minutes. Bundle up while you soak.

  • Make an Echinacea tincture to have on hand when colds and the flu are making their rounds. At first sign of symptoms take several droppers of Echinacea every hour or two and then taper off to every 8 hours. For children, you can mix the tincture with cranberry juice or grape juice.

Elder Berry

From Roman times, when it was used in drinks, poultices and ointments, to the modern British Pharmacopoeia, where it still appears today, elder (Sambucus nigra) has been respected for it wide-ranging power to heal.

Like many healing herbs, elder is useful both internally and externally. The flowers are recommended for their antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties, while the fruits, high in vitamin C, are considered antioxidant. A tea of elder flowers has long been used to treat cold symptoms and sooth the respiratory system. It induces perspiration (and so aids in lowering fevers), and serves as an expectorant.

Elder berries—made into wine or infusions (the raw seeds are toxic) — are an age-old remedy for influenza, sore throat, fever, a cold, asthma, and bronchitis. Retiring to bed with a cup of sweetened elder berry tea is an old, dependable treatment for a cold. Recent studies show that the berries may short circuit colds and the flu by preventing the viruses from replicating. Of course, the earlier in the illness you start taking elder, the better.

Suggestions for use:

  • Sip a strong tea of elder flowers when you first feel a cold coming on to help with both achiness and congestion (Use about 2 tablespoons of flowers to 1 cup of boiling water.)

  • Dip a clean cloth in an infusion (strong tea) of elder flowers and apply to your temples or forehead when your cold or flu symptoms have given you a headache.

  • To treat a sore throat, sip or gargle with elder tea. For added astringency, add a little apple cider vinegar.

  • Apply a poultice of elder flowers to skin inflammations.

Black Pepper

Black pepper, (Piper nigrum), is the fruit of the black pepper plant from the Piperaceae family and is widely believed to be the most universal culinary spice in the world. Pepper, either ground or as whole peppercorns, it is one of the most widely traded spics in the world and is embraced in cuisines as diverse as Asian, Middle Eastern, European or American.

Black pepper has a centuries-long history of use and cultivation across all the continents of the world. Black pepper is a natural antibiotic and a great dietary source of fiber, potassium, iron and vitamins C and K. Black Pepper is a very good anti-inflammatory agent.

Black pepper helps relieve cough and colds - Pepper's antibacterial properties also make it an effective remedy for respiratory conditions including colds, coughs and flu. Pepper's spiciness clears congestion and helps clear up sinusitis.

It has a history of use in herbal medicine for stomach ailments, anemia, impotence and heart disease, cancer prevention, and has also historically been used to preserve food.

  • To cure all kinds of cough, grind black pepper and add sugar to it. Take it with clarified butter.

  • While preparing tea, grind and add 2-4 black pepper along with ginger (Zingiber officinale), a clove and few basil (Ocimum sanctum) leaves. It works as anti-tussive and is also useful against cold.

  • Black pepper powder taken with jaggery is said to be effective in treating chronic cold.

  • Take equal amounts of black pepper, cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum), cumin (Cuminum cyminum) and cardamom (Elettaria Cardamomum) seeds. Make it into a very fine powder. Those who suffer from blocked nose due to cold may sniff the same to induce sneezing.

  • For treating asthma, boil 8-10 black pepper, 2 clove (Syzygium aromaticum) buds and 10-15 basil leaves in water for 15 minutes. Filter and add two teaspoon honey. Drink the same with milk.

Precaution: Pepper may cause sneezing. Patients who’ve undergone abdominal surgery should not take pepper added diet because pepper has an irritating effect on the intestines. It is also not good for people with ulcers. Black pepper should not be taken in high concentration.

Note: The above mentioned home remedies are for information purpose only. Seek advice from your doctor before following any of these mentioned formulations. Author should not be held for any misconduct.

Cardamom

Cardamom, Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum), is one of the most expensive spices in the world and has been used for both culinary and medicinal purposes since time immemorial. Cardamom plants are natives to the southwest regions of India, but, this spice was popular in countries around the world like, China, Rome, Egypt, Persia, etc.

Cardamom plants belong to the genera Elettaria and Amomum of the family Zingiberaceae. It is the seedpods of these plants that constitute the spice called cardamom. While the seedpods of the plants in the genus Elettaria are light green in color, those of the genus Amomum are dark brown. However, in both cases, the seedpods are spindle-shaped, with thin outer shell that covers the inner black seeds. A cross section of these seeds will be triangular in shape.

The use of this spice is mentioned in the Vedic texts and the ancient ayurveda inscriptions of India. Even the ancient Greeks, Romans and Arab people used this spice for its aphrodisiac qualities and other cardamom health benefits.

Both varieties of cardamom feature three sided pods with a thin papery outer cover and small black seeds that are arranged in vertical rows. Elettaria pods are small and light green in color, while Amomum pods are larger and dark brown. The pods are being used as flavoring base in both food and drink, in cooking recipes and as well as in medicine.

Most of us use cardamom as a spice and are unaware of its health benefits. In most of the South East Asian countries, cardamom has been used to treat a variety of medical conditions, like, infections of the gum and teeth, digestive disorders, lung congestion, throat problems, etc. Cardamom is an integral part of the traditional medicines of these regions and this spice is used in the treatment of kidney disorders and gall stones. This exotic spice contains many plant derived chemical compounds that are known to have anti-oxidant, disease preventing and health promoting properties.

The spicy pods contain many essential volatile oils that include pinene, sabinene, myrcene, phellandrene, limonene, 1, 8-cineole, terpinene, p-cymene, terpinolene, linalool, linalyl acetate, terpinen-4-oil, a-terpineol, a-terpineol acetate, citronellol, nerol, geraniol, methyl eugenol, and trans-nerolidol.

The therapeutic properties of cardamom-oil have found application in many traditional medicines as antiseptic, antispasmodic, carminative, digestive, diuretic, expectorant, stimulant, stomachic and tonic, just to name a few.

Cardamom is also good source of minerals like potassium, calcium, and magnesium. It is also an excellent source of manganese and iron. Manganese is a co-factor for the enzyme superoxide dismutase, which is a very powerful free radical scavenger. Iron is required for red blood cell formation.

The pods are rich in many vital vitamins including riboflavin, niacin, vitamin-C that is essential for optimum health.

  • Cardamom also has warming effects, which can heat up the body, helps in expelling cough and to relieve headache caused by extreme cold.

  • Cardamom has a detoxifying effect and is also used for its anti septic and anti microbial actions. Apart from that, cardamom benefits include its use in treating muscular and respiratory spasms. Read more on cardamom spice substitute.

  • Cardamom is an expectorant, thus helps to open the respiratory passages.

Even though, there are no serious cardamom side effects, over consumption may sometimes cause allergic reactions or stomach pain.

Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne (Capsicum frutescens), a member of the Solanaceae (Nightshade) family, has been used by many ancient societies, for both culinary and medicinal purposes, particularly those of the Americas and China. Cayenne pepper is a powerful anti-inflammatory, and is currently all-the-rage for cleansing and detoxifying regimes that uses the spice’s health boosting properties to stimulate circulation and neutralize acidity in the body.

Cayenne pepper has been used for a variety of diseases and ailments including heartburn, delirium, tremors, gout, paralysis, fever, dyspepsia, flatulence, sore throat, atonics dyspepsia, hemorrhoids, and menorrhagia in women, nausea, tonsillitis, scarlet fever and diphtheria.

Cayenne pepper is rich in vitamin C, and helps relieve chills, coughs and congestion. Sprinkling a bit of cayenne pepper between one’s shoes and socks can help warm the feet when needing to be outdoors.

Creams containing 0.025-0.075% capsaicin are generally used. There may be a burning sensation for the first several times the cream is applied, but this should gradually decrease with each use. The hands must be carefully and thoroughly washed after use, or gloves should be worn, to prevent the cream from accidentally reaching the eyes, nose, or mouth, which would cause a burning sensation. Do not apply the cream to areas of broken skin. A cayenne tincture can be used in the amount of 0.3-1 ml three times daily. Are there any side effects or interactions? Besides causing a mild burning for the first few applications (or severe burning if accidentally placed in sensitive areas, such as the eyes), there are no side effects from use of the capsaicin cream. Very high intake of cayenne internally may cause ulcers, but the necessary amount is rarely achieved with sensible intake.

Cayenne pepper can also be taken in pill form, tinctures, or just added to your food while cooking.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia) is a member of the Lauraceae (Laurel) family. It helps dry dampness in the body and warms people who are always cold and suffer from poor circulation. Cinnamon is antiseptic and an excellent digestive tonic.

Most of the cinnamon benefits are primarily derived from the three active compounds present in cinnamon: Cinnamaldehyde, cinnamyl acetate and cinnamyl alcohol. These compounds are naturally present in the essential oils that are found in the bark of the cinnamon tree. The bark of cinnamon tree has been used for several medicinal as well as non medicinal purposes since long. It is believed to have strong antioxidant properties along with antibacterial and antifungal properties.

The high percentage content of dietary fiber (3.6 g in 1 tablespoon) also makes cinnamon spice a preferred choice among people having digestive problems. Using it regularly will reduce indigestion, constipation and intestinal disorders. The concentration of protein in cinnamon is relatively low, as compared to calcium, iron and dietary fiber. Serving 6.8 g of cinnamon will provide you 0.3 g proteins. Needless to say, you get proteins from other food ingredients. So, it is not at all a concerning issue. Cinnamon is good source of calcium and iron; having 1 tablespoon of this spice is sufficient to yield 14 percent calcium and 31 percent iron of the daily requirements of an adult. Nevertheless, it may vary slightly as per your calorie needs. This spice also contains high amounts of vitamin A and C along with minerals like zinc, potassium, magnesium and manganese. A 6.8 g cinnamon serving provides 20 percent vitamin A and 12 percent vitamin C of the daily requirements of an adult.

Some of the winter health benefits of Cinnamon

  • Cinnamon has been used as a home remedy for cough and common cold since the beginning of time. Have cinnamon tea twice a day and your cough or cold will disappear in no time. Adding little honey to ground cinnamon is just perfect to treat conditions like chronic cough, cold, sinus and even flue.

  • Cinnamon has anti inflammatory properties that may help in reducing the pain and inflammation associated with arthritis. Mix cinnamon and honey to form a paste and massage it on the joints for relief from the pain and discomfort.

  • Cinnamon helps in strengthening the immune system and protects us from a variety of bacterial and viral infections. It has anti fungal properties and may help in curing a lot of fungal infections too.

Most people prefer to use the bark of cinnamon directly. However, please keep in mind cinnamon oil often causes irritations and allergic reactions while cinnamon bark is considered safe for use.

Ginger

Ginger (Zingiber officinale), a member of the Zingiberceae family, is a natural antioxidant and antiseptic.

Ginger Root is almost synonymous with maintenance of good health, especially in Asia and that too in South East Asia. Most of the children in India, China and that region have grown up listening to the elderly women in their household telling them about the uses of this underground tuber. Ginger Root is the part of the age old Asian culture of Ayurveda and nature cure. Even today, whenever a family member is experiencing a stomach pain or some kind of stomach upset, the grandmother in that house will prepare a heady concoction of ginger root and clear lemon juice in water. The next thing you know the gurgling sound from the stomach is gone! Be it cough or cold, do not worry if you have ginger at home. That was just a glimpse of health benefits of ginger root.. Basically the roots of ginger, called rhizomes are what the storehouse of the medicinal usefulness is.

Here are ginger root winter health benefits.

  • Studies have shown that ginger root provides effective relief from migraines and all types of headaches. In fact sometimes studies have shown that ginger root extract is more advantageous than the run of the mill pain killers. Ginger Root health benefits can also be identified as working against rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

  • If you suffer from asthma or have asthmatic symptoms, having ginger can be really useful. Ginger cleans up the whole system - the throat, mucus from the lungs, which are the main culprits in the blockage of lungs and the wind pipe.

  • Ginger, curiously enough helps the body sweat. And we all know that sweating is one of the best ways for detoxification of our bodies and reduces the symptoms of cold and flu. In addition to that it also prevents infections.

  • Amongst other things, ginger root health benefits can be seen in its curative powers against depression, mental stress and anxiety. Moreover, it is good for kidneys as well. And for those, who want to get rid of body odor and dandruff, try this wonder root!

Horseradish (Armoracia lapathifolia) is a member of the Brassicaceae (Mustard) family. It is high in vitamin C, and aids in the digestion of fatty foods.

The horseradish plant is native to Europe and Asia, and the horseradish root is widely used in the South East Asian cuisine for imparting a very distinctive and powerful flavor. The horseradish plant looks similar to the mustard plant and has large curled leaves and clusters of small flowers. The plant itself is inedible but the horseradish root is used for flavoring soups and stews as it has a peppery pungent flavor similar to that of mustard. When the horseradish root is grated or crushed, it releases volatile oils known as isothiocyanate which gives its sharp flavor. If the grated horseradish root is kept outside, it quickly loses its potency and zest. So it is usually steeped in vinegar to maintain its peppery flavor and aroma.

There are many healthy benefits of horseradish roots. It can be used as a natural treatment against rheumatic disorders and as it is rich in glucosinolates, consuming horseradish roots regularly reduces the risk of cancer and prevents the growth of tumors. It is also used for reducing swelling and inflammation of the joints of the body as horseradish roots has the ability to widen the capillaries of the blood vessels when applied on the skin. This in turn increases the blood circulation, and helps to eliminate harmful toxins from the body. Horseradish root is also used as an effective natural remedy to treat body ache and muscle pain. Freshly grated horseradish root is placed inside a muslin cloth and applied on the affected area to get immediate relief. Due to the presence of volatile oil, horseradish root is used for relieving coughs, bronchitis, sinus infections and other respiratory diseases. Horseradish is great for fighting those winter colds and flues.

Most individuals just added to the dishes they are preparing. Try some and enjoy!

How can I make my own tincture?

You can make any herbal tincture with the following directions: Place the dried herb in a jar and cover with two to three times the amount of alcohol (vodka, brandy, or rum—not rubbing alcohol). Cover with a tight-fitting lid. Place the jar in the dark, and shake it once a day for two to eight weeks. (The longer it sits, the stronger the tincture, of course.) Strain through cheesecloth. Pour into a sterile glass container, close, and store in a dark cupboard.

What’s a poultice?

A poultice is an herbal mixture that’s applied directly to the skin, often with the purpose of drawing out impurities. To make a poultice, boil or steam the herb so that it releases its oils, then squeeze it into a shape that will fit the area you want to treat. If you like you can apply a bandage or a compress on top to hold it in place. Sometimes poultices are made using alcohol, vinegar, or witch hazel instead of water.

How can I make a salve?

Place herbs in a double boiler or crock pot and cover with foil; the oil should sit about an inch over the herbs. Heat over low heat for about 3 hours (roots for about 5 or 6 hours). Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature. Strain through cheesecloth, and then pour back into the pan or pot. Add essential oils, if desired. Add beeswax to the oil until it has reached the desired consistency. You can use this recipe for making a eucalyptus rub for respiratory ease or an elder salve to soothe aches and pains.

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