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Spice up your life with winter warmers & immune boosters to get you through the cold months 

Medicinal and Magical Herbs

Medicinal and Magical Herbs

As we edge ever closer to those cold winter months I find myself craving warmer foods… soups, stews, bakes and so on, quite different from the fare I love the rest of the year.

So I thought that this month I’d touch on food as medicine and things that can help you not only nourish yourself but also assist with keeping you healthy as we move through the winter months.

Chilli / cayenne – for those who like it hot hot hot! or more sparingly for just a mild kick, however you like it, chilli is great for creating a bit of fire, but remember that sometimes less is more…too much heat is just as bad as not enough (though I know some chilli junkies that would disagree with me strongly on that point!). Containing Vit C & Vit A as well as capsaicin chilli not only boosts metabolism and the immune system but also has some great anti-inflammatory action systemically. 

Cinnamon – less heating than ginger it’s still a great circulatory stimulant and actually may be better used for people that ‘run hot’ – TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) uses cinnamon for people that are hot in the upper half of the body but may still get cold feet. Like ginger, it’s very calming for the digestive system and has shown in studies to be helpful in balancing blood sugars levels and is high in antioxidants. It is a great anti-fungal and a study suggested the scent of cinnamon may enhance brain activity – always a bonus …plus, it tastes like Christmas to me. An easy “tea” option is a couple of slices of orange steeped in a pot of hot water with a portion of cinnamon quill – delicious! Or, again a great addition to smoothies – have I mentioned I love smoothies 😉 

Garlic – a great staple in the kitchen for flavour, but did you know it has some serious antimicrobial, anti-parasitic & anti-fungal properties, it’s also a potent antioxidant and can assist in lowering blood pressure. However when cooked it does lose some of the potency of effect – so best to have it raw. I suggest finely chopping and then adding to your meal just as you sit down to eat, parsley can help which the pungent aroma that raw garlic leaves you with, as can taking out the middle vein of the bulb and discarding it before chopping up the rest of the bulb. Or, you can simply make sure your dinner partner has some too and then you’ll be in good (smelly) company! 

Ginger – a wonderful warming herb that increases circulation and can really help if you suffer from cold fingers and toes! It is also very calming for the digestive system and due to the nature of it increasing circulation it actually enhances your absorption of nutrients from the gut while boosting your metabolism. It’s a win win situation… ginger tea made fresh is a great start to the day or lovely pick-me-up mid-afternoon, grate it into your soups or smoothies. 

Manuka honey or raw honey – honey has been used medicinally for hundreds of years, but it’s not the processed honey from the supermarket that you’re after! Raw honey – that is honey that hasn’t been highly processed and heated or manuka honey are both much (much) better options. Manuka honey in particular has a grading system where they use a number to denote the strength of antibacterial activity present. Manuka honey is also anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-microbial, anti-septic, anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory…that’s a lot of anti’s! 

Miso – delicious salty goodness, miso is rich in protein, supports healthy bacteria in the gut, increases resistance to infection and can be used as you would use stock to flavour not only soups and broths, but in stir fries and other sauces or spread a little over the back of a piece of baked fish 5mins before its finished cooking. 

Oats – fantastic for the nervous system, nurturing and nutritious, oats also soothe an inflamed digestive tract. They are also a great addition to the diet to increase protein content and are helpful in reducing blood lipid levels. Easier to digest and process when soaked (even if you’re going to cook with them), so soak overnight and then go forth!

And – if you’re not a porridge person then add some to your smoothies – delicious.

Seaweed – amazingly mineral dense – rich in calcium, iron and iodine, seaweeds are a fantastic and easy way to increase nutrition in your diet – there are many many different types to choose from, the classic nori that we all know from eating sushi and is relatively mild in taste. Wakame is fantastic to add when you are cooking any beans, legumes or pulses as they help to start breaking down the proteins so you can digest them more easily resulting in less gas…though wakame in particular is a stronger taste and so may be more challenging to a new palate. Believed to assist in cleaning the blood, supporting liver function and clearing green/yellow mucous from the body seaweeds are also high protein.

Thyme – fresh thyme tea is fantastic when you have a cold that has settled in the chest – thyme is an expectorant, simply meaning that it will lift congestion from the lungs up and out, plus, its has an anti-fungal and anti-bacterial action, so it will not only help to lift the phlegm but kill any bacteria that may be present…remember – yellow or green congestion = bacteria. So easy to make at home (or work) pop a couple of springs of fresh thyme in a cup w a saucer over the top to stop the essential oils escaping and let it brew for 2-3minutes and drink it down! As an aside the anti-fungal action of thyme also renders it helpful for treating candida.

Turmeric – you might be put off using this bright powder as it can seriously stain fingers and bench tops but turmeric is a fantastic antioxidant, it protects the liver and is anti-inflammatory. This is an amazing spice and has recently gained quite a bit of press as one of the new flavours of the month, but has a long history of use both culinary and medicinal, better to consume with fats for increased absorption & utilisation… also eating it with black pepper can increase absorption quite dramatically due to a constituent in the pepper called piperine, looking historically where it was commonly used as a base in curries you can see how the that works so well for maximum benefit. Not a fan of curry? No problems, mash it through avocado with some pepper & fresh herbs & due veggie sticks to scoop it up, add some to your smoothies with coconut oil, make yourself a golden milk – turmeric, coconut oil & milk.

So rug up, drink lots of fluids to make sure you aren’t dehydrating cuddled next to the heater, get some good essential fatty acids into your diet (nuts, seeds, fish) and add in some extras from the above list to make your meals not only delicious but nutritious!

Also – don’t hit the snooze button repeatedly missing out on your exercise routine if you find an increasing desire to hibernate because it’s cold and dark outside…you’ll feel better once you’ve been active!


By Sara Canney 

Naturopath & Colonic Hydrotherapist




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