Call it what you will, the Winter Solstice, Christmas, Hanukah, St Lucia’s day – many of us celebrate a midwinter festival. We all hope it will be a time of fun, friendship and feasting but all too often it tips over into a combination of excess and depletion- a long to do list, too much food and drink, too little sleep, energy levels and immunity heading towards zero by the New Year. So now is the time prepare your home herbal holiday strategy to help you through.
- Bitters – Why would you want something bitter? Well bitter tasting herbs are fabulous medicine! Aperitif drinks such as Vermouth originated as medicinal digestive bitters. They contained bitter herbs like Gentian and Artemesia which act to stimulate the production and release of digestive enzymes to improve the function of the digestive system. We have bitter receptors in the mouth which send signals to the stomach, pancreas and liver stimulating those organs to produce digestive juices. Recent research has shown that bitter receptors are also present in the lungs, heart and brain. Bitter herbs act on these tissues, reducing inflammation and improving function. By strengthening the gut / brain connection and controlling the release of hormones involved in appetite, bitters have been shown to improve blood sugar control and reduce food cravings. Some studies suggest that taking bitters an hour before eating significantly reduces the amount of food consumed. The more bitters you take, the more bitter receptors you develop so it’s a positive feedback cycle. You can begin by trying a slightly bitter tea of chamomile and dandelion root or a dash of Angostora or Swedish bitters in tonic water – with or without the gin! As you take and taste bitters regularly you will begin to enjoy them – trust me!
(Just a word of caution if you suffer from acid reflux – bitters may aggravate this condition.)
- Nerve tonics – it’s oat so simple to fortify your nervous system with something as simple as porridge. Oats (Avena sativa) and particularly an extract of green or milky oats, are a well researched tonic for anxiety, stress, insomnia or depression. Herbalists often prescribe Avena sativa in formulas for exhaustion, mental stress, PMS and poor sleep. Wild oat is used by herbalists for nervous exhaustion and weakness, depression, anxiety, insomnia, chronic fatigue, ME, cerebral deficiency such as memory and concentration loss and also in drug withdrawal. Wild oats are a nervous system restorative, restoring, rejuvenating and strengthening nerve cells. As a DIY nerve tonic whole rolled oats any way you like them are a wonderful supportive food with an affinity for the nervous system.
- Immune support – you will have heard of and probably used Echinacea and Elderberry but here is an alternative that is easy to make at home and to take as a regular immune tonic –
Yarrow tops 3g
Peppermint leaf 3g
Holy basil (Tulsi) 3g
Ginger root grated 3g
Pour on 500ml boiling water, cover and infuse for 5 minutes. Drink warm with a slice of lemon. This will make enough for 3 cups.
Tulsi is a traditional Auyuvedic herb that you may not be familiar with. It is available in good health food shops and f you want to find out more about it see www.herbalreality.com/herb/tulsi/
N.B for further support and bespoke herbal medicine contact Carol directly or consult the National Institute of Medical Herbalists at www.nimh.org.uk