by Hannah Schiller, guest writer, the Herb Word
Despite the occasional appearance of a warm, spring-like day, it’s still winter in this hemisphere, a time for rest, introspection, and rejuvenation. Though, as college students, this might possibly be the hardest feat imaginable, there are ways to get in touch with our inner root that don’t involve isolation, staying in bed, and watching romantic comedies all day. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, winter is the time of water, a time of calmness, tranquility, patience, a time when the plants appear dead on the surface, their energy below ground, solidifying their place in the earth. The kidneys, the adrenal glands, and the bladder are the organs associated with the water element, as are the reproductive tissues, and winter is the time to tonify these parts of the body and to build your energy reserves and immunity for the coming seasons.
Often your common garden roots are essential herbs for your winter tonic: a strong tea or tincture of Burdock and Dandelion roots combined with Nettles or Clover could be exactly what your urinary system needs to strengthen its functions. For the men, Eleuthero or Saw Palmetto will serve you well as reproductive system and adrenal tonics, strengthening your energy potential as we shift into spring, while for women, Licorice, Reishi, or Ginseng will promote a similar energy-level and healing. And think warm! It might not be cold down here in the South, but your body wants warming stimulation this time of year. Avoid smoothies and ice cream and ice cold water and think chicken broth soups and nettle tea, and, though this is the hardest advice to follow—I know because I’m an addict too—try to get off that coffee wagon. Coffee, as enticing and delicious and warm as it may be, is like putting a gun to your adrenals and saying “work or die”, not exactly the soothing energy tonic to which I’ve been referring. Coffee can be medicinal if used in the proper circumstances—when your adrenals are overworked already from a night of hard studying and you have another long one ahead—but most strong medicines have both benefits and downfalls and we must be conscious of the ways we can abuse their powers.
Of course, as students living in very close quarters, immunity is always at the forefront of our health needs; winter and the early days of the semester are the perfect time to focus on strengthening the immune system. Most know Echinacea as the key immunity herb, but we also have so many good immune stimulants at our fingertips in the kitchen everyday—garlic, ginger, cayenne, citrus, horseradish, cinnamon, honey. These medicines warm the body and attack the bacteria and microbes that make you sick, serving as an extremely effective acute, preventative measure at the first sign of sickness. Plus, they are an easy, cheap, do-it-yourself medicine. But in terms of a good, all-around, everyday tonic for immunity, sick or not, try Astragalus or Reishi, in tincture, as tea, or by adding them in dry form to soup stocks. Reishi—a much-revered fungus in China, which grows both in Southeast Asia and in the Southeastern United States—has many incredible, medicinal properties. It is known as an immune system amphoteric, implying that it can both stimulate the immune system and calm it down, depending on what your body needs. Reishi is also well known for its anti-cancer effects, assisting the body with proper cell development and prevention of tumor formation. Astragalus, an adaptogenic root, is a strong tonic for the lungs, and is something to be taken year-round to assist an often-compromised immune system.
So, while you get moving on your winter tonification, keep in mind that herbal medicines are both wonderful and potent, and not something to be taken lightly. If you choose to make your own medicines, make sure you know how to identify exactly what you are harvesting first and how to properly use the plants you find. The Herb Crew is an incredible resource on this campus, with a library of books on herbal medicine and a wealth of knowledge to help answer any of your questions and guide your future experimentation. Keep your eyes peeled for events and workshops coming up this spring.