Preparing for Winter Health

Using the changing of the seasons

By observing the changing of the seasons, Mother Earth shows us how to prepare for winter in much the same manner as all her other residents. From Spring's first signs of life our hopes and dreams grow. As Fall approaches we put away the joyful songs of Summer and begin to regress inward along with our other Earth bound companions.

Lifestyles and diet have a direct impact on our health and that of our future generations. We need to be involved and more aware of the world around us. Take away the sciences and assembly lines and our best teachers are truly the cycles of nature. Big business has you skeptical of natural products because they need you. You on the other hand merely need more education to make better choices. I hope here to give you one more view of the partnership we share with this place we call Earth.

Learning from the changing seasons begins with observation. Each Fall our bountiful harvest is full of bright vibrant colors. By this time most plants have shed their seeds or stored their life forces in their roots. We benefit from each plants' cycle of gathering nutrients and their need to reproduce. This fruit of the harvest placed on our tables contains much of the essence of life. We are treated with many colors and tastes. We have grown into a culture of people who have traded off live foods for foods on demand. All we gained was a higher paced life style and a higher risk of life-threatening diseases.

Colors and tastes are nature's way of labeling her stores. Yellow, red, purple, and orange, each containing nutrients that have been processed from the soil. These nutrients are now in a position where our bodies can more readily digest them. Next, the herbal plants are given away by their taste. As we gather our families together for the feast we should make other preparations as well. Besides a good diet and herbal teas, we need to adjust our inner thermostat with cold showers. Dressing warm is very important as is going out in the fresh air daily. Preparing for Winter health is very simple and a few small steps can make profound improvements.

Here are some general guidelines for Winter health that I find most useful. There is not one item more important then the other so I will just pick up on the topic of colors and begin with eating for Winter health. We want to look for foods that benefit the immune system. Our colorful harvest therefore gives us many vitamins and minerals to aid in keeping these systems strong. Let's look at root crops and then dark greens. There are a lot of good reference materials out there so I won't try to make a complete graphic list. Here are a few suggestions that I know are good. Some of my favorites are carrots, beets, turnips, parsnips, potatoes, horseradish, ginger, and herbs like Burdock and Ashwaganda. There is also a wealth of nutrition from green and red peppers, mustard greens, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and many other Fall harvest vegetables. More vitamins and minerals are gathered from elderberries, dandelions, lemons/citrus fruits, persimmons, pomegranates, rosehips and seaweeds.

When preparing these great foods it is important not to lose the valuable nutrients by overcooking. From the time we get up in the morning our goal is to keep energy levels high throughout the day. We should have foods that are warming like soups and stews with lots of root vegetables. Be sure to start each day with a warm grain type breakfast. Don't forget steamed vegetables and hot teas are great anytime.

Speaking of teas, they should be warming and delicious. There is a couple different ways you can do this. Either keep a basic Winter tea blend in a jar readily at hand or in pre made tea bags. Either way, keep lots of it on hand. Then make your teas adjusting the flavor to your tastes. This is an everyday type of tea so you do not want it to taste like medicine. For Winter health we focus on the immune system and respiratory system. The following are two tonics that can be adjusted to fit your tastes and needs.

Immune Tonic Blend

  • 3/4 part Echinacea root
  • 3/4 part Yellow Dock root
  • 1 part Burdock root
  • 1 part Raw Dandelion root
  • 2 part Roasted Dandelion root
  • 4 part Sassafras
  • 2 part Licorice
  • 1 part Fo-ti
  • 1/8 part Dong Qui
  • 1/2 part Astragalus
  • 2 part Ginger

Respiratory Tonic:

  • 1 part Comfrey
  • 2 part Nettle
  • 4 part Peppermint
  • 1 part Chamomile
  • 1 part Coltsfoot
  • 1 part Mullein
  • 2 part Hibiscus
  • 2 part Lemon Grass
  • 1 part Ginger
  • 1 part Cinnamon
  • 1/8 part Orange Peel

Sweeten to taste with stevia or honey.

Dressing for Winter means something warm to wear not something to put on your salad. Staying warm includes both outside activities and when at home. Heat leaves the body quite readily through the extremities. Therefore, it is a good idea to have nice woolen gloves and a good hat to help keep the heat in. Keep your shoulders and kidneys warm and out of drafts as well. Another thing that works well if sitting at home is a hot water bottle for your kidneys. I like to use a couple extra layers of sweaters if I am at home and just sitting about. As Winter sets in so to will kidney related aspects of back pain and depression or instability.

Natural treatments for Winter health include cold water bathing, good exercise and a pantry full of rich herbs. Time-proven traditions are simple and still work today.

Take cold water bathing, for example. This is stimulating to the circulatory system but more than that it helps the body rest its natural thermostat periodically. Generally in the Fall you would do this. The body's thermostat is located at the nape or base of the back of the neck. Over a period of several days when you shower, interchange warm and cold water. Try to do this for at least 20 seconds on the back of the neck. First warm then cold several times. Each day increase the time just a little. Your body will respond increasing circulation and temperature control. Remember hot water bathing is man's invention not the original design of nature. Use it wisely not extravagantly.

Winter is a time of stillness and beauty. We should spend some time each day to just stop and look up at the trees and snow covered mountains. Breathe in deep the life forces that sustain us all. Exercise can be kept as simple as stretching and basic aerobics. These work fine if you get house bound for any length of time. My favorite time for a walk is late at night after a new snow has fallen. The moon reflecting off the snow covered fields reminds me of the sea under the same light.

Be sure to have your preparations made up and on hand. When I don't feel well I'm not up to making something. I keep on hand teas, immune tincture, cold capsules and throat balls.

Winter preparations are not going to completely assure you of not getting sick. They will help however lesson the illnesses and allow you to take steps at the onset of cold or flue signs.

The following is a list of time proven herbs for some general Winter health concerns.

  • Sore Throat : Comfrey Root and Leaf, Licorice Root, Slippery Elm Bark
  • Strep Throat: Echinacea Root, Garlic (fresh), Goldenseal Root, Propolis (fresh or tincture)
  • Fever: Elder, Yarrow, Catnip
  • Circulation/Warming: Cayenne, Ginger, Horseradish
  • Lungs/Bronchial: Coltsfoot, Comfrey Root and Leaf, Echinacea Root, Elecampane Root, Lobelia, Mullein Leaf, Pleurisy Root.

In good health and good spirits, be warm.

James Mellish, aka Masterwort, is a master herbalist in Brattleboro, Vermont. Visit his website, where you can see more about his philosophy and practice. This article © 2006 James Mellish, used by permission.


Becky's picture

Never heard of it. And these "seasons"? They change or something? What are those? ;)

silverbear's picture

I live at the top of upstate New York, 25 miles from the Canadian border.

There is no snow on the ground today.

The moss is growing on the rocks.

I pulled a tick off my dog yesterday. A tick. In January. In the so-called snow belt.

Weird, weird, weird.

I agree, wholeheartedly, that exercise and herbs strengthen the body for the endurance test that is the (typical) northern winter. I just can't wrap my head around cold water bathing. It's counterintuitive to me.

Interesting article.

witchiepoo's picture

just miles from the Canadian Border we have green grass and the temps are in the high 40s. I have the windows open and the fresh air is wonderful. Odd.

Selena's picture

Normally it snows more in Jan and Feb here across the water from Seattle. Granted, it's raining (what's new?) but I have DAFFODILLS, HYACINTHS, AND CROCUSES sending up shoots!!!!!!! My Hydrangea had 1/2 inch+ leaf buds all over it! It snowed for a few days in November, and that's been about it. How strange!

Kerri's picture

we've got buds on quite a few things that are going to get caught by frosts later, and DH grumbled about buying a leather coat this morning because he reckons Winter is 'over'. Fat chance, but it was certainly wam the last few days.


ps. Becky - I LOVE having seasons again. Wouldn't choose to live anywhere non-seasonal ever again!

Becky's picture

The cramps and pain I get from the cold and the inability to walk from dampness making my joints hurt? Never again! Ouch! It's about 60 degrees here and I still can barely feel my fingers.

lgunnoe's picture

This is where I was this week end!

To be honest, this (link) must be a promo from last year (dates are wrong) and today was about 40 degrees and SUNNY! Perfect hiking, although this is a gorgeous hike when the waterfalls are frozen.
We drove down about 2.5 hours last night and spent the night at a Girl Scout Council Center in Zanesville; then we drove the rest of the way this morning....hiked; and headed home! We got in about 8:00pm.

Local/State/National Parks and Zoos are wonderful places in the winter...we get in our "big" Zoo for half price when the temperature is below freezing! Darn cold....but the polar bears seem to like it!

"...if woman's work is never done, why bother about how much of it [isn't] getting done at any given moment?"
~ Claire Fraser in The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon

Shaun's picture

One of the benefits of being a Northerner should be the winter wonderland of fun that accompanies the chilly temps: sledding, ice skating, skiing, just watching the snow fall all day (not freezing rain!). It's been about 6 years of cruddy warm winters here and I hate it!

Plus we rely on the cold to keep the riff-raff out! ;)

Kerri's picture

it's not nice to call Becky riff raff! :D

couldn't resist


Marlene's picture

today, its January 21. Its supposed to be cold. I have on shortsleeves, and the trees look like they want to bud. Something is rotten in Denmark. ;)

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