Many of us in the western world mark time by the Gregorian calendar, celebrating the New Year on January 1st. Though this date is rather arbitrary, as different cultures observe various days as the new year, the practice of self reflection during these transitions is a universal theme. As we consider the past twelve months and recognize another full rotation of the wheel of the year, it’s helpful to take stock of our lives and think about the areas that could improve, given more of our time and energy. Instead of the New Years’ resolution to be better and do more, let’s ask ourselves, how can I support myself? For many of us, at least one area that could use extra support is our health and wellness.
Traditionally, the long nights of winter were a time of welcome rest, recuperation, and contemplation after the laborious summer and harvest times. In our modern existence, however, the expectation is that we’ll trudge on with our tasks regardless of the time of year. As the holiday season becomes increasingly frenetic and busy, it’s easy to prioritize other tasks over our self care routines. We often find ourselves feeling stressed and less than our best. However, we’ll enjoy our celebrations, complete our duties, and look forward to the New Year so much more if we can stay present in our bodies, treat ourselves kindly, and feel into our deep connection with the natural world. Here are some herbal allies to guide us into a New Year. (As always, please consult with a clinical herbalist before taking herbal medicine and herbal allies.)
Herbal Allies to guide us into the New Year
1. White Pine for Peace
White Pine is considered the “Tree of Peace” by the five indigenous tribes of the Haudenosaunee Nation, as it symbolically represents a treatise of peace (Kayanerenh -kowa, or ‘Great Peace’) between the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca tribes. If you’ve ever walked through a White Pine grove, you know the hush and reverence these trees impart. As a flower essence, Pine helps with nervousness, allows for deeper contemplation and introspection, and releases guilt or self blame. White Pine is energetically clearing and the needles can be used in a bath for general fatigue from “burning the candle at both ends.”
White Pine is a wonderful herb for alleviating seasonal respiratory and smoking-induced ailments, especially a wet cough with yellow or green mucus. In addition, White Pine needles are high in Vitamin C and make a lovely tea. The pitch of White Pine is antiseptic and will draw infection out of wounds when used topically like a bandage.
2. Oats for Nervous System Nourishment
The Oat plant (Oats, Oatstraw, and Milky Oat Tops) is among our best remedies for “feeding” the nervous system, particularly in times of depletion, stress, exhaustion, depression, overwork, or emotional trauma. While everyone knows Oats are a common “healthy food” we’ve lost so much knowledge of Oats’ magic! An infusion of Oat tops or Oatstraw strengthens and soothes the nerves, aids with stress related insomnia, balances hormones, and nourishes the immune system.
This allows us to be as physically, mentally, and emotionally resilient when life inevitably happens. With oat medicine we can be like the wild oat, which dances with the wind, yet remains rooted in the Earth. As a flower essence, Wild Oat helps us find inner clarity and our true purpose for being; we can shift from surviving to truly thriving.
3. Licorice Root for Harmony
Licorice root, a familiar flavor to many of us, contains a compound that is 50 times sweeter than sugar. For those of us who crave sweets when we’re stressed out, the taste of this root hints at one of its great medicinal actions: soothing adrenal burnout. An indispensable friend to those who are “wired, tired, and dried out,” Licorice root nourishes the adrenals and the thyroid, moistens dry coughs, bronchial conditions, and asthma, providing welcome moisture in this often dry season. Licorice also coats the digestive system and is helpful in soothing gastric ulcers and mild constipation.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), formulas often contain Licorice as a harmonizer. Licorice root coheres and directs the actions of other herbs, essentially making the formula effective. Additionally, Licorice has an affinity for the liver and can alleviate conditions such as hepatitis and cirrhosis. As an herb or as a treat, Licorice will bring sweetness and harmony into your New Year!
4. Elecampane for Expectoration
Though we use the root of Elecampane for medicine, it’s lovely to recall its tall, sunny flower in the depths of winter. Its flower essence helps us feel more comfortable being ourselves, integrating new information and experiences, and communing with higher powers. Elecampane was once a food, tonic, and medicine to ancient Europeans. Modern herbalists generally use the root as a warming and stimulating remedy. Elecampane is wonderful for stagnant digestive issues. It balances blood sugar levels and aids beneficial gut flora, as it is both bitter and rich in prebiotic inulin.
In TCM, Elecampane flowers are used to reduce nausea and bring back appetite after chemotherapy. In the Ayurvedic tradition, the root is used to diminish skin tags, warts, and respiratory trouble. Often used as a respiratory expectorant, Elecampane works well in cough syrups. It’s especially helpful when the person cannot cough deeply enough to bring up lingering mucus. Elecampane also acts as an anesthetic for throat and chest pain due to persistent coughing.
5. Thyme for Immunity
Thyme, aside from being a delicious culinary herb, is potently antimicrobial and can act as a powerful immune booster. Tea or a gargle made with Thyme and honey will soothe a sore throat or upper respiratory infection. In a mouthwash, it can help to heal sore and inflamed gums or minor infections. As a culinary herb, Thyme builds digestive fire. In meals, Thyme supports digestion or, in larger quantities, reduces bloating, gas, digestive spasms, and diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome. A friend indeed during the holiday feasting!
A powerful antifungal, Thyme works against candida, yeast infections, and as a vermifuge to rid the body of parasites. Thyme seems to have an overall positive antioxidant effect on the glandular system, especially the Thymus gland, which establishes the immune system. In Medieval times, warriors wore sprigs of thyme as a sign of courage, to attract good health, and for protection.