What Are Warming Herbs?
Prevention and preparedness are two essential ingredients to weathering illness and health setbacks during the winter months. Seasonal herbal medicine is an empowering tool to support wellness. Making simple remedies at home and integrating routines that support resilience and robust health means that we are better equipped to handle anything from flu to seasonal blahs. Incorporating warming herbs and foods into our diet is a relatively simple way to nourish our bodies and chase the chill away. We can look to warming culinary herbs to help move our blood to colder parts of our bodies; they do double duty to assist our circulation and make us feel warmer.
In herbalism, we rely on a system of energetics to help gently move our bodies in the direction of balance. All systems of herbalism are founded on a concept of energetics that helps us identify patterns of balance or imbalance within the body and mind. Two of the energetic categories that we use to help us understand people, diseases, and plants better in traditional western herbalism are temperature and moisture. Temperature runs on a hot to cold spectrum, while moisture runs on a spectrum from damp to dry. Wintertime is marked by dry, cold energetics, so we look to herbs that are heating and moistening to help bring warmth, mobility, and comfort back to our bodies and minds.
Here, I share five common kitchen herbs that can help keep us warm and brighten this winter. There are many more plants plus tasty recipes in my book Plant Magic: Herbalism in Real Life.
My Five Favourite Warming Herbs & How They Work
Ginger is not so different from a fire that burns logs but also warms everything around it. A bunch of ginger in your body is like stoking a fire in your core that moves out to warm us from head to toe. As movement is stimulated and blood moves through our muscle tissues, they relax, easing any pain associated with tension and making pathways for our blood to move all the way to our skin. Ginger relieves stagnation by moving blood to places that experience tension, helping them to relax.
This strong member of the mustard family and the root is a powerful decongestant. It is my go-to plant to relieve sinus pain. It helps to open congested respiratory passages. A pungent herb, it can help to move thick, dry, stuck mucus temporarily. Simply grating and eating some of the root works like magic.
Besides managing to be among the world’s most popular spices, cinnamon is at once comforting and powerfully medicinal. If you, like me, suffer from poor circulation and are always cold, then it’s a great idea to start a habit of bringing small amounts of cinnamon into your daily routine. Sprinkle it on your oatmeal, into your morning coffee, and include it in any sweet baked good. Besides keeping us nice and toasty, cinnamon can help move a stagnant digestive system bogged down from eating all the season’s good rich foods.
Cayenne is a small but mighty member of the nightshade family: a little goes a long way. It warms from the inside out, and also in tiny doses, it can be applied externally to relieve muscle and nerve pain. Strongly anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic, it rushes blood to the site of pain. It is a powerful remedy for menstrual plants, muscle spasms and aches, arthritis, and back discomfort.
Popularly regarded as a panacea since antiquity, garlic may be worthy of the title. A simple way to allay the likelihood of illness is to eat more plants that are good for us—like highly nutritive garlic—because the spread of and suffering from disease is partially due to poor nutrition. When eaten often and regularly, garlic encourages the body’s natural defense against bacteria, viruses, and fungal infections. It shortens the duration of illness, like the common cold, for example, by stimulating the immune system, thinning mucus, and helping the body produce an effective fever.
Recipe from Plant Magic: Herbalism in Real Life
Buzz-Free Cinnamon Latte
You will need:
- 1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
- 2 cardamom pods
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 2 black peppercorns
- 2 cups milk of your choice
- 2 teaspoons honey
- Ground cinnamon and whole nutmeg to garnish (optional)
- Wrap the cinnamon stick, cardamom, ginger, and peppercorns in a piece of cheesecloth and tie it off with a bit of kitchen twine.
- Add the herb bundle and milk to a small saucepan. Heat over medium-low until tiny bubbles form around the edge of the pan. Stir often, keeping the milk warm and under a simmer, for 5 minutes.
- Use a slotted spoon to lift the bundle out of the milk and into your compost.
- Add the honey if desired and whisk vigorously to foam the herbal milk. Or, if you’re lazy like me, put the honey in a blender, pour the milk over it, and buzz on low to foam the milk.
- Finish with a dusting of cinnamon and a grating of nutmeg if you like.
This information is for educational purposes only. The author does not intend to diagnose or treat medical conditions. Readers must consult a professional and do their research when pursuing a new course of therapy using any herbs or supplements.