Ok so last post (it’s been a few weeks since then!) we started discussing our body’s changing needs with the changing seasons, & I promised more strategies to follow.
I must confess, with no damn snow it’s been hard to wrap my head around switching into winter mode.
We played some Christmas carols at work on Dec 1st, and all of us were like, um, no. Just no. Too soon!
But winter is in fact here–as of today in fact–(ready for more snow & brutal windchill, anyone??) so as promised, here’s some straight up simple seasonal strategies to keep a healthy balance until spring:
Eat with the seasons.
Look to nature for some guidance on a diet that’s in sync with the season.
What is naturally available as a food source to us in the fall & winter? Think roots & tubers-lots of vital energy & starches to build us up & give us energy through the winter, just as they sustain the energy of the plant for the following year. There’s lots of nutrition packed in there!
Fall is a time where the leaves die back & fall off (well, at least they do here in the North!). There aren’t a lot of fresh greens to be had–or a lot of fresh fruits hanging around once we’ve harvested & dried our local berries & rosehips, gathered all of the apples & other fruits that we’ve introduced to our region. (But we do have lots of dried leaves in the way of herbs, & berries too. Let’s use those in teas & any other tasty thing we can think of!)
Focus on warm, warming & cooked foods.
Tis the season of soups, stews, chilis & all around crock pot action. Bone broths are great building, nourishing tonics to keep us fortified throughout winter–and all the year really–but now is the time we can really be supported by their warm nourishing goodness. You can sneak so much extra immune support into broths–mushrooms, seaweeds, immune building herbs like astragalus, calendula blossoms, etc. Plus this is a great and nutritive stock that can be used as a base for your soups.
Avoid raw foods.
I’m talking cold, raw foods here. Salads, raw veggies, & cold frozen smoothies. Especially if you have a tendency to run colder constitutionally or have poor or sluggish digestion. I know this seems like a reckless blanket statement since we have been conditioned that our meals are only balanced & healthy if they include a salad.
If you tend to be warmer constitutionally, you can get away with a bit more cooling foods than those of us who aren’t, but still be mindful of the season. (If you are spending your winter’s in Arizona, well, your diet is going to look a little different then, isn’t it?)
As for the rest of us, what would we have for raw foods up here in the North in the dead of winter if it wasn’t for our industrial food supply system & refrigeration? We would have relied on things we could have dried or preserved in some way–canned & pickled, & usually those have been cooked or fermented or processed in some way from it’s raw state. It takes a lot more energy to digest raw food-cooking/steaming breaks down cell walls & does a lot of that work for us. If energy is something you are low on or want to conserve, consider cooking it.
In Ayurveda they have a concept of “Agni” or digestive fire that fuels digestion & the metabolism of the body, and that fire needs to be kept burning. You don’t not want to throw things on that fire in an already cold season that will dampen or extinguish it. Steam your veggies & drink those broths or pureed soups. Roast those root veggies. Mmmm.
Include the Magic of Mushrooms
What else conveniently shows up in the fall? Mushrooms, that’s what. Of course we have grocery store mushrooms available all year round, but don’t overlook the benefit of the medicinal mushrooms for building winter immunity. Shiitakes, morels, chanterelles, porcinis, and mixed mushroom blends can be added to said soups & stews & anywhere you can sneak them in, frankly. Locally the Organic Box has great fresh mushrooms (cultivated & harvested) as well as some great dried. (Spud.ca has some good fresh ones too). Some great quality wild harvested mushrooms are available from the West Coast-turned Albertans & all around good folks at Untamed Feast, available in many stores here.
If you really want to boost immunity with mushrooms, consider taking things to the next level with medicinal mushrooms. Now we are moving into things like Reishi, Cordyceps, Turkey Tail & sustainably cultivated Chaga & so many more. Mushrooms contain polysaccharides which are immuno-supportive. When we are looking for a change or an improvement in a physiological response in the body (in this case improved immunity) you will want to take higher doses of MM (& with greater regularity) in addition to our delicious local food sources of mushrooms.
It’s also important to use mushrooms in a way that they are bio-available. You can’t just dry medicinal mushrooms, powder them & eat them. Their medicine is bound tightly to the cell wall & needs a little simple alchemy to make that medicine available, which is why they generally need to be cooked, reconstituted & cooked if dried, or decocted, etc. (This could be a whole other blog post–but short story: you can source great immuno-supportive & ready to use mushroom blends here.)
Keep out the Cold
Ok, it’s winter, & we are East of the Rockies. We can’t avoid the cold unless we don’t leave the house (or you are able to spend the winter in Arizona– lucky ducks!!). But bundle the heck up! Chinese Medicine views cold as an external pernicious influence (pernicious: harmful, damaging, malevolent, etc.). Really. And of course if you have a Baba like mine, so does she. She would scold you soundly for not bundling up & covering your neck & your ears & your head…or your feet… or your legs. She wouldn’t go anywhere at this time of year without her kerchief over her head. That would be crazy reckless.
Modern medicine likes to say that “catching a cold” is an Old Wive’s tale, but let’s remember that the Old Wives were those who were tending the sick & growing the medicine long before we had aspirin & penicillin. (Back in the day, in fact, when Willow WAS aspirin).
We still don’t “really” know what causes the common cold-but there is some recent research of interest (using mice-poor guys) suggesting that cold, may, in fact influence colds.
“What they discovered was that when a virus invaded warmer cells, the host cells produced significantly more interferons — proteins that “interfere” with the spread of a virus by warning healthy cells of its presence and setting off an immune response.
In the cooler nasal cavity cells, this warning system was less efficient however, and allowed the virus to spread more easily.”
Maintain Your Terrain
For eons, a big difference in philosophy or viewpoint in herbal or “alternative” medicine circles has been the Terrain vs. the Germ Theory.
Basically, in a nutshell, we all understand the Germ Theory because it’s been drummed into our head since little: we get sick from germs that have been passed, transferred, acquired, etc. so we have to defend against them, wage war on them, & kill them: the end.
The Terrain Theory believes that yes, germs do influence us undoubtedly & cause illness but focusing on germs while ignoring the terrain of our bodies is a bit short sighted.
If we take care of the terrain, & nourish it & strengthen it in such a way that it can defend against germs & pathogens & become inhospitable to them, we are approaching things more holistically. Then there is a place to wage war once a battle really needs waging, so our energy & resources go to strengthening the whole.
So basically, the point of this whole article is dedicated to this. Just Maintain Your Terrain, man. See above, and below.
Let’s look to the rhythms of the seasons for some guidance here. The planet, our Gaian mother–she’s not having a full-on all-night rave all year round. To everything there is a season, and spring is when things start waking up, and summer is when things get bumpin’. Fall is super abundant & the good times really peak, but at the same time the energy starts slowing down.
Let’s follow the lead of the plants-in trees the sap moves down from the branches towards the roots, and in perennials the plants vital energy also moves down underground to sustain them through the winter. The strategy is to lay low, conserve energy, and hunker down for a long winter. We would do well to observe this period of slow down as much as we can. So much burnout & overwork & just overdoing stems from constantly operating in a mode of perennial summers, so to speak. We need to rest, recharge, & rejuvenate too. If we don’t take the time, our bodies will make us one way or another-trust me!
Above All, Listen to Your Body
Now I know that I’m a little colder constitutionally & I have to be mindful with my diet regardless of the season, and I tell you, If I’m still drinking icy & frozen fruity smoothies at this time of the year, even with all the warming spices & super-foodie supplements you can imagine, I get even colder. My body can’t handle cold things in a cold season!
On the coast where it is really cold AND damp in the winter, I have to really work at keeping warm. Like with so many layers. My feet need my SmartWool socks & moccasins no matter where I am. So many hot baths are needed to stave off that damp chill. Here in AB we at least don’t have the damp. So what I’m trying to say is adjust your needs according to WHERE you are and WHO you are.
I invite you to start observing all the little cues your body is giving you at this time of the year & see what makes it feel well, & if there is something that doesn’t, try & notice a correlation. Support yourself the way that YOU need to & it might be unique to you. That’s ok. If you are a Willow, don’t feel pressured to be a Rose. (Or vice-versa ;)).
Keep well friends.
Until next time,
Your YEG Community Herbalist
© Copyright Dionne Jennings, YEG Herbalist