Callan Welder, left, and Josephine Spilka offer their herbal expertise at Daoist Traditions College of Chinese Medicinal Arts. Photo by Emily Nichols
When the climate in Asheville fluctuates between short-sleeves weather and frozen pipes in one week, it can be difficult to maintain a sense of balance and vitality in our lives. In Chinese medicine, winter is a period of quiet, stillness, reflection, water and yin energy. It is believed that ailments surface when the body and mind are out of sync with the natural waves of the season, and that bringing health back into accord with the time of year is the way to eliminate illness.
Luckily, Western North Carolina has an abundance of natural plant resources and herbal experts who can help people to tune into the energy of winter and the first hints of spring. Xpress asked a few local herbalists to share their top three remedies for staying healthy and vibrant during this seasonal shift.
Each herbalist prescribed unique herbs, but elderberry and garlic were top contenders for most important remedy for winter wellness. Nearly all the herbalists recommended elderberry and half recommended garlic as a powerful healer. While these herbs may overlap, each herbal expert gave different reasons as to why these remedies are so special and how to best prepare them.
Appalachia School for Holistic Herbalism
Ceara Foley, director
• Elderberry — “Elderberry is great for colds and flus and can also be taken preventatively.” says Foley. “I like to make a syrup from the berries and then mix with warming herbs such as ginger, cinnamon or orange peel.” The flower can also be prepared as a tea or used as a external compress to decrease fevers and inflammation.
• Garlic — “Garlic is great for respiratory infections due to its anti-bacterial and anti-fungal nature,” she says. “In Chinese medicine, the lungs are associated with the color white and the pungent taste. Garlic, meeting both of these attributes, naturally resolves infections in this area.” Foley adds that garlic is also good for the cardiovascular system, helping to prevent plaque buildup around the heart. A note on preparation: If you do choose to try garlic medicinally, use fresh, raw garlic and mince before ingesting for a more potent dose. If eating raw garlic seems too intense for your taste buds, Foley recommends two different preparations. For a sweeter taste, mince a clove of garlic and mix it with a teaspoon of honey. For something more savory, mix the garlic with olive oil, nutritional yeast and a little salt.
• Pine — “Fresh pine needles are not only readily available but are also a great source of natural vitamin C,” says Foley. “Additionally, pine is an antiseptic, meaning it cleanses the body and can also prevent infections.” Foley recommends harvesting pine needles to make a pine needle tea for colds. Preparing pine needle vinegar is a great way to cleanse your home after an infection has passed. Additionally, “the resin of pine can be used as incense to re-energize your home, and pine essential oils can cure respiratory infections — specifically bronchitis.”
Josephine Spilka, associate academic dean, and Callan Welder, teaching student
• Gui zhi (cinnamon twigs) — Different from cinnamon bark, gui zhi is a warming herb used to nourish the functional energy of the body, also known as yang qi, say Spilka and Welder. In Chinese medicine, this herb is categorized for its ability to “release the exterior” and dispel energy from the environment through the skin to keep one balanced, healthy and vibrant through the winter.
• Huang qi (astragalus) — Huang qi is generally used in tea form and provides an internal energy lift. This herb is categorized in the “tonify qi category” for its ability to strengthen the functional energies of the body and to help protect the body from external pathogens.
• Shu di huang (rehmannia) — Shu di huang is a black, sweet root that resonates with the energy of winter. Shu di huang provides nourishment for the yin or water energy of the body, which is where our resources are stored. Attention to the yin energy within the body increases quiet and stillness while moderating stresses caused by internal or external factors.
Bill Chiofi, director of herbal education
• Echinacea — “Echinacea is a much more versatile plant than most people think,” says Chiofi. Gaia Herbs harvests the flowering tops in the early spring to create an extract specific to helping support the immune system. In the fall, “the roots are harvested and used to make an extract rich in alkylamides, which supports the immune system at the onset of a challenge and helps to bring about the normalization of inflammatory processes.”
• Elderberry — Regarded as an “elder” plant in Native American herbalism, elderberry has been used collectively by many tribes as a tonic medicine and food to promote health and vitality. The bush has been referred to as “the medicine tree of the common people,” says Chiofi.
• Oil of oregano — “The volatile oils found in oregano contain potent phenols including carvacrol and thymol, which help to support a healthy microbial environment in the intestines and throughout the whole body,” says Chiofi. “The oregano leaf also acts as an antioxidant and contains the flavonoid rosmarinic acid that appears to normalize the chemical cyclooxygenase 2 (Cox-2).” Cox-2 is associated with inflammation in tissues.
Red Moon Herbs
Jeannie Dunn, director
• Elderberry — Dunn says to be “careful not to eat too many raw berries, but as an herbal extract, elder is the wisest and tastiest, and it is also extremely supportive once one has fallen ill.” Dunn says that she uses elderberry when she has fever, cold or flu symptoms, and that it has alleviated nasal drips. Dunn notes that “young children love the taste, and it can be easily added to seltzer water, teas or used as a yogurt or breakfast cereal topping.”
• Garlic — Garlic is high in vitamins and minerals such as B-6, vitamin C, iron, calcium and selenium. Dunn recommends getting the benefits from his herb by preparing a honey-garlic lemonade, served warm.
• Plantain — “Although plantain is very resourceful for soothing burns and wounds, it can be even more resourceful internally for inflammation, cough and healthy lung system functioning.” says Dunn. “If you have ever chewed a little plantain, you probably noticed the demulcent qualities, the film that can coat the mucous membranes externally or internally, soothing inflammation on the skin or in the throat.”