Saturday, January 11, 2014

Best Herbal Remedies for Winter: Part Two

Welcome to Part Two of Best Herbal Remedies for Winter! (Click here for Part One.) Now, we will focus on herbs to boost your mood and ease wintertime blues, plus some remedies to keep you breathing easy during cold season.

Staying Happy

As an herb that promotes stress relief, mental clarity, mood enhancement, spiritual openness, as well as physical health, Tulsi is a consecrated kaleidoscope of curative qualities. Also known as Holy or Sacred Basil, Tulsi has long been used as a traditional herb in Ayurveda, the ancient healing practice of India.

Tulsi/ Holy Basil
Tulsi is one of the most sacred plants of India--its name translates as “Incomparable One.” Considered to be a divine representation of Krishna and/or Vishnu, Holy Basil is truly a panacea, benefiting all planes of existence, from physical to spiritual.

When used over time, Tulsi boosts the mood and can relieve depression and anxiety. It is a Sattva­-promoting herb, meaning that it opens the mind to enhance qualities of light, perception, intelligence, and harmony. As an adrenal adaptogen, Tulsi helps us adapt to all kinds of stressors, from emotional to environmental. This means that it even helps you deal with changes in temperature, which is a main reason why it made my list of favorite winter remedies. 

As if all of this weren’t enough, Tulsi also has antioxidant, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory properties. This makes it great for preventing and treating colds and flu. Many people also use this plant for its anti-cancer properties or as an adjunct therapy during cancer treatment.

Tulsi is fairly easy to grow in the garden. Though it won’t survive frosts, you can grow it as an annual and harvest the leaves for a tincture or tea (or even a nice massage oil). Its sweet, woodsy, almost-fruity flavor is used in Thai cuisine, and will keep you craving Tulsi tea for weeks on end!

St. John's Wort
Because St. John’s Wort blooms around the summer solstice, it is associated with the height of summer growth, the green man archetype, and abundant sunshine.

Preparations of St. John’s Wort are said to bring the sun to life, allowing us to experience solar energy even in the darkest moments of winter. This solar herb is used for moderate depression, as it helps people see the light in a given situation.  According to Ed Smith in his Therapeutic Herb Manual, this plant works on depression by increasing the life and potentiating the effects of neurotransmitters. It is a tonic to the nerves, with a calming effect that provides comfort and joy. St. John’s Wort also offers spiritual protection, heals physical wounds, and brings balance to conflicting male and female energies.

This ray of sunshine is super helpful for cases of wintertime blues--and I'm speaking from personal experience here. Just the other day, I was telling a friend who knows about my usual wintertime woes that St. John's Wort is getting me through the season. Yes, I'm still scraping ice off my windshield with numb fingers and getting snowed in when I'd rather go out, but somehow my emotions aren't affected as they normally are. It's because my inner sun is still shining!

For the strongest effect, St. John’s Wort is best taken as a tincture of the fresh flowering tops. You can also use the flower essence or make an infused oil. However, it’s best to stop taking it when spring finally arrives. St. John’s Wort can cause us to become more sensitive to sunlight, so we may burn with too much exposure. 

Yellow flowers of St. John's Wort create a blood-red potion.
If you happen to be healing a broken heart, consider combining St. John's Wort with Bleeding Heart. One of my herbalism teachers, Mark Disharoon (go to this site and scroll down for his bio), has noticed these two plants growing side by side in the wild. He says,
"I was wildcrafting St. John's Wort the last two weekends and saw these two in a partnership in the wild. They seemed like star-crossed lovers, one bringing the sun, the other the moon. It made me think about broken-heartedness and depression and combining them for those two things." 
Mark also writes fun and informative songs about plants--click here to listen to his tribute to Lemon Balm and read about his philosophy of plant language.

Just Breathe

Eucalyptus Tree: Forest & Kim Starr via Wikimedia Commons
Eucalyptus is one of the best remedies for treating congestion and opening the sinuses and nasal passages. With a minty and refreshing aroma, it can also raise your spirits and enhance mental clarity. Eucalyptus is easy to get a hold of in the form of essential oil, which can then be employed in many different ways. It’s great to drop into a pot of water to use for facial steaming or simmer on the stove to add moisture into the room (which is a helpful remedy unto itself for the dry air caused by furnaces or woodstoves). You can also use Eucalyptus oil in an aromatherapy diffuser, a room humidifier, or put few drops in your bath water.  

Menthol Crystals
When you have a chest cold, you may reach for the jar of store-bought vapor rub. The problem is that conventional vapor rubs contain petroleum jelly, also known as petrolatum. A by-product of the oil industry, it is a thick gel taken from oil wells that has been distilled and cleaned. Although commonly used in cosmetics, many consumers doubt the safety of petrolatum. Groups like the U.S. non-profit Environmental Working Group have found a risk of contamination from cancer-causing chemicals found in crude oil and its by-products. Regardless of potential health risks, the fact remains that any form of crude oil is a non-renewable resource.

Luckily, it’s easy to make your own natural vapor rub. The key ingredient is menthol, which is not a plant, but a compound found within mint plants. Menthol provides relief for our symptoms, breaking up coughs and opening the nasal passages so we can breathe easier. It also has a pleasant cooling sensation and crisp scent that we associate with healing.

Vapor Rub Recipe:
2 Cups Oil: I prefer a blend of sunflower and castor oils, but you can use olive oil or just about anything you have around.

2 Ounces Beeswax

1 Tablespoon Vitamin E Oil: This ingredient is a preservative, which will keep your vapor rub shelf-stable for longer. If you plan on making just enough to use for a season, you can omit the Vitamin E.

Essential Oils:           30 drops Eucalyptus
                                    30 drops Peppermint
                                    20 drops Camphor
                                    10 drops Rosemary

If desired, you can also add 10-20 drops of another essential oil to enhance the scent. For example, Lavender will sweeten the bouquet and promote relaxation, while Pine will add a warm and woody aroma.

2 Teaspoons Menthol Crystals:  Buy natural (not synthetic) crystals, preferably organic.


Start by heating the oil in a small saucepan on low heat. Add the beeswax and stir until dissolved.

Remove the pot from heat. (Because essential oils evaporate easily when heated, the idea is to keep the mixture as cool as possible for the rest of the process.)
Add the menthol crystals, stirring until they dissolve.  (The aroma will be strong, so take care not to inhale directly.)

Now add the Vitamin E oil, and stir in the rest of your essential oils. Viola! You are now ready to pour the brew into jars of your choice. Remember to label and date your jars to avoid future confusion.

Sinus Buster is a brand of natural nasal spray that uses Cayenne pepper. The sensation is very intense (even a bit painful) so I only use this spray as a last resort. I recommend it for sinus infections, not being able to breathe out of your nose at all, constant sneezing, or a nose that itches badly enough to induce madness.

Normally I prefer herbal remedies that you can make yourself, but this is not something I’ve ever dared to make. The bottle says the Cayenne is diluted to the extent of being homeopathic, but you can definitely feel the pepper. I’m including it here because sometimes this is the only thing that works. It is intense, but worth it!

That's it--now you've got a handle on some key remedies to keep you going through the winter. If you missed Part One of this article, click here for 5 more wintertime remedies to keep you warm and boost your immune system.


  1. Great post! (part 1 as well) I enjoyed reading. :)

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. I just received your Herbal Healing deck in the mail, I love it! It's beautiful! The first card I pulled was the Moonflower card! So fitting in these trying times. Thank you for creating a magical plant deck!

    1. Thank you, Claudia! Your feedback means a lot to me. Ah, of my own totems that comes up again and again. What an auspicious first card to draw!

      Please feel free to come and join us at where we have extra content and links to our social media, newsletter, upcoming events, etc. We hope to offer more interactive content soon, like downloadable plant spirit meditations, etc. :)

      Thanks again, and may the plants guide and bless you!