Herbs in the winter are a great supplement to help boost your immune system. Today we’ll cover 6 awesome winter herbs to keep on hand for your family.
Katie here: I told Donielle I wasn’t all that into herbs and that she couldn’t get me excited about them. She’s going to try anyway. 😉
I’m just glad Donielle also makes some stuff to help me use things like calendula, because I’m just not an infusing kind of gal. 😉 Her new biz is super cool, and I love that herbal products are so safe for kids. I’m proud to have been using an early version of Apothecary Kids’ salve stick with a marker-drawn label all summer!
No matter where your kids go to school, how often you try and wash their little hands, or give them immune boosting supplements, most children will deal with some type of virus or another over the cold winter months.
This onslaught of winter illnesses can make any mother feel overwhelmed; we have to deal with viruses that keep us running for buckets in the middle of the night, sitting in hot, steamy bathrooms to help a little one breathe, and comforting a feverish (and whining) child.
We survive days (sometimes weeks!) on end with little sleep as we try our best to keep the family comfortable should they succumb to illness. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t do my best thinking when I’m living on 3 or 4 hours of sleep!
Herbs for Winter
For that reason, I stock my natural medicine cabinet every fall, making sure I have all of the herbs and herbal products I’ll need to help my family if/when sickness strikes. Over the years, I’ve learned what I can do without (because the budget isn’t always able to afford a full herbal apothecary!), as well as which herbs provide me with the remedies our family needs the most. I also have a few herbs I like to have simply for their health boosting benefit, because many herbs are so gentle that you can use them almost anytime!
As I’ve studied natural health over the years, I’ve added different types of alternative medicine to my arsenal, but I keep coming back to herbs. While other forms of remedies have their place, herbs are gentle and can be better tolerated by a child’s sensitive body. I can also safely treat my children with herbs internally, where I won’t with essential oils (no matter the brand). Other remedies may cause an intolerance when overused or can be easier to “over dose.” I also like the idea that I’m using the whole plant and not just one extracted from it.
Most of all, I think it’s best to start with the most gentle form of remedy first. (In the same way that you wouldn’t ask for a prescription pain reliever when a low dose over-the-counter one will do.) For this reason, herbs are what I turn to as I look to keep my family healthy throughout the year and are my first step in treating illness.
Here are the 6 herbs I must have in my house over the winter!
(note- all of these herbs have MANY uses, I’m simply going to share our favorite uses)
Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) #1 Herb for Winter
If I was to pick only one herb for the winter, the elderberry would be it! It has both antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties and is also an immune system stimulant, making it a powerhouse herb. Many take elderberry to avoid illness and boost their immune system, but even taken at the onset of a cold or influenza it may help reduce the duration of the illness.
The most popular way to take elderberry is in syrup form, easily purchased from your local health food store or online retailer. BUT… you can also make it at home for a fraction of the cost. You simply need dried elderberries, honey (or sugar), and water to make a simple syrup.
How we use elderberry:
- as a homemade syrup a couple of times per week
- as a homemade syrup multiple times per day during illness (smaller, more frequent doses)
- the adults take elderberry in tincture form
- in a tea blend simply for added immune benefit throughout the season (elderberry, nettle, hibiscus is a favorite!)
Garlic (Allium sativum): It’s an Herb!
You might think of garlic as only a seasoning for your dinner, but garlic has amazing antiviral and antibacterial properties and has over 7,000 years of documented medicinal use! It also has wide-ranging systematic effects on the cardiovascular, digestive, and respiratory systems as well as on the liver.
How we use garlic:
- I mince raw garlic and stir it into softened butter as a spread for toast or to put on rice or potatoes.
- It gets put into soups and broth when someone is feeling under the weather and I often double the garlic called for in recipes.
- Garlic oil is often used in our home for ear aches, made by combining minced garlic and olive oil over low heat, strained and cooled, and bottled for use.
- And, not for the faint of heart (or children!), I will mix minced garlic, raw honey (use the code Katie15 for 15% off at that site!), and apple cider vinegar together and take a tablespoon a few times per day to avoid or fight off illness.
Let me fill you in on garlic’s little secret though, so that you can get the most medicinal bang for your buck… it has to be cut, chopped, or minced and left sitting for 5-10 minutes before you eat or cook with it!
While it sits, sulfur-rich compounds in the cloves are activated by oxygen and change certain compounds within the garlic into the protective compounds that offer us the most benefit. So next time you need to add garlic to your meal, simply mince it and wait a few minutes before adding it to your pan.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis) Herb for Winter
This flower has wonderful anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, and is a fantastic wound healing herb, making it a perfect addition to the natural medicine cabinet in the winter! While we often think of “wounds” as skin abrasions that happen in the summer, winter brings its own skin problems. Chapped, dry skin is painful and many people suffer from eczema more in the winter months, leaving sores and scratches from itching.
How we use calendula:
- in herbal salves or oil based lotions for dry skin
- in diaper creams
- placed in mesh “tea” bags in a warm bath to sooth dry winter skin
Note from Katie: Again, thank goodness this isn’t a DIY post! I just don’t have time! Very happy to let other people do the steeping, infusing, and tincturing for me. You too? Shop Apothecary Kids.
Mullein (Verbascum thapsus) Winter Herb
Mullein is such a fun herb, and you’ve probably seen it growing along roadsides and in fields! It’s leaves are super soft and it’s small stalk of flower blossoms sticks up high above overgrown grass.
It has expectorant properties that can be helpful during spells of unproductive coughing, and is also anti-inflammatory, so it is often used during times of respiratory illness. The flowers can even be used – often helping to treat ear infections!
How we use mullein:
- placed in a tea (sometimes along with elderberry) to assist the body during respiratory illness
- infused in oil (usually along with garlic) to help treat ear aches
Nettle (Urtica dioica) Herb
Growing up, this plant cause me a lot of pain! It grew like a weed (pun intended) in front of our barn, almost like a forest. My sisters and I would carefully try and sneak around through the nettle forest, often getting stung and finding ourselves covered in small white blisters.
Thankfully, the type of nettle we’re talking about here is dried and won’t cause any harm.
Nettle is considered a nourishing herb as it has a rich vitamin and mineral content and it seems there is not much that nettle can’t help with! It’s often recommended for healthy hair, skin, and nails, as an energy booster, a treatment for skin disorders, as natural allergy relief, and for helping the body maintain proper insulin levels.
Because of its many vitamins and minerals, I tend to use this herb in a tea over the winter in order to add extra nutrients to growing bodies.
German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) Tea Herb
Often used as a night time tea to help relax bodies, it’s a great staple herb to have in your home.
Holidays are often times of higher anxiety and nervousness for children as their senses can be easily overwhelmed. Crowds in the stores, busy family gatherings, rushed parents, and classrooms full of excited children all mean that sometimes our kids need a bit of help to wind down. Chamomile and honey make a great tea for both kids and adults, even the practice of making the tea and sitting together can be calming and will help your little ones relax before or after an event.
But the benefits of chamomile don’t stop there! It can also be used for digestive upset or indigestion. Note that chamomile is in the ragweed family, so if you’re allergic to ragweed you shouldn’t use it.
How we use chamomile:
- as a tea for relaxing busy and excited children
- during and after stomach viruses to soothe the digestive tract as well as provide hydration
With just these six herbs, you’ll be able to make plenty of remedies over the winter!
More Herbs and Natural Health at Kitchen Stewardship®
- First Line of Defense Against Illness – Naturally
- I’m Not Afraid to Use Essential Oils with My Kids Anymore
- Home Remedy for Kids’ Ear Infections
- Monday Mission: Build Your Apothecary
- Strong Natural Antibiotics
Top photo credit: ©Dolgachov via Canva.com