The Winter Herbal Medicine Cabinet

Originally posted December 3, 2013

This time of year I often find myself rifling through the cabinets looking for just the right herbs and ingredients to brew up a tea, tincture or syrup for myself or one of my ailing family members.  If only, I thought,  I had a master list of all the essential ingredients to have on hand during these chilly and cold & flu-filled wintry months!...

Here’s a sampling of what I came up with:

•        Fresh Ginger Rt- a potent anti-microbial (fights viruses and  bacteria) herb, great for deep and wet coughs, cold & flus and stomach bugs too. Also adds a nice flavor to most blends. Wonderful as a steam to decongest clogged-up sinuses.

~Ginger Facial Steam~
3 inch piece of fresh ginger, grated
3 cups water

Put a pot on the stove filled with about 3 cups water, cover and bring to a boil.  While waiting, grate or finely chop your ginger.  Once the water has come to boil turn off the heat but leave the pot covered. Make sure you have a big towel on hand because you’ll need it.  While the water is still very hot throw in your fresh ginger and stir it in.  Then quickly grab your towel and holding your face just above the pot let the steam inundate your sinuses.  Put the towel over your head to create a little tent to help trap the steam.  This works great and feels amazing.   Stay in as long as you’d like!


•        Fresh Garlic- Another potent anti-microbial and strong expectorant (helps resolve deep, wet coughs). If you’re desperate you can chew this fresh both to ward off colds and flus and also to alleviate current ones. A nice trick is to mix minced fresh garlic with some olive oil, fresh parsley, olive and sea salt- nice to spread on crackers, and the parley helps with the dreaded “garlic breath”!  If nothing else, just sprinkling copious amounts of good quality garlic powder on your food when you are sick can really help quite a lot.

•        Elder Flower (Sambucus nigra)- The flower to the famous Elderberry.  This is one of my favorite go-to herbs for viral infections, especially if there is upper respiratory congestion such as earaches, post-nasal drip, stuffy nose and all around sinus congestion. Kids respond especially well to this herb. It makes a nice tincture or tea.

•        Yarrow Lf + Fl (Achillea millifolium)-Anti-microbial and powerful diaphoretic. Abundant and easy to gather for yourself. Both tea and tincture work great, but be sure to use hot for diaphoretic properties.

•        Peppermint Lf (Mentha piperita)-Great for stomach bugs that cause cramping, gas and loose bowel movements, peppermint helps resolve these kinds of issues fast. Great for colds and flus too and a tasty tea that most folks and kids like. The tincture works well too.

~First Sign of Flu Tea~

Equal Parts Dried:
      Peppermint or Chocolate Mint
Elder Flower


 Directions: Make a simple infusion (classic tea) of the mixture of above herbs.  Use about 2 tsp herbs: 1 cup water, pour boiling water over the herbs, cover and let sit for about 5-10 minutes. Strain and drink!

Uses:  Antiviral, diaphoretic, antibacterial, digestive aid.  Excellent remedy to take at absolute first sign of a cold or flu.  At first sign of sickness and especially if you are running a low-grade fever and have the fuzzy head, headache, aches and pains, a cold sweat and chills, make the tea and run a hot bath.  Make the bath as hot as you can tolerate, get in and bring in a cup of very, very hot tea and drink it in the bath as hot as you an stand.  Soon you will start to sweat.  Once you have been in and sweating for about 10 minutes and the bath begins to cool, get out.  Staying warm, dress in the warmest clothes you can, get under lots of covers, go to sleep and sweat that cold out!  In the morning you should feel much, much better.  Also excellent to take if the cold or flu has already taken hold.


•        Honey (raw, local)- Raw honey is a panacea unto itself!  I like having it around to sweeten up not so delicious herbal teas for my kids (especially if they need lots of the spicy expectorants like thyme and rosemary). Also very soothing and famous when blended with ginger and honey.

•        Fresh Lemons- To blend with your ginger and honey! Also good source of vitamin c too.

~Ginger- Lemon-Honey Tea~

2-3 tbsp Fresh Ginger, chopped

Juice of 1-2  lemons

Honey (local, raw)  to taste (~2 tbsp)

1 Quart Water

Directions:  Easy.  Chop-up the ginger as fine as you can.  Place in a 1 quart mason jar and cover with boiling water just about to the top.  Add the fresh-squeezed lemon and honey, mix and let steep at least ½ hour minimum. Strain (or don't strain, also nice to chew and eat the ginger!) and drink through-out the course of the day to lessen the duration of a cold

Uses: Antibacterial, antiviral, respiratory aid, decongestant , immune-stimulating, diaphoretic, anti-inflammatory.  Excellent remedy for a cold that presents with a painful sore throat. Also has expectorant properties and will help soothe a cough while also promoting the production of mucous from the lungs, helping to break-up congestion.  Very warming, comforting and soothing for a cold. Excellent rememdy for the very early signs of a cold, take with lots of echinacea! For best results add 3-5 dropperfulls of echinacea tincture to each quart.


•        Sea Salt- Essential for your neti pot- you’ll want the finely ground kind.

•        Neti pot- If you don’t know about the wonders of the neti pot you are in for treat!  Using a neti pot is definitely a learned art, but one that's not at all difficult to master.  A treatment that comes to us via Ayurveda, the medicine system of India, neti pots are excellent treatments for blocked sinuses and an absolute must for folks who suffer from frequent sinus infections. Mix ¼ tsp finely ground sea salt/neti pot. They are available in most health food stores and typically come with directions for use on the box.  Use daily in the winter as a preventative or when acutely sick and super-congested.

•        Wild Cherry Bark Syrup or Tincture (Prunus serotina)- I love this plant. I have found it to be sooooo effective for that little “tickle in your throat” (usually caused by upper sinus congestion that then cause a post-nasal drip) that makes you cough, sometimes spasmodically, both during the day and also keeping you up at night.  For best results squirt the tincture directly to the back of your throat, or put into a spray bottle.

•        Calendula Tincture (Calendula officinalis)-Calendula is a great lymphatic herb, which means it helps support the immune system, particularly in terms of removing metabolic waste caused by fighting off a pathogen or infection.  Lymphatic herbs help with the detoxification process, and are especially helpful for folks having a hard time “kicking” a sickness and are prone to lingering symptoms.  This makes a great tea as well.

•        Medicinal Mushrooms- Chaga, Reishi, Shitake, Maitake.  So helpful for building long-term, deep immunity. The maitake and shitake can be added to soups and stews. Chaga and Reishi are best decocted to extract their medicine. Getting these mushrooms into your system 3-4x/ week during the winter months is ideal.


Chaga Chai

2 tbsp ground Chaga

6-7 slices thinly sliced fresh ginger

5 inch piece of cinnamon

1 tsp clove

15 cardamom pods

6 cups liquid (½ water, ½ milk)


Directions: Simmer all the ingredients in 3 cups of water for 15- 30 minutes.  Then add 3 cups of milk of choice (cow, almond, rice, oat) and simmer another 5-10 minutes.  Strain, add raw honey to taste if desired.

The health benefits of the brew are many

Uses: Chai is an excellent warming and stimulating tea that also aids digestion and fights colds and flus!  Additionally, chaga mushroom is high in antioxidants, boosts the immune system, detoxifies the liver,and helps heal cancers.   It is also used to treat high blood pressure, diabetes, tumors, and even HIV.  It is even anti-bacterial!


•        Astragalus Rt  slices (Astragalus membranaceus)- Another famous herb for building long-term, deep immunity. Throw a few slices of the dried root in your soups, stews and grains and remove before eating. Astragalus is especially helpful for folks who are susceptible to lung infections. It’s important though to temporarily discontinue use of Astragalus when you are acutely ill.

•        Elderberry Syrup- An absolute classic. Studies have proven again and again the remarkable anti-viral properties of Elderberry (Sambucus nigra).  Take 1 tsp/day preventively during the flu season, ½  tsp/day for kids. If you get sick you can up the dosage lots- up to 3-4 tsp/day for an adult and 1-2 tsp/ day for children. Kids love the taste and it can easily cover up the flavor of less delicious tinctures you might be wanting them to take!

•        Goldenseal Tincture (Hydrastis canadensis) – First off, always use organically grown NOT wild-crafted Goldenseal, as it is very endangered in the wild.  This is a low-dose medicinal, meaning a few drops of tincture or just a little bit in tea is usually sufficient. I like to use Goldenseal for sinus infections, usually just 5-10 drops of the tincture a few times/ day.

•        Echinacea Tincture (Echinacea purpurea)-Another plant we want to be organic and never wild-crafted, due to overharvest in the wild. Most folks are familiar with Echinacea by now. We use this herb to stimulate superficial immunity, meaning you want to stimulate those white blood cells and fight off invading pathogens. For this reason it is often used at first sign of oncoming sickness, at high doses.  Try 2-3 tsp of the tincture/ day when you feel something coming on- of course good sleep and food are crucial at this point too!

•        Myrrh Tincture (Commiphera myrrha)-  I’m not usually one to recommend remedies from so far away, but I do love myrrh. The tincture is great for skin infections and excellent in a throat spray or tincture for strep throat. It is a very strong anti-microbial, immune-stimulating herb and a really good one to have around.

•        Valerian Tincture (Valeriana officinalis)and/or California Poppy Tincture (Eschscholzia   californica)- Sleep is the best preventative medicine you can get, and suffering from sleeplessness when sick is just the worst. Keep some nice herbal sedatives such as these on hand for those wide- awake-at night times.  The main reason I have seen for sleep herbs not working for folks is that they’re often not taking enough!  It’s kind of a find-your-dosage game because it’s different for everyone.  Start with just ½ tsp in a little water. Work up in ½ tsp increments every 15-30 min until you are drowsy.  1-2/ evening tsp is usually sufficient for most folks.

•        Fire Cider- Another classic at this point. Originally came to the herb world from Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar and now numerous versions are out there.


Fire Cider

1 Quart Organic Apple Cider Vinegar (raw if possible)

1/4 cup Fresh Horseradish, grated

1/2 cup Fresh Onion, chopped

1/8 cup-1 head Fresh Garlic (to taste) chopped

1/2 cup Fresh Ginger, grated

1/2 cup Fresh Burdock Rt, chopped

1 small cayenne pepper (or about 1 tsp)

WARNING! Do not touch your eyes or any other mucous membrane after making this unless you wore gloves!

Directions:  Chop-up all the ingredients and combine with the apple cider vinegar in a jar.  Cover the top with wax paper (since the vinegar will corrode metal) and then put the lid on over that.  Let sit 4-8 weeks, shaking often.  Strain and store out of direct light, will last at least a year.   Other nice additions include burdock root and for spices- oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary, cumin, coriander, fennel and honey.

Uses:  Antiviral, antibacterial, anti-fungal, expectorant, immune-stimulant, decongestant, liniment, cardiovascular tonic. Nearly every ingredient is antibacterial, and garlic and ginger additionally are antiviral, making this mixture a natural antibiotic!  Fire Cider increases your white blood cell count and stimulates immune response.  It is also a respiratory aid and will help break-up congestion in the lungs.  To help soothe a painful, drier cough or sore throat, add honey and about 1 tsp fire cider to a cup of warm water and drink as a tea, 2-3 cups/day while symptoms persist.   Also very helpful for sinusitis and allergies to relieve sinus congestion,  sinus headaches and copious mucous discharge.  Also a circulatory stimulant, both internally and topically as a liniment for bruises, strains and injuries.  Fire Cider is also a cardiovascular tonic for high cholesterol and to prevent arteriosclerosis, and for heart health in general.   As a general tonic to prevent cold and flu as well as its many other uses, take about 1 tsp 1-2 x/day mixed in water or straight.  If you are coming down with a cold or flu or already sick, increase dosage to 1/2-1 shotglass of Fire Cider anywhere from 1-5x/day, diluted or straight.  Since this formula is so hot and spicy in nature precaution should be taken for those with chronic heartburn, acid reflux, gastric ulcers, IBS, Crohn's Disease, sensitive stomach.  Stop taking 2 weeks before and after surgery because of blood-thinning effects.


•        Essential Oils- Trees (Eucalyptus, Spruce, Fir, Hemlock, Pine). Essential oils are potent anti-microbials and immune-simulating. The trees seem to have an affinity for our respiratory system- surprised? These can come in so handy during the winter months. Add a few drops of essential oil to a carrier oil like olive, sesame or grapeseed for a quick and effective chest rub.  Put a few drops into the palm of your hand, cup around you nose for a bronchial and sinus-clearing inhalation that also boosts your immunity! Sprinkle around your bedroom at night or on your pillow or even in a dehumidifier.  Drop 5-10 drops into a just-boiled pan of hot water to make a potent steam.  So much medicine packed into a tiny bottle.

•        Boneset Tincture (Eupatorium perforatum)-Lots of folks use Boneset the way they would Echinacea, and it works. It is also very abundant in our bioregion, especially in wet meadows.  It’s pretty bitter so tincture is usually the way to go for this one.

•        Marshmallow Rt (Althea officinalis)- A soothing plant full or healing mucilage, it’s very important not to forget to keep some demulcent herbs around.  Demulcents soothe sore throats and painful irritated tissue and inflamed mucous membranes.  Best as a tea or a powder mixed in room temperature water (try 1 tsp/ 1 cup of water)

•    The Mediterranean Culinary Herbs- Basil, Rosemary, Thyme, Sage,Oregano.  Anyone who has been to one of my classes knows how much I love the culinary herbs- they are so multi-purpose! They make our food delicious while simultaneously enhancing our immunity and warding off colds, flus and worse.  In the herbal materia medica, the culinary herbs tend to be among the most potent anti-microbial herbs we have.  And they are so abundant and accessible.  Many CSAs have a pick-your-own section of culinary herbs- pick a little extra to dry for winter!  They are easy to find at farmer's markets and co-ops, and even many mainstream grocery store carry them fresh as well.  Use them as a tea, make tinctures, infuse them in honey, and most of all- use them copiously in your food!

Be well all!


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