In celebration of our first snow of the season, I have been learning about how herbs can keep you warm when the temperatures drop. Generally more than a bit cold-blooded, I was always the kid with four layers of pants on just to go play in the snow. Now that I’m a mom I have plenty of other people to bundle up before we can get outside. The idea of using herbs to stay warmer from the inside out & and not having to wear soooooo many layers is quite appealing!
From the Inside Out!
Why do herbs work to heat up your body? When your brain senses that it is cold outside it works to maintain your core temperature by making blood vessels in your skin contract. This sends blood away from your extremities to your vital organs to keep them functioning. Most of the herbs listed below work by increasing circulation in your body, encouraging blood flow back to your arms and legs and making you feel warmer even on chilly days. Australian researcher Eric Colquhoun says that these herbs, ” stoke your internal fire by stimulating cells to burn more oxygen. Cells are like tiny fires: the more oxygen feul they burn, the more heat they give off.” (deliciouisliving.com)
Instead of describing these herbs as “hot” The ABC Herbal describes them as “stimulating” This book notes, “herbs that stimulate have aromatic or spicy qualities. They include . . . thyme, peppermint, cayenne pepper, rosemary, cinnamon, horseradish, mustard powder, ginger, cloves, oregano, and so forth.” There’s a reason holiday baking features so many of these delicious warming herbs! Some more mild ones like lemongrass, and the mints are better suited to children and wimpy people like me who do.not.like hot spicy food. I can handle some gingerbread cookies though, and will be working on a healthy herbal gingerbread cookie recipe to share soon!
These warming herbs herbs work to increase circulation, encourage perspiration, improve your digestion, clear a stuffed up respiratory system, and fight infections.
It’s the same principle as when you eat a bowl of spicy chili and feel your sinuses draining or your brow starting to drip.
One of the few times my dad cooked us one of his famous Cuban meals when I was a kid, he overdid it on the hot herbs (especially Cumin and Cayenne) just a bit. No one else could even finish a bite, but he was determined that there was nothing wrong with it and even powered though a second helping. Meanwhile he was sweating so profusely that he had a dish cloth wrapped around his forehead and was actually drinking cups of water (shocking for him.) Yeah, clearly these herbs do serve their purpose, but you need to use them wisely in small amounts!
Up to this point my experience with using herbs to warm myself up has been a side effect of using them to boost my immune system. I noticed my body temperature actually felt much warmer the last time I added a bunch of ginger to my elderberry syrup when I felt like I was getting sick. I didn’t feel like I had a fever, but I felt myself overheating in my hoodie when I would normally have been quite comfortable. I also noticed myself sweating a lot more easily and feeling warmer in my fingers and toes where as normally I am pretty cold-blooded. I have experienced the same thing when using garlic to treat an infection.
Though obviously there are many warming herbs (as listed above) I’ve want to share a bit more about these 5 herbs below and encourage you to experiment with them to keep yourself warm & toasty when you’re out braving the cold!
Of course this is on the list! It increases circulation, reduces inflammation, and will definitely heat you up from the inside out. Learn more in my post on the benefits of Ginger.
Though it may be hard to stomach, this spicy herb has actually been “linked with increased metabolic rate and core body temperature.” (honeycoloney.com) It soothes the three Cs; chills, coughs, and congestion. If it is too hot for you, try sprinkling it in your shoes to keep your toes warm; many people have tried this with satisfactory results apparently. I’m going to try adding it to one foot but not the other next time I am outside for an extended amount of time as an experiment. I just rediscovered a bulk purchase of about ten or twelve spice shakers of Cayenne pepper in my basement so I will be doing a post on how to use cayenne pepper even if you can’t handle hot food soon. Keep in mind that it is a member of the nightshade family, so you may want to avoid it if you are allergic to any other nightshades.
A “hot” herb that I actually enjoy! It warms people who are prone to being chilly and experience poor circulation. It is an, “excellent digestive tonic, immune booster, and blood sugar regulator.” (mindbodygreen.com)
Paul Bergner, who wrote, “The healing Power of Ginseng and the Tonic Herbs.” says that nothing compares to Astragalus for its warming abilities if you work outside or ski. I’ve heard of Astragalus for treating tick-born disease, but never knew it was so beneficial for raising your body temperature. Luckily Bergner includes his dose; he suggests adding 1/3 oz of root to a quart of water then simmering it until you are left with a pint of tea. Enjoy a cup in the morning and afternoon.
Garlic is a multipurpose workhorse; it is an antibacterial, antiviral, good for your heart, can kill parasites, and helps to heal wounds. It might leave you smelling a little potent, but it definitely will warm you up. When I am fighting an infection I like to cut cloves into pill sized pieces and swallow them. I’ve found it is best to take them on a full stomach and follow them with a bit of honey to wash the taste out. I wouldn’t necessarily use garlic just to warm myself up, but if I was sick and had a chill it would be a great option.
Warming Up with Herbs
How do you enjoy the benefit of these herbs? While you can take them like a supplement in an infusion, tincture, or pill form, also try mixing them into your everyday diet during the winter. Taking small amounts regularly will help you enjoy the tonic effect they can have on your body. You could add ginger, cinnamon, cloves, etc. to your breakfast oatmeal. These herbs could be added to your coffee (maybe? I don’t drink coffee so I don’t know) hot chocolate mix, or tea. Garlic and Cayenne pepper can be added in small amounts to your supper recipes such as soups, stews, stir-fry mixes, and rice. You could also add them to a hummus recipe for a tasty warming snack (along with our herbal crackers!) I’d love to hear how you incorporate these more “cozy” herbs into your seasonal diet; please feel free to share your ideas in a comment!