Winter Warmers


As the morning sun settles into place low on the horizon it hits the layer of frost built up on my windows setting aglow a crust of sparkling jewels. I look out over the river and see the steam fog playing across the open water and watch a pack of snow and ice drift lazily by. The river has been narrowing daily as the ice advances from either bank. I wiggle my toes in my socks and slippers and place them on the hot water bottle at my feet. I pick up my hot tea, wrapping my hands around the mug drawing warmth into my fingers. It’s a cold and frosty day outside; a typical Canadian winter, and for the moment I have no plans to venture out into it.

I have what we call in herbalism, a cold constitution. In Ayurveda my predominant doshas are Kapha-Vata. The ancient Greeks would say I have a phlegmatic temperament. Physiologically it means that I get cold easily and I have poor circulation, especially to the extremities, so my hands and feet are frequently cold to the touch. In order to survive winter I put on my long johns in November and they don’t come off until April! I’m the one who’s always bundled up with an extra layer when I go out and often I simply choose to not go out, preferring to hibernate instead. Other coping strategies include making appropriate dietary and herbal choices that warm the body at this time of year.


Winter is an excellent time for savouring rich stews, hearty soups, squashes, roasted vegetables and earthy roots. Raw foods like salads can often be too cooling in the winter and difficult to digest. Go for warm salads instead. Do you start every day with cold cereal and milk? Try and switch to oatmeal for the cold months. Stew your fruits into tasty compotes instead of eating them raw. Eating seasonally and locally naturally incorporates nourishing winter fare into the diet. Spice up your dishes up with lots of warming herbs like rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano, ginger, horseradish, cayenne, garlic and lots of pepper. These are wonderful circulatory stimulants bringing blood to the surface of the skin and warming the body.

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Hot drinks are a great way to warm up a cold core and some of those culinary herbs mentioned above can be nice additions to herbal teas. I put a pinch of ginger in almost every tea I drink in the winter time. I love rosemary tea and find it delicious and very warming. I’ll add sage and thyme to my teas especially if I’m under the weather and feel a sore throat or cough coming on. Toss a few peppercorns into your teas, especially chai. Drink lots of chai. Cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg are all delicious and warming. Add them to hot chocolate, coffee, cider and hot toddies. When choosing herbs, keep in mind that some of them are naturally cooling. Bitter herbs and sour herbs like rose and hibiscus tend to be cooling and drying. If you want to drink them add a pinch of something warming for a better balance. Many nourishing herbal infusions like nettles and raspberry are also cooling and drying so be sure to warm them up with some cinnamon, ginger or licorice roots. If you do tend to run cold limit your intake of cold drinks. Drink room temperature water or at least without ice.


You don’t even have to take herbs internally to enjoy their heating qualities. Oils and salves infused with warming herbs like sage, rosemary, ginger and cayenne can be massaged into cold, achy joints to increase warmth and circulation. A hot herbal bath or foot soak with ginger is a wonderful way to take the chill out of the bones. A bit of cayenne powder sprinkled into boots and mitts will keep nippy fingers and tender toes nice and toasty when you finally do make it into the great outdoors!


What are some of your favourite ways for keeping warm in the winter?

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