All traditional herbs have a seasonal quality to them, and winter herbs are no exception.
With the holidays upon us and chilly weather creeping in, specific herbs can provide warmth, cheer, and health benefits throughout the darker days of winter.
Let’s explore how to incorporate common and less-common traditional herbs into your winter wellness routine.
1. Lemon Balm for Stress, Flavor, and Digestion
Lemon balm, also known as Melissa officinalis, is considered a nootropic (supports cognitive function), a nervine, and a relaxant (promotes relaxation and nervous system function) in traditional herbalism.*
It’s also been shown to help support digestive function.REF#3257
For Drinking: Try Lemon Balm tea
Lemon balm tea is delicious, alone or blended with complementary herbs such as Peppermint, Nettles, Thyme, Red Raspberry Leaf, Red Clover, Fennel, or Green Tea.
How to brew the perfect cup of Lemon Balm tea:
- Steep 1-2 teabags or 1-3 teaspoons of loose lemon balm with 8 oz boiling water.
- Let steep for 3-5 minutes.
- Enjoy as-is or sweeten with natural sweetener of choice
The relaxing properties of Lemon Balm make it an ideal before-bed elixir.
For Cooking: Use Lemon Balm for Big Lemon Flavor
Lemon balm has a lovely grassy, lemony flavor that lends itself to citrus-based dressing, marinades, pestos, salads, and pasta.
It’s also lovely paired with Basil, Oregano, and Thyme.
For Home: Add to Bouquets, Potpourris, and Skincare
If you’re lucky enough to find fresh Lemon Balm this time of year, it’s a beautiful addition to fresh flower arrangements.
Dried Lemon Balm can be added to potpourri mixes, and Lemon Balm tea can be used as a facial steam or toner to support healthy, hydrated skin.
2. Turmeric Adds A Touch of Gold to Lattes, Recipes, and Skincare
Turmeric, also known as “the golden spice," is one of the world’s most-studied plants and has been a staple in Ayurveda for centuries.
Turmeric’s golden color, earthy flavor, and rich antioxidant profile (curcuminoids) make it a versatile spice for supporting seasonal health and beauty while lending a nutritious boost to recipes.
Here’s how to use it.
For Drinking: Soothe Your Soul with a Golden Milk Latte
Golden Milk, made by infusing Turmeric with milk and spices, is a staple beverage in Ayurveda.
It’s also a great coffee alternative and provides a warming pick-me-up any time of day.
See Traditional Golden Milk Recipe with Gaia Herbs Golden Milk for instructions on making the perfect cup of this velvety brew.
For Cooking: Experiment with Adding Turmeric to Soups, Grains, & Desserts
We typically think of Turmeric as the main ingredient in yellow curries in the West.
However, this versatile spice can add warmth, earthiness, and bold color to soups (try it in chicken noodle or potato soup), grains, dressings, and even desserts.
Try these Golden Milk Cookies for a healthier treat alongside your Golden Milk Latte—they also make a stunning holiday gift.
For Home: Use Turmeric as a Natural Dye and Face Mask
Turmeric has been used as an all-natural, non-toxic dye for centuries.
At home, try using it to color playdough, wool or felt, or various fabrics for crafting.
It can also be added to honey or yogurt and applied as an anti-aging, skin-brightening facial mask.
Just remember, Turmeric stains nearly anything it comes into contact with. So wear gloves and an apron, and take care with countertops, cutting boards, etc.
Gaia Herbs offers several Turmeric formulas, including:
3. Cinnamon for Functional Flavor and Moth-Free Clothes
Cinnamon is a classic fall and winter spice used to create ambiance and in various baked books.
However, did you know it’s also considered an herb for wellness in Greece and other cultures?
Research has found Cinnamon may possess several health benefits.
For example, one study of 26 herbs found cinnamon had the highest concentration of antioxidants than any other spice (including garlic).REF#3258
It’s also been shown helpful for supporting metabolic function, immune function, cognitive function, cardiovascular function, and more.REF#3259
Here are some creative ways to get more of this cozy spice into your life.
For Drinking: Spice up your Coffee
If you’re a coffee drinker, you will love how some pinches of natural cinnamon complement its flavor.
There are several ways to add Cinnamon to your coffee:
- You can add a teaspoon (or more) directly to the coffee filter and percolate as usual.
- Add a pinch or two to your mug and stir in.
- Sprinkle on top of steamed milk.
For Cooking: Try Adding Cinnamon to Savory Recipes
Cinnamon may be a staple in holiday baked goods, but it’s also delicious in savory recipes.
For example, cinnamon can be added liberally to roast chicken alongside lemon and garlic for a fresh take on your typical roast chicken.
You’ll also find recipes online for cinnamon stews, braises, and other savory and hearty recipes.
For Home: Use Cinnamon Sticks in your Dresser Drawers
Don’t let leftover cinnamon sticks sit in the spice cupboard and lose their potency.
Instead, combine a cinnamon stick with whole cloves and lavender or peppercorns in cheesecloth or a cloth tea bag.
Place it in your drawers or closet to deter moths naturally and add a sweet scent to your clothing.
4. Ginger Stokes Digestive Fire, Aids Minor Aches & Pains, and Supports Immunity
Ginger’s pungent and warming nature makes it an ideal winter spice.
Prized in Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, research has shown the antioxidants in Ginger may support metabolic function and digestion, help ease nausea, support immune function, help with minor aches and pains, and much more.
Try these ideas to take the full advantage of Ginger this winter.
For Drinking: Sip on Ginger-Infused Water
You are missing out if you haven’t tried this social media trend yet!
How to Make Ginger Water
- Combine a half-inch piece of freshly grated ginger with the juice of a wedge of lemon and your choice of sweetener to taste mixed in about 1 cup of water.
- If using honey or sugar, you can add warm water to help it dissolve.
- Let infuse for 15 minutes.
- Strain, sip, and enjoy.
Ginger water is refreshing, energizing, and uplifting and makes an excellent digestive tonic after heavy holiday meals.
For Cooking: Add Ginger to your Favorite Soups
Ginger isn’t just for Asian-inspired soups. It also adds a zesty zing to comforting Western classics like chicken noodle soup, beef and barley, and vegetable soups.
Ginger can be pungent, so start by adding a teaspoon of freshly grated ginger and add more to taste.
In Indian cooking, it is typical to combine fresh ginger and garlic in a food processor, blend with oil, and store in the fridge so the combination is ready to use anytime.
For Home: Try a Ginger Bath to Soothe Minor Aches and Pains and Support Immune Function
Ginger has long been used in traditional herbalism to ease minor aches and pains and support the body’s natural defenses.
Research suggests this application is valid, showing ginger may support normal inflammatory response, have natural analgesic effects, and support immune function.
Note: Ginger may irritate some skin types, so always do a patch test by applying freshly grated ginger or powdered ginger paste on a small skin patch. Let it sit for 3-5 minutes and observe for irritation.
Ginger baths may also not be appropriate for those with pre-existing conditions, children, or during pregnancy.
How to Prepare a Ginger Bath
- Combine 1 teaspoon powdered ginger or half a cup sliced ginger with 1-2 cups Epsom salts.
- Note: for easier clean-up, place fresh ginger in a cloth tea bag or cheesecloth
- Add to your bath and let it infuse for 5 minutes.
- Sit back, relax, and enjoy.
5. Mushrooms for Immune Function and Earthy Goodness
If you’re looking for the best way to support immune function this winter (short-term or long-term), look no further than mushrooms.*
Specific mushrooms like Shiitake, Maitake, and Turkey Tail have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years to promote immune function, help the body adapt to stress, support and overall well-being.*
Many of these mushrooms are also delicious in teas and various recipes. Here are some ideas to try.
For Drinking: Add Dried Mushrooms to Broths
Bone broths are popular in the winter for their digestive health benefits and as a quick source of protein.
Adding dried mushrooms to bone broth or your favorite vegetable broth, like flavorful shiitakes, maitakes, lion’s mane, and others, imparts an umami flavor and enhances the wellness benefits of the broth.
For Cooking: Experiment with Different Types of Mushrooms as Side Dishes
If Shiitakes are the only wild mushroom you’ve tried, it’s time to branch out!
Some of the best-tasting functional mushrooms to try include:
- Maitakes (aka Hen of the Woods): These umami-rich mushrooms are delicious in just about any sauce, pizza, or risotto.
- Lion’s Mane: This shaggy-looking mushroom has a lobster-like flavor when sauteed in butter with garlic. Enjoy as a side dish, on top of a steak, or tossed into pasta.
- Chanterelles: The orange mushrooms have an apricot-like flavor that pairs well with sweet or savory sauces and dishes. Try them with caramelized onions on a pizza with fresh thyme.
- Oyster Mushrooms: These mild mushrooms have a sweetness to them that works great in stir-fries and Asian cooking.
For more tips and information on wild mushrooms, see: A Beginner’s Guide To Mushroom Foraging: Tips & Resources.
For Home: Decorate with Mushrooms for Good Luck
In Germany and other parts of Europe, white and red speckled mushrooms are dried and used for holiday decoration to symbolize good luck.
Known as Glückspilz (which translates to “lucky mushroom”), these mushrooms are traditional during the holidays because they grow in winter at the base of pine trees and are a favorite food of reindeer.
This is why you’ll often see red and white speckled mushroom Christmas tree ornaments.
You can find these on Etsy or in local European stores.
Whole dried mushrooms are also an attractive addition to holiday centerpieces, wreaths, and garlands.
6. Cardamom to Spice up Hot Drinks and Support Digestion
Like Cinnamon, Cardamom is one of the dreamy spices that makes nearly anything sweet taste even better.
It’s also been shown to be potentially beneficial for supporting digestion, inflammatory response, and cardiovascular function.
If you love the festive aroma and flavor of Cinnamon, Cloves, and Nutmeg, Cardamom deserves a spot in your holiday spice cupboard.
For Drinking: Add Cardamom to Hot Chocolate, Golden Milk, and other Hot Drinks
Just a pinch or two of sweet and spicy Cardamom adds an element of the exotic to hot chocolate, Golden Milk, coffee, hot cider, and other hot drinks.
Remember, a little goes a long way! Start with a pinch and add more if desired.
For Cooking: Try Adding Cardamom to Pancakes, Muffins, and Other Baked Goods
A pinch to 1 teaspoon of Cardamom powder can take your favorite pancake recipe to a new level.
It’s also delicious as a replacement or complement to cinnamon in muffins, granola, cookies, and other baked goods.
For Home: Diffuse Cardamom Essential Oil to Create a Peaceful Atmosphere
Cardamom essential oil is affordable relaxing, and blends well with nearly any other oil, especially citrus and woodsy oils.
A little goes a long way with using Cardamom powder or pods in cooking!
For a holiday-specific essential oil blend, try:
- 1 drop Cardamom
- 2 drops Pine or Rosemary
- 1-2 drops Orange
- 1 drop of Cinnamon
You and your guests will love the festive atmosphere and natural scent Cardamom brings to the holidays and winter season.
7. Rosemary for Relaxation, Beauty, and a Brain Boost
Rosemary is a classic winter herb known for its robustness of flavor and character (it’s one of the only herbs that will survive winter temperatures in many places).
Rosemary is typically best when used fresh in cooking, as its piney flavor really shines through.
It’s also been shown to be potentially beneficial for cognitive function and memory and for nervous system support.REF#3260
Here are reasons to invite Rosemary inside your home this winter.
For Drinking: Try Infusing Vodka with Rosemary
Hardy Rosemary is a perfect herb for infusing in your favorite Vodka.
Once infused, this woodsy libation is delicious served neat or mixed with citrus juices and purees to make a festive holiday punch.
How to Make Rosemary-Infused Vodka
- Combine a handful of clean rosemary sprigs (no need to de-steam) with a bottle of vodka in a mason jar.
- Let sit for five days.
- Strain and enjoy.
You can re-store this in the original Vodka bottle or keep it in the mason jar.
For Cooking: Add Fresh Rosemary to Turkey Meatloaf for Holiday Flavor all Winter Long
Thanksgiving may be over, but that doesn’t mean you have to wait until next year to enjoy the flavor of that fresh, herb-roasted turkey.
Add 1-2 tablespoons of fresh chopped Rosemary to your favorite turkey meatloaf recipe to elevate this weeknight meal to special occasion status.
Are you vegan or vegetarian? Add fresh chopped Rosemary to lentil loaves and veggie burgers for a savory winter flavor.
For Home: Create a Fresh Rosemary Centerpiece
Fresh Rosemary can be used as greenery to complement flower bouquets, wreaths, or centerpieces.
It can also hold its own as a rosemary bouquet or wreath, or you can buy fresh rosemary topiaries.
Its pretty green color will bring a splash of warmth to your home, while its piney scent soothes the spirit and supports brain function.
Looking for More Cozy Winter Herbal Inspiration?
Dig deeper into the best herbs and healthy lifestyle practices for the season in:
- How to Grow Herbs Indoors During the Winter
- How We Can Embrace Winter, Starting at the Dinner Table
- Warm Herbal Beverages for Chilly Winter Nights
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