In traditional herbalism, we take our cues from nature. We consciously choose activity, food, drink, exercise, sleep patterns and even the company we keep with the intention of syncing up our individual rhythms with the larger cycles. This moves us toward greater health and harmony and as such, we feel ourselves as part of a larger whole.
In the winter season, the cold outside and the shorter duration of sunlight prompt us to bundle up, to stay in, to cozy up by the fire, to do less, to rest more. But, how often do we override our desire to shift our behavior? It’s easy to be tempted to fuel ourselves with caffeine, overcome the urge to rest and push ourselves to accomplish just a little bit more. I’ve caught myself looking at the clock to determine my bedtime rather than sensing within. It takes an added level of awareness to observe how obtuse it really is to have all these electronic lights and gadgets glowing at us with ancient sunlight mined from the earth and piped in through electric currents.
Harvest is over. Those plants that will thrive again next Spring have all withdrawn their energy from the branches and directed it back down to the roots. We would be wise to do the same.
Stop. Rest. Don’t overdo. Reflect.
Astragalus, or Huang Qi, has a sweet, almost licorice flavor. Studies indicate that it may stimulates the immune system and help the body withstand stress and extreme temperatures. Codonopsis root, of Dang Shen, is a sweet tonic herb which boosts the lung and spleen systems in TCM. It’s considered by some to be like a cheaper, less potent ginseng, with a shorter duration of effects. Cinnamon brings warmth and nourishment and even antidepressant qualities to the heart while aiding digestion. Cardamom is a delicious herb with the special quality of helping humans digest cow’s milk.
Winter Tonic Chai
small handful astragalus
2-3 codonopsis root
1/2 stick of cinnamon
4-5 cardamom pods
1-2 quarter-size slices of ginger
a few peppercorns
Rinse astragalus and codonopsis and soak in cool water for a few minutes and rinse then again (this helps remove pesticides or preservatives in case your herbs are coming from Chinatown and may not be organic). Make an herbal decoction of these herbs by simmer them plus cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and peppercorns in water in a small uncovered saucepan for 30 minutes or until it reduces by about half (longer to get more effect). Add about half the quantity of milk back to the infusion with a pinch of turmeric and bring up to heat. Strain and serve. Sweeten, if desired. Serves 4.
p.s. Jaggery is my favorite natural sweetener because it has lots of minerals which lend it a nutty, rich flavor, almost salty. Palm sugar or honey also work nicely.
p.p.s. Use common sense with these herbs. Ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and turmeric are common kitchen herbs that are effective and safe for daily use. Use caution with tonic herbs such as codonopsis and astragalus. Most people should be fine with them on a regular basis. However, if you are on immunosuppressant drugs or already fighting a cold or flu, these herbs may not be appropriate. Ask your doctor.