A Brief Herbal Guide to Surviving Winter while Single<3

 

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my home, a medicine basket unto itself.

As we transition into fall, and look towards the coming of winter, the transition into the colder, sunless months can be intimidating. Often we find ourselves carrying the grief of fall with us into winter. The grief of harvest, of endings, of bidding farewell to Summer’s abundant energetic, and turn to bare Samhain’s memorial of death and loved ones who have passed on. Already vulnerable, we enter Winter, and especially if you are single, the thought of tackling seasonal depression, colds and flus, increased financial strain, family and holidays…ALONE, can feel really daunting and scary. Not having someone to nest with and take refuge with, or to take care of you when you are sick and incapacitated, is a real struggle.

Singles, I see you and I love you. And while anyone, single or not, can follow these simple suggestions for surviving winter with grace, I wrote it especially with the singles in mind <3. It will take some self-love and self-care to hold a space for your own well-being, and be in partnership with your body and spirit, but you don’t have to love yourself so much that you’ve got to put a ring on it today!, you just have to be willing to try.

This is not an exhaustive list, in fact it’s quite tiny…and I left a lot to your own research and devices. I hope this is good food for thought <3. And I’ll be making a post soon to piggy-back off this subject on the topic of “5 soups for winter”, showcasing 5 soups from 5 different herbalists I love!

Anyway! Here are some practices to help you survive winter while single <3.

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  1. Act as though you are already Sick!

This is a funny one to start with, and sounds a bit silly, but if you can call-in immunity building practices into your daily life now, early in the season, then you are practicing the very best form of medicine: prevention! If you wait till your sick to start healing yourself, in some ways your just playing catch up.

Now is the time to start in with your daily apple cider vinegar shots, to eat a raw clove of garlic every couple of days, to add a squeeze of lemon to your water bottle, double down on your vitamin C regime (always take yr vitamin C twice a day!), and put a little extra thyme, rosemary and sage into your soups and stocks. Start adding some builders and cleansers to your tea times: dandelion, burdock, Fo ti. Start in with a little Echinacea, calendula, or western red cedar to stimulate immunity every now and again. Dig into your mushroom tinctures.

It’s ok to forget or miss a day. We can’t do everything! But a little goes a long, long way. Especially if it’s a long, long winter.

2.Go to your Roots (and Soups)

On our path towards winter, it’s important to turn our diet towards foods that are a little heavier, fattier, oily-er, even spicy-er. Building into our bodies the fuels, fats, heat, and buffers we will need to endure difficult weather and illness is crucial! Even if your vegan, it’s totally possible to build up your fat and protein intake: with food combinations that provide protein, and lots of oil and avocados for instance!). It will help you so much in the long run.

Winter traditionally is the time when we take refuge from the cold. We go indoors, to our burrows, our nests, our hearths. So of course, root vegetables, and root herbs (whether culinary, medicinal, both), who themselves embody the practice of living in refuge and burrowing deep into the protection of the land, are the very things we should be throwing into our cauldrons.

Of course we all know about bone broth by now, but not everyone can, or wants to eat animal stock. Honestly I’ve found that very mineral rich mushroom and vegetable stocks with miso are extremely energizing, nutritive, and blood and immunity building. Try making a two day stock of root vegetables with Burdock, and Miatake, Cordicepts, and Reishi mushrooms or powders. Try throwing a touch of Astragalus in your soup stocks (especially if they are rich and fatty). It doesn’t have to be fancy, or animal based to be really deeply nourishing and effective, I swear!

 

3.Go To Your Elders

Seriously, getting a hold of some elderberry cordial, honeyed syrup, tincture, or the dry berries to add to tea, in my opinion is one of the very best medicines to have around come cold, cough and flu season…as it’s strongly anti-viral. Elderberry alone does wonders for colds, coughs, sore throats. It’s timing is similar to Echinacea. Do you feel a tickle of your friends cold in your throat? Who you just shared a glass and spoon with? Go for your Elder. Elder alone is a great medicine, but I see it too as a beautiful and delicious synergize-er for all the other herbal odds and ends for colds on the tea shelf. When I wake up feeling the cold air getting too deep in, I make the following:

1 big handful of Elderberries,

big pinch of spikenard root (Aralia californica), a

big pinch of Echinacea root,

6 leaves of Yerba Santa,

3 mullein leaves,

a little western red cedar

simmered in a quart and a half of water for 30-45ish minutes,

until it reduces to a quart, and strain well.

Squish the leftover elderberries and add that jellyness back to the tea

Then just add some honey to taste. This opens and cleanses the lungs, warms you up, gently astringes the mucus membranes, and stimulates your immune system. I love it! I already beat 2 colds with this and it’s not even November!

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some of my mainstays for winter health: the elixir as mentioned above, Chilis, Elderberries, Yerba Santa, Ginger, Cedar tincture, and an herbal throat spray, Garlic, and Honey

4. Cover the back of your Neck and wrap your Kidneys

We all know to cover our head when it’s cold, but have you heard to cover your neck and kidneys too? In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it’s important to cover the back of your neck from wind and cold, especially your C7 vertebrae. Think of how we feel our colds and flus: stiff or sore neck, sore throat, headache, congestion…these are often due to warm wind or cold wind or air entering though our neck, carrying illness or creating the conditions for illness to thrive.

The same goes for your kidneys. In TCM Kidney stagnation or excess is responsible for a very, very extensive list of imbalances. Make sure to wear warm clothes and layers around your torso and kidneys. For extra protection you can wrap a nice warm scarf around your kidneys and then dress with your typical winter layers.

 

5. Get some Yerba Santa

I absolutely love Yerba Santa (Eriodictiyon californicum). It was the first herb that used where I was like “holy shit herbal medicine is real and really powerful”. Anytime your upper respiratory system is boggy, mucusy, and especially if your nose is running and running and running, reach for Yerba Santa. It’s extremely drying to the mucosa and fast acting. It helps dry up the thing you can’t cough up so you can finally move it out. I work in retail at a native plant nursery, and trying to interact with customers while I’m constantly snuffly and blowing my nose and wiping my face makes me feel crazy and exasperated! Sometimes it’s hard enough just to get out of bed if every minute I have to wipe or blow my nose. Yerba Santa helps me every time. It’s really a mainstay.

It can be a little too drying for some, so take it with a little extra water then usual.

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Yerba Santa in bloom in the Marble Mountains

6. Get yourself a big teddy bear!

As someone who has experienced her share of abandonment, who is estranged from my biological family on account of my being queer, trans, and anti-racist, and as someone who has experienced intense traumas, there have been times in my life where the worst part of my day is coming home to myself, and en empty bed. Especially if you are still grieving the loss of a loved one or break up. One of the very best things I’ve done for myself is get a huge teddy bear with a very happy, smiling face. Having a little imaginary friend who you can cry to, be vulnerable around, and have to cuddle throughout the night, in my opinion is one of THE BEST medicines for loneliness and trauma. I know it sounds silly, but this very simple, imaginative practice has got me through the lowest, most heart wrenching and traumatized era of my life. And you may find, like I have, that just about everyone has a little stuffed animal! My boss does, my chosen mom, my femme chosen fam, my trans elder locked up in jail…it’s pretty cute <3. And it works. really.

7. Get a Hot Water Bottle!

These are so nice. They make the bed all warm like you had a boo with you or a big ol’ pit bull. They help cold feet if your too poor for good blankets. They help work through a cold, damp, achy, why-won’t-this-come-out-already-menses. They’re great if your too sick to get your bring your own body heat up. These are everywhere at Walgreens and CVS, where they are sold as ‘douches’. Yknow I feel like you can climb into bed with your hot water bottle, sign into Netflix and it’s a great date with your single self.

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my teddy bear Berry with a hot water bottle ❤

8. Give yourself Ginger Foot baths

Have you ever tried this! It’s wonderful! So healing for achy feet, when you come back from your long winter bus ride home and just can’t get yourself warm and right again. It’s as easy to make as it sounds, and you can use warm or fresh ginger.

9. Stay hydrated and lubed!

The winds and freezing temperatures of winter can get us feeling more chapped then our lack of intimacy and touch does. Wind and extreme temperature zap us of moisture! Don’t forget to drink lots of water! I think too one of the best ways to get in touch with yourself and your body is to take a minute and put some lotion or oil on your body. Not just your hands and arms…your whole body. It’s a really nice ritual. It’s not my idea…I learned it from a very dear friend in Herb School. I bet you’ll feel the difference right away. Especially right as you come out of a shower, is one of the best times to fully dress yourself with your favorite lotion. Your body will just drink it right in deep into your skin tissue. I know you femmes out there know: Beauty heals. Not so much being beautiful, as FEELING beautiful. Try moisturizing in the morning at night. With the right lotion you will feel like a lush, plump goddess  underneath your big jackets and wool layers <3. And if this stimulates you to feel yourself so much you end up fucking yourself, well that is such a loving and intimate moment to conjure with yourself.

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10. Take a good long bath

Not all of us have access to a good bathtub, but if you have one or your able to borrow one from a friend, good lord-ess it’s incredible how much a good long bath can hit the reset button for us. I encourage people to fill their bath with their favorite calming flowers. I like lavender and rose, sometimes violet to just connect deeper into healing my heart. Have you tried a milk bath? Wild Oats are a WONDERFUL way to steep a bath. just put the oats in a large cloth tea bag, run your hot water through, and keep squeezing the milk out. It’s so nutritive to the skin. You can even use a cup of instant powdered milk. I like to invite some candles and soft music or meditation recordings into my bath atmosphere with me, and I especially like to put about a half cup of coconut oil in the water, which is SO moisturizing…especially beneficial if you live in the north east or anywhere where it is just cold and dry as all get out. A bath like the ones described is literally romance, an opportunity to romance yourself. And is actually really intimate and calming. It can change your trajectory from fractured and empty to grateful and held in no time.

11. Slow down, and Love yourself

One of the things I find so disturbing about Capitalism, is that it drives itself headlong into winter, demanding we traverse dangerous weather conditions, dangerous driving conditions, and in many ways increase our work and mental/physical/psychic load around the holidays and spectacular consumer events. Yknow this should be time of refuge and respite. A time of story telling, of deep intimacy, reflection, of gathering around our hearts and fires and enduring together. Not everyone has the privilege or ability to slow down, but everyone has the ability to love themselves, and turn towards themselves with warmth, protection and compassion, and this in itself takes slowing down. Takes noticing your needs, your circular thoughts, what makes you better, what makes you worse. Mindfulness is how we cultivate intimacy and awareness of ourselves. To bring ourselves home, in a healing, self-held environment…to feed ourselves and nurture ourselves, especially if you are without a romantic human connection, is really hard work. Most of us were not taught how to do this work, or that it was even necessary. The day we truly begin to love and care for ourselves, as we would our truest love, is the day when we will truly and authentically be able to love and show up for one we may love in the future.

So slow down, take yourself on a date. Watch a movie with yourself, put time aside to write in your journal, to crack your back, to take a good long bath.

If you find yourself struggling with your health, your loneliness, your inner fire…please know you are not alone. Even If you don’t have a partner, you can still cultivate unlimited friendliness with yourself, and connect with the resourceful, ever-wise, ever-compassionate part of you that lies unbroken beneath your layers of pain and trauma. There is intimacy and romance in all things, from the bouquets of summer roses to the stoic skeletons of winter oaks. This can be a season where we make peace with ourselves, and heal these hearts that long for connection.

Of course, the plants are terrific allies in our journey in opening our hearts and healing our wounds, but you need look no further then your own heart, for medicine for your sadness and loneliness.

These have helped me all so much over the years,

And I  hope this was helpful for someone today ❤

-Nicole

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a flock of herbalists in alpine California

 

 

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