By now you have probably harvested and preserved your summer produce for the winter but have you considered what to do with your herbs? Why not make some immune-boosting herbal medicines for fall and winter? Creating a natural medicine pharmacy with the herbs you grew or foraged is simple and you can feel comfortable giving these remedies to your family because most herbal medicine is very gentle. The herbal recipes I am going to cover in this article (fire cider vinegar and elderberry syrup) are safe and gentle enough for daily use, even for children, the elderly, and those who are immune-compromised. If there is a person who should not take any of the herbal recipes, I will note it in the description.
Even though herbal remedies are safe and gentle, they are medicine and they have the possibility of interacting with other medicines you may be taking. For this reason, it is important to consult your doctor before adding anything to the medications you are already taking. A few doctors still scoff at the idea of herbal medicines; if you have a doctor like this, remind them that our pharmaceuticals are derived from plant material. Of course, there are conditions you should see a physician for and herbal medicine tends to work slower than a steroid pack. But herbal medicines have a long history and many doctors are now paying attention since there have been scientific studies to back up anecdotal evidence.
There are hundreds, even thousands, of herbs and there is a lot of overlap in how they work on the body. Because we are focusing on herbal medicines for fall and winter, we are going to concentrate on herbs that help with flu, mood, coughs, and colds, as well as herbs used to boost the immune system.
Regardless of what the weather is doing right now, we know fall and winter are on the way. Prepare your herbal pharmacy now so you will not be caught by surprise. Start by preparing immune-support medicines that you can begin taking as soon as they are ready. I like to make and use fire cider vinegar for immune support for several reasons. First, many of the ingredients needed for this herbal recipe can be pulled out of your garden. And the ingredients you didn’t grow yourself can almost certainly be found at your local farmers market. Second, the preparation is simple and the actual work takes a few minutes. Mix it and forget it. In a month, you have a bottle of herbal medicine for fall and winter that will get you through cold and flu season. Finally, this recipe can be tweaked to your tastes. You can add more ginger and honey or swap out the cayenne peppers for slightly tamer jalapenos.
Fire Cider Vinegar Recipe
- 1/2 c. peeled and grated fresh ginger root
- 1/2 c. grated fresh horseradish root
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 10 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 cayenne peppers, chopped
- Zest and juice of one lemon
- 2 T. rosemary leaves
- 2 T. grated fresh turmeric root
- Unfiltered apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 c. raw honey
- Put the ginger, horseradish, onion, garlic, cayenne peppers, lemon zest and juice, rosemary, and turmeric into a quart-sized glass jar.
- Pour the vinegar in jar, completely submerging produce. Make sure everything is covered by the vinegar or you risk spoilage.
- Place a piece of parchment or waxed paper over the mouth of the jar then secure the lid to finger-tight.
- Shake to combine before placing in a cool, dark place. Shake the jar every other day. Let the jar sit for four weeks. Once ready, strain the solid material from the vinegar, squeezing as much juice out of the solids as possible. Reserve the fire cider vinegar in a sterilized glass jar. Add honey to taste and stir to blend well. Keep the sealed container in the refrigerator.
- Take 1-2 tablespoons of fire cider vinegar daily to boost your immune system.
Another terrific immune booster is elderberry syrup. If you can only make one herbal medicine for fall and winter this year, I suggest elderberry syrup because it not only acts as a preventative but it is also one of the best things you can take for a dry cough or sore throat, and it even soothes flu symptoms. If you weren’t able to harvest and preserve elderberries when they were in their peak, there are sources for dried elderberries online. You can double this elderberry syrup recipe, but if you want to make more than that, cook each batch separately.
Elderberry Syrup Recipe
- 3 ½ c. water
- 2/3 c. dried elderberries, or 1 1/3 cups fresh or frozen elderberries
- 2 T. grated fresh ginger root
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/2 t. whole cloves
- 1 c. raw honey
- Put the water, elderberries, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Cook at low heat for 45 minutes to an hour, until the liquid is reduced by half.
- Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Mash elderberries with the back of a spoon and pour the elderberry syrup through a strainer into a glass jar.
- Discard the solids and let the liquid cool to room temperature. Add honey and stir well. Tighten the lid on the jar and store in the refrigerator.
- Take 1 teaspoon of elderberry syrup every other day as a preventative, or up to three times a day to treat symptoms.
Hopefully, a dose or two each week of these immune boosters will keep you and your family from catching the flu or the sniffles, but what can you do if you come down with something? The first thing you should do is recognize you are down and act accordingly—easier said than done on a busy homestead. You need rest and hydration. No medicine, herbal or not, can take care of you if you won’t take care of yourself.
Next, consider your symptoms. A dry, nagging cough can be treated multiple times a day with a hot cup of thyme and lemon tea. Simply pour boiling water over a small handful of thyme sprigs, cover, and let steep for three minutes. Squeeze a lemon in the tea and add honey. You can do the same thing with pine needles if you do not have any thyme.
If you are experiencing congestion in your sinuses, the herbs and spices to use are cardamom, peppermint, or anise seed. If you are using cardamom, crush the pods instead of using the ground spice. You can toss in a small piece of peeled ginger or a cinnamon stick when preparing your tea, as these are also good for colds and congestion. Stay away from milk and granulated sugar while you are sick. Opt for local honey as your sweetener.
Anise seed tea also works as an expectorant, helping to break up lung congestion and make a cough more productive. If you feel like you have lung congestion, continue drinking the anise seed tea and consider using an essential oil in a humidifier. Camphor or eucalyptus are great choices for this type of congestion. If you do not have a humidifier, pour boiling water into a large bowl, add a few drops of essential oil, place a towel over your head and hold your head over the bowl, inhaling the steam. If your chest hurts you can make a chest compress. Instead of inhaling the steam, soak a hand towel in the hot water and essential oil. Wring it out and place on your chest. This can be repeated several times a day. Lung congestion that remains the same or worsens can easily turn into bronchitis or pneumonia. Know your body and go to your doctor if you are not feeling better.
In addition to using herbs specifically for medicines, incorporate herbs and fresh foods into your diet. Doing this throughout the year helps you develop a strong immune system. Feeding yourself well when you are under the weather is, along with rest and hydration, one of the smartest things you can do during recovery. Citrus fruit, pomegranates, oregano, thyme, and rosemary have antiviral properties. It is so easy and tasty to add a handful of oregano, thyme, and/or rosemary to soups, roasts, chicken, or pasta. When making a vinaigrette for a salad, replace the vinegar with some of your fire cider vinegar and drizzle over a salad. Fire cider vinegar tastes great drizzled over veggies as well.
Taking care of yourself and your family is more important now than ever. Herbal medicine and medicinal cooking are two things you can easily incorporate into your daily routine. It is perfectly fine to purchase herbs until you find the ones that work for you and your family. Once you find your favorites, it is better to grow them in your own garden. Not only can you be sure there are no herbicides and pesticides, but spending time out in the garden is another way to keep yourself healthy. It seems our grandparents were right, again… good food, fresh air, exercise, and good hygiene are the best ways to stay healthy.