Look around us and we would all agree that in the winter people tend to suffer more from colds and the flu. But, does cold weather really make us more vulnerable to these illnesses? It is interesting to learn that if anything, during long stretches of cold temperature we are less likely to catch a cold. It is also interesting to note that the influenza pandemic of 1918-19, which killed at least 20 million people worldwide, reached its peak in the late spring and summer and died down in the United States in October!
A possible explanation for this is because the germs that cause these ailments die off in cold weather. It has been observed that people who “winter over” at Antarctic research stations seldom catch colds, and when they do, it is usually when they are visited by germ-laden visitors from warmer climes! Another explanation might just be that as the weather gets colder, people forget to drink the amount of water they require daily, and don’t think of creative ways to exercise in colder weather. Or, it may be that colds and flu are more common in the winter months because people tend to congregate inside, with the doors and windows shut tightly, allowing viruses to increase and spread in such close quarters. It could also be that our lives get more stressful during the long gray winter months; being either stuck inside our homes or venturing outside where we have to trudge through adverse weather conditions. And as a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported, that the more psychological stress people experienced, the more likely they were to get colds.
The reason why people appear to be bothered by colds and the flu during the winter time more than any other season can be for any or all of these reasons, but weather alone can’t make a person ill. However, that being said, the change of weather can challenge your body’s immune system. When your body is used to functioning in a certain temperature and then the season changes, your body is forced to re-adapt. If your immune system is not as strong as it needs to be, you will be more vulnerable to cold and flu.
The good news is that there are items right in your kitchen that can help super-charge your immune system, and in addition, help you to be prepared for the stresses and challenges that come with the winter months.
Honey’s healing properties have been touted for generations. Modern science shows that honey contains antioxidants, acids, proteins and minerals that help heal and strengthen our bodies, and honey can also fight bacterial infections thanks to its antimicrobial properties. And notwithstanding the fact that most colds and flus are caused by viruses, people world-wide would claim that honey helps with colds, sore throats, and coughs. In partial support of this assertion “Studies have shown that honey is a potent treatment for nighttime cough. In one study of 130 children aged 2-17 with runny nose and cough were randomized to receive nightly doses of buckwheat honey, artificial honey-flavored cough medicine (dextromethorphan), or no treatment. On a parent-rated symptom scale, honey was found to be the most helpful in reducing nighttime cough and improving sleep in children with upper respiratory infections, and other studies have shown that honey helps diminish the intensity and duration of winter coughs”.
Now by adding herbs to ordinary honey, we can further boost the palliative properties that are already found in honey turning it into “medicinal honey” for the winter months. Honey naturally comes in a variety of flavors and each flavor has different medicinal properties due to the flowers the bees suckle from. Buckwheat honey seems to work best for coughs, sage honey for sore throats, and wild flower honey helps with a stuffy nose and allergies. Now to these natural healing properties of honey you can add herbs like onions or garlic, medicinal spices like sage or thyme, healing berries like elder berry, or healing plants like echincea, yerba santa, or usena. Any medicinal honey is easy to make and you can customize it to your personal physical challenges and taste.
For coughs try onion honey. Onion honey is suggested if you tend to be challenged with winter coughs. Place into a glass bowl a layer of sliced onions and pour honey onto them until they are covered with a layer of honey. Then cover the bowl with either a plate or plastic wrap and let it sit on the kitchen counter overnight. By morning the honey will begin to turn into syrup. You can leave this mixture right on the counter and take one tablespoon two times a day as a preventative or up to four times a day if you are already ill. If you will not use up your onion honey mixture within the week, it is best to strain out the onions and put the honey in a glass container to keep in the refrigerator.
For sinus infections try garlic honey. Garlic honey is recommended if you tend to get sinus infections. You can follow the same procedures as above, just using garlic instead of onions. If you suffer from both sinus and coughs you can mix both onions and garlic in the same bowl with honey.
For sore throats try sage honey. Adding the herb sage to your honey will help with sore throats. You can either sage in its dried form, fresh form or in a grain alcohol tincture (once the herb has been steeped, the alcohol loses its potency). The best way to use the dried or fresh herb is to lightly heat up the honey in a good quality sauce pan, made either of glass or stainless steel, and then pour in the sage. Since your goal is to dissolve the herb into the honey, and not to cook the honey, keep the cooking flame small. Continue to lightly heat the honey until either the dried or fresh herb has wilted, or in the case of the tincture, until it has dissolved into the honey. Let the honey mixture cool, and in the case of the herbs, strain them and put them into a glass jar to be stored in the refrigerator.
For kids colds try tasty honey medicinal mixes. Recommended only for children who are more than one year old, honey mixtures are a great way for children to take herbs. Making a medicinal honey is a fun activity for kids because they love assisting in its preparation and watching as the herbs melt into the honey. And more often than not, they will be happy taking their “herbal honey” because they helped make it.
For children’s honey, follow the same procedure that is written above but instead of the onions and garlic, choose gentle kid-friendly herbs like elderberry, lemon balm or linden flowers. I also like to add cinnamon sticks or vanilla beans for an extra pleasant flavor with medicinal benefits. Elderberry is a great source of vitamin C and is an antiviral, lemon balm is calming and antiviral, and linden flowers help with fevers and flu. Cinnamon tastes great and also helps with stomach flus and vanilla, well vanilla is just yummy.
Herbal Apple Cider ‘Fire’ Vinegar I
Another food that is commonly found in the kitchen that can be used not only for its own curative properties but also as a vehicle for medicinal herbal mixtures is apple cider vinegar. For centuries apple cider vinegar has been touted for its natural health benefits.
Apple cider vinegar is the result of dual fermentation of naturally occurring sugars in apples. At the beginning of the process apples are pressed or crushed and the first stage of fermentation begins when the juice is set aside to become apple cider. During the second stage, the sugars are further fermented from apple cider into apple cider vinegar. The vinegar contains many natural ingredients such as vitamins, minerals and acetic acid. Being both antibiotic and antiseptic it helps neutralize toxins in the body. The organically made versions of these natural vinegars provide more health benefits than others because the apples initially used contain more minerals and enzymes than the non-organic fruit.
Interesting research can now be found studying the health benefits of apple cider vinegar. The best researched, and the most promising, of apple cider vinegar’s possible health benefits is with diabetic patients. Several studies have found that apple cider vinegar may help lower glucose levels. For instance, one 2007 study of eleven people with type-2 diabetes found that taking two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar before bed lowered glucose levels in the morning by four to six percent. Notwithstanding recent studies, people world-wide have been praising the benefits of apple cider vinegars in what they call “fire-vinegars.”
To make your own ‘fire vinegar’, you will need a wide-mouthed glass jar; preferably with a plastic lid because vinegar can corrode a metal top. Pour into the jar one cup of apple cider vinegar and next add three tablespoons of each of the following: chopped onion and garlic, grated fresh ginger and grated horseradish. (You can buy either of these fresh roots in the produce section of your grocery store, but if not, you can find usually find them already grated in glass jars with vinegar). Next add one tablespoon of the following: mustard seeds with black peppercorns or black peppercorns by themselves, and one or more whole cayenne chilies, or one-eighth of a teaspoon of powdered cayenne pepper or one teaspoon of dried chili flakes if cayenne is not available. Cap the mixture and let it sit from two to four weeks, shaking the bottle daily to mix the herbs together with the liquid. (Yes, you can use the vinegar before the allotted time if you feel the need). After the allotted time, strain the mixture using cheesecloth in order to extract all of the liquid from the herbs. To all of the above, add one-third of cup of honey to help preserve and sweeten your vinegar mixture, pour it into a clean bottle and then label and date it before storing it away in your cupboard.
Herbal Apple Cider ‘Fire’ Vinegar II
Here is an alternative ‘fire-vinegar’ recipe:
Pour one cup of apple cider vinegar into your wide-mouthed glass jar and to this add: one-quarter of a cup of grated fresh horseradish, one chopped onion, one chopped ginger root, one head garlic peeled and chopped, a half of a teaspoon of cayenne pepper and one-third of a cup of organic honey. The mixture process is the same as that written above for the first ‘fire-vinegar’ recipe.
These vinegars can keep for as long as two years. When you’re feeling sick and in an acute state, get your vinegar out and take from one-half to a full teaspoon every few hours. For the prevention of illnesses, either use your vinegar mixture over salads or take one teaspoon from one to two times daily.
Winter Molasses Power Drink
A third natural remedy that can be found in the kitchen, and is referred to as the ‘poor man’s tonic’, is blackstrap molasses. One tablespoon of blackstrap molasses a day can actually provide the body with up to 20% of the recommended daily value of many vitamins and minerals including: iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, vitamin B6, and cooper and manganese. Iron provides energy and boosts metabolism. Copper helps the human body utilizes iron, eliminate free radicals and produce melanin. Calcium is needed to promote: healthy teeth and bones, blood-clotting abilities, enzyme activity and toxin removal. Manganese helps to synthesize fatty acids used by the nervous system. So if blackstrap molasses was not found in your kitchen before, it should be now.
Molasses is a byproduct of the sugar distillation process in which sugar cane is refined into sugar. During the processing, cane juice is heated, sugar crystals are extracted, and black strap molasses is the result of the third distillation in the course of extracting sugar.
Among the many health benefits of blackstrap molasses is its ability to help with the following conditions: anxiety, anemia, pain from arthritis, constipation, heart palpitations, and it’s also been claimed to help restore gray hair back to its original color. Along with helping to alleviate these conditions, blackstrap molasses can also be used for improving ulcers, psoriasis, varicose veins, dermatitis, rheumatism, and even benign tumors.
Black strap molasses can be added to cookie batters, beans and soups; however, the easiest way to include molasses into your daily routine is to make it into drink. And here is how it is done:
In a coffee mug add one tablespoon of organic black strap molasses, one tablespoon of organic honey, next add boiled water and mix well. If you chose to, you can lighten the drink with either: rice, soy, almond, or hemp milk. Make this blackstrap molasses quaff your morning drink and enjoy the burst of energy you will feel as you begin your day. You will be happy to know that you are giving your body a burst of its needed vitamins and minerals.
So, this winter, be both prepared and be pro-active. Spread medicinal honey on your toast or add it to your oatmeal, add your ‘fire-vinegar’ to salads or soups, and start each day with your powerful molasses drink and be equipped to conquer the world this winter.