While my old friends in California, where I grew up and spent my early years, lament my tales of Vermont winters, I’m in fact quite content here. During these long cold months, life at last slows down and all of the summer and autumn projects are behind me. I can dream, sleep, read, and write to my heart’s content. We keep the wood stove stoked all winter, and on particularly cold days, we build a fire in the huge stone fireplace, which throws off additional heat to warm the house; but more, it invites the spirit of the fire, light, and life into our hearts, warming us to the core. There are few things more inviting than the fire dancing and the music it makes as it devours and transforms our offerings of wood from stacks made over the summer months. I love it!
With a good book in hand and a hot cup of tea, I can spend hours by the fireplace, watching the fire dance, dreaming and seeding the new year’s adventure, thinking of places I might travel and books I might write. I’ve been working on an herbal novel for years now, about four women, The Garlic Queens—all practicing herbalists, all a bit wild, still juicy—and their search for the Chili Verde Man (the perfect “green man”). It’ll be a best seller if I ever get to finish it!
Winter also often finds me in my apothecary brewing up herbal remedies for winter ills. It seems there are more sicknesses that get passed around, and always a neighbor or friend stopping by for an immune tonic, elderberry syrup, or cold care capsules. I freeze a lot of elderberries so that I can quickly make up fresh elderberry syrup as needed. It’s not only delicious used as an everyday tonic, but also really helps to keep the flu bugs away. For SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), which affects a lot of people in cold weather climates, I mix a delicious tea of hawthorn berries and leaves, St. John’s wort, lemon balm, and milky green oats (equal amounts). A couple of cups of this tea a day, along with a teaspoon of St. John’s wort tincture taken two to three times a day, really help a lot of people feel brighter and happier through the winter months. What do I do to keep that feeling of brightness in my heart as the sun travels low across the sky? Dance with the fire! Go out walking in the starlit winter nights, and whenever there’s freshly fallen snow, I go out “tracking”—following the little footsteps that scurry here and there across the whiteness on their journey through the season.
This is an effective remedy for deep-seated grief and feelings of loss. It’s also an effective remedy for seasonal affective disorder (SAD), when the lack of light during the long winter months brings on depression and lethargy.
- 2 parts hawthorn leaf, flower, and berry
- 1 part green oat top (milky top of just-ripening oats)
- 1 part lemon balm leaf
- 1 part St. John’s wort flower and leaf
- Honey or stevia (optional)
- To make the tea: Prepare an infusion of the herbs, following the instructions below. Sweeten with honey or stevia, if you like.
- To use: Drink 3-4 cups daily, until joy and hope again fill your heart.
How to Make a Medicinal Infusion
Infusions are made from the more delicate parts of the plant, such as the leaves, flowers, buds, some berries and seeds, and other aromatic plant parts. Highly aromatic roots such as valerian, ginger, and goldenseal are often steeped rather than decocted, though I find they are effective either way. After, add the spent herbs to your compost.
- herbs of your choice
- Put 4 to 6 tablespoons of dried herb (or 6 to 8 tablespoons of fresh herb) into a glass quart jar.
- Pour boiling water over the herbs, filling the jar. Let steep for 30 to 45 minutes. (The length of steeping time and the amount of herb you use will affect the strength of the tea.)
- Strain and drink.