5 Must-Have Herbs for Winter


The light may have returned according to the calendar, but lingering cold and dreary weather can make the dark part of the year seem like it’s going to last forever. Coupled with the fact that most of us spend the majority of our days inside is the unavoidable exposure to a variety of pathogens silently hitching a ride on surfaces, the air molecules we breathe in and on each other. It’s inevitable -- sooner or later, the sniffles will strike. Armed with a few herbal helpers, you can help your immune system to ward off these invading germs or, in the event that a cold or flu does get its viral foot in the door, reduce your symptoms and recovery time.

Photo: iStock/Maren Winter


Enough good things cannot be said about these delicious purple-black drupes in terms of assisting the immune system. Harvested from the European elder (Sambucus nigra), a deciduous woodland tree in the moschatel family, elderberries have been used for centuries to make jams, jellies, tarts and pies, syrups, cordials and wines, and have a long history of use in preventing and treating flu. Compounds in the fruit thwart a type of protein called hemagglutinin that lines the surface of influenza cells. This viral protein attacks healthy cells in the body with spear-like projections that it uses to penetrate and inject its enzymes, which allows the virus to replicate throughout the body. Elderberry prevents this activity by neutralizing those enzymes. It’s effective against several strains of influenza including H7 hemagglutinin, a variety that causes the flu patient to also suffer conjunctivitis.

Elderberry also has antibacterial properties. The extract of the fruit has been shown to counter Streptococcus pyogenes and group C and G Streptococci. It is also effective against Branhamella catarrhalis, a strain of bacteria that often leads to upper respiratory tract infection.

How to Use:  The fruit must be cooked or dried before consumption to avoid toxicity. Use the fresh or dried berries to make jam, alone or in combination with other fruits like rosehips or goji berries for extra flavor and vitamin C. Add the dried berries to tea blends. (Note: A recipe for a simple syrup to use as a daily preventative and a remedial flu remedy appears at the conclusion of Part II of this blog.)


Also known as Indian ginseng, Indian winter cherry, asana, and a host of other common names, ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an evergreen shrub in the nightshade family and a staple in Ayurvedic medicine. Its Hindu name means “horse smell,” a reference to the fact that the raw plant smells a bit like a sweaty horse. It’s species name is obtained from the Latin word that means “induce sleep,” a testament to the herb’s long history of use to ease stress and anxiety, as well as inflammation. It is said to help one resist disease by increasing strength and energy. As an added bonus,  ashwagandha is also reputed to enhance male performance considerably, if taken daily for a year.

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