Holiday Health in a Hot Mug

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Photo by Getty Images/m-imagephotography

There’s no need to feel conflicted about the choice between natural remedies and over-the-counter prescription medications, because they often complement each other perfectly.

Modern medicine offers advanced diagnostics, lifesaving emergency treatments, and precise surgical and pharmaceutical interventions for conditions that are impossible to treat on your own. It also provides drug-free approaches to healing, such as physical therapy and psychotherapy.

Natural remedies, on the other hand, offer safe, accessible ways to be proactive about your health. You can use them for self-care when you get a cold, during bouts of insomnia, or to ease digestion, without worrying about serious side effects, overdose, or dependence. As long as you heed your doctor’s advice about how to avoid unwanted interactions between natural remedies and any medications you’re taking, an integrative approach to medicine that includes both paradigms is ideal.

Here are a few simple, naturally medicinal drink recipes to help improve your mood, ease stress, and reduce inflammation.

Cayenne and Cinnamon Hot Cacao

Photo by Getty Images/AkayArda

Long associated with the heart, cacao is a popular remedy for heartbreak and sadness. In this recipe, ginger, cinnamon, and cayenne stimulate circulation and keep the body’s energy from becoming stagnant, while the fat from the coconut milk is grounding and comforting. If you’re watching your cholesterol intake, you can substitute almond or soy milk for the full-fat coconut milk.

Yield: 2 servings.

Benefits and Uses: Provides comfort, stimulates circulation, and lifts a low mood.


  • 1⁄2 cup canned full-fat coconut milk*
  •  1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1⁄4 cup cacao powder
  • 1⁄8 cup maple syrup
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon sea salt


  1. Add all the ingredients to a high-speed blender. Blend on low for a few seconds, and then slowly increase to the highest speed. Continue to blend on high for 90 seconds to ensure the cacao powder dissolves fully into the liquid.
  2. Divide the mixture evenly between 2 microwave-safe mugs. Microwave 1 mug on high for 1 minute. Stir, and microwave for another 30 to 60 seconds, or until hot. Repeat with the remaining mug. Alternatively, to heat the mixture on the stovetop, pour the contents of the blender into a small, heavy-bottomed pan and warm over medium heat, stirring constantly, for about
    5 minutes, or until hot. Then divide it between two mugs.

*Note: If the coconut milk appears solid when you open the can, it’s because the cream has separated and risen to the top. To reverse the separation, pour the contents of the can into a glass bowl, microwave on high for 20 seconds, whisk until the cream is incorporated, and then measure out the amount you need.

Holiday Happiness Syrup

Photo by Getty Images/OlegKov

Schisandra berries are prized in Traditional Chinese Medicine for their ability to settle the spirit, prevent the leakage of vital energy, and strengthen the body’s resilience to stress. Hawthorn berries prevent and treat “food stagnation” — a familiar feeling for many people after overindulging on Thanksgiving. Cardamom, clove, cinnamon, and ginger help to warm the formula and further support good digestion. They also make the house smell heavenly while the syrup is cooking.

Yield: About 6 cups.

Benefits and Uses:  Reduces all manner of holiday stress. If you’re taking blood thinners or blood pressure medication, ask your doctor before using this syrup.


  • 1⁄2 cup dried schisandra berries
  • 1⁄2 heaping cup dried hawthorn berries
  • 1⁄4 cup dried rose hips
  • 1⁄4 cup green cardamom pods
  • 5 whole cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3-inch knob fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced
  • 12 cups water
  • 1-1⁄2 cups sugar


  1. Add the berries, rose hips, spices, ginger root, and water to a large pot. Bring to a boil. As soon as it reaches a full boil, reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced by half. (When it’s ready, the liquid will have thickened slightly and turned a deep-garnet color.)
  2. Strain the decoction through a fine-mesh sieve into a liquid measuring cup large enough to hold at least 6 cups. Discard the solids. Measure the amount of liquid, and divide that measurement in half to determine the perfect amount of sugar to use. (This should be about 1-1⁄2 cups, but it’s worth measuring your decoction, because the exact volume is likely to vary each time you make this recipe. The sugar works as a preservative, so don’t reduce the amount.)
  3. Add the sugar, and stir until it’s completely dissolved. (Return the mixture to the pot and warm over low heat to help the sugar dissolve, if needed.)
  4. Store the syrup in a covered jar in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
  5. There are numerous ways to use this syrup: As a preventive tonic to reduce stress, adults can take 1 tablespoon once or twice per day, and children ages 6 to 12 can take 1 teaspoon once or twice daily. It can also be used to sweeten herbal teas. Or, add 1 tablespoon syrup to a glass and slowly pour in 1 cup seltzer to create an Italian soda. 

Melanie St. Ours, founder of Psyche & Soma LLC, is a clinical herbalist specializing in women’s health and mental health. This article is excerpted with permission from her book The Simple Guide to Natural Health (Adams Media, a division of Simon & Schuster).

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