by Heliotrope (Ami)
It is nearly Samhain and the days and especially the nights are getting colder. We are heading into the descending into the dark times. Next week I will send out to you all my Samhain edition of Kitchen Witchery, but today I wanted to talk about some practical tips and at home things you can do to fortify you and your family against colds, flus, etc. First and foremost, good hygiene is a must. Wash your hands, wear your masks when out and about, sanitize both your hands and your cooking areas. You wouldn’t want to inadvertently get anyone sick from food you prepared them.
This edition is about health and keeping yourself healthy as we head into the dark, when the warmth and sunlight that normally help our immune systems stave off things becomes lacking. I could write books on foods to help in winter but in this writing, I am going to specifically talk about those vital things that we miss out because of lack of sun during the colder months, as well as immune boosting foods to keep at hand.
I know that we are all concerned with the damaging effects of the sun. We tend to slather on sunscreen before going out and I am NOT saying you should not. But it has been studied that those same UV rays that can hurt us can have positive effects IN SMALL DOSES. The UV rays of the sun help your body produce vitamin D. This vital vitamin helps us produce calcium and use magnesium. Also, sun exposure increases white blood cells which help fight off sickness. In addition, when exposed to the sun, melatonin production stops. When it gets dark, it starts up again, making us sleepy and helping us rest, which leads to cell regeneration, healing, and improved health. My ultimate recommendation is to get out into the sunlight every day. Even if it is cold, bundle up and let it bathe you in its goodness. 10-20 minutes of unsunscreened sun exposure can lead to numerous health benefits. Again SMALL DOSES, if unsunscreened, no more that 20 minutes of as much as I can, skin being exposed, if what I strive for.I am saying this here and now: THIS IS MY OPINION; IT IS NOT MEDICAL ADVICE AND ANY SUPPLEMENT OR HERBAL CONCOCTION YOU ADD SHOULD BE OKED BY YOUR DOCTOR. EVERY BODY IS DIFFERENT AND NEEDS DIFFERENT THINGS. I AM A RELATIVELY HEALTHY INDIVIDUAL AND TAKE NO PRESCRIPTION MEDICATIONS BUT IF YOU DO, DO NOT TAKE ANYTHING WITHOUT CONSULTING WHETHER IT MAY INTERACT WITH YOUR CURRENT MEDICATION REGIMEN!! PLEASE!
I will be writing about my recommendations and WHY I recommend these additions in the winter months. Most items can be purchased at the grocery or farmers market or over the internet from sources. I do not purchase all organic, but I am sure you could do a little googling and find them that way as well.
We are lucky. We do not have to depend on what grows around us as our ancestors did to get proper nutrition. Although I try and eat by the seasons, meaning what would be growing and plentiful in my area, I also recognize that if I just did this, my nutrition would not be as good as I need it to be to function in my life, as wife, mother, homemaker, taxi driver, scullery maid, cook, laundress, entertainer, nutritionist, secretary, spell caster, space holder, writer, you get the picture. I am also a realist and use what is available to me. I know that if my ancestors had 24-hour grocery stores available to them, they would have been perusing the aisles at 1 in the morning too! I try and listen to my body. I know that if I am really craving something (my body, not my taste buds just to be clear), chances are it is because somewhere in my body, I am lacking something.
The first thing I wanted to talk about is supplements. There are shelves and shelves of bottles at most grocery stores, pharmacies, and health food stores that contain an alphabet array of vitamins, minerals, and supplements for you. It is confusing and confounding how to tell what to take. You could literally just make meals of pills and drops and tinctures. It might even be a good weight loss plan (just kidding!)
All through the year I take a few must haves for me. I take a probiotic because gut health is crucial to overall health. IMPORTANT NOTE ON PROBIOTICS: to work efficiently, they should be taken on an empty stomach, so I take mine before bed. Also, if you go on antibiotics for any reason, there should be at least a 2-hour window of time between taking your antibiotic and your probiotic! I also take a vitamin D because I tend to run deficient in this. I take 2000IU in the summer but boost that to 4000IU daily when I am mostly indoors, and the sun is not as strong. Vitamin D is linked with staving off depression and I would rather keep it at bay than be in the middle of when I then try and change things. Vitamin D is also important for healthy bones and teeth and I eat a LOT of tuna, yogurt, and other foods high in vitamin D in the colder months as well. I take a multivitamin formulated for women in their forties. I will not go into brands because these change as I learn more about what my specific body needs and my age increases. I take vitamin B. From Ostara to Samhain I take a B-complex as I was told by a medicine man once, and it holds true for me, that it staves off the mosquitos. I have found this to be golden advice! When I do not take this for a few days I am being eaten alive as I used to be all summer long. When the cold sets in, and the mosquitos start to go, I move to B6 as this is something that most people, myself included, are deficient in and it has a direct correlation to anxiety. I also take a B12 specifically as this too helps with depression. I also eat a lot of foods with vitamin B, but I will get to that later.
I take a calcium supplement. Actually mine is a Calcium Magnesium supplement. Magnesium helps convert vitamin D to help with calcium absorption so taking a combo supplement here is a good thing. IMPORTANT NOTE ON CALCIUM: There have been studies that showed that drinking carbonated beverages robbed your bones of calcium. Other studies showed that it was cola beverages and suspected the caffeine in these as having done this damage. The ruling is not thorough or totally conclusive at this point but there seems to be a lean towards worsen osteoporosis in women who consume mostly sodas or carbonated beverages. For this reason, I try and stay away from them and give my teens calcium supplements as they tend to drink more cola beverages and carbonated things than I would recommend. Better safe than sorry 30 years from now.
I have a condition called Immune Induced Anxiety. What this means is if I get sick, like in bed for a few days sick, my immune system kicks on HARD, but then when I am better, it takes a while to kick off. My cortisol levels stay high when they are not needed which leads to panic attacks, severe anxiety, it is NOT pleasant. The first time I experienced it was after a double strep incident but I was also in a very stressful monetary situation and I ended up going on anti-anxiety medication, thinking it was surely the stress and not the sickness. After a month or so, my doctor weaned me off and all was well (the super stressful situation had resolved itself as well). The next time I got it, two years later, I had the flu and was in bed with a high fever for 4 days, followed by lethargy and a weeklong recovery period. As I got better, my anxiety got worse. I recognized that feelings as the same as had happened previously, but we were not in any stressful situation at the time. I posted about it and had several acquaintances tell me their health stories and this led me to talk to my doctor before going back on anti-anxiety meds. After a severe illness, it takes my body 4-5 weeks to settle down. It is HELL! So I do everything in my power to stay healthy.
Ok, into the kitchen and what YOU can do too to stay healthy. A few important things to boost in the winter months are your vitamin C and D as I have stated because we get a LOT of this naturally from the sun and we just don’t get it in the winter.
Vitamin C plays important roles in regeneration of cells and is a super antioxidant so be sure to get a lot during cold/flu season. You can find vitamin C in citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits. Even lemons are high in vitamin C. I try and have at least one of these a day. I squeeze lemon in my water or over my meals. Also, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, and cabbage are good sources of C. Although best if consumed raw, steamed broccoli or roasted Brussels are a great base for a meal, substituting pasta or rice and adding on top a sauce or just by themselves as well. I have also taken to coarsely shredding cabbage, toss with a little sesame oil, and roast at 425 in the oven, stirring often. I top with sea salt and sesame seeds and serve as a side dish or as the base under a stir fry.
Vitamin D is another we get from the sun. For those who do dairy, Milk and Yogurt are good sources of vitamin D. Most orange juices, soy milks, and things like cereals and instant oatmeal are fortified with D so they might be good sources for those who don’t consume dairy products.
Another benefit that we get from sunshine is that it helps with proper magnesium absorption and use. This is important for heart health and it also helps get vitamin D into your cells, so be sure that you are getting magnesium every day. This is fairly easy to do if you think it out. Magnesium can be found in things like tofu, soy products, spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables, bananas, black beans, and avocados. Also, 1 oz of almonds or cashews contain 20% of your daily magnesium requirements.
Immune boosting foods:
One of the best ways to stay healthy is to eat a lot of immune boosting foods. These can be incorporated into recipes or eaten raw.
As I stated, I take a PROBIOTIC year round. Most of your immune system stems from your gut so keeping it happy keeps you healthy. That being said, probiotic foods include yogurt (CHOOSE ONE WITH LIVE CULTURES IN IT, PREFERRABLY WITHOUT A LOT OF ADDED SUGAR) and other fermented foods like sauerkraut. You can find great recipes for fermenting your own veggies here: https://www.diynatural.com/fermented-vegetables/It really is quite easy and if you enjoy pickled things, you will love these.
OATS have super immune boosting qualities, plus they help keep you full so having a bowl of unprocessed oatmeal topped with berries or other yummy goodness is a great pick for fall and winter breakfasts (added bonus is that berries themselves help boost your immune system providing extra vitamin C and other immune boosters)
GARLIC is packed with antiviral and antibacterial qualities and lets face it, it just tastes incredibly yummy!
NUTS, LEAN MEAT, AND POULTRY: these choices, and other high protein choices, are high in zinc which in turn helps with the increase in white cell and t cell production thus increasing your immune system
MUSHROOMS: Okay, this one surprised me, although lately my body has been craving them so I looked up what mushrooms are good for and TADA! What I found was that Mushrooms may be a potent weapon in warding off colds, flu, and other infections. Studies on fresh mushrooms, dried mushrooms, and extracts have shown that mushrooms such as white button, shiitake, maitake, and reishi have antiviral, antibacterial, and anti-tumor effects. They are also a natural plant source of vitamin D.
BRIGHT COLORED VEGETABLES: It is important to eat a variety of vegetables as often what is found on some is not in others, but what is found will often work together. Bright yellow, orange, and red veggies have beta-carotenes with help in immune system functioning, plus, seeing bright colored food on dark winter days help brighten the spirit as well.
OMEGA 3: found in fish like salmon and tuna, and in seeds like hemp, chia, and flax. Omega 3 help regulate the immune system and may help it from over reaction to infections. I eat a LOT of omega 3’s and when I cannot I supplement to keep my Immune induced anxiety at bay.
CHOCOLATE: Don’t get too excited here LOL. For chocolate to be actually good for you it has to be as raw and dark as you can stand. I keep raw cocoa nibs in my kitchen for those times when I need it medicinally. In this form it is high in antioxidants and actually helps your immune system. Dark chocolate that is 70-80% cocoa is full of iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, plus other good for you stuff.
My “medicine” chest:
There are also a few things that I keep on hand all year, but especially in winter for battling colds and other illnesses. GINGER: This wonder root is good for battling all types of illnesses. It is good for nausea, constipation, fever and chills, as well as being an antimicrobial and has the ability to kill cold viruses. I keep candied ginger around to chew on, brew raw ginger into tea with a touch of honey, use it in stir-fry’s, shred it and put it in apple pie or muffins. You can peel and freeze ginger and then grate or shred it while still frozen.
SALT: Salt water, when gargled, soothes a sore throat. When done before bed, it can create a hostile environment for cold viruses to replicate, studies now show. Cold viruses often get trapped in tonsils and adenoids and salt water not only prevents this, but kills them before they make their way into your body.
APPLE CIDER VINEGAR: I swear by this for things like upset stomach and strep throat. When I or my family get diagnosis with strep OR when I feel it come on (going form feeling fine to fire in my throat in a matter of hours), we gargle with 1 T apple cider vinegar and 4 oz warm water. It burns the first time, but then your throat feels better. Repeat several times a day. And often the sore throat resolves itself in a day or so. Faster than any antibiotic we have taken for strep. I have also used it as a “tea”. 2Tb apple cider vinegar, 1Tb raw honey to 8 oz boiling water. Drink while still warm.
RAW HONEY: Honey is as good as ginger for all sorts of things. I have personally used it to treat allergies (1Tb once a day-must be local honey, within 40 miles of your home), bedwetting (honey sedates your nervous system and absorbs water as you sleep), minor cuts (smear it right on, it is full of antibacterials and antifungals), and honey is full of antioxidants, helping your body protect cells from free radicals. It is also a good cough suppressant and my daughter scrubs her face with specifically Manuka Honey and swears by it to keep acne at bay. IMPORTANT NOTE: raw honey can also carry harmful bacteria such as Clostridium botulinum. This is particularly dangerous for babies. Raw honey should never be given to an infant less than a year old.
ELDERBERRY SYRUP: I make my own elderberry syrup in the fall and winter and my family and I take 1TB every day. Elderberry has antiviral properties. Although it does not prevent colds or the flu, it does help lessen the severity of their symptoms. The most recent research and writings say that it is safe to take elderberry syrup and that there are little to no negative side effects, providing you get it from a reputable source. Unripe berries for instance can make you sick so you want to make sure you know what you are doing if you are picking your own. For this reason, I buy mine in bulk at the start of the season from Frontier Co-Op off amazon. Here is a website with a good recipe if you are interested in making it yourself https://blog.mybalancemeals.com/health/7-benefits-of-elderberry-syrup/ SUPER IMPORTANT NOTE: COVID-19 IS TOO NEW TO KNOW IF ELDERBERRY SYRUP CAN HELP OR HURT.
AND AS STATED AT THE BEGINNING OF THIS WRITING, CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE USING SUPPLEMENTS, CONCOCTIONS, ETC IF YOU ARE TAKING PRESCRIPTION MEDICINE TO CHECK FOR ADVERSE INTERACTIONS AND DANGERS. I AM NOT A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL; I AM JUST ONE WITCH IN HER KITCHEN DOING THE BEST SHE CAN FOR HER FAMILY AND COMMUNITY.
Blessed be, and may the dark times be full of coziness and introspection. May sickness stay beyond your door sill and pass you by in the streets. So may it be!