Seasons of Change

IntoTheWoods_LindsayWilsonSpring15Story Lindsay Wilson

One of the main benefits of using plants as medicine is how it increases your awareness of seasonal patterns and cycles. All ancient medical traditions are based on observation and information gathered by the senses. This includes phenomena in nature as well as the various phases and stages of the body. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Ayurveda (India), and Southern Folk Medicine (America) all have this in common.

In the winter our blood thickens and moves toward the core of the body as it becomes cold outside, just like a tree and its sap. Our blood does this to conserve heat. In the summer, our peripheral circulation opens up and our blood thins a bit so that heat can move out of the body. As well, heat issues like rashes, ulcers, cold sores and hives increase as spring emerges and we move toward summer.

While herbal medicine can be used for first aid, traumatic and acute situations, tapping into the wisdom of the four seasons really makes herbalism shine. Here are some tips for the late summer and fall months.

The summer heat beckons us to reach for diaphoretic herbs to open up the “vents” of the body so it can release excess heat. Better than any iced drink, a diaphoretic tea will help you cool naturally with a little perspiration.  Rather than suppressing the heat in your body with iced drinks (dampening digestion and suppressing heat), try some of the following teas.

I suggest peppermint (Mentha piperita), elderflower (Sambucus canadensis) or red clover blossoms (Trifolium pratense). Take one hearty pinch of the dried herb and let it steep in hot water in your favorite mug for at least five minutes (this will cool it down a bit, too), sweeten with honey and enjoy. Remember these herbs during flu and fever season as well, their diaphoretic action will help you release heat from fever as well.

As we move from summer into fall, it’s also time to stock our medicine cabinet for cold and flu season.  Colds and flus are both respiratory viruses. However, colds tend to last a shorter amount of time and express themselves mildly with a runny nose, sore throat and wet cough. Flus tend to last longer and can have more severe symptoms (fever, body aches, chills … even death).

Use anti-viral and immune support herbs like elderberry and elderflower to help keep viruses at bay. Elderflower is actually more medicinally potent than the berries. And, not only are the flowers anti-viral, they are also diaphoretic. You can tincture the fresh flowers in the late spring or dry the flowers to use in teas. My favorite tea for fevers contains equal portions of elderflower, yarrow and peppermint. You also can pick and dry (or order dried) elderberries and tincture them or make an elderberry syrup.

Finally, there are certain herbs that stimulate the immune system.  Most of these are best used for short intervals of time, from two to four weeks as it’s best not to over-stimulate your immune system with these herbs. Some of my favorites are echinacea (Echinacea purpurea), propolis from a beehive, garlic (Allium sativum), toothache plant (Spilanthes acmella) and prickly ash (Zanthoxylum clava-herculis). These particular herbs are ideal for boosting immune function, cleaning the blood of waste products and fighting infection. All of these are taken in tincture form, except garlic which can simply be eaten.


1 part elderberries, fresh or dried
3 parts water
¼ part maple syrup or honey
Cinnamon stick
Chunk of peeled ginger
Brandy or elderflower tincture

• Place the berries and water in a stainless steel pot. Simmer to reduce liquid by half (about 30 minutes). Let cool for about five minutes then stir in maple syrup or honey.
• Place cinnamon stick and ginger chunk into a Mason jar. Strain syrup mixture through mesh sieve or cheesecloth into jar.
• Add one tablespoon brandy or elderflower tincture per two cups of syrup to preserve it.
• Cap, label, date and store in fridge — syrup will last six months.