The holidays bring us so much, in many cases more than we need. Yet each of the winter holidays can deepen the meaning of our lives. We can venture away from the frazzle-dazzle of holidays.
But if you succumb to the frazzle-dazzle of “shop ’til you drop,” treat yourself. If your feet are dog-tired (pun intended) then treat yourself to a soothing footbath as soon as you can get those swollen feet out of those shoes. To refresh worn out tootsie-toes use a handful of fresh herbs, or 1/4 cup of dried if no fresh herbs available. Using a dishpan or large bucket, throw in some salt and water. To refresh feet use any or all of the following: bay leaves (those old ones in the cupboard?), lavender, marjoram, sage, thyme. Add vinegar if your feet itch.
If your feet feel cold try this before bed to warm up. Make a footbath of bruised black mustard seeds, available at Asian or East Indian markets). But don’t make things any more complicated during this busy season. Just leave herbs or seeds loose in the footbath. When removing them, simply pour out over your outside plants to replenish the earth.
For a Fizzy Fun Footbath use 1/2 cup of baking soda and 1/2 cup of cream of tartar (it needs to be used up somehow, right?), add some sage leaves and 5-6 drops of peppermint essential oil. This will fizz those frazzled feet for a few minutes. Soak feet for at least ten minutes and feel the tickle.
If you’ve been overdoing the holiday season you may need to stave off a cold or the flu. If you don’t feel like going out, use up whatever you have at home instead of running off to the pharmacy for industrial remedies. You’ll not only feel better, you’ll be saving gas. Boil some eucalyptus or peppermint leaves in water. Then remove from heat, put a towel over your head and the pan of steaming water with herbs. Being careful to not burn yourself, lean over and breathe deeply. If you have a cold or the flu brew up some teas: lemon and ginger for cold, flu, and digestive upsets; sage and thyme for coughs and flu.
Compresses work well on sore throats. Soak a clean cotton cloth in hot brewed tea (eucalyptus, peppermint, or sage) and place over your throat and chest, being careful to not burn yourself or your “patient.” Cover the towel with plastic wrap, another towel, and a hot water bottle. Remove when cooled and replace with another warmed hot water bottle.
The use of sage during the holidays is well-known with our American Thanksgiving meal. But did you know that sage leaves were a sacred herb in Roman times? Sage was used in ceremony, as a medicinal and a culinary herb. It is also a wonderful plant to attract pollinators. Sage wands are still used to dispel not only animal and cooking smells but also bad juju. Sage purifies the air. Large leaves of basil or sage can be made into fritters by dipping into a batter of flour and beaten egg and frying in olive oil.
If you get outside in time, you may still be able to harvest the last of the herbs in your garden. Dry them in bundles held together with rubber bands or paper bags so they won’t fall all over the floor. Bundles of herbs such as lavender or rosemary can be placed among linens or clothing. Or stuff some herbs into baby socks tied with ribbons and use as dryer sheets! You or your children could make tea cozies or pot holders by placing herbs between the layers before sewing them together. Lovely gifts that release their scent when warmed by use.
I was thrilled to find a three-foot bay tree among the arborvitaes that surround two sides of my new-to-me 1925 home. Bay laurel ( Laurus nobilis) was growing wild in the Mediterranean region in Biblical times. They will often survive our relatively mild northwest winters. Bay trees are evergreen and consistently successful so bay was used by athletes, poets, and priests. Wearing a wreath of bay was a mark of distinction. A door wreath of bay was said to dispel sickness and even protect from lightning. The leaves are most potent when used fresh or dried slowly.
A terrific herb to use for warming in the wintertime is curry. Curry is actually a blend of several spices and can range from mild to sweet to fiery! It is always best made fresh (as is most everything). Here’s a good recipe to try: 2 Tbsp each of cumin seed, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, and cardamom seed; 1 Tbsp each of caraway and fennel seed; 1 three-inch cinnamon stick broken into pieces; and 1 tsp whole cloves (not ground). Toast the herbs in a heavy skillet, without any oil, for 8-10 minutes. Spices will turn darker and be very fragrant. Cool completely before grinding in a blender or spice grinder in small batches. Store in a dry place. To use this delicious and good-for-you curry blend, just saute leftovers and top with any combination of almonds, apples, celery, coconut, or raisins and serve over rice. Yum!
Adding turmeric to your curry mixture will be delicious and very healthful (much more healthful than capsules). Turmeric is better utilized by the body if heated. Turmeric is a rhizome grown easily in tropical areas of the world such as India and South America. Difficult in our area unless you have a tropical greenhouse. Turmeric is good for digestion, liver problems, lowering cholesterol, and decreasing Alzheimer’s disease. And it is food, so side effects are less likely. You can add it to curry or on its own to dips, eggs, rice, salads, stuffings, or teas. Try Golden Milk: use any kind of milk heated with turmeric and a little honey if desired.
For gaining the “holiday spirit,” try making “Bishops’ Wine.” To two quarts of cider add four cinnamon sticks, six cloves, one orange unpeeled but cut into quarters, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, and two quarts of port. This recipe comes from Adelma Simmons, herbalist extraordinaire. As an aspiring herbalist I went to hear her speak at an herbal gathering in 1997. Alas, she couldn’t attend due to an upper respiratory infection making travel from Connecticut too difficult. She died not long after that and it is my longtime sorrow that I never met her.
Her writings are legend. Now I have many more herbalist friends who’ve written wonderful books if you’d like to immerse yourself in herbs: Lesley Bremness, Stephen Foster, Deborah Francis, Jill Stansbury, Sharol Tilgner, and many more. Have fun discovering the world of herbs.