As the bitter cold of winter takes hold, many of us head indoors to bundle up against the cold, but this can leave us feeling more sluggish and stagnant than usual. That’s why it’s important to know what herbal allies we have for fending off the chill.
Soups, stews, and teas can help our bodies stay cozy when the temperatures drop, but by adding warming herbs to our favorite beverages and comfort foods, we can help add a little extra heat to the mix. Below is our list of must-have warming herbs valued for not only their exotic flavors but for the medicinal properties they offer as well.
A Quick Disclaimer
Just because something is “natural” does not always mean it is safe for every person. When it comes to herbal medicine, many plants should be avoided when pregnant or nursing, and some can cause extreme interactions with prescription and over-the-counter medicine.
Using warming herbs and spices is one of the tastiest ways to chase away the chill of the fall and winter months. The herbs and spices listed here can be found in any pantry, but their use in medicinal quantities can have drawbacks. For instance, warming spices can have a drying effect on your body and possibly aggravate an inflamed digestion. Try pairing them with milk or a non-dairy option like oat milk to balance the effect.
Before using herbal preparations, always do your research, speak to a professional regarding any significant concerns, and never fail to seek medical advice when needed.
What are Warming Herbs?
One of many classifications used to categorize herbs is whether they have a warming or cooling effect on the body. Some, like mints, tend to cool the body, while others, like cinnamon, tend to warm it. When it comes to warming herbs, there are also degrees of warmth. For instance, one taste of cayenne, and you know instantly that it’s warming, but other herbs, like turmeric, are more subtle about their function.
Of course, each herb has its own specific list of properties and benefits, but all warming herbs share some common characteristics. For instance, most warming herbs and spices stimulate circulation, helping to get your blood moving even if you’re sitting still while bundled up. Many of them also have warming effects on digestion, helping to get foods moving through your system and digested more effectively. You'll also notice that a large number of warming herbs have anti-inflammatory and immune-enhancing effects.
#1 Black Pepper
Black pepper provides warmth without being quite as spicy as peppers like cayenne. That’s because black pepper comes from peppercorns and is not actually a chili pepper. Black pepper is rich in antioxidants, supports digestion, stimulates circulation, and even increases the bioavailability of other foods and herbs like the curcumin in turmeric. It can also be used in aromatherapy to boost your mood. Try this recipe from Spruce Eats for Black Pepper Tea.
The active ingredient in most hot peppers is capsaicin, which is an ingredient in many creams and ointments for pain and arthritis, including our Pain Away Salve. Cayenne can be used as a metabolic booster, and it’s also great for use when you have a cold because research shows it can shrink blood vessels in your nose and throat, relieving congestion. Cayenne can spice up just about anything, but we love it best in Mexican Hot Chocolate to keep the chill at bay.
One taste of cinnamon, and you’re left with no doubt about its legendary warming properties. Its versatility compliments all sorts of foods, beverages, and baked goods. This common spice helps your body to retain heat, helping you feel warm and cozy during chilly weather.
Once ingested, it helps improve circulation, supports heart health and cholesterol issues, helps manage glucose issues, dulls pain, and supports the treatment of deep-seated colds and flu. Try using cinnamon in our Homemade Kitchen Cough Syrup.
The active ingredient in these little buds is eugenol, which is anti-inflammatory and a powerful pain reliever with numbing effects. Historically, it’s likely your grandparents used to chew whole cloves as a folk remedy for toothaches. Cloves are at the top of the spice list for antioxidant content. They also have antimicrobial and immune-boosting properties. Whole cloves are one of the stars in our Cold Busting Tea. Try whipping up a batch next time you’re feeling under the weather or even chilled.
It would be impossible to talk about warming herbs without mentioning garlic. If you’ve ever bitten into a raw garlic clove, chances are you were left with no doubt about its warming properties. Garlic is an immune booster filled with antioxidants. It also supports heart and brain health. Try adding Honey Fermented Garlic to your winter apothecary for a simple immune boost.
This warming root is widely renowned for its digestion-supporting properties. Closely related to Turmeric, the nubly little tubers work to neutralize the acid in the stomach and boost the secretion of gastric juices while gently warming the digestive system. Ginger is also a potent anti-inflammatory herb, supporting the treatment of arthritis, headache, migraine, and respiratory inflammation. Try making yourself a cup of this Fresh Ginger Tea from Cookie + Kate
Nutmeg is frequently used alongside other warming spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves during cooler months. It supports digestion, is high in antioxidants, and has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Oregano is a pungent and spicy herb with powerful antibacterial properties, and just like so many of the other herbs on this list, it provides some extra immune support, too.
When fighting chest congestion, oregano can help to clear your chest- especially if rubbed on as oil or breathed in as an herbal steam.
Along with being a common culinary herb, thyme is a treasured part of many herbalists' inventories. Not only does it have a warming nature, but it also proves beneficial for many common complaints that come up in the colder months.
Thyme has a long history of easing coughing and sore throat, relieving congestion, and supporting the respiratory system. It also supports immunity and even has mood-boosting qualities. Try a tea made with dried thyme and honey for a scratchy throat, or infuse raw honey with thyme to keep on hand for fighting coughs.
Turmeric contains curcumin, which shines as an excellent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. It works wonders on inflammation, and along with being a warming spice, it boosts blood circulation and stimulates splanchnic blood flow (blood flow to the digestive system) that helps in better absorption of nutrients. It also serves as an immuno-modulating spice, assisting in countering chill and health issues that come with seasonal changes. Turmeric works best when combined with black pepper, so always seek recipes that combine the two.
Keep it Warm and Cozy Out There!
The next time you feel the chill creeping in, remember that warming up could be a simple trip to your home pantry away. What are your favorite ways to incorporate warming herbs into your seasonal routines? Tell us all about them in the comments below, and as always, until next time,