Herbal Allies for the Holiday Season

The holiday season.  One of my favourite times of the year.  The house smells like pine and cinnamon.  The kids are making snowmen.  The short, dark days brightened by cheerful Christmas lights.  I love it all.  However, fun and family festivities can also mean stress, overwhelming pressure to be the perfect host and overindulging in rich food and wobbly pops. So, what herbal allies can support us through this time, helping us stay calm amidst the chaos and actually enjoy spending time with our friends and family? Here is a look at a few of my favourites.

  • Lemon Balm:

Christmas Eve with young kids is always a fun time, so much excitement and anticipation for the arrival of the ‘Big Guy’.  For me, as a Mom, it is also a very busy evening.  Last minute presents to wrap, Christmas dinner food prep and generally making sure everything is ready for Christmas day. So in my house getting the young ones to calm down, unwind and ready for bedtime is essential. This is where lemon balm, also known as Melissa officinalis, is my best ally.  Lemon balm is an easy to grow herbaceous perennial in the mint family.  Its scent is wonderfully uplifting and it is also a gentle and effective nervine and sedative that is perfect for kids who are too hyped on cookies, candy canes and Santa, helping them to calm down and relax ready for sleep.

lemon-balm
Lemon Balm. Image courtesy of Mister GC at Freedigitalphotos.net

One of my favourite ways to prepare lemon balm for my kids is a sleepy time syrup. Here is a great recipe from The Nerdy Farm Wife. It tastes great so compliance is high – they think they are getting a treat!  Lemon balm is best used fresh. Once dried will use its potency after about six months so be careful if you are purchasing it from a store. If I have some I will often add catnip (Nepata cataria) to the syrup, another kid friendly calming herb and from personal experience, it works a treat!

  • Elderberry:

Oh the joy of Christmas time, the bringing together of friends and family and yes, that also means viruses, bugs and germs.  We can’t avoid them, except for maybe banishing any sick people from our house but that really wouldn’t be in the spirit of the season, right?! Boosting mine and my family’s immune system during this time is one of my priorities and my favourite ally in this situation is the amazing Elderberry.

There are several species of Elder that grow worldwide.  Some with blue or black berries, some with red berries and while most species are similar medicinally it is important to research what grows in your area.  When purchasing dried berries you will most likely find Sambucus nigra – American elder.  Where I live in the southern interior of British Columbia the blue elder (Sambucus cerula) grows abundantly in ditches and along the edges of farmland.

elderberry
Elderberries. Image courtesy of Sattva at Freedigitalphotos.net

It is the elderberries immune stimulating and antiviral properties that make this traditional medicine so illustrious.  Elderberry syrup is a classic and delicious way to take this medicine. As soon as the berries are ripe in the fall I start a tincture.  I freeze the rest of my harvest and once my tincture is ready I prepare an elderberry honey as well as a decoction of the berries.   I then mix in equal parts the three preparations.  The syrup is then refrigerated and taken as a preventative, at the first signs of illness and during illness.  My experience has been that if I do fall victim to a virus, taking elderberry syrup or straight up tincture significantly reduces the severity and duration of illness.

  • Fennel:

Turkey dinner is probably my favourite meal of the year and I make enough to feed way more people than I need to.  I’m always tempted to eat an extra mouthful or five when I really should just stop eating.  This leaves me bloated, sluggish and generally uncomfortable.  This is exactly the time when I make a big pot of fennel tea.

fennel-seed
Fennel Seeds

Fennel, or Foeniculum vulgare, is a hardy perennial and a member of the Apiaceae (carrot family).  It is a highly aromatic culinary and medicinal herb. Medicinally, the dried seeds are used and their flavour is slightly reminiscent of anise, it makes a very tasty cuppa!  For those who don’t enjoy the flavour, I find the tincture to also be effective.  Fennel is also an excellent digestive aid and carminative. The volatile oils in fennel stimulate digestion and its antispasmodic properties relax the digestive tract to help relieve indigestion, excess gas, bloating and stomach cramps making it invaluable for turkey belly and those who go overboard on Christmas candies.

  • Skullcap:

In today’s world, the pressure to buy the perfect gifts, create the perfect Christmas atmosphere and prepare the perfect Christmas meal can be overwhelming.  Catering to the differing needs of family members and making sure everyone is ‘having fun’ can also be stressful which can leave you feeling anxious and agitated.  A little herbal self care is needed here, and while a long relaxing hot bath would be great in this situation, it might not be appropriate in the middle of Christmas dinner.  Therefore, my herbal bff in this instance is Skullcap.

Skullcap or Scutellaria lateriflora is an exceptional relaxing nervine that I find is amazing in situations like this.  One of my favourite preparations of this mint family herbaceous perennial herb is a fresh plant tincture, mostly because of the convenience of taking a tincture but also because I don’t care for the tea too much.  It’s ability to soothe the nervous system and reduce anxiety and headaches is superb. It gives me the feeling of having just meditated in a meadow of wildflowers and greatly increases my ability to deal with stress from outside pressures.

There a lot of other herbs that I could talk about for these situations; tulsi, kava and milky oats to name just a few.  It is all about finding what works best in terms of the plants available to you and which preparations will work for you and your family.  Here’s to a fun, stress free holiday season!

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