Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth nutrition, fitness and adventure courses, and more than 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+..
It’s the time of year when leaves transform into vibrant hues, sweaters come out of storage, and the air becomes refreshingly crisp. Unfortunately, it’s also a time of increased cold and flu symptoms, dry and painful skin conditions, and altered moods due to shorter days and a lack of sun. Go into this season prepared with a cupboard stocked with healing remedies for common ailments. Here are some beneficial and easy-to-use herbs to support your mind and body through the fall and winter months.
Fight Fatigue with Eleuthero
Also known as Siberian ginseng, eleuthero is a plant that has been used for centuries in Russia and China due to its ability to improve cognition, enhance energy, and support stress. Eleuthero is part of a unique group of plants called adaptogens, which have been proven to augment resistance to stress both physically and mentally—in other words, they help you “adapt more easily.” In the fall and winter months, energy levels can wane as the days grow shorter, but this plant might be just what’s needed to remain alert until bedtime. One study published in the International Journal of Phytotherapy and Phytopharmacology found that a group of females taking a standardized extract exhibited improved attention and accuracy during stressful cognitive tasks. Eleuthero is most often taken in capsule or extract form.
Keep Your Skin Radiant with Sea Buckthorn
The biting winter air can strip your skin of much-needed moisture, causing a dull, dry appearance and sensitive, chapped areas. Sea buckthorn, a plant that grows across the mountainous regions of Asia and Europe, can efficiently counteract these symptoms. The medicinal properties are found in the seed and fruit oil, which contain a unique profile of fatty acids including 3, 6, 7, and 9, and are loaded with vitamins, antioxidants, and flavonoids. Treasured for being the richest plant-based source of omega-7 palmitoleic acid available, sea buckthorn has been the subject of more than 200 studies, and is commonly used in modern cosmetics and skin products. Apply it topically, or add it to a smoothie for a radiant glow during the winter months.
Feel Better Faster with Elderberry
Concerned that you might catch that bug going around? Elderberry acts as a triple threat against those untimely colds, acting as an antiviral and antibacterial and bolstering the immune system. This flowering shrub is abundant in the United States and Canada, and has been used for centuries in traditional medicine to treat colds. A promising preliminary study published in the Journal of Internal Medical Research revealed that patients with influenza-like symptoms who were given elderberry syrup showed symptom relief four days earlier than those who received a placebo. Unlike many cold and flu treatments, elderberry syrup has a sweet flavor that can be taken alone or added to various drinks and recipes.
Unwind With Lemon Balm
With the holidays fast approaching, you may feel more stress and anxiety as added obligations and errands begin to pile up. Lemon balm is a plant that has been documented all the way back to the Middle Ages as a treatment for restlessness and insomnia. An interesting study reported in The Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine observed that subjects exposed to a stressor and also given a 600-mg dose of lemon balm rated their calmness significantly higher than those in a placebo group. Another study from England’s Northumbria University revealed that a 1,600-mg dose of encapsulated dried leaf lemon balm resulted in participant reports of improved mood, memory, and serenity. As a member of the mint family, this herb makes a flavorful tea or can be taken in capsule form.
Halt Winter Aches & Pains with Turmeric
Many people complain of increased joint pain and soreness during the colder months (although there’s little scientific explanation for this). Curcumin is an orange-hued compound found in the spice turmeric, one that is commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine for its powerful anti-inflammatory actions. A recent study from the Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine found that a daily dose of 2 gm of curcumin to people suffering from osteoarthritis resulted in reports of reduced pain and increased mobility. In addition to soothing sore joints, curcumin is a potent antioxidant, brain health supporter, and strengthener of the vascular system by improving the lining of the blood vessels. A member of the ginger family, turmeric tastes great and can be infused in tea, added to a recipe, or taken in capsule form.
Banish the Blues with Rhodiola
Also called “Artic root” because of the way it thrives in the cold, mountainous regions of Northern Europe, rhodiola shows promise as a mood-supporting agent. The Greek physician Dioscorides documented rhodiola’s effectiveness back in 77 A.D. as an aid for fatigue and anxiety. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a common occurrence in the Northern Hemisphere during the fall and winter months, but preliminary research in animal trials has demonstrated that rhodiola increases the “feel good” neurotransmitter serotonin, banishing those blues as it promotes the transport of important building blocks such as 5-hydroxytryptamine. Rhodiola is part of the exclusive group of herbs known as adaptogens. It can be taken as a capsule, tincture, or tea.
Rejuvenate with Astragalus
Astragalus is well known in Chinese medicine for its ability to prevent colds and improve energy, but The Journal of Immunology revealed that it might also be an effective antiaging tool. Two constituents of astragalus—called cycloastragenols and astragaloside—may play a role in extending the lifespan of our DNA. How does astragalus do it? A DNA molecule called a “telomere” protects the chromosome material from breaking down—but unfortunately as we age, our telomeres can shorten. There are associations between shortened telomeres and many age-related diseases like osteoporosis, dementia, and arthritis. Astragalus shows promise in preserving the length of telomeres and perhaps decreasing the risk of age-related diseases. The root has a mild yet sweet flavor, and can be infused into a tea, added to a soup, or taken in capsule or tincture form.
Detox with Dandelion
Want to get back on track after over-indulging? Dandelion is often considered a weed, but this herb has been documented as far back as the second century A.D. as a powerful cleansing agent. Dandelion is regarded as a liver and kidney tonic in traditional medicine, and has often been used to improve digestion. Encouraging preliminary studies suggest that dandelion root could even have liver-protectant properties. Add the leaves to your salad, or brew the root and leaves into a tea.
Calm Your Stomach With Fennel Seeds
’Tis the season for holiday parties and the consumption of alcohol and decadent foods—both major causes for an upset stomach later in the evening. Fennel seeds are classified as a carminative herb, which can prevent unwanted gas and bloating. The Journal of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine revealed in a recent study that fennel seed oil significantly decreased gas and bloating compared to a placebo. These tasty seeds are also a great source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants like quercetin and kaempferol, and act as a breath freshener. Add one teaspoon of fennel seeds to a cup of hot water and let brew for five minutes, or try them raw if you’re on the go.
Warm up with Ginger
Feel like hibernating all winter long? Sometimes the best medicine is simply a warm fire and a great cup of ginger tea. Ginger has been a popular remedy since ancient times for a diverse range of ailments including motion sickness, nausea, migraines, indigestion, sore throat, and even arthritis. Its ability to promote circulation within the body can create a warming sensation. It is thought that an active compound in ginger called gingerol is responsible for that “cozy” feeling, by stimulating blood flow and relaxing blood vessels. To get “toasty” fast, boil three cups of water, add several slices of fresh ginger (around three ounces), and a hint of honey. Steep for five minutes and enjoy!
Our Product Picks
Gaia Herbs: Turmeric Boost Restore is a delicious blend of concentrated turmeric extract, real vanilla, and warming chai spices—a great drink on a chilly day.
Nature’s Answer: Sambucus syrup boosts immunity with a super-concentrated black elderberry extract. Plus, it’s sugar- and alcohol-free.
New Chapter: Lemon Balm Force includes a full spectrum of compounds from the entire herb, gently extracted to preserve their natural strength and potency.
PLNT by The Vitamin Shoppe: Rhodiola contains only wildcrafted, whole-plant extracts and absolutely no fillers—just the herb in its purest form.
Sibu: Sea Buckthorn Omega 7 Support encapsulates pure Himalyan sea buckthorn fruit and seed oil, rich in omegas, to rejuvenate cells and promote healthy skin.