Winter brings colder weather which can chill you to the bone. Warming herbs are a great way to beat the chill, keep your internal fire burning and your immune system healthy and fully functioning.
Traditional chai recipes are full of warming herbs and spices: black pepper, ginger, cayenne and cinnamon, to name a few. While traditional chai contains black tea, a warming cocoa chai contains only spicy herbs and cocoa and is great for warming small bodies and large. Spicy Cocoa Chai is an extra-ordinary drink that will not only warm your fingers and toes but your spirits and immune system as well. Try this cup of cocoa after a fun day of sleigh riding, ice skating, snowman building and snowball fighting! It is guaranteed to warm you and your little ones from the inside out.
1 quart water
3 – 3” cinnamon sticks broken up
3 slices fresh ginger root
1/3 cup cocoa powder (something good and organic or Ghirardelli’s)
1/3 cup honey
Freshly whipped cream
Place the cinnamon sticks and ginger root in a pot with the water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 4-5 minutes, then turn off.
Add the honey and cocoa and stir until mixed together. Pour into mugs and add a dollop of whipped cream to each mug. Sprinkle with powdered cinnamon. This cocoa is best served next to a warm fire.
Cinnamon has many health benefits. As a digestive stimulant, he increases circulation to the digestive tract and helps everything move along. He is also wonderful for treating gas and cramping and as an astringent can have an opposite effect for those suffering from diarrhea, by offering relief.
As a circulatory herb, cinnamon increases general stimulation to the body, assisting in warming sufferers of chronically cold hands and feet as well as those who are merely cold from too much fun outdoors. When an infusion of cinnamon is taken during a cold or flu, this same stimulation helps with those feeling cold and having the shivers. Because of his stimulating nature, those on blood thinners should avoid him in therapeutic doses.
Cinnamon can also be added as a base to other herbs that don’t taste so good, making infusions easier to drink. Wintertime herbs such as boneset, catnip, echinacea and goldenrod are all enhanced with a bit of cinnamon added with them both in flavor and medicinal value.
Cinnamon has pain-relieving power as well. Studies have shown him effective in relieving arthritic pain as well as toothaches. Those who consume cinnamon regularly have fewer cavities, stronger gums and whiter teeth.
Mixing cinnamon with crampbark makes an effective pain reliever for those suffering from menstrual cramps.
Cinnamon also has antimicrobial properties. A good cup of cinnamon tea daily can help chase away the flu bug during the winter months.
Although a bit is good, a lot can be too much. Those who are pregnant or have stomach or intestinal ulcers should avoid cinnamon in therapeutic doses as it can cause poisoning. Symptoms of cinnamon poisoning include central nervous system sedation (sleepiness and depression) followed by rapid heartbeat, diarrhea, panting and perspiration.
Ginger is just as amazing as cinnamon in health benefits. She is very warming and can be overwhelming to some. If you generally feel hot (don’t get cold easily), you may need to stay away from ginger because she may contain too much heat to help your body. But, give her a try to make sure this is true if you are generally warm.
Ginger is best known for her nausea-quelling properties. Ginger works with any type of nausea including: motion sickness, morning sickness, chemotherapy-induced nausea and postoperative nausea. Ginger is a carminative, making her great for the digestive system in general and for aiding with indigestion.
Ginger should not be taken by people who have gallbladder disease, bleed easily and/or have a bleeding disorder or are on blood-thinning medication, as she is a circulatory herb that will really get your blood pumping and moving! She is great for people who are naturally cold or have cold extremities (cold hands and feet) as she aids in the peripheral circulation of the body. Because ginger is so hot, small doses of tincture or syrup or a piece of fresh ginger could be taken daily as needed to help combat poor circulation.
Ginger can be taken to help ease the symptoms of a cold as well as help to lessen the severity of it. She can help to ease a sore throat and acts as a diaphoretic, helping you to sweat out a fever if need be.
According to Susun Weed, ginger can aid with the pain of fibromyalgia when used as a compress, hot or cold, on painful flare ups to help increase circulation to the area. Being a rubefacient, ginger can be used any time circulation needs to be increased in an area of the body.
Because she has an antispasmodic effect, ginger is useful for relieving uterine and abdominal cramping. Because of this, those suffering from Irritable Bowel Syndrome may benefit from taking ginger.
Ginger is also taken as an effective emmenagogue, helping to bring on delayed menses.
In India, it is customary to use ginger daily. Due to their hot climates, ginger is necessary as she has an antioxidant and antimicrobial nature, which is useful in preserving food when refrigeration is not widely available.
Enjoy your spicy cocoa and the warming benefits it will bring this winter season!
Note: When I speak of the herbs, I refer to them using masculine and feminine pronouns. I do so because in my workings with the herbs, I have cultivated relationships with them that are on a very personal level. Their energy comes to me in masculine and feminine form and I address them accordingly. These are my own personal feelings and have no bearing on the herbs’ ability or usefulness in healing.
This article originally appeared in the Rhythm of the Home Winter 2010 issue.