Heirloom Gardener Blogs > All the Wild Things

Take the Chill Out

“Ice Storm Warning” was the weather advisory statement that just came across via multiple media outlets. Here in Southwest Missouri, where we’re right on the line of freezing rain or not, it’s not uncommon to hear about sub-zero temperatures in the days to come while enjoying 70 degree weather at that moment. The winters here can be mild, with minimal snow, or can be miserable with freezing rain in the forecast. Needless to say, this winter is proving to be minimal snow so far, but definite below average temperatures and ice. 

That combination (cold and ice) will chill the body to the bones, making it difficult to stay warm and cozy. The beauty of the situation, however, is that it's the perfect time for tea. This won’t be any tea, mind you; it warrants the “big guns” — the warming teas. Those teas that warm the body from the inside out while providing some protection against the flu season bugs and giving the body a little nourishment along the way. 

The mere act of drinking tea aids in settling the mind, relaxing the body, and providing a sense of peace and quiet that the winter months do for nature overall. The bonus, then, is the warmth that grows within us and holds there from one sip to the next, helping us to make it through the winter months with joy and health. So, cozy up and let’s explore the “spice” path to winter warmth.

Cinnamon: Right from the start, just the thought of cinnamon elicits feelings of warmth, perhaps due to it’s association with the winter holidays. But this spice is a powerhouse when it comes to health benefits (antimicrobial and antibacterial to name a couple) and warming up the body naturally. One of the key constituents in cinnamon is tannins, which are, in part, responsible for having a drying effect on the body’s mucous membranes. This astringent action, in turn, raises the body temperature. We also see an increase in blood circulation with cinnamon being that it has blood-thinning properties (anticoagulant), which, again, will help increase body temperature by increasing metabolic activity. 

When choosing cinnamon, it’s important to note that there are two types — Ceylon (“true cinnamon”) and Cassia cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon can be difficult to find, but tends to have a much sweeter taste than the Cassia variety. Cassia cinnamon has much higher levels of the aforementioned blood-thinning substance (coumarin), while Ceylon cinnamon contains much less. This is especially important for anyone already taking prescription blood-thinning medication or in a case where blood-thinning properties would not be welcomed. Cassia cinnamon still provides many of the same health benefits as Ceylon, so it’s still a worthy contender and is a wonderful addition to the spice family to help warm you up on a chilly day. 

Ginger: This little rhizome can pack a lot of heat so to speak! Ginger contains several essential oils, one being gingerol. This active constituent is related to capsaicin (think chili peppers)  and piperine (black pepper) and is responsible for ginger's spiciness and natural heat production. Similar to cinnamon, ginger also helps to improve the body’s circulation. Choose fresh ginger root to make a spicy, warming cup of tea.  While I have not tried this yet, ginger root can be grown at home to ensure a steady supply of your own. 

Ginger 

Cayenne: Anyone who has eaten something with added cayenne knows that there’s definitely some warmth going on! Capsaicin is the constituent responsible for this body warming action due to its thermogenic properties (in addition to its pain relief action). Cayenne powder can be added to any dish in which you’d like a little heat, which includes a nice cup of tea!  Grow your own cayenne peppers that eventually can be harvested, prepped, dried and ground into your very own jar full of powder. 

There are several other spices that are considered warming, including cardamom, turmeric, and nutmeg that can be used in combination to provide the body with a natural way to combat the cold. 

Basic Ginger Tea Recipe:

2 cups water
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
honey (to taste)
lemon juice (to taste)
cinnamon (to taste)
pinch of cayenne pepper

1. Bring water to a boil in a saucepan
2. Add freshly grated ginger to boiling water
3. Turn off the heat, cover and let the ginger steep for 10 minutes
4. Strain out the ginger – now you have a very nice cup of ginger tea that can be “spiced up” to your liking with additions like honey, lemon juice, cinnamon, or cayenne pepper.

So, if you’re in the middle of the big chill this winter, don’t pass up the opportunity to warm up naturally with a few spices. It might even be time to add a few of these warming plants to your garden plan this year!