Herbs For Winter

Last spring I put together a summary of the herbs we used during the winter. Today I am reposting that for your benefit because now's the time to get your act together if you want to start some tinctures and stock your herbal cupboard.

But before you read that I need to mention this fabulous series of natural health and wellness posts by my friend Emily.

We stayed with Emily's sweet and gracious family on our trip out west this summer. I can just picture that beautiful herb shelf in her kitchen.


Way back in October, Keeper of the Home featured a series of posts on natural home remedies and illness prevention.

That is what savvy bloggers do. They plan ahead and know what people will want to read in a given month and they create content to fill that need.

Me, on the other hand, I'm was too busy enjoying fall in October to give much thought to writing about herbs for winter health. But what I did do was read those posts, as well as ordered some herbs to prepare our family to naturally treat winter sickness.

Now that spring is officially here I'd like to share my herbal strategies for winter health, based on our experience this past winter. If you decide to grow any of these herbs now is a great time to think about what you want to plant. And if you decide to buy dried herbs to make your own preparations it's never too early to plan what you need.

I know this sounds like a lame excuse for posting ideas after the winter cold and flu season but at least this way I can honestly tell you what did and didn't work for our family instead of giving you an "I think I might try this" approach.


We were once again blessed with great health this winter. During the first week of February, ironically while I was choosing to embrace winter, the kids had small colds that ran their course in a few days. Everyone was well enough by the weekend for our annual winter backpacking/camping trip. One minor illness was the extent of our winter sickness. 

There are a few things we do to build our immunity to prepare for and prevent illness:

  • Vitamin D supplements - We use a liquid form and take it daily from about September till May. We spend a lot of time outdoors in the summer and don't feel the need for it then. Damien has done all the research on this in our household. I take the dosage he recommends, I don't remember what it is. 
  • Nutrition - In this post I talk about our dietary guidelines. My thoughts are echoed in this recent guest post by Jennifer L. Sanders on nutritarian eating. For more nutritional resources check out my recommended books at FIMBY's Amazon affiliate bookstore
  • Exercise and rest - We listen to our bodies. When we are tired we sleep. We don't push ourselves if we feel we're coming down with something. We exercise (the kids and Damien on a daily basis, I am more irregular with that) and spend time outdoors.

thai curry veg

It's hard to know and would be impossible to scientifically prove whether our relative low sickness is due to our kids growing out of the "susceptible to every passing germ" stage or our increased nutrition and care for our well being. Both transformations happened simultaneously over the past five to six years. 

All I know is that we average one cold per fall/winter season (per person). And a fairly mild one at that.  

Here's a few of my herbal strategies for how I manage colds and lessen the uncomfortable symptoms. 

Herbal Preparations

Last fall, after reading the series at Keeper of the Home I ordered a large quantity of herbs from Mountain Rose Herbs. I wanted to be prepared, just in case. It turned out I was over prepared (our family doesn't need a lot of herbs for how much we get sick) and now need to figure out what to do with some of these herbs before we move. 

Herbs for tinctures:

Here's simple directions from the Bulk Herb Store for making a tincture and this is a video from Mountain Rose Herbs. 

  • Elderberries - Without a doubt this is my favorite herb to use for immunity. Easy to prepare and tastes good.

Last fall I made both a vodka tincture and glycerin tincture. After they were done infusing and I had strained out the berries, I mixed the two together for a not-so-potent but well preserved cold fighting medicine. Mixing the glycerin with the vodka cuts down on the strong alcohol content which I like since I mostly give this to the kids.

We use this tincture at the first sign of a tickle in the throat, a "run down" feeling or little cough. By the end of December (I gave some as a gift) it was nearly gone so I started a new batch. That batch still sits in my cupboard, hardly used. 

  • Echinacea - I almost always keep an echinacea vodka tincture on hand. I use this similar to elderberry tincture. My kids find it less palatable than elderberries but I often add it to my tea when I'm feeling a little "under the weather". 
  • Licorice - I use a glycerin licorice tincture to treat Brienne's cold sores (herpes simplex virus) which are more prevalent during winter. I administer this orally and topically. 

Herbs for teas, syrups and other remedies:

I use these herbs most regularly for making tea - both infusions (tea made with leaves, flowers, and light materials) and decoctions (tea made with bark, roots, seeds, and berries).

  • Slippery Elm - I use this for sore throats, cough syrup and digestive issues. If you use this once you'll know how it gets its name - it's kind of goopey. Techinically it's called a mucilaginous herb and is very soothing for internal or external inflammation.
  • Marshmallow Root - Used mostly for sore throats. Easy to grow in your own garden and is a good substitute for slippery elm. 
  • Mullein - Also easy to grow, basically a weed. It's recommended as an oil for ear infections. Also good for cough formulas and respiratory issues. 
  • Red Clover - Excellent for coughs, colds and bronchitis. Also rich in minerals. I blend it with other herbs for sore throat tea. 
  • Rosehips - High in vitamin C and antioxidants. I blend with other herbs for flavor and to boost the nutritional content of a tea.
  • Chamomile - So mild and wonderful for children. Calming and anti-inflammatory. I bought it to have on hand but honestly haven't used it much.
  • Peppermint - We drink peppermint tea almost every day. If the kids complain of a sore throat, headache, or upset tummy I brew a pot of peppermint tea. I can honestly say the bulk peppermint from MRH has been the best peppermint herb we've brewed.

I used a combination of the some of the above herbs (and a few others) to make cough syrup for the kids during their one cold. I have more than just these herbs in my cupboard but the ones I listed are those I use most often.

We tried horehound but found it very bitter for our tastes. Just ask my sister-in-law who received a large batch of bitter sore throat tea mix as a birthday gift (smile).


In this post I intended to include foods we eat that I also use to treat colds (miso, lemon, ginger, garlic etc). But I decided this was long enough. That post is still in the works though so stay tuned. 

{And now the disclaimer: Use all this information at your own risk. I am not licensed to dispense medical information. None of these statements have been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.}


Renee Tougas participates in affiliate marketing, including the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program. Whenever you buy something on Amazon from a link you clicked here, I get a (very) small percentage of that sale. See disclosure for further explanation.

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  • Naomi

    Naomi on Oct. 7, 2011, 11:59 a.m.

    I added echinacea, horehound, and chamomile based remedies to me cupboard this year, in addition to others, but I also taught a class to middle schoolers on making remedies, and we got to work with mullien. There is a reason that's called lambs ear!


  • Kika

    Kika on Oct. 7, 2011, 2:58 p.m.

    I finally made my own elderberry syrup - for a minute fraction of the cost of what I'd been buying it for - and went through one jar in Septmeber. I am feeling quite liberal with it since I can produce it cheaply :) No one is sick but a couple members of our family are in schools in the day and I want their immune systems working well. I don't make my own teas but just buy favorites from Mountain Rose Herbs (just wish shipping wasn't so incredibly high for me!!!). I recently bought "Rescue Remedy" for my youngest daughter. This might be a good place to ask if anyone has ever had a child with real sleep issues and how they helped her without drugs. My six year old has always fallen asleep easily but wakes up somewhere around 2:30 to 4:00 am and cannot fall back asleep. She is often hungry (we leave a little snack by her bed); she is afraid (she has a night light but this doesn't calm her huge imagination and she was in our room until this summer); she has always had disturbed sleep patterns and has lots of allergies but I'd read that once we got the immune response calmed down that the sleep would regulate itself (her allergies are under control but sleep has never become "normal"). Also, Renee, I had wanted to ask Emily (at In My Home Abide) but I cannot leave a comment without a blog or URL - any chance you'd mention this to her?


    • Emily

      Emily on Oct. 7, 2011, 3:10 p.m.

      Kika: I'm sorry you are unable to leave a comment on my blog. Ugh. You aren't the first person that's said they've had a problem. I hope I can resolve it.

      As far as your daughter's sleep disturbances...My first thought would be rubbing her back before with some lavendar essential oil. Also the bottoms of her feet. Whenever I do this for my little seven year old boy, he zonks out. Diffusing it in her room might be helpful. Recently, I found a oral spray that has valerian and chamomile (similar method under the tongue as Rescue Remedy) when I'm not sleeping well. From what I've learned, it is not harmful and not addictive. It seems like if you can get her into a cycle (circadian rhythms can get all mixed up), then she may get to a good sleep pattern. Try to create a quiet, soothing bedtime routine. Maybe a cup of chamomile tea or warm milk, cinnamon, and honey.

      Hope that helps.

      And Renee:

      What a pleasant surprise to see my stuff highlighted here! Thanks for the mention.

      Hope you are well. xoxo


      • Kika

        Kika on Oct. 7, 2011, 5:51 p.m.

        Thank you for your suggestions; I will try them. I do have a nice calming tea for her. I think I could work on a more regular bedtime routine for her - gets harder with older kids/more activity in the evenings. What is the name of the spray you are using? Any thoughts on if valerian is safe for young children? There is some in a new tea I bought but I wasn't sure if it is ok for my daughter.


        • Emily

          Emily on Oct. 7, 2011, 9:31 p.m.

          Hi Kika (what a nice name you have.),

          The spray I use when I wake up and can't go back to sleep, or if I feel wound up and know it will be difficult to fall asleep is a Dr. Christopher product (you may have to order it on line) called "Sleep Well", a sublingual spray (like Rescue Remedy)- contains valarian, chamomile, catnip, and passion flower extract.

          As far as the safety of valarian for young children. I went back through all my books and as far as I could tell, it shows (you may want to research this further) that this herb is safe. In her book "Herbal Recipes for Vital Health", Rosemary Gladstar states, "There is no finer herb than valerian for those who suffer from stress, insomnia, and nervous system disorders; it is powerful, safe, very effective, and nonaddictive...Valerian is generally considered a safe nontoxic herb. It is used as a relaxant, but it can have the opposite effect on people who are particularly sensative to it. If you become further agitated and restless after taking valarian, discontinue use and consider yourself in that rare 5% that cannot tolerate this herb... Most perscription sedatives carry labels that caution you about their potential addictive qualities and advise you to stay with the perscribed dosage. Valerian, on the other hand, is a nonaddictive, non-habit forming sedative, and it will not make you sleepy or groggy unless really large amounts are consumed. So don't be afraid to take adequate amounts of valerian. Begin with a low dosage and increase it until you feel its relaxing effects..."

          Of course, with any herb, one must be wise and use it with skill. With a small child, you would give less than you would give a grown person. Again, I hope this was informative to you, Kika. I'm no expert and I don't have experience giving it to my children, but hopefully you may find the direction you need to help your little one sleep better.

          Best to you, Emily


  • Elaine

    Elaine on Oct. 7, 2011, 3:46 p.m.

    I make a batch of elderberry/elecampane syrup (mixed with good quality honey) and mix it with hot water for a tea. It's really good and helps keep colds and respiratory issues at bay. I'm curious about the licorice glycerine tincture, how well does it work? Love this post, thank you!


    • renee

      renee on Oct. 7, 2011, 6 p.m.

      You know Elaine I think it works really well. I honestly think her cold sores clear up faster and actually don't fully "bloom" (for lack of a better word - maybe break out is a better word).  The good thing is it doesn't hurt to try and almost any rinky dink health food store carries licorice root and food grade glycerin. Brienne (our sweet tooth) also likes the sweet taste of the glycerin and licorice.  During an outbreak I give it to her orally and topically.


  • Nicola @ Which Nicola?

    Nicola @ Which Nicola? on Oct. 7, 2011, 11:23 p.m.

    Oh my. You know I am linking back to this one for my own personal reference. You take home health about 20 steps further than I do, just through experience. This past year I have definitely moved more towards natural health care, with such fabulous results, but I am still at the least scary level.


  • Pamela

    Pamela on Oct. 8, 2011, 1:47 p.m.

    Renee - Would you be willing to share your source for the Vitamin D drops? I've been doing my own research on it, and I'm curious as to Damien's conclusion.

    Also, has anyone reading had experience with a child with asthma using essential oils?



    • renee

      renee on Oct. 8, 2011, 2:11 p.m.

      Pamela, We have been using The Vitamin Shoppe Liquid Vitamin D3 5000 IU. That reminds me we need to start taking that again. We get out of the habit during those long light days of summer, but now is the time of year to be vigilant again about this. Thanks for the reminder!


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