The Lightbringers: Herbs for Brightening Dark Winter Days

The winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. Although the days grow brighter and longer once it passes, the darkness of winter can weigh heavy on the hearts of many. 

With herbs that uplift the heart and soothe the mind, you can diffuse a bit more sunshine into even the darkest of days.

In today’s blog post, you’ll learn:

  • Herbs to support you through winter energetically, mentally, and emotionally 
  • How to make your own uplifting winter formula 
  • How to use this time to cultivate intention 
Photo by Emily Doyle

December 21st will mark the shortest day of the year here in the northern hemisphere, a time where we celebrate the winter solstice. The etymology of the word means sol (“sun”) and sistere (“to stand still”) and is a reflection of a turning point the sun is now making in the southernmost part of the sky from the Earth’s equator. Moving forward from this day, we will see that the days start to grow a little longer and a little brighter.

For any northern dwellers, it’s common to feel a little less energetic as these darker days envelop the skies. Because the daylight is so minimal and we’re not exposed to the long hours of sunlight we’re used to, our biological system can produce an overproduction of a hormone that promotes rest, sleepiness, and more of a calmed state – called melatonin.

This can leave us feeling heavier, dull, and for some folks, even manifest as the winter blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Melatonin is a part of our body’s inherent natural clock or circadian rhythm, which governs our sleep patterns; however, it can sometimes feel a bit overbearing.

Photo by Emily Doyle

I think an important consideration here is that it’s perfectly normal to feel a bit melancholic during this time, and to remember that the rhythms of Nature can have a mirror effect on our inner emotional worlds as well. Maybe Seasonal Affective Disorder isn’t a disorder at all, but just a part of the natural order of Nature.

If these long winter days have kindled a slight darkness in your world, I’d like to share some of my favorite herbs that might lift your spirits and shine a little light of energy into your soul, so you can perhaps feel a little lighter in spirit.

Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) To me, this plant invokes a sense of mental sharpness coupled with a sense of stillness. This is a balancing tonic that brings stimulation to the brain through cerebral circulation, which helps to lift those foggy mental states and help you think more clearly. It’s used to increase memory and is especially great for folks that feel agitated since it also acts as a nervine in other areas of the body. To me, Gotu Kola is the perfect herb for meditation and self-reflection, for it induces a state of calm and peaceful wakefulness. 

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) I quote Sajah & Whitney’s description of Melissa as they depict this plant beautifully: 

Like a sunny day, Lemon Balm uplifts the spirit, bringing hope and happiness into the heart. It is a perfect remedy to have around in the depths of the winter blues, in those times when the sun hasn’t reached your soul for ages, when darkness and despair have clouded your days. Lemon Balm invokes the light within, revealing the innocence and sweetness of the inner child. Many of us don’t allow ourselves to shine in our full capacity, we hold ourselves back and simply don’t accept or love who we are in this moment…

Lemon Balm assists us in looking beyond our flaws and conditionings to seeing the pure soul inside, the one that wants to be free and exuberant, the part of us that wants to have fun! This acceptance of the self opens the floodgates of love to pour into those forgotten or malnourished places within the soul. The incredible purity and simplicity of this plant instill a sense of peace and contentment within, inviting one to enjoy the nectar of their own heart.”

Linden (Tilia spp.)

Linden (Tilia spp.) 

With its heart-shaped leaves, the doctrine of signatures with this tree is abundantly clear. With its deliciously sweet taste, this tree releases tension in the musculature and circulatory realms of the body, specifically the heart, where it softens tension and uplifts worry. Linden flowers alleviate restlessness, improve sleep, and lower anxious and depressed states. It is specifically indicated for anxiety culminating in the heart as it physically supports the vasculature and circulatory system, gently widening blood vessels while lowering blood pressure. With its sweet and aromatic blossoms, Linden reinstates a sense of calm and gladdens the heart. 

Mimosa (Albizia julibrissin) A very uplifting remedy known as the “collective happiness tree” in China. You can’t help but feel happy in the presence of Mimosa flowers. If you ever get a chance to see an Albizia tree flowering, you’ll notice that the blossoms shine pink and dangle like bright fireworks exploding mid-air – they are simply fantastic and without a doubt, very happy forming creatures. 

This flower offers relief for those moments when you feel burdened by continuous tears that wear down your heart. It allows you to take a breath and feel peace roll into your heart. In Chinese Medicine, this herb is considered a “Shen tonic” and is used to uplift the spirit and awaken a sense of happiness. Its actions are often felt quickly; so if you’re needing a strong pick-me-up, Mimosa might do the trick.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) 

This culinary favourite has been used all over the world to introduce warmth into food as well as the home, especially during the dark winter months. With its aromatic and pungent taste, Rosemary improves mood and circulatory functioning. This herb encourages circulation to the brain, clearing out brain fog and improving mental clarity. Having Rosemary around during this time of year can help uplift the heart and soothe the spirit- so be sure to cook with it at the very least! 

Rhodiola (Rhodiola Rosea) This herb acts in two different ways, depending on the dose you take. When taken in small quantities, Rhodiola elevates mood and provokes wakefulness and energy. This is because it stimulates the production of norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin, all of which are neurotransmitters involved in the functioning of your circadian rhythm. When taken in large amounts, Rhodiola acts as a depressant (I learned this the hard way!), so more is not better in this case.

Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus) For someone who’s been stressed or depressed and fatigued for a long time, this adaptogenic herb helps to increase mental alertness, physical endurance, and reduce the effects of long term exhaustion. Similar to Rhodiola, it can be pretty dose-specific. While lower doses over the long term can assist in building and rejuvenating the neuroendocrine system, higher doses can be overtly stimulating and cause one to overextend themselves and burn out even more. I find that taking small to moderate doses provides great results, especially when taken twice a day (morning and afternoon) since this is in conjunction with the body’s natural cortisol cycles. 

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) 

Classically known as “sunshine in a bottle,” St. John’s Wort is a nerve trophorestorative, which means that it works to tone and restore a nervous system that is weakened from long periods of stress, nervousness, tension, anxiety, or insomnia. 

This herb is commonly known to provide relief for those experiencing SAD (seasonal affective disorder) or mild to moderate depression. Unlike Mimosa, this herb does not provide instant results. When working with St. John’s Wort, be patient and allow this gem a few weeks to take action. If you know that you are susceptible to the winter blues, consider using this remedy preventatively by taking it at the beginning of the cooler months to ease feelings of anxiety, tension, and depression. 

Please note: It’s important to consult your doctor if you are taking pharmaceutical drugs before you consume any herbs as there are many herb-drug interactions – please consult your health care practitioner or local herbalist to see what herbs are suitable for you. 

Below is a blend that may be formulated as a tea or compounded as a tincture. This formula is designed to bring energy up into the mind and stimulate circulation into the crown of the head, giving the body a boost. This formula should lift and calm the heart from feelings of grief or depression, pushing the heaviness out and elevating mood. If you decide to make a tea – I would add the Eleuthero root first and let it simmer on low for 20- 30 mins, then turn off the stove and add the Linden flowers, Lemon balm, Holy basil, and Rose before leaving it to steep with the lid for another 15-20 minutes. Once complete, strain your blend, add honey, and enjoy. 

Uplifting Spirits Formula:

25% Linden flowers (Tilia spp.)

25% Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

25% Holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum)

15% Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus)

10% Rose petals (Rosa spp.)

The herbs that I’ve suggested are mere guidelines for you to start out with if you’re feeling a little down. I haven’t given a full disclosure of what each herb does (they all do a lot more!), so I suggest taking some extra time to do more research yourself. If you can’t get your hands on some of these remedies, feel free to substitute out and play around. 

Photo by Emily Doyle

Lastly, I always encourage a little outside time every day or to do some form of movement, breathwork, or exercise. Personally, I try to get myself outside around noon and walk for about 30 – 45 mins daily in the winter, even in the torrential downpour (I’d never get outside otherwise) because when I push my butt outside that door – I always come home feeling a little better.

Life for all of us has changed drastically over the last 100 years. We’re so busy now that it’s easy to forget that life only a century ago, which wasn’t actually so long ago, was drastically different from the one we live in today.

A 100 years ago, when the seasons changed, so did our lives and our daily activities. When the sun went down, we stopped – there was simply no light to work by. We spent more time at home with family, cooked meals on the fire, played indoor games with each other, and spent a lot of time hibernating with books by candlelight. The winter season was a time that forced us to really slow down, dream close to the warm fire, and set intentions for the following year.

Photo by Elisha Storey

So I encourage you to rest more now. This is a time when we should be building our reserve for the next year. We do this by taking the time to slow down when it gets dark outside, maybe light a few candles instead of switching on the lights, and embrace the quietness of what surrounds us outside so that we can tune into that hibernation mode and receive the recuperation our bodies need for the next busy year ahead.

I encourage you to find yourself a cozy spot to rest – light a few candles, sip a hot drink, and write about the year past – write about what has served you and what has not, what you want to bring forward into 2022 and what you want to let go. Creating and solidifying these intentions will plant seeds for the coming year, which will ultimately gift you a life that is more fulfilling and connected to your own innate rhythm. 

Happy resting and wishing you a warm winter solstice!

Warmly,
Elisha

 

 

Elisha Storey has been apart of our EH team for over 5 years now and works as an herbalist on Vancouver Island, BC. She’s a lover of the PNW forests and her wish is to convey how nature can be utilized in an effective, and accessible way to empower people to take better care and heal themselves.

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