Monday 7 November 2016

Preparing for winter SADness

People of all ages find the transition into winter and the months until spring arrives difficult. The urge to hibernate is strong but in busy, modern society it becomes more and more difficult to achieve.

There are several simple and practical strategies which can be put into place to help allay the different forms of darkness. Much of these are around behavior, which many people find challenging. If you rant and wail against doing something different or changing your comfortable habits think about this: If you always do what you’ve always done, you will always get what you’ve always got.

If there are issues which you find unhelpful in your life, then this time of approaching and preparing for winter can be your opportunity to ask yourself, “Is what I am doing helpful or might there be a different way of achieving what I want that I could explore?” Changes don’t have to be major, small steps can lead to amazing outcomes.

If you know you suffer with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), consider investing in a SAD lamp or SAD bulbs which can be fixed into ordinary lamps. Those who have them say they make the world a brighter place in the winter.

Make sure you go outside every day, preferably between 12pm and 1pm, to expose yourself to the maximum light possible during winter months. Children and adults benefit from outdoor exercise so they are physically tired when bedtime approaches. Even if you work in the centre of a city, try to discover your local parks or canals which can be reached during a lunch break.

At weekends, go for a walk which includes lots of trees. There is something very comforting about woodland which will hopefully have a positive effect on your mental health. Notice the colours of leaves, barks and buds. There can be an amazing variety, even in the depths of winter.

Think about what you are eating. It is tempting to increase your intake of calories in the form of warm, comfort food with lots of carbohydrates. We may have needed to increase our bulk to see us through the lean days of early spring a hundred years ago, but it really isn’t necessary now.

Instead, increase your protein intake. Make lots of nourishing soups and stews. They may take time but if you invest in a slow cooker, they can be prepared the night before or in the morning and then enjoyed later. If you have a freezer, always make double or triple quantities so you can freeze the excess and have something to eat when you don’t feel like cooking.

Homemade broth produced either from bones or vegetables can help keep your immune system buoyant.

Bone Broth
Chicken carcass or large beef/lamb or pork bones
2 tblsps cider vinegar
3 bay leaves
Bouquet garni of anti-viral herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage)
10 peppercorns
3 or more cloves of garlic crushed
1 onion peeled and sliced and or leeks
3 celery sticks
Cover the bones in a large saucepan with water. Add 1-2 tablespoons of cider vinegar to help release the minerals from the bones. Add anti-viral herbs e.g. rosemary, thyme, sage, bay. (1 pinch of each herb plus 1 or 2 bay leaves) peppercorns for flavour, onions and leeks for pro-biotic stimulation of good gut bacteria, celery sticks (at least 3) for prevention of gout and help with arthritic or inflammatory conditions. DON'T ADD SALT.
Bring to the boil and simmer for at least one hour. If you are using large mutton or beef bones put aside 3-4 or more hours making sure the liquid level doesn't drop too much. If making stock in a cookpot/slow cooker, simmer all day on low. Strain the stock and use to add a mixture of vegetables or vegetables and meat. If the bones have meat left on them, use it in the soup. Alternatively the stock can be frozen in small quantities and used as a nourishing drink or sauce base later.

Nourishing Vegetable Stock
If you are vegetarian or vegan, you can still make a nourishing stock by cooking vegetables, herbs, roots and mushrooms together for long periods.  Start by dicing at least half an onion per person and sweat in olive oil with at least two cloves of garlic. Add half a pint of water or vegetable broth per person together with a large handful of peeled and chopped seasonal vegetables such as carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, cabbage, celery, corn, turnips, potatoes and fresh or tinned tomatoes. Add one small handful of seaweed per person to provide seasoning and to strengthen the immune system. Finally add one ounce fresh, or one-half ounce dried mushrooms per person (any kind) together with dried or fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, marjoram, and sage) and tonic roots (Siberian ginseng, astragalus, burdock, dandelion, chicory, yellow dock, American ginseng).  Bring to the boil and simmer for an hour. You may wish to remove the roots before serving.

Try to eat your evening meal at least two hours before you plan to go to bed so your body isn't trying to digest the food instead of preparing to sleep. If you do eat late, it is possibly better to delay bedtime until your stomach is less full. Try to avoid eating foods containing tyramine, such as bacon, cheese, ham, aubergines, pepperoni, raspberries, avocado, nuts, soy sauce, red wine, late at night as they might keep you awake. Tyramine produces a brain stimulant. If you do feel hungry near to bedtime, choose something like bread or cereal which releases serotonin; this will help you relax.

Caffeine is another stimulant, which stays in the blood stream for several hours. If you have trouble getting to sleep after drinking tea, coffee or strong chocolate, you might like to try some caffeine free drinks or herbal teas. Too much alcohol also makes you restless, so a nightcap might not be a good idea. Alcohol and coffee are also diuretics, disturbing your sleep during the night because you need to go to the toilet.

To sleep effectively, the body must prepare for sleep, so establishing a good bedtime routine is really helpful. The hour before bed should be spent “pottering”, not concentrating and try not to include any stimulating activity.

On days when things are particularly difficult, take a bath before you go to bed. To that bath add a concentrated tea brewed from lavender, catnip, lemon balm and chamomile. Try drinking a small cup of chamomile tea half an hour before bed. Soak for a while in the bath but once out, you must go straight to bed, maybe read for ten minutes then lights out. No TVs, phones, electronic games or anything else in the bedroom and the bedroom must be dark.

On those nights when your brain insists on talking to itself in ever decreasing circles, keep a dropper bottle of passionflower tincture by your bedside. The dose is one dropperful and it will shut your brain up and let you sleep. You can use this with children, especially during times of stress such as exams or after a bereavement.

You may have to make the tincture yourself by either growing the Passionflower (Passiflora incarnate) in a heated greenhouse or buying the dried herb and infusing it in vodka for three weeks. I doubt you will be able to buy the tincture anywhere in the UK unless you obtain it from a qualified herbalist or import it from abroad.

The herbal combination noted to address SAD issues developed by the American herbalist, David Winston, is equal parts of St John’s wort with lemon balm. This can be taken as a tea, a combined tincture or glycerite, or as a syrup.

SAD Syrup
1 l water
20 g dried lemon balm or 50g fresh chopped herb
20 g dried St John’s wort or 50g fresh, chopped herb
Grated rind and juice of one lemon
450 g sugar
Put herb in water with grated lemon rind, bring to a boil, let simmer 20-30 minutes, strain. Clean out pan, pour liquid back into it, let sit on minimum heat until you only have 20ml left Add sugar, simmer until sugar has dissolved, add lemon juice, pour into sterilized jars or bottles, seal and label.

I usually make my syrup from fresh herbs which I bruise or chop, I use aerial parts of both plants. Normally I only use the flowers of SJW to make oil and tincture, but I often make the syrup when the plants have gone to seed, so I use seed heads, flowers and some of the stalk.

Remember lemon balm only has a shelf life of 6 months when dry, so if you buy some from a supplier, ask when it was picked. You should also pick the leaves before they flower, but if most of my plants have flowered when I make syrup, I try to pick as many secondary shoots as I can (shoots which grow up from stems cut earlier in the year).

The dosage for SAD syrup would be around 1tsp three times a day. Don't use this syrup if you are already taking SSRI drugs for depression or if you've had a bad reaction to SJW in the past. Some people who take medication for migraine conditions find it can bring on a migraine.

Making remedies from herbs you have grown, harvested and stored will always be more effective than store bought because they have experienced the same environment as you and you know what you're getting.

Take care with anything which contains valerian. Although it is a common sleep aid, 10% of people who take it find it stimulating rather than soporific. You really need a whole weekend to see which way it affects you personally. (I have a blog post on this here).

I always think of valerian as top of the herbal sleep tree. I suggest people start with chamomile, lemon balm and catmint first (singly). Lemon verbena can be used interchangeably with lemon balm.

Here are some very pleasant combinations you could try.

  • Lemon balm and lime flower
  • Lemon balm, chamomile and spearmint.
  • Lemon verbena and marshmallow leaves

These herbs can all be used with young children over the age of two

If you are looking for soporifics, then field poppy, californian poppy and wild lettuce can all be tinctured and given in drop doses with a maximum dose of 10 drops.

To make a californian poppy tincture, use the whole plant, roots and all - remove all soil, chop of and cover with vodka in a jam jar for 3 weeks. You can make your own tincture by purchasing dried herbs from a reputable supplier (Try Neal's Yard or Just Botanics if you are in the UK.)

Californian poppy tincture and scullcap tincture can be used for anxiety during the day, again in drop doses. The poppy is also suitable for pain relief in two hourly doses. If you don't want to use alcohol you can use a glycerite instead but their shelf life isn't as long. Be aware that Californian poppy may show up in random drugs test so if your job or driving depends on clean drug tests, you may want to avoid the preparation.

I hope you will find something helpful from what I've suggested and have a "good" winter.

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