WILD KITCHEN + APOTHECARY — Immune Boosting Teas

January 3, 2019

By Angela Kingsawan

It’s so hard to believe that we’re already in the midst of our Midwestern winter season. The weather has been unseasonably warm and wet, causing many of us to feel a little bit “off”. Odds are, most of us will not get through the season without experiencing the common cold. For those lucky few who escape illness, there’s still the emotional strain from longer, darker days. 

It’s very important to tune into the emotional shift we will inevitably feel as we move through this season. Our emotions play a key role in our physical state. So, what can be done to get us through all the gloom of the winter months ahead?

Let us look to our wild relations — plants! There is always medicine in nature, even when the cold weather is upon us. Some native plants of Wisconsin are commonly used for low maintenance decoration or fillers at local shopping malls. We look past these and other native healing plants every day, but it is time for us to take notice. We shouldn’t wait until we are sick, either physically or emotionally, to start using our plant medicines. The same native plants that have the ability to boost immune function in our bodies will also balance emotional vertigo or upset. 

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) is a native plant that grows abundantly throughout the state and has powerful healing abilities. It has been used by Native American peoples historically to treat digestion issues, infections, and many other health disorders. Sumac is high in Vitamin C and has significant antioxidant benefits. It is identified by red berry cone-like clusters that point upward from fuzzy brown branches, hence the name staghorn.

Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) is a native plant that grows abundantly throughout Wisconsin. Avoid the sumac with white berries that grows in swampy areas — it is poisonous. Red berries from the staghorn sumac plant are not. Photo Angela Kingsawan

It is easily harvested, as the berry clusters snap readily off the branches. The sumac berries can be ground for seasoning, but I prefer to boil the berries whole as a tea. The tea has a natural sweetness and is also slightly tart. The flavor is very appealing, but I suggest adding a little honey to win over even the most reluctant child. In my experience, I have found sumac tea to be nourishing to my spirit. When I am stressed, it is calming to my system, but when I feel lethargic, it helps to give me energy and an emotional boost. Sumac is one of my favorite herbs and I keep it on hand year round.

Pine (Pinus) is another medicinally potent plant that can be harvested in any season. Various species of pine can be found throughout the state and all have similar properties. Pine trees are high in Vitamin C, flavonols, and bioflavonoids. Traditionally, Native Americans throughout North America have used pine bark to heal scurvy, cold/flu, and topical injuries. Jacques Cartier wrote an account of how Quebec Native people healed Cartier and his crew using pine bark in 1535.

Currently, we know pine can boost immunity, is valued for its high nutrient content, and that it possesses antiseptic properties.  The scent of pine has aromatherapy benefits as well. It reduces stress and brightens one’s mood.

I harvest entire branches and use both the bark and pine needles to make tea. All winter I make pine and sumac tea as a cold and flu preventative and mood booster. I add one-fourth cup sumac berries and one-fourth cup (a handful) of pine needles to three cups of water in a large, covered saucepan and bring it to a rolling boil. I reduce the heat and simmer it for approximately five minutes, then I turn off the heat and allow it to cool, covered, until the steam settles, about five to ten minutes. Then I strain it and it is ready to sip. As I mentioned, you can add a sweetener, if you wish.

There are many more native plants that can be harvested here in Wisconsin, but I encourage you to pick one or two plants to start your herbal journey. Start slowly and mindfully. Always speak to your healthcare provider and confirm that your chosen herb is safe for you.

Never take any herb while consuming alcohol.

Make your herb into a tea and allow yourself to observe how it affects your body and your spirit. Take the time to notice how that herb is helping you. How does it make you feel in your body? How have your emotions shifted? How are you viewing the world differently?

By making herbal medicine a lifestyle, we will all begin to heal on a deeper level and in a more traditional way.

More info: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6031713/

Angela Kingsawan is owner of Yenepa Herbals, LLC.  She grows and wild harvests the herbs in her handcrafted all-natural products. More information at yenepaherbals.com.

Disclaimer: The information provided here is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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