Natural Health Journals

The Winter Wellness Guide

by Elizabeth Barker

IF YOU’RE ANYTHING LIKE US, you’re always looking for new ideas to help you feel your best–especially during the rigors of the winter season. To help you think beyond chicken soup and echinacea, we asked a few of our favorite (and most inspired) experts to divulge their treasured secrets for staying healthy, happy, and energetic through the holidays and beyond. Read on for their 20 best suggestions on fighting colds and flu, beating the blues, staying energized, and coping with other seasonal health challenges.


#1 Soak your feet.

At the first sign of a cold or flu, I soak my feet up to my ankles in hot water–as hot as I can stand without scalding–for 20 minutes before going to bed. I also take 5,000 milligrams of vitamin C a day for five days.

–Erika Schwartz, M.D., NATURAL HEALTH advisor and integrative internist


#2 Spice up your stir-fry.

Use lots of fresh gingerroot and fresh garlic in your cooking to boost your immune system and protect against viruses. Hot peppers are good for enhancing circulation and keeping you warm. Toss plenty of these into your next stir-fry.

Ginseng has a stimulating, immune-enhancing effect. Get a black ginseng paste extract at natural-foods stores or in Chinatown, put a spoonful in her, add honey, and drink. [You can also order it online at]

If you do wind up getting sick, try the Chinese herb Andrographis paniculata. It’s one of the most potent cold-fighting herbs on earth, it’s cheap, and the World Health Organization recommends it. Take two capsules of 250 mg twice daily. It’s a pretty power herb and should get rid of your cold quickly. I’m also a big fan of Umcka, an herbal syrup-that knocks out colds in record time.

–Chris: Kilham, medicine hunter and ethnobotanist


#3 Try a homeopathic cure.

For people interested in flu prevention, I suggest the homeopathic medicine Influenzinum 9C. Although no studies have confirmed its success, it’s widely used throughout Europe by doctors and the public with reportedly good results. Take one dose per week for four weeks, and then take one dose 30 days later.

For the very first stage of a cold, I recommend Aconitum 30C. Consider Allium cepa [onion] 30C if your symptoms resemble exposure to chopped onions–i.e., watery eyes and a profuse, watery nasal discharge that tends to irritate the nostrils. If you have a cold with a thick, stringy nasal discharge, take Kali bichromicum 30C.

The dose schedule for the previous three remedies is four times a day for up to two days. If you’re not over a cold after two days, it’s not the correct remedy for you and a more accurate homeopathic medicine needs to be taken.

–Dana Ullman, M.P.H., NATURAL HEALTH advisor, founder of, and co-author of Everybody’s Guide to Homeopathic Medicines


#4 Take a breath break.

The best way to keep healthy is to keep breathing! Just as not putting oxygen into an aquarium causes the water to turn thick and murky, not getting oxygen into the blood lowers immunity and prevents the release of endorphins. We should all go outside to take breath breaks the way smokers take cigarette breaks. When you notice that you’re not breathing deeply, you should consciously take long, full inhalations.

Here’s one exercise I do every day: I stand with my feet a little wider than hip-width, slap each hand onto the opposite shoulder, and twist side to side, aligning my breath with the movement and inhaling through the nose, exhaling through the mouth. Do this for 20 to 50 breaths–it’s a quick energizer, and it really gets the spinal fluid flowing.

There’s no one right way to breathe, but people who breathe through the nose are less likely to get colds and coughs. On a plane, when the people around you are coughing, be especially careful to breathe through your nose. It helps filter out cold germs.

–Devarshi Steven Hartman, director of professional training at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health


#5 Rub your feet to sleep.

If you’re prone to insomnia, get your sweetie to rub jojoba oil onto the soles of your feet, then put on a pair of cozy socks you don’t mind ruining and rest with a water bottle on your abdomen until you check out. Invest in soft, cozy designer cove: for your hot water bottle, and throw out your electric blanket.

–Scott Blossom, O.M.D., yoga instructor and Ayurveda practitioner


#6 Plant a winter herb garden.

Try indoor winter gardening with full-spectrum lamps and lightbulbs. Gardening is meditative and connects us to the earth. It can really make a difference in our mood, especially at a time when we tend toward psychological hibernation. You can grow your own St. John’s wort, or rosemary for its antioxidants, or sleep-enhancing herbs like valerian and hops. The seeds are widely available, and you can plant them in a box that can be transported outside once spring arrives.

–Lewis Mehl-Madrona, M.D., associate professor of family medicine at University of Saskatchewan College of Medicine and author of Coyote Medicine


#7 Stop winter dryness.

Vaginal dryness is an issue for menopausal women and can be more of a problem during the holidays, when increased alcohol consumption leads to dehydration. I find that Earth’s Botanical Harvest vaginal suppositories [available by prescription] work wonderfully; they contain vitamin E, black cohosh, and wild yam, and are very nourishing, safe, and healing to the vaginal tissue. Use them four to five nights a week for two weeks, then every other night for one week, and then two nights a week.

–Holly Lucille, N.D., naturopathic doctor and author of Creating and Maintaining Balance: A Woman’s Guide to Safe, Natural Hormone Health


#8 Move your body.

In the winter, when it gets dark out at 4 p.m., it’s harder to motivate yourself to go outside and exercise. Make a pact with a friend that you’ll take a walk every day. A winter walk, even at night, can be rejuvenating and wonderful. Make it your reward to come home to a nice fire.

Winter is also the time when many new dance classes start up. Sign up for a tango or a salsa class–or just dance around your house for fun. It’s festive, and it can help lighten your mood and provide a good opportunity for socializing.

–Christiane Northrup, M.D., NATURAL HEALTH advisor and author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom


#9 Fly healthy.

Prevent airborne illnesses when traveling by lubricating the nostrills and the inside of the ear with raw (untoasted) sesame oil, Olive oil is a decent substitute but does not possess the same anti-fungal, anti-bacterial properties as sesame. Protecting yourself from food-borne illness is simple: Don’t eat the standard plane fare! Try fasting on hot herbal teas such as chamomile and mint or on hot water with lemon and honey, or call the airline ahead of time to request an East Asian vegetarian meal. The regular vegetarian meal tends to be loaded with poor-quality dairy that can depress the immune system, but the East Asian selection is more likely to be vegan. They can’t really mess that up too much.

–Scott Blossom O.M.D., yoga instructor and Ayurveda practitioner


#10 Relax from head to toe.

The people who get sick in the winter are the ones who are stressed out. To stay healthy, make an effort to activate the relaxation response every single day. Try this exercise:

1. Sit or lie in a comfortable and quiet place with your body fully supported by a chair or the floor. Close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths: deep inhale, deep exhale.

2. Bring your attention to the top of your head. Focus on your scalp and your forehead, noticing whether there’s any tension there. Give it permission to just let go.

3. Progressively move your attention down through your body, from head to toe, assessing each of the muscles along the way and then mentally releasing any tension you find. Move from your head to your neck, shoulders, upper arms, lower arms, and fingers, your back all the way down your spinal column, around to your belly, your hips, buttocks, thighs, knees, calves, the arches of your feet, and your toes. The idea is to let go of the tension in your mind.

4. Take all the time you need. If there are places that still seem to be holding tension after you finish, return there. Give that place permission to let go. Only when you feel completely relaxed should you slowly bring your attention back to the present.

–Tracy Gaudet, M.D., director of the Duke Center for Integrative Medicine and author of Consciously Female


#11 Have a bowl of qi soup.

A thousand years ago, the Chinese started their tradition of eating a festive soup on the eighth day of he last lunar month (known as la ba) to bring about winter wellness. They believe that winter is the time for the body to store nutrients and that eating well will bring improved health for the upcoming year. La Ba Rice Soup usually includes rice, red beans, soybeans, peanuts, walnuts, chestnuts, red dates, or lotus seeds. In Chinese medical theory, these ingredients are potent anti-aging foods. Red dates, chestnuts, and lotus seeds tonify qi, the vital energy of the human body. To make the soup:

1. Choose any combination of the ingredients mentioned above.

2. Place two-thirds rice and one-third nuts, beans, dates, and/or seeds in a saucepan.

3. Add enough water to cover all the ingredients, then soak overnight.

4. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer until the beans and rice are very soft. Take one small bowl a day.

–Lihua Wang, acupuncturist and author of Chinese Home Remedies


#12 Save your skin.

When the weather cools, we turn on our heaters, drying out the air and consequently our skin. I usually change to a mild cleanser, like Cetaphil, Aveeno, or glycerin soap, and use it only on those areas that require washing: generally just the “folds” in the skin or, as my wife says, “only where skin touches skin.” After washing, I’m always certain to moisturize those areas that are prone to dryness–lower legs, hands and forearms, and upper back–with a cream-based moisturizer; the lotion-based “moisturizers” tend to dry the skin rather than emolliate. These basic steps can prevent developing dry, cracked, itchy skin.

–Jon Starr, M.D., dermatologist


#13 Spruce up your shower.

After I’m done washing, I turn off the water and put seven to 10 drops of black spruce oil on my hands. Black spruce oil is anti-bacterial and anti-infectious, and it supports the adrenal glands, which suffer when we get tired from the winter weather and lack of light. I spread the oil all over my skin from head to toe–except the mucous membranes. I always make sure to rub the oil on my abdomen, since there’s a lot of lymphatic tissue in that area. Then I do 30 seconds of deep breathing and rinse off with cool water. When people follow this regimen every morning in the winter, it’s extremely rare that they get sick in any way. [Find black spruce oil at]

–Suzanne Catty, phytotherapist and author of Hydrosols


#14 Say, “Good day, sunshine!”

One of my favorite winter practices is my “start the day with sunshine” ritual. I have a set of flatware with yellow handles, and some bright sunshine-yellow bowls, plates, cups and a matching teapot. I make a pot of warming ginger tea and have a steaming cup with my yellow bowl of cereal and bananas. Since I rise when it’s still dark, I eat by candlelight. And I play music with a sunshine theme, like “Here Comes the Sun” by the Beatles. The feel is similar to that at the time of the winter solstice: bringing light from the darkness, and warmth and positive energy as well.

–Sydney Metrick, expressive therapist and co-author of The Art of Ritual


#15 Brighten up.

If you live in a climate that gets very gray in winter, without a lot of sunlight, create a feeling of sunlight in what you wear. The first piece of clothing you reach for in the morning–whether it’s a cozy fleece robe or your running gear–should be in a vibrant color like orange. It will embrace you in warmth and raise your energy level.

–Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute and author of The Color Answer Book


#16 Keep your sinuses clear.

This is an especially challenging time of the year for the mucous membranes because of cold outdoor temperatures, indoor air pollution (heaters are on and windows closed, trapping pollutants), and dryness caused by forced hot-air heating systems. Mucous membranes thrive and maintain a strong defense against viruses when the air is clean, moist, warm (65 to 85 degrees), oxygen-rich, and filled with negative ions. We breathe on average 23,000 times a day, and if the air we’re breathing is particulate-laden and dry, the act of breathing itself creates chronic irritation to the mucous membranes and makes us more susceptible to viruses.

Use a botanical saline nasal spray, such as Sinus Survival Spray, which contains saline, aloe vera, goldenseal extract, and grapefruit seed extract. It keeps mucous membranes moist, washes out inhaled particles, and has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Use the spray every two to three hours throughout the day, especially in heavily polluted and dry conditions. [Find it at]

I also recommend medicinal eucalyptus oil, which you can inhale from a tissue held over your nose or through a steam inhaler.

–Robert Ivker, D.O., NATURAL HEALTH advisor and past president of the American Board of Holistic Medicine


#17 Eat dark chocolate.

As October progresses, many women start to feel moody and depressed and experience intensified PMS. Craving for chocolate goes through the roof. Make sure to have high-quality dark chocolate available; 90 percent cocoa is too much, but 70 percent should be about right. Seasonal affective disorder is closely linked with PMS being worse during the winter, so borrowed light from windows and skylights in your home and office can make a powerful difference.

–Christiane Northrup, M.D., NATURAL HEALTH advisor and author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom


#18 Lighten up.

At least 30 minutes exposure daily to natural light outdoors, in addition to using a light box indoors, helps combat seasonal affective disorder. Natural light seems to have certain ingredients that just can’t be duplicated by an indoor light box.

A common problem for people with seasonal affective disorder is serotonin deficiency. St. John’s wort (600 to 900 mg per day), 5-HTP (50 to 200 mg per day), or SAM-e (400 to 1,200 mg per day in enteric-coated tablets) can be quite helpful in raising serotonin levels.

–Ed Bourne, Ph.D., psychologist and author of Natural Relief for Anxiety


#19 Eat your vitamins.

I like to use fresh thyme and rosemary in my cooking during the winter. Thyme is an antiseptic and a digestive aid, while rosemary promotes circulation.

I make sure to eat fruits and vegetables high in antioxidants, including clementines, kiwi, oranges dark-green vegetables, peppers, escarole, spinach, and broccoli. I add roasted red peppers to sandwiches and salads, too.

I also have 1 tablespoon of flaxmeal a day, usually in cereal or yogurt in the morning. This assures that I’m getting a good balance omega-3 fats, which help boost the immune system.

–Gayle Reichler, R.D., dietitian and author of Gayle’s Feel-Good Foods


#20 Drink a warming ginger tea.

Ginger boosts the immune system, clears the lungs, aids digestion, and tastes yummy. One of my favorite things in the winter is a homemade brew: Mix 1 tablespoon fresh-grated organic gingerroot, 1 teaspoon fresh organic lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon honey in a 12- to 16-ounce cup of very hot, purified water, and let steep for five to 10 minutes before drinking. The honey, if locally farmed and pesticide-free, is also stimulating to the immune system.

–Ginger Nash, N.D., naturopathic doctor and board member of the Connecticut Naturopathic Physicians Association

Photography by NICK HORNE

COPYRIGHT 2005 Weider Publications
COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group

One thought on “The Winter Wellness Guide

  1. Scott Brison

    Winter is looming, and Natural Health immediately caught my eye on the supermarket magazine rack with its “Winter Wellness Guide.” A smiling model in a hot pink hat and scarf jumps off the page and makes those grueling months look like a downright party. “Wellness,” a holistic approach to taking care of your mind and body, used to be a style of living only found in hippie health food stores, but is now striking chords with a mainstream audience: the magazine was sitting right between an US Weekly and a Cosmo.