When the leaves on trees change their colors and trees let go of them, I know that root medicine season has arrived. I go out to the garden with a pitchfork and gently lift the plants. Some plants like Ashwagandha send long shallow roots that are easy to dig; others like burdock send one or two thick roots that anchor dip into the ground.
In her book “The Root Children,” author Sibylle von Olfers describes how the elements of plants (leaves, flowers, and fruits) go into wintering between the roots of plants. Her poetic description holds some truth in it. Right before the first frost, plants gather their vital forces and send them to the roots. This is why fall was traditionally a high time for digging roots.
All plants contain carbohydrates. Many carbohydrates are stored in root vegetables such as potatoes, yams, and carrots, but some roots contain complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are how plants store energy. Think about roots as the plant’s pantry, where it literally stores food for the cold months of winter.
For our ancestors, the hunter-gatherer roots were a prime food. Although they were hard to dig in the absence of pitchforks, they provided a good energy source. Many times, these complex carbohydrates are too big of a molecule for us to break down, and they serve as prebiotics, feeding our microbiome.
Roots grow in the dark, cool earth as the nervous system develops inside the darkness of the skull. Functionally, roots do a similar job to the mouth and tongue, tasting and assimilating nutrients from the soil.
It will not be a surprise to learn that roots are nourishing and grounding, which makes them an optimal support for your body in the winter.
Four Herbs That Support The Body In Winter
What is Elecampane?
Elecampane is a plant in the aster family that manifests in high green foliage and bright yellow flowers. But it is the roots that are used in medicine.
Elecampane flowers aren’t very aromatic, but the root is. The way aromatics work in the body is that they are diffused from the gut to the lungs, where they irritate the tissue and bring about a cough. Sounds counteractive, as you probably want to stop your cough, but cough is the body’s mechanism of ridding itself of junk in the lungs. Elecampane makes a cough productive so you can clear your lungs. On top of its role as an expectorant, elecampane is also an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.
Energetically, elecampane is warming and slightly moistening.
Elecampane contains inulin, a prebiotic, which can promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. This can improve digestion, nutrient absorption, and immune function.
The best way to use elecampane is in tea alone or with other herbs like thyme, hyssop, and marshmallow. When you consider how to formulate with elecampane, keep in mind the energetics of the condition and the energetics of the plants you plan to use in the formula.
The medicinal benefits of Astragalus
Astragalus is a plant from the legume family that was used for thousands of years in TCM to normalize the immune system. It can boost a depleted immune system or sedate an overactive immune system.
Astragalus is considered to be an adaptogen, meaning it increases the body’s resilience to stress and, by doing so, improves the body’s immune function.
Energetically, Astragalus is warming and moistening. Its taste is sweet, which points to the presence of sugars (carbohydrates) that are nourishing. Astragalus is the perfect plant for people after a long, acute disease such as cancer when there is a need to warm (stimulate) and nourish the entire body.
I recommend Astragalus as a tonic, meaning bringing back tone and functionality by using it for a more extended time.
Astragalus closes the skin’s pores, so you should avoid it in acute diseases, especially those with fever.
You also want to use Astragalus cautiously in cases where autoimmune disease is present.
The way I use Astragalus is by adding a handful of the dried root to my bone broth while it is simmering.
Ashwagandha benefits for stress
Ashwagandha is a plant in the nightshade family, so it is not to be used by people who are allergic to nightshades.
As an adaptogen ashwagandha, helps the body deal with stress by relaxing the body and mind, helping people fall asleep easily and quickly, and improving sleep quality. A restful sleep is a key to physical and mental well-being.
Ashwagandha was found to increase T4 thyroid hormone production and the conversion of T4 to T3 thyroid hormones. This active thyroid hormone facilitates energy production in every cell in the body. By doing so, Ashwagandha increases the overall energy level.
I recommend Ashwagandha to people who deal with lots of stress (who is stressless?) They feel overwhelmed and exhausted, yet they can’t rest.
Ashwagandha should be used cautiously in people with thyroid conditions.
Traditionally, Ashwagandha was used in its powdered form. Use a tablespoon of Ashwagandha in a cup of coconut milk with honey and chai spices about three times daily.
Burdock root benefits
Burdock is another root in the aster family that grows abundantly in fields and meadows. Being a biennial plant, it dies on its second fall, so you want to dig burdock in its first year when it is just a couple of large leaves growing close to the ground.
Burdock is slightly warming and moistening. It is perfect to nourish, warm, and moisten the body in the dry winter months.
Burdock has an affinity to the lymphatic system. In the lymph burdock, gently stimulate movement and detox. By helping the body release toxins, it reduces skin conditions such as eczema and acne, as these arise from trapped toxins many times.
Burdock contains plenty of inulin, a complex carbohydrate that feeds your gut bacteria.
As with Astragalus, I like to add a handful of burdock to my bone broth pot while simmering.
As fall slides into winter, stocking your pantry with roots that can boost your well-being seems like a better plan than taking a flu shot or stocking your medicine cabinet with pharmaceuticals. It’s about nourishing and supporting your body’s ecosystem to increase its resilience to disease.