For those of us who grew up with Christmas traditions, there are sights and scents that bring back memories of the holidays with incredible strength. Many of the plants that we associate with the Christmas season have medicinal uses as well! Here are a few commonly known holiday herbs that have medicinal action.
Frankincense: One of the gifts of the Magi to the Christ child, Frankincense is mostly known as a delightful incense. Both the resin and the essential oil are used in churches and temples as well as at home to create a meditative environment. In addition, Indian Frankincense, more commonly known as Boswellia, is used internally to treat inflammation and painful joints.
Myrrh: Another of the three gifts of the Magi, Myrrh gum (resin) and essential oil are used just as Frankincense in churches, temples, and homes. Extract of Myrrh gum is a powerful anti-microbial, and is best known for treating gum disease, as well as being used to clean wounds and treat respiratory infections.
Cinnamon: The smell of Cinnamon, whether in baked goods, mulling spices, or as incense, is a big part of the holidays for me! This common cooking spice is also a very powerful medicinal herb. These days it is best known for balancing blood sugar. Taken after a meal Cinnamon can help us metabolize sugar more evenly, preventing the blood sugar spike and subsequent low that can lead to cravings and irritability.
Mistletoe: Most folks know of mistletoe as the “kissing herb”, popular as a decoration during the winter holidays. In fact, this herb has a long history of religious use throughout Europe, from the Druids in the British Isles to the ancient Romans. While generally believed to increase fertility in ancient times, now it is known as a powerful heart tonic and is being researched as a treatment for cancer.
Rosemary: Rosemary was one of my mother’s favorite herbs, and an essential ingredient in her turkey gravy. Well known as a cooking herb, Rosemary also makes a lovely tea, and when dried is sometimes used like other evergreens to make wreaths and centerpieces for holiday decoration. As a medicinal herb, Rosemary is used to support memory, concentration, and circulation. It is often found in blends for students, or for folks of a “certain age” who may be finding their memories aren’t quite what they used to be.
The sights and scents of Christmastime can bring a great sense of joy and fellowship to those who celebrate. While many of us know our own stories with these herbs, and others of course, it is always interesting to learn new ways of using familiar herbs and spices. However you spend your winter days, stay warm, stay safe, stay healthy. And enjoy some lovely herbal tea!