Winter is here, and if you’re like me, you’re already counting down the days until spring. But while I may never be a fan of cold weather, utilizing certain warming herbs and spices has made the season much more tolerable. Thankfully, there are plenty of beneficial herbs we can consume which both warm the body and bring it back into balance. Below, we’ll be covering 7 of them, along with their main health benefits and ways in which to eat or drink them.
What Are Warming Herbs?
The idea of warming (and cooling) herbs is an important part of both Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda. While the concept is largely absent from Western medicine, we all know that spicy herbs like cayenne add heat to the body.
Other warming herbs aren’t quite as obvious, however. For those not fond of spicy foods, rest assured that there are plenty of other options.
As the name suggests, warming herbs help warm us up on a cold day. But they also benefit the body in a plethora of other ways. Most warming herbs do things like boost circulation, increase the metabolism of the digestive system and enhance the function of organs like the kidney and spleen.
Warming herbs and spices contain thermogenic compounds which convert calories into heat. And many warming herbs also benefit the thyroid gland, which helps regulate body temperature, among many other things.
In Ayurveda, these herbs are associated with Agni, the principle of fire. And in TCM, warming herbs are necessary to increase the amount of yang energy within the body. Especially in wintertime, it’s important to consume yang herbs to balance out the yin, or cold energy of the body.
There are plenty of warming herbs and spices out there, but in the following guide, we’ll be covering seven of the most popular ones in alphabetical order.
1. Black Pepper
Native to India, the main active compound of black pepper is piperine, which helps increase blood flow and perspiration. Piperine also helps aid digestion, fight against inflammation and it even works as an antioxidant.
But piperine not only helps warms the body, it also greatly increases the bioavailability of other foods. When combined with turmeric, for example, piperine can even boost its absorption rates by a couple thousand percent!
Additionally, black pepper is rich in minerals like calcium, iron, phosphorus and zinc. Traditionally in Ayurvedic healing, black pepper has been combined with other substances to treat ailments like heart disease and diabetes. (1)
Ways to consume:
Consuming black pepper is pretty straightforward. You can simply sprinkle it on whatever food you like, or include it in your sauces or marinades.
Black pepper can also be added to herbal teas together with a number of other spices featured on this list. Keep reading for more information. (2)
Cardomom is a member of the ginger family. It’s commonly found in Indian cuisine and has also been used in Greece since ancient times.
In addition to warming the body, cardamom comes with a plethora of health benefits. It helps lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels. It aids digestion and even helps with colds and brain fog.
As is common with other warming herbs in Chinese medicine, it benefits internal organs like the spleen and lungs. And in Ayurveda, it’s considered beneficial for being able to balance the three doshas.
Ways to consume:
Cardamom comes in both green and black varieties. It can be either consumed ground or as whole seeds with the pods cracked, depending on the preparation method.
Powdered cardamom can be used in baking and in sauces and it can also be cooked together with rice. Furthermore, cardamom seeds can be chewed after a meal to both freshen the breath and aid digestion. (3, 4)
You can also try adding some cardamom pods to a cup of coffee, while it even goes great with chia pudding!
Cardamom tea for digestion: To use cardamom as a digestive tea, first prepare a teaspoon of crushed cardamom seeds. Then seep it in a cup of boiled water for around ten to fifteen minutes.
This cardamom chai tea also seems to be a pretty big hit on Amazon.
Native to Central and South America, cayenne is now a common herb found all over the world. When we talk about cayenne, we’re usually referring to the cayenne pepper that grows on the cayenne shrub. And the two most common species of cayenne pepper today are Capsicum frutescens and C. annuum.
Cayenne is, without a doubt, one of the best herbs for boosting circulation. This is thanks to its main active compound, capsaicin, which is what makes the peppers spicy.
As cayenne is so great at boosting circulation, it also boosts the efficacy of other herbs, making sure the beneficial compounds get where they need to go. Consuming it with gingko biloba, for example, is an excellent way to fight brain fog.
Ways to consume:
Many people like to consume cayenne as a powder. Try putting a teaspoon into a cup of warm water, and then adding things like raw honey or lemon for flavor. If you still find the heat too intense, you can try it alongside starchy foods like potatoes, which some find helpful.
And cayenne pepper is just one of many herbs for which the tincture form is a popular option. You can make your own, but the entire process can take weeks or even months. That’s why you might want to buy some from a store instead.
You can add drops of a tincture to water or juice or place it directly under the tongue. Since cayenne is so spicy and everyone has a different tolerance level for spiciness, it’s best to take it slow and work your way up.
Cinnamon is surely a spice that you’ve tried before, but perhaps you didn’t realize how beneficial it can be to your health – especially in winter.
Cinnamon helps regulate blood sugar and it increases glucose metabolism. That makes it a great choice for diabetics.
Furthermore, the warming herb reduces triglycerides which helps protect the heart. It also reduces inflammation and helps fight against free radicals. What’s more, is that cinnamon can even do things like prevent candida and in the short term, reduce nausea.
Similar to black pepper, cinnamon can also increase the bioavailability of other herbs and spices.
Cinnamon has a sweet taste which makes it a good sugar alternative. But if you’ve only ever tried it on top of a cinnamon bun, rest assured that there are much healthier ways to consume it.
Ways to consume:
There are a number of ways to enjoy cinnamon in tea form. And you can also combine it with another herb featured on this list: ginger.
Take about a half a teaspoon of cinnamon powder and grate about 2.5 cm of ginger root. Combine them in a tea strainer and add boiled water before waiting for several minutes. You can also add honey or lemon juice as you wish. (9)
You can sprinkle cinnamon on baked goods or on oatmeal. But if you’re mainly concerned with cinnamon’s thermogenic properties and health benefits, you can also try ingesting cinnamon capsules.
Note that there are two main varieties of cinnamon. Generally speaking, it’s best to look out for organic Ceylon cinnamon (from Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia) rather than the Cassia variety (from China) (5)
A relative of parsely, cumin is indigenous to Egypt. Traditionally, it’s been an important part of both Middle Eastern and South Asian cuisine. And nowadays it’s common in Latin American cooking as well.
Cumin’s main active compound is cuminaldehyde. And the herb contains beneficial nutrients like vitamins like A, C and B6 as well as minerals like iron.
Cumin helps aid digestion and nutrient absorption, and it helps relieve abdominal discomfort. It improves liver function and can even soothe a sore throat!
Ways to consume:
Cumin is often present in Indian curries. And it’s often grounded into a powder before being added to Mexican dishes like tacos or fajitas. (6)
Gradually, more and more people are also beginning to discover cumin black seed oil. Highly regarded as a “cure-all,” the oil has antifungal properties and can help fight against free radicals. Some apply the oil topically on their skin to fight against acne or premature aging. Supposedly, it can even ease joint pain. (7)
With so many different uses, we recommend doing further research on the application or ingestion method that works best for you.
Ginger is one of the most well-known and most widely consumed warming herbs. And for good reason. It increases circulation and is great for digestion and high blood pressure. Ginger is a natural immune system booster and it also has powerful antimicrobial properties.
Ginger’s active compound is gingerol, which is similar to both capsaicin and piperine. The warming herb is rich in vitamins such as vitamin C, vitamin B5 and vitamin B6. In regards to mineral content, ginger is a good source of magnesium, potassium and manganese.
And in wintertime, eating raw ginger is a great way to combat cold. It also has antibacterial properties, which is why the Japanese often consume it together with raw fish.
Ways to consume:
Ginger is popularly consumed as tea. To make ginger tea, simply cut off around 2.5cm of ginger root and peel off the skin. Then take a knife and slice it into several smaller pieces (you can also grate the ginger if you prefer).
After that, place the ginger and about 2 cups of water into a saucepan. Heat up the water, bringing it to a boil, and then lower the temperature slightly. You’ll want to let it simmer for around 10 to 15 minutes, after which the color should change. Either keep the ginger in there as is, or use a strainer.
In addition to the ginger/cinnamon tea mentioned above, you can learn about some other variations of ginger tea by clicking here.
Horseradish has long been cultivated by the Greeks and Egyptians, but is now popular throughout the world. It’s a member of the Brassicaceae family of plants, and its relatives include cabbage and broccoli.
Horseradish is a great warming herb to consume in the winter because it contains vitamin C and helps clear out phlegm. It also helps provide balance to the liver and lungs. And according to TCM, it strengthens yang and dispels cold in the inner organs. (8)
Note that a lot of the “wasabi” on the market today is not really wasabi, but horseradish with green food coloring. Wasabi, though, happens to be a member of the same Brassicaceae family. Interestingly, it’s the stem of wasabi that’s consumed, in contrast to the root of horseradish.
Since real wasabi is rarer around the world compared to horseradish, the latter is often substituted for the real thing. Even within Japan, green-colored horseradish is pretty much the norm at cheaper sushi restaurants!
But if you can get your hands on some real wasabi, it’s also a great way to clear your sinuses and expel mucus in the winter. And it has antimicrobial properties, which is why it, along with raw ginger, is so commonly consumed with raw fish.
Ways to consume:
You can use horseradish on a variety of foods as a condiment or on salads to add some extra spice.
For sinus relief, horseradish can be consumed in tea form. You can grate a piece of horseradish root and add it to boiling water together with lemon juice and honey.
Fusing Them Together
Dianne Wenz of Dianne’s Vegan Kitchen has a great tea recipe which combines a number of the herbs covered above, in addition to apple cider vinegar. Regarding liquids, you’ll need half a cup of water, ¼ cup of lemon juice and a ¼ cup of apple cider vinegar.
The herbal ingredients consist of 1 teaspoon of minced ginger root, 1 teaspoon of minced turmeric, 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper.
Put everything together in a pot, bring to a boil and then let simmer at medium heat for 10 minutes. Strain and then pour into a mug. Not only will your immune system receive a nice boost, but your body will be feeling warmer in no time!
You can learn more about the recipe here.
Whether you’re a fan of winter or not, this is a time of year when it’s vital to take extra special care of your health. If you struggle with getting sick during the colder months, beneficial warming herbs and spices can often come to the rescue.
The list of warming herbs above is by no means exhaustive. Some others include coriander, turmeric and oregano, among many others. Perhaps there will be a Part 2 sometime in the future!