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Herbal support for healthy, happy holidays

By Tamara Welsh, Happy Herbalist

December is here and as we approach the end of another year its easy to be swept up in the chaos and overwhelm of the holiday season. The end of the year is often full of extremes; heightened emotions, decadent foods, disrupted sleep and celebrations, therefore it is an important time that we work towards finding balance in order to start the new year with energy and vitality. 

Below is a list of some easy to apply healthy lifestyle hacks as well as some herbal helpers to lean on to assist you through the silly season a little more smoothly. It’s important to remember that health is an accumulation of lots of different healthy habits all strung together like the fairy lights on a Christmas tree, if one bulb is out, it effects the whole string of lights! If we stay committed to all our healthy habits, while still enjoying the festivities, we will continue to shine bright into the new year and beyond.

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Staying Hydrated

It’s easy to forget to drink enough water when we become busy or frazzled. Aim to start your day with a big glass of water. This may seem obvious or simplistic to some but it is a very easy and effective way to increase your water intake. If in the southern hemisphere, choose cooling beverages such as this Herbal Hydration drink to sip on throughout the day to replace electrolytes lost during sleep and via perspiration. If in the northern hemisphere, opt for herbal teas that bring warmth to the body and promote circulation such as Ginger, Gotu kola, Ginkgo biloba and Hawthorn berries. 

Improving Digestion

Stimulating and supporting digestive health is paramount for sustaining energy over the holidays. A sluggish digestive system will lead to poor elimination of metabolic wastes which places an unnecessary burden on our bodies at a time where external stressors are high. There are many plant remedies that have a use in the treatment of digestive disorders which fall under two main categories; the stimulants and the relaxants. 

To stimulate digestion, we look to herbs that have a bitter flavour. Stimulation of digestion is highly beneficial, particularly when we are stressed and our digestion tends to stall. Consider tasting bitter herbs such as Gentian, Dandelion root, Goldenseal or Mugwort prior to a meal to stimulate gastric juices and help promote digestion. You can also nibble on bitter foods such as rocket (arugula), olives, dandelion greens and artichoke prior to your main meal, or include them in your meal to assist the digestion of proteins and fats.

If digestive cramping, bloating and flatulence are a problem for you, finish your meal with digestive relaxant herbs such as Peppermint, Chamomile, Fennel, Ginger, Slippery elm and Marshmallow. These herbs relax the stomach muscles and increase peristalsis of the intestine to help reduce gas.

Lastly, never underestimate the impact of a short walk after a big meal on digestion and blood glucose levels. Engaging in some light to moderate exercise after eating helps to stabilise blood glucose levels and promotes peristalsis- you’ll feel better if you move after eating rather than hitting the couch.

While technically the liver is also part of the digestive system, it can help to bring an emphasis to liver support over the holiday period as it is an important organ intimately involved in all body functions and the health of all tissues. One of the best ways to support your liver is to limit overindulgence and allow for time between meals, including an overnight fast of at least 10 hours. Excessive food intake, alcohol, sugar and toxicants all burden the liver, so balance and moderation really are key. Hepatics are herbs that strengthen and tone the liver and promote the flow of bile. Hepatic herbs include Dandelion root, Wild yam and Yellow dock.

Liver Support

Perhaps the best-known herb to help protect and regenerate the liver cells is Milk thistle (aka St Mary’s thistle) making it a lovely herb to employ daily during the silly season. If you do overindulge on alcohol or foods that don’t agree with you, consider taking a serve of activated charcoal powder before retiring to bed. Activated charcoal is a very porous molecule and will bind to toxins and gases and help remove them before they are absorbed. It’s important to drink plenty of water if you do take activated charcoal and remember it will also bind to nutrients and medications so use with care.

Adapting to Increased Stress

You may already feel an increase in stress in the lead up to the end of the year or perhaps it is happening on more of a subconscious level. Either way, this time of year is the perfect time to take herbs with adaptogenic actions. Adaptogens are substances that increase the body’s resistance or adaptation to physical, environmental, emotional or biological stressors and promotes normal physiological function. In other words, they help to shield us from the ill-effects of chronic stress. Herbal adaptogens are generally safe to take every day for lengthened periods of time. They include herbs such as Astragalus, Siberian ginseng, Gotu kola, Shatavari, Schisandra, Rhodiola and Ashwagandha (Withania).

It also helps to have tools and tricks to help to calm the nervous system when heightened stress or panic arises. Both Passionflower and Kava can make a quick impact if taken during a stressed state. A short breathing exercise or meditation, practised often, can also make a significant difference, shifting the body out of the fight or flight response. If you feel you are reaching a panic state try the following breathing exercise which has immediate calming effects on the nervous system.

Physiological sigh

Stop where you are and sit or lie down. 

Breathe in and out a few times just observing your breath.

*Now breathe in the through nose- pause- then breathe in a little more air (still through the nose)

Sigh the air out the mouth until the lungs are empty

Repeat from * 4 times

Socialising & Mood Enhancers

There are numerous herbal options when it comes to alternatives to alcohol and enhancing mood and confidence in a social setting. Happy Herb Co has lots to offer in this space! Damiana is a Happy Herb Co favourite for its ability to boost the mood, enhance libido and calm the nervous system. Damiana, as well as Chamomile, are wonderful herbs to use if social anxiety brings about digestive upset as they will help to relax the smooth muscles of the digestive system to relieve bloating and dispel gas.

Consider herbs such as Kola nut, Yerba mate, Matcha, Cocoa or Guarana if you’ve looking for herbs that will stimulate and boost energy to create a buzzy feeling. Or if you’re craving a more relaxed and chilled vibe then California poppy, Saffron, Hops, Blue lily, Kava or Passionflower will help to settle the mind and body giving the nervous system a chance to rest and recover. You’ll find more information about using herbs to party on the Happy Herb Co website as well as fun recipes for herbal mocktails like this Damiana Mojito.

Focusing on Sleep

Keeping bedtime and waketime consistent is a highly effective way to support your sleep hygiene and energy levels over the holidays, but this can be hard to do when we have social commitments, work parties or children eager to start the day before the sun breaks! Try to aim to go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time each day whenever possible. When you wake in the morning, take a large glass of water, or herbal tea outside and view the morning light without sunglasses to set your circadian clock for the day. 

To support your energy levels, try to avoid caffeine in the first 1.5 hours after waking (unless you’re getting straight into some high intensity physical exercise). You may find this difficult at first but you’ll quickly notice the difference it makes in avoiding an afternoon slump in energy.

In the evenings, develop a simple routine to wind your body down. This may include a mildly sedative herbal tea or elixir that supports relaxation and sleep.

Most importantly, have fun and enjoy 😊

We would love to wish the Happy Herb Co community a wonderful holiday period. May you find joy in whatever lights you up. We hope these tips help you to shine brightly into the new year. Always remember, the plants have got your back!

Happy Herb Co provides referenced information for educational purposes only and does not make any therapeutic claims for any of their products.
Please seek advice from a healthcare provider if you wish to use herbs for therapeutic purposes.

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