As the chapter of late fall comes to a close and we turn the page to winter, we too experience the extinguishing of fire energy around us. The period of bright light embraces a period of prolonged darkness, and with this, we find our own internal fire beginning to reduce to a smolder. We find ourselves called to turn inward, perhaps even feel eyelids that are heavy and beckoning for deep hibernation and deep rest, tucking ourselves away until the return of spring. We find ourselves wanting to move a bit more slowly in our day to day lives, and perhaps also feel ourselves energetically feeling sluggish, or even stagnant. And while we should receive the guidance of nature around us during this time and absolutely lean into deep rest, we also can keep our inner, or digestive, fire burning through the winter. This can be done through “blissipline” a term coined by herbalist and teacher of the School of the Sacred Wild, Marysia Mierknowska, in which we find balance in intentional self care and pleasures while also maintaining the responsibility to our health and daily lives. As we round out the year, we may find that we crave food a little differently than we might in the warmer, brighter months of the first half of the year. We may find that we desire or feel called to consume more dense, nutritious, rich, and warming foods like breads, soups, root vegetables, and more. It is also a time of the delicious delicacies that accompany the holiday season (I mean, it’s basically smother-everything-in-gravy season, let’s be honest and we are here for it), and the sweet treats we all look forward to indulging in. And while we should absolutely enjoy these, especially in the company of family and friends, we may also feel that our digestive systems may need a little extra support this time of year!
The Digestive System
Our digestive systems very much align with the element of fire. It can be helpful to even imagine our digestive organs and our metabolism working similarly to that which a fire might behave. For example, if a fire is fed a lot of fuel at once, and then not again for a while, it will burn hot and bright for a short amount of time, reduce down to coals, and then it may take some significant effort to get it burning again, even when fuel is replaced. However, if the fire is offered a small amount of fuel regularly, it will continue to burn consistently. While everybody is different, on average, our metabolisms work in a similar fashion, in that if we consume smaller meals more regularly, it tends to aid our metabolism in being more regular than if we eat large meals far and few in between. When we find ourselves in the throws of the colder months, it is important that we tend to our digestive fire. A healthy digestive system also helps us to feel more energized and avoid feeling sluggish, but also helps us to avoid entering into a state of dis-ease. Additionally, we rely on our digestive system working regularly to ensure that nutrients are circulated throughout our body, and to help ensure that our immune system remains strong! Signs of a digestive system that is out of balance can include things like constipation and fatigue, but also can have an impact on our nervous system as well, for our brains have an intimate relationship with our gut. This also works conversely, in that if we are finding ourselves in a consistent state of stress or adrenal fatigue, our digestive system may falter a bit. This is because when our bodies are in this state, our brain is reading this as “fight or flight” and is reserving energy to utilize in other ways, and removing energy that would be used to digest food. Therefore, it is important that we remain mindful of a holistic approach to tending to our digestive health, and remember the ways all of our bodily systems are intimately interconnected and support one another.
Support for the Digestive System
We once again can turn to our herbal allies to help support and nourish our digestive system if we find ourselves out of balance, however, we can also provide nourishment energetically as well. Our digestive systems are also very closely connected energetically to our solar plexus, or the energetic center that rests between our sacral and heart chakras. This energetic center also has an affinity for fire energy, and when we tend to our solar plexus, we find balance in our spirit body as well. The solar plexus chakra has an affinity for movement, and cleansing of the body. We can open this energetic center through things such as exercise, or yoga that helps us get into deep twists to help “rinse out” the organs of what no longer serve them, and by being mindful of the ways in which we eat our food. (Check out our blog post on the Solar plexus to learn more). The digestive process truly begins before we actually put food into our mouth. Food is something that connects all of us as humans, and the act of preparing a meal can be a truly sensual and sacred experience. More often than not we find ourselves rushing through meals, or lacking presence as we eat. If we choose to slow down, be intentional with our food, grounding ourselves prior to seating ourselves at the dinner table as support for our nervous system, we have an early impact on supporting our digestion.
Photo by Dominik Martin on Unsplash[/caption] Herbs that we can call upon are those that help stimulate our digestive fire, and encourage it to keep burning. These herbs are known as carminatives, they are warming and moving to the digestive system and they can help move stagnation or excess gas from our body. These herbs are often consumed following a meal to help find relief from feeling overly full and pair well with light movements such as a post-meal walk to help support digestion. Herbs that are carminative in nature are cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, coriander, nutmeg, clove, angelica, and others similar to this. Anything you might find in masala chai or a pumpkin spice blend. Another category of herbs for the digestive system is the bitters category, which is also stimulating to the digestive system but is most often considered to be cooling in nature. Bitter is a flavor profile and one that we are often not as familiar with because it has been largely removed from our daily palette. However, the bitter flavor is incredibly important for maintaining a healthy digestive system. Once we taste bitter on our tongue (not to be confused with sour), this activates our entire digestive system from the mouth all the way to the endpoint. This helps support the process of breaking down our food by stimulating an increase in the digestive enzymes and juices that work to extract the nutrients our bodies need from the food. Bitter herbs can be consumed directly as a salad (i.e. consuming such things as mustard greens, nettle, arugula, or dandelion leaf), or can be made into herbal bitter tonics to be taken prior to beginning the meal. Herbs that have a bitter profile include such plants as Angelica, Burdock, Dandelion, Chicory, Turkey Rhubarb, Oregon Grape Root, Gentian, and Yarrow, among others.
Golden Poppy's Digestive Bitters Blend[/caption]
Healing the Digestive SystemAnother facet to consider is herbs that can help repair damage that has been done to the digestive system. Whether the damage can result from eating foods that our body doesn't agree with (foods such as gluten and dairy, to name some common culprits), eating too quickly, and not fully chewing our food, which can result in food particles entering the intestinal tract that are too large for it to break down properly, to chemicals and other toxins on our food that cause damage in and of themselves (organophosphate is one of the more well-known examples). In addition to making sure you take the time to sit and eat your food, allowing your body to be in the Rest & Digest state while eating, picking organic foods can be crucial to your health, or at least avoid the Dirty Dozen if organic isn't within your budget. Working with herbs that can help soothe the tissues of the digestive tract can be very helpful in improving your digestion and overall health. Herbs such as calendula, plantain, and chamomile can work to actively reduce inflammation in the digestive tract and support the healing of the tissues. Our Tummy Tea was created for exactly this purpose. We wish all of our readers well as we enter the holiday season, and may you all enjoy the delicious treats that lie ahead for us! Life balance is also about allowing ourselves to enjoy pleasures, so we collectively banish any feelings of guilt that may bubble up during this time. The herbs are here to hold us and support us, and always feel welcome as an ally at the dinner (and dessert) table. So much love, and catch you next month!
- Kristen. “Solar Plexus Chakra: Everything You Need to Know.” Be My Travel Muse. 11 February 2022. Retrieved from: https://www.bemytravelmuse.com/solar-plexus-chakra/
- Miernowska, Marysia. The Witch’s Herbal Apothecary: Rituals & Recipes for a Year of Earth Magick and Sacred Medicine Making. 2020. Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc.