While out skating on a pond the other day, I found myself in a familiar predicament: cold, numb and slightly painful toes! In the cold weather, my peripheral circulation is easily reduced, bringing pain or discomfort to my fingers and toes. In my practice, I've met a number of people who face the same issue to varying degrees. Fortunately there are herbal helpers which safely and effectively encourage peripheral circulation. For this chilly January post, I thought I'd share some thoughts on the best ways to use these herbs for this purpose....
Hot peppers of any kind will quickly stimulate circulation. A good trick for keeping hands and feet warm in cold places is to put a pinch of chilli powder (cayenne or other) in between two pairs of gloves or socks. Wearing one pair, then placing the powder in the second pair and wearing it on top of the first ensures that your skin is protected from being burned on direct contact with the chilli powder (which can be extremely painful). Meanwhile, you still benefit from the heat it gives.
Adding chillies or hot sauce to your meals will help increase your circulation very quickly as well. However, circulatory stimulation from chilli peppers will be relatively short-lived.
Longer term warmth and circulatory stimulation can come from cooking with other herbs such as thyme, ginger, rosemary, garlic and turmeric. These herbs will also help to keep bacteria and pathogens away, keeping us healthy throughout the winter. Added to slow-cooked soups or stews, they will yield optimally lasting warmth.
Another warming circulatory stimulant is cinnamon. This herb is particularly helpful for diabetics or those wanting to balance blood sugar. It helps to reduce sugar cravings while also encouraging peripheral circulation. Cinnamon sticks cooked into hot cereal or simmered into tea work well for this. Simmer the cinnamon with ginger, nutmeg, cardomom and coriander and you've got a delicious, warming herbal chai tea.
One of my favourite therapeutic herbs to use in my practice is the wild Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum spp). A member of the citrus family, prickly ash grows in treelines of pasture land and at forest edges throughout our region. Both the bark and berries of this tree effectively encourage cirulation, while also reducing the pain and inflammation that sometimes come with blocked blood flow. This herb, taken over time can help to normalize blood vessel dilation so that healthy blood flow is maintained.
With a bit of conscious effort, and the help of some easily accessible herbs, we can easily encourage circulation and reduce the pain and numbness brought on by the cold weather. This lets us get outdoors and enjoy the glory of winter, until the planting & harvesting season begins again...