Ginger and Garlic: Winter Miracle Foods

Ginger and Garlic: Winter Miracle Foods

Recently I was reflecting, marveling really, at some of my favorite winter wonder-foods, and garlic and ginger were at the top of my list for a number of reasons. I find their miraculous qualities and benefits absolutely indispensable during the winter months. Of course, their potent immune-boosting qualities are invaluable, as it seems there’s always some nasty bug being passed around at this time of year. But in truth, there’s so much more to celebrate about them that I thought they deserved a little moment in the spotlight.

Now, let me be clear. I’m a winter person. I live in the mountains of Colorado, where some of the most stunning aspects of my home come to life when winter sets in—even as much of the landscape around me goes dormant. My constitution is pitta-predominant, so while getting outside is a crucial part of my self-care in every season, I probably get out most during the winter months, for day trips anyway.

I genuinely love it. I relish the sudden absence of people on the trails that I frequent almost daily. I squeal with joy as I dash through Colorado’s champagne powder on skis whenever I’m so lucky. And there’s just something about tromping through a snow-covered meadow on a cool, crisp, cloudless morning with the surface hoar glinting in the sun like a sea of flashing lights; on those mornings, I always feel like I’m receiving a standing ovation from millions of beloved friends, and it absolutely makes my heart sing. I can almost hear the beauty, even through the deafening silence.

Then there’s the energetic shift––the slow stillness of the winter season––that seems to return each year like a long-absent beloved.

When the first snow descends upon the woods around my house, I can feel my nervous system slowing down, dropping inward—ready to embrace a more internal mode of being. There’s a spaciousness that invites me to drop into myself and to connect with my heart more intentionally. I find myself so grateful for hot drinks by the fire, a good book, the insulating nature of the snow outside, and the warmth of quality time with loved ones inside. The gathering strength of my digestive fire (agni) fosters improved clarity of mind, and I immediately feel a different level of permission—to relax, to sleep a little longer, to slow down, to tuck in.

The Qualities of Winter

In Ayurvedic terms, winter is considered primarily a kapha season because of its cold, moisture-laden heaviness, cloud-covered days, and the grounded, slow qualities that make so many plants go dormant while hordes of wildlife head into their dens to hibernate. But the winter also has strong vata undertones, especially in exceptionally cold, dry climates, or where winter is particularly isolating.

Ayurveda teaches us that like increases like and that opposites balance. So, in order to cultivate an optimal winter experience, we want to give our systems access to plenty of warmth, clarity, lightness, and mobility, as well as oil and unctuousness to keep our tissues from drying out, and meaningful connections to protect against isolation and loneliness. Placing a more intentional level of focus on bolstering the immune system also makes a ton of sense.

In general, I’m a huge fan of keeping things simple—especially in the winter, when it seems that simplicity is one of the primary energies being reflected around us in the natural world. Together, garlic and ginger cover many of the bases necessary to thrive all winter long. I consider them potent and worthwhile allies we’d be wise to keep close at hand at this time of year. 

 

fresh ginger root on a table

The Qualities of Garlic and Ginger

Garlic and ginger are both pungent, warming, and clarifying. And while ginger is a strong digestive, garlic is a bit oily, and has some substance to it, which is generally a good thing in the cold, dry months of winter. Both of them naturally kindle agni (the digestive fire), destroy ama (toxins), support proper circulation, clear excess kapha (think stagnation and mucus), and pacify both vata and kapha. Even better, both garlic and ginger make for a delicious addition to countless recipes—though there are many other ways to include them in your winter routines. We’ll get to that shortly.

Ginger and Garlic for Digestive Support

From an Ayurvedic perspective, agni is the very source of life. Perhaps even more significantly, Ayurveda teaches us that impaired agni is at the root of every imbalance and disease, so looking after your digestive capacity is absolutely in the best interest of your overall health. In fact, tending to agni is the number one way to promote optimal health throughout the system.

In the winter, the digestive fire is actually stronger than at other times of year because the cold weather forces the fire principle deep into the core of the body—bolstering its strength. But we can further boost its performance by adding digestives and detoxifying agents to our diets. Garlic and ginger both serve to strengthen the digestive fire itself while clearing out naturally occurring toxins and helping the entire system to function at its best.

If these concepts interest you, consider reading our health guide, The Importance of Healthy Digestion, which explains why agni is so critical to our overall health, and how to best care for yours.

Ginger and Garlic for Immune Support

Interestingly, Ayurveda’s strongest link to the immune system, ojas, is the superfine essence of all of the bodily tissues and is therefore considered the end product of perfect digestion. This means that the quality of ojas is a very direct reflection of the quality of agni. Strong agni yields healthy ojas and impaired agni hinders the production and quality of ojas. As you can see, our immunity itself is directly correlated with our digestive strength.

In addition to stimulating improved digestion, both garlic and ginger offer fairly direct immune support and have long been used to stimulate and foster strength in the immune system. Ginger is revered for its capacity to thin and clear excess mucus, cleanse both the subtle and more substantive channels of the body (including the blood and the lymph), encourage healthy circulation and sweating, and remove excess kapha from the lungs. And garlic encourages the maintenance of a normal body temperature, clears excess kapha from the body, supports the lungs and sinuses, and helps the body eliminate harmful bacteria while preserving the body’s natural, beneficial flora.

If fostering immune health is an area of focus for you, consider reading Building a Healthy Immune System for a much more in-depth exploration.

Ginger and Garlic for Heart Support

According to Ayurveda, the heart center is a vitally important crossroads in the body—on both physical and energetic levels. If you’re unaware of how utterly essential and broadly influential the heart center is, please consider reading: Vibrant Heart: An Ayurvedic Guide to Heart Health.

As I said earlier, it’s my impression that the winter season invites a kind of heart-level connection—with ourselves and with others—that’s simply harder to access at other times of year. At this point, we shouldn’t be surprised, but guess what? Both garlic and ginger are highly beneficial for heart health as well. So, whether your physical heart could use a little boost, or you are trying to bolster your overall resilience by tending to your heart center, garlic and ginger can help.

 

garlic bulbs in kitchen

Ways to Welcome More Garlic and Ginger

Are you beginning to see why I called them winter miracle foods? All I can say is, I hope my enthusiasm is contagious. But let’s get practical. How can you incorporate more garlic and ginger into your life this winter?

Obviously, the easiest and most straightforward way to add more of these miracle foods is to cook with them! Experiment with adding their tasty flavor profiles to your favorite stir-fry, or spice up most any soup, stew, or casserole. In addition, you may enjoy playing with some of the below preparations:

Super Immune Garlic Drops

I honestly can’t tell you how many times these simple drops have come to the rescue in my family. They can be used in any number of ways to support a local immune response and to promote clarity and balance in the affected tissues.

Ingredients

  • 1 fresh garlic clove
  • 2 ounces boiling water

Instructions

To make these drops, cut the top off of the garlic, smash it with the flat side of a knife, and peel the clove. Let the peeled clove sit in a small bowl for 10 minutes. Pour the boiling water over the garlic and let it stand another 10 minutes. Strain the garlic-infused water into a sterilized dropper bottle.

Cool and use as and where needed:

  • Ears. Place a few drops in the ear canal (or fill it and lie still with that ear facing upward for several minutes before draining).
  • Throat. Gargle with and swallow a couple of droppers full. The gargling benefits the tissues of the mouth and throat, bolstering immunity there, while consuming the drops offers more systemic benefits.
  • Sinuses. For the courageous among you, I have even placed a drop or two in my nasal passages, giving myself a garlic nasya, when they have felt especially antagonized by excess kapha. Note: This technique will burn for a few seconds.

Garlic has incredibly robust defenses against bacteria, so it tends to last well. But to be safe, use the drops within one week and make a fresh batch as often as you need to. If you’re going through them quickly, prepare several cloves at a time and store in a larger dropper bottle or a small jar.

Fresh Ginger Tea

Ginger tea is delicious, warming, agni-kindling, and clarifying. Simply boil some fresh ginger, either grated or sliced, in a cup or more of water (adjust the potency to taste). If you prefer, ginger powder is also available. Ginger tea is particularly beneficial during the colder seasons, but can be taken year around for immune, digestive, heart, and circulatory support.

Digestive Ginger “Pickle”

This ginger pickle can be taken 15–30 minutes before every meal, if you like. It harnesses the digestive and cleansing qualities of fresh ginger and the other ingredients (which have their own digestive and detoxifying capacities) serve to enhance the benefits of the fresh ginger. This is one of the simplest ways to stimulate the appetite (which improves digestion), kindle agni, burn ama, and it’s a tasty delivery system, too.

Ingredients

  • A nickel-sized slice of fresh ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon raw honey
  • A squeeze of lime juice
  • A pinch of mineral salt

Instructions

Simply combine these ingredients in a small bowl (or even directly in a spoon) and eat shortly before your meals, as often as feels good to your body.

Ginger Liquid Extract

Our Ginger liquid extract delivers the wide-reaching health benefits of ginger root to the body with ease. Take 30 drops in water or juice one to three times daily, or as directed by your health practitioner.

Say Yes to Being Supported this Winter

Even though I love the winter season, I’m not going to pretend that it is without its challenges. For me, garlic and ginger have become welcome friends and allies at this time of year, and to a lesser degree, year-round. I wish you all the benefits of turning your attention a bit more inward this winter. And I hope that you enjoy experimenting. See how it feels to enlist the support of garlic and ginger to promote enhanced digestive strength, improved immunity, vibrant heart health, and bolstered overall well-being. Here’s to embracing the winter season for all of its magic, while continuing to thrive. Garlic and ginger have your back.