GARDEN WORKS: Winter time hints to calm the chill

Emily Catesby Emily Cates

The cold winter winds dance along the frozen landscape, whispering their secrets to the trees swaying to the beat of a timeless song of the season. Shaking the snow from their limbs, they remind me of slow-motion pets stepping inside to dry off, throwing wet snowflakes in every direction. (Of course, I seem to always be within distance of getting snow-showered whenever this happens.)

As we venture into the coldest and darkest time of the year, little things that add warmth and comfort can add up to needed enjoyment. In this article, let’s look at a few things to brighten our winter days. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to send a message!

Working outdoors on a nice winter’s day is one of my favorite things to do – if done right. Of course, I always make sure to bundle up and wear my warm boots. If I’m outside for a while, or it’s really cold, then I’ll place some warmers in my boots and mittens. These foot and hand warmers, as well as medical hot packs that I’ve found to work comparably, are found in stores and online.

Though I consider warmers a tad spendy, they are necessary for hands and feet that have been overexposed to the cold in times past and consequently sensitized. Folks, don’t ever ignore cold hands and feet! You’ll regret it, I promise, like I have from the time I was a kid and went through swampy ice up to my knees and in my boots. Ever since then my feet get mad at me when they’re cold – especially when there are steel-toed or inadequate boots involved. In my not-so-humble opinion, it’s better to be warm and look silly, than to be fashionable and freezing!

Speaking of hands and feet, these parts of us may need extra attention this time of year. The wintertime environment both indoors and out has a tendency to promote dry, chapped skin. Lips, face, and hands are especially vulnerable parts that could need a little TLC.

Want to know some healing salve recipes I’ve found to be especially useful? Since I’m really bad at measuring when I make things, I’ll give you the concept: Start with a fat for a base. I mostly use Shea butter – but coconut oil, olive oil, beeswax, cocoa butter, mango butter, vitamin E, and jojoba oil are good, too. Lard and bear fat are traditional. These can be used singly or in combinations that work for you.

Safe, common herbs and such I have used that add soothing and healing properties include elder flowers, balsam fir, mallow, plantain, and calendula petals. Essential oils like rose, lavender, orange, clove, vanilla, or others can be added at the end of infusing to impart scent to the salve. (Follow directions on bottles since essential oils are really concentrated! Also, make sure to positively identify all ingredients. Test a small area of the skin with finished product salve to make sure it doesn’t cause irritation.)

Ratios of fat to dried plant material depend on availability and desired strength. I usually crumble dried plant material by hand or with a coffee grinder in amounts that “feel” right. (Consult a reputable source for specific ratios.) Combine the fat with herbs in a pot over low heat and gently stir once any solid fats have melted. Keep on low heat for several hours until sufficiently infused or until the desired strength is attained. (I leave my pots of salves on top of the wood stove on trivets overnight.) Strain the salve, add essential oils if using, and carefully pour into clean jars. Don’t forget to label what you’ve got and the date you made it.

Of course, a nice cup of hot tea and cuddly blankets should be on every winter list. To top it all off, how about a favorite seed catalog, a comfy chair, and a warm wood stove? Ah, now that’s good living!


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