Digestive Support for the Winter Months

The winter months seem to contribute to sluggish digestion which sometimes (not always) manifests itself in constipation.  There are many reasons why this happens.

warming spices1) First of all, it is dry.   Remember that the condition of your external epithelial tissue likely resembles the internal. If your skin is dry, you need to make a point to increase your fluid intake.   If you are like me and absolutely must have warm things to drink in the winter, make a peppermint latte or an herbal chai or a spiced tomato juice cocktail.   The boys are fans of the almond-oat beverage that I make.  We all like spiced apple cider and  hot lemonade.  Make some sort of  nourishing warm broth and drink it, but you get the point here, stay hydrated.    This includes adding some humidity to your environment.  Like I’ve said before there is a reason Mom kept a kettle going on the woodstove all day, long.    Remember that healthy oils play a role in this, as well.   I think fish oil of some sort during the winter is key.    I’d like to suggest adding it to the diet rather than supplements but I know that is not realistic for everyone.

2)  Some people are trying to eat seasonally for environmental reasons or perhaps due to trying to follow an Ayurvedic diet. Here in Iowa, when you are following that diet you are eating  lot of root vegetables and probably not getting your 8-10 servings of fruits and veggies per day.  This leads to not  getting enough fiber which you need for proper digestion.    (Even all you juice fanatics out there can get constipated if you are using a juicer that strains the roughage out.)

There is definitely not as much green leafy goodness in a local winter diet- my kale is shot after that last cold snap.   A lack of leafy greens can lead to less bitter flavors in the diet during this time of year.   If you haven’t read Jim McDonald’s lovely treatise on how lack of bitters may contribute to sluggish elimination, you can find it here: pdf

I still think we need our greens, even if it means buying them from afar.     Next year you can think of nifty ways to preserve  local fruits and veggies for the winter months.   I will make it a goal to pull more of the preserving recipes off the old database and finding some new ones.   One thing to think about is that fermented vegetables are a good source of probiotics which also help to promote digestive health.

As per the other concerns,    I understand that  winter foods were traditionally supposed to be sweet, warming and maybe a little on the fat laden side to keep us warm when we are all working ourselves to the bone and out in the elements most of our day. Traditionally that was okay, but I think discretion needs to be used in light of modern conveniences like heat, indoor jobs and cars.     If you are slim or frequently exposed to inclement weather for extended periods of time, then a traditional winter diet is desirable.  However, I maintain that those of us who don’t fit that category, given the modern concerns about insulin resistance,  could focus on less starchy vegetables sources.

Think of ways to make  these  fruits and veggies warming.   Soups fit the bill nicely around here because they are warming, moistening and you can stuff them with veggies and barley.  Barley is what they call in nutrition circles a bulk-forming laxative.     Braising greens is a nice way to warm them up.     As an aside,  when you do eat the root vegetables make sure that you are adding healthy fats and lots of warming, stimulating spices.   Squash with butter, or olive oil,  is good.  Squash drizzled with olive oil infused with  nutmeg, mace, saffron, salt and long pepper is AMAZING.  Adding a healthy fat helps to lower the glycemic index.

3)  We all slow down….   Here in the frozen cornfields, people are a little more housebound and so moving even less than normal, which also impacts your elimination processes.   Get moving.

4) A lot of folks are on the  SAD American diet and well really, that is enough said about that. Eat some damn vegetables and fruits, people.  I wonder how many more times I will say that in my lifetime?

There are all sorts of other issues that could contribute to the problem.   Chronic stress has a nasty impact on the digestive system, so an adaptogen might help.   Licorice root certainly has a history of being used for the complaint.     Some medications lead to problems, also.    Holding it when you have to eliminate can result in impaction due to the fact that it stretches the colon which in turn means that more waste has to enter your colon in order to trigger the next bowel movement.

The issue of constipation in little ones came up in a conversation the other day which made me realize I’ve never really addressed that here on the blog-probably due to the fact that I keep the previously mentioned issues in mind and  prefer to talk about proactive self-care than waiting for sick people to call me.

In the days when self-care was household knowledge, all such issues were approached proactively rather than retroactively.  Cod Liver oil was often  administered daily.   Folks who grew up in the  UK may  remember  lining up for  their Brimstone  and Treacle on a weekly basis, if they are old enough or grew up with a grandparent.    This licorice root preparation was so ubiquitous that the phrase was used as a title for a disturbing play in the seventies.   If something did happen, slippery elm gruel was often fed to children or an infusion of senna pods.

Senna is a stimulating laxative, which I tend to avoid due the to the fact that the bowels can become habituated to stimulation.  The same goes for aloe and cascara.  Demulcents are great, but today  I think that you’d have a difficult time getting slippery elm gruel into a child.

So if the issue comes up for your child, or you, first consider  the previously mentioned issues and address any issues of diet and exercise.

For immediate relief an adult might  try 200 mg of magnesium citrate and  1 tblsp of yellow dock syrup three times a day and a nightly Epsom Salt bath.  I might not be able to resist adding a bit of licorice root to the syrup.  I originally made  this recommendation based on the fact that yellow dock syrup had had a stool loosening effect on several of my clients who were taking it for iron related issues and anyone who has ever taken too much magnesium knows what that does.  It has served me pretty well.

For a child you might consider a teaspoon of yellow dock syrup 3 times a day, a few cups of the almond-oat beverage I mentioned above and a nightly Epsom salt bath.

I also racked my brain to come  best way to successfully disguise herb powders so that children will eat  them and I thought of my immune  boosting truffles.     Just a few tweaks and  I came up with something a lot more edible than slippery elm gruel. I hope that some of you out there might give these a try and give me some feedback.  I don’t have anyone around here to experiment on.   After a kind of giggly survey of the household  today, we have determined that we all eliminate once (sometimes twice) daily.

Digestive Support Snacks

Dry Ingredients

1/4 cup  slippery elm  powder
1/4 cup milk thistle seeds finely ground and sifted
1/4 cup licorice root powder
1/4 cup ground  flax  seeds (another one of those bulk-forming laxatives)
2 tbsp raw cacao powder
½ cup ground oats or almond meal.  I probably prefer oats for this recipe.
I also think I would add 1/2 teaspoon of spice here- fenugreek  (another bitter) for sure and maybe cinnamon.


1/2 cup tahini
Fruit Puree*

Mix dry ingredients first and add ½ cup  or tahini to the mix.

If you can’t afford or can’t find the herbal powders:  Just use  1 cup of ingredients you can purchase as food such as flax seed, ground oats and don’t worry about the herbal powders.   Substitute ground sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds for the milk thistle seeds and add 1/2 teaspoon of fenugreek powder as a bitter and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon.

Now mix in your fruit puree, honey or a combination of both until it forms a dough you can work with.

Roll this mixture in balls and roll in a coating of your choice.

Toasted coconut ground with a little nutmeg
Raw Cacao powder
Finely ground nuts or seeds- sesame seeds are good here.
Dark chocolate

I would be completely comfortable offering these to a child who was prone to constipation on a daily basis if they were made with flax seed or  maybe plantain seeds.   Adults too, could eat these as a daily snack.

Dried Fruit Puree

I’ve shared this recipe before but for these particular truffles, I would make sure that some prunes are part of the dried ingredients.   It is important to save the liquid you’ve used to rehydrate the fruits because a lot of your nutrients leech out during the re-hydration process.

Soak  1 cup of  dried fruit in 2 cups of warm water overnight.
Strain; reserving the liquid.
Place re hydrated fruit in food processor or blender.
Whip adding reserved liquid until a creamy paste like consistency is formed.

3 thoughts on “Digestive Support for the Winter Months

  1. Lee

    Haha “Eat some damn vegetables and fruits, people” that’s great. Thanks for the article and the chuckle.

  2. Pingback: Friday Favorites :: January 24, 2014 Edition | Homespun Seasonal Living

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