Winter blues busters – On Wintering with Sisu, Hygge, and Herbal Fire Cider
We’re about halfway through the dark season in the Pacific Northwest now. It’s about this time that the grey days and needling rain can start to get to us. Many of us were overly busy and stretched thin during the winter holidays, and we are now looking forward to spring. In the meantime, what about embracing what IS right now – the dark and gray -- and give in to the impulse to rest deeply. What about slowing down, feeling our feelings, taking stock of what’s deeply important? It’s probably OK to let down, to sleep an hour more some nights. Cozy up with a cup of warm tea, a blanket, a good book.
One of my favorite books that explores this is Wintering – the Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May. May encourages us to change our relationship with ‘fallow times’ – to find nourishment in deep retreat, and understand that life is not linear, but cyclical. It’s more about a state of being, and less about ‘doing’.
In my quest to find out the best way to experience the winter grays, I sought the wisdom of Nordic cultures. After all, they have months of near total darkness. How do they refresh themselves? How do they stay positive in the winter?
One Nordic concept is ‘Hygge’, pronounced ‘Hoo-ga’ It’s a word that translates as warmth, coziness, and kinship. It’s about finding solace in nature, kindness, and the simple things in life. In a home it might be expressed as soft candlelight and comfy cushions.
I became aware by happenstance of a Nordic term called ‘Sisu’. It was described in an historical fiction book that I read called Deep River, by Karl Marlantes. were considered essential to health and well-being. So was good food: The women preserved their sourdough starter and exchanged it with one another (remember the bread-baking frenzy of the early pandemic?). When they were stressed or overwhelmed, one would say, “Time for Sisu!” ‘They’d drop everything, brew up coffee, sit down, gather with a friend, and help each other tap into their inner strength. Sisu is loosely translated as “a powerful mindset that is a unique form of fortitude and courage in the face of challenges, big and small”.
My interest piqued at this concept of Sisu, I found a little book that explores it more deeply: Everyday Sisu – Tapping into Finnish Fortitude for a Happier, More Resilient Life, by Katja Pantzar, a Helsinki-based writer. I was intrigued to learn that by many measures, people in Finland are among the happiest on the planet. (Granted, some of that is because they have a strong social services safety net). Pantzar cites the works of Emilia Elisabet Lahti, who practices ‘embodied fortitude’, which involves taking care of the physical self through movement and activities that nurture a connection to nature, as well as other strength-building exercises such as what we eat, the people we spend time with, how we care for one another, and the thoughts we think. Sisu is about tapping into previously unknown energy reserves that we draw from the adversity we have experienced. The physical practices that support Sisu include spending daily time in nature, in forests, parks, and near the open sea. The social practices include nurturing healthy relationships and building community.
You might like to consider learning more about Sisu, Wintering, Hygge and fortitude from one of these books and a podcast; sources listed at the end of this newsletter. Enjoy!
Food for Thought
One of my favorite immune-boosting remedies to have on hand during the cold weather and respiratory infection season is “Fire Cider”. It’s easy to make, and you can keep it in the fridge several months. It’s filled with ‘hot’ ingredients that you can add to hot water, bone broth, or tea that can address various respiratory symptoms. Here’s a recipe inspired by herbalist and author Rosemary Gladstar, and one of my nutrition teachers and author, Dr. Leslie Korn, Phd, MPH:
Immunity-Boosting Fire Cider
½ c freshly grated ginger
1 medium onion, chopped
½ c freshly grated horseradish root
1 T ground beetroot
10 cloves garlic chopped
2 jalapeno peppers, chopped
Zest and juice of one lemon
Several sprigs of fresh rosemary
1 T ground turmeric (or grated root)
¼ t ground cayenne pepper
1 T peppercorns
Optional ingredients: lemon balm, sage leaves, ginseng root
12 oz. apple cider vinegar
¼ c. raw local honey
Add all solid ingredients to a glass jar, add the vinegar to one inch below the top of the jar. Shake well. Store in a dark cool place for a two to four weeks; shake daily. Then strain out the pulp, pour the vinegar mixture into a clean jar (like a mason jar with a lid). Add the honey, and store.
Take the liquid one T. at a time, up to 3 T. a day and add to your tea for sore throats or coughs. Or you can mix ¼ cup of the fire cider with ¼ cup olive oil for a salad dressing.
Sources – books and a podcast:
Deep River – Historical fiction novel by Karl Marlantes
Wintering – The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times - by Katherine May
Podcast: How Wintering Replenishes – an interview with Katherine May, “On Being with Krista Tippett:
How to Hygge – The Nordic Secrets to a Happy Life – by Signe Johansen
Everyday Sisu – Tapping into Finnish Fortitude for a Happier, More Resilient Life - by Katja Pantzar
Brainbow Blueprint Foods Cookbook – Recipes to Nourish Body, Mind & Spirit - by Leslie Korn, Phd, MPH
Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal – A Guide to Living Life with Energy, Health, and Vitality - by Rosemary Gladstar
I hope these ideas have brought you some solace and peace for the winter months, and inspire you to rest, and just ‘be’.