No matter what holiday tradition you celebrate this winter, chances are you'll incorporate a fir tree, a potted poinsettia, or other significant plants in the festivities. Aside from lending visual and symbolic appeal, many of the holiday herbs historically used to ring in the season have medicinal benefits as well.
Take pine, for instance, which appears in cough syrups. This expectorant and antioxidant helps lung-related complaints such as asthma and respiratory infections. Pine tea added to a bath relieves sore muscles, while pine sap in a salve benefits eczema and psoriasis and draws out splinters.
We can clearly see why gold figured as a valuable gift in the age of the three wise men. But what about frankincense and myrrh? In the Middle East, people burned these resins to help purify the air, especially in public places of worship, where airborne disease presented a particular health threat. Myrrh, a plant native to the Red Sea region, served as a disinfectant, destroying bacteria and stimulating white blood cell production.
Mistletoe appeared as far back as 200 B.C. in the winter celebrations of the Druids, who gathered sprigs of the plant and hung them in their homes for good fortune. Herbalists today use small amounts of the herb to lower blood pressure, promote menstrual flow, and as a diuretic.