Deep winter herbalism: incorporating natural homemade remedies into daily life

When I was first asked to write an article about one of the topics that would be covered during the upcoming Edmonton Resilience Festival workshops, there were a number that I was interested in, but the one that ultimately caught my attention is called Deep Winter Herbalism.

Despite the short descriptions provided for each class, the idea of herbalism didn’t necessarily sink in with me right away. In my mind, deep winter herbalism was more akin to the idea of growing your own herbs indoors during the winter months, which, as it turns out, is not the case. After talking to Sonja Myllymaki (one of the workshop’s hosts), she explained that herbalism is actually the ancient practice of using plants as medicine.

Sonja Myllymaki (left) and Alecia Schreyer (right) demonstrating how to make fire cider. Photo by: Paula Gerein
Sonja Myllymaki (left) and Alecia Schreyer (right) demonstrating how to make fire cider. Photo: Paula Gerein

Why choose to create your own remedies? Why not just get a prescription from a doctor? Sonja answers that herbalism is one of the oldest forms of healing, and, in many cases, medicines — prescribed or bought over-the-counter — are really just versions of more traditional folk remedies. By making variations yourself, you aren’t subject to the patent costs associated with brand-name medications, meaning you can save money by using the same plant bases, and you’ll be fully aware of every ingredient in your concoction.

Of course, herbalism isn’t without its risks. Sonja cautions that while a number of plants are very benign and can be ingested regularly, others can be quite strong, so it’s still important to know the properties of the plants as well as what, how and why they’re used.

This is why Sonja has devoted much of her life and her studies to understanding the body and becoming an herbalist. Sonja’s interest began when she suffered a serious injury as a teenager, and the thought of alternative healing — a realm outside of the medical system — became an attractive possibility.

Primarily self-taught, Sonja started by growing her own plants in her sun garden for 12 years. There, she realized that she most enjoyed nurturing plants with medicinal qualities. This, coupled with her background in body work, made her move into herbalist work a natural step. Beginning in 2012, Sonja completed year-long coursework with teachers on the West Coast (Sean Donahue in Victoria, B.C., and Sajah Popham in Seattle, Wash.), in addition to working with other local herbalists. Today, she’s completing the Earth Spirit Medicine program through the Edmonton-based Northern Star College of Mystical Studies under the tutelage of Robert Rogers. Sonja has made a huge effort to get to know the Edmonton herbalist community, and it is her want that these types of health journeys and this kind of knowledge are passed on. She says she knows that information on herbalism isn’t necessarily readily available, so she hopes to provide a voice.

Sonja’s increasing expertise along with that of her new herbalist friend, Alecia Schreyer, will be shared at the Deep Winter Herbalism workshop being offered as part of the Edmonton Resilience Festival. Taking place on Feb. 8 from 10:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., it is part of Sunday Stream #8: Great Egrets and includes two other workshops on Building a Sustainable Body and Bike Repair. Throughout the two-hour session, Sonja and Alecia are planning on providing a hands-on lesson where attendees will learn how to make fire cider (an immune boosting tonic), a salve for sore muscles, a cordial/elixir (a fun, sweet beverage) and a Valentine’s treat that consists of an herbal super food. These are all recipes that can be beneficial to your health and can also be incorporated into your life on a daily basis.

In the meantime, whether or not you can attend the workshop, Sonja would like to encourage everyone to dip their toes in herbalism by sharing her recipe for fire cider. A tasty cold/flu remedy and herbal tonic, most ingredients are easy to come by. Adapted from a recipe by Rosemary Gladstar (considered to be the grandmother of herbalism and one of the teachers Alecia has studied under), fire cider has many diverse uses. Typically made with vinegar, Sonja also recommends substituting that for strong, sour kombucha. The cider can be enjoyed in hot (but not boiling) water as a tea, made into salad dressing, or taken straight up. The leftover herbs can also be incorporated into stir-fries or mixed with rice and whatever else you fancy. Easily adjusted, the recipe and amounts can be changed to suit your taste and meet the quantities required, so you can create your own unique version. For your herbal needs, Sonja suggests visiting Kolya Naturals or Earth’s General Store, as they’re two of the best places in the city to pick up ingredients.

Kombucha Fire Cider

A finished jar of fire cider. Photo by: Paula Gerein
A finished jar of fire cider. Photo: Paula Gerein

1 yellow onion, finely chopped
6-8 garlic cloves, chopped or pressed (or as many as you prefer)
3 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
2 tbsp fresh horseradish, grated
3-4 cayenne and/or jalapeno peppers (or as many as you prefer)
Any other aromatic or pungent herbs or fruit you might want to include – black pepper, rosemary, spruce tips, juniper berries, turmeric root, rose hips, the choice is yours…

Combine everything in a jar and add 4 cups of strong kombucha or apple cider vinegar.

Let sit for 4-6 weeks, shaking at least a few times a week. Also, avoid using a jar with a metal lid as the acidity of the potion is strong. When ready, strain the mixture and add honey to taste.


Tickets for this particular Sunday stream are limited, but, if still available, they may be purchased through Eventbrite. Of course, should you miss out on this Resilience Festival workshop for one reason or another, Sonja and Alecia are happy to provide lessons upon request. Inquires can be directed to Sonja at and Alecia at