In a moment of crisis, introducing this nourishing elixir to someone we love can assist them to shift toward deeper health, resilience, and sanity.
My partner sits stonelike on the living room couch, eyes glued to the screen of his laptop, biting his fingernails. He’s lost in the news cycle, headlines coaxing his attention from page to page. He’s been like this for weeks.
It’s the COVID-19 pandemic that’s wrapped my loved one in overwhelm. The pandemic is mesmerizing enough to hold him captive to endless information updates, but horrifying enough to leave him twisted with anxiety each night when he finally slams the computer shut and grumbles his way into bed.
I want to help him. I do what I can to be present, supportive, and real. We process the headlines, share our worries and fears, and celebrate good news where we find it. We support one another’s resilience by taking rest, eating well, and finding moments of joyful diversion.
We laugh at the cats wrestling on the floor. We marvel at our newly-woken tulips dusting the soil from their leaves as they wiggle upward toward the sun. We hug; the only people we can hug right now is each other.
But it’s not enough.
The news is dire. We’re both still more edgy than we want to be, and we’re falling into our default unhealthy habits in an attempt to take the edge off. Him, eerily dissolved into phone and PC, scrolling over posts and comments with one hand and flipping through YouTube videos with the other. Me, sitting on the back porch drinking a beer.
One evening, as I sat at the kitchen table glumly watching him hunched over the turquoise glow of the screen, I was blessed with an insight.
He had gotten up long enough to grab a bag of tortilla chips from the cupboard. I watched bemused as he banged the cabinet door closed, slumped back down into the cushions, dug his hand into the chip bag and began mindlessly shoving fistfuls of chips into his mouth.
“Hey,” I got his attention. “You’re dropping crumbs all over the floor. You’re not even paying attention to what you’re eating.”
He lifted his eyes to look at me, hand suspended inside the bag, cheeks filled with half-chewed corn and salt. “I get hungry when I’m anxious.”
As he lowered his eyes back into the turmoil of headlines and stats, I got the insight:
Hungry when anxious? I know a better remedy for this.
Golden Milk: a Healing Elixir
Golden milk is a traditional recipe from Ayurveda, the healing science of India and one of the world’s most ancient systems of health care. Many of us may be familiar with the benefits of golden milk, but our families and friends may not be. In a moment of crisis, introducing this nourishing elixir to someone we love can assist them to shift toward deeper health, resilience, and sanity.
The recipe for golden milk is simple, consisting of a base of warm milk, turmeric (the golden-hued spice that gives the drink its name), and other healing spices. This basic mix is grounding, purifying, and calming to the nervous system, and therefore ideal for soothing anxiety and overwhelm. Additional oil, spices or sweeteners can be added, to aid digestion and customize for various beneficial effects on the body.
The result is a healing drink that is not only potent, but divinely delicious.
In episodes of deep stress or sickness, golden milk can also be a boon to our immunity. Milk is a vitalizing tonic for the body, and turmeric–which is fat soluble and carried deeply into the tissues via the milk–is cleansing and strengthening to the immune system. The oft-added spices of cinnamon, cardamom, and ginger also support general vitality.
Most of these ingredients are also nourishing for the lungs or respiratory tissues, which is worth noting in particular in this time of COVID-19. The recommended sweetener, honey, is also supportive to the lungs, and is considered in Ayurveda a medicinal rejuvenative for the entire body.
Golden milk can be enjoyed any time of day, but is especially good as a nightcap before bed to calm anxious nerves and promote deep rest. It’s also an ideal evening snack, to relieve hunger pangs in place of a bag of chips, or ice cream, or whatever might be your favorite unhealthy binge snack (my personal favorite: cheese and crackers).
There are a gazillion recipes for golden milk, easily searchable on the internet. Here I’ll share my favorite, which is a blend of various recipes I’ve tried.
I love this version because it’s quick, easy, and accessible. It’s made with powdered spices, which many people have on hand, and doesn’t require the pre-mixing, grating, crushing, or other preparation that some recipes do. (That said, fresh ground and whole spices are often recommended for this drink, and worth experimenting with if you have them on hand.)
This recipe features the addition of licorice root powder, a sweet, nourishing herb that is not traditionally part of golden milk, but is an excellent support for healthy lungs. It’s very sweet, so if you use it, drop the honey.
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Golden Milk for Two
2 cups milk (organic, dairy or non-dairy)
1 cup water
1-2 tsp. ghee or unrefined coconut oil (or other healthy oil)
½ tsp. turmeric powder
½ tsp. cinnamon powder
a healthy pinch of black pepper
½ tsp. cardamom powder (optional)
½ tsp. dry ginger powder (optional)
½ tsp. licorice root powder (optional – if using, omit the honey)
1-2 tsp. raw honey, to taste* (optional – add after cooking and cooling)
Add all the dry spices (not the honey) to the ghee or oil in a small saucepan, and warm them on low heat while gently stirring to mix.
Add milk and water. Increase heat to medium-high and continue to warm, stirring occasionally, until just before the mixture starts to boil.
Remove from heat, and allow to cool. If adding honey, be sure to cool the milk for at least 5 minutes, or until it’s “finger cool” (cool enough that you can dip the tip of your finger in it without burning), before gently stirring it in.
*According to Ayurvedic wisdom, it’s important not to add honey to boiling hot drinks. Not only does this kill beneficial enzymes in the honey, it also transforms honey molecules into a toxic, indigestible substance in the body.
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I’ve tried to get my partner to try golden milk in the past, and he has always balked. “Warm milk? Sounds disgusting.”
But the evening following the chip episode, I was adamant.
“Try it.” I handed him a steaming mug of milk and told him it could ease his anxiety, help him sleep through the discursive thoughts of the night, and even curb his late-night snack cravings. And–perhaps most importantly for him–it would be delicious.
“Really, it can do all that?” This time I had caught his attention.
He sat upright, extricating himself from the glow of the screen. He took a sip, and smiled. “Mm, it’s good. I like it.” He drank the rest down.
Of course, I drank some too.
Golden milk, as lovely as it is, is not a lone answer to crisis, nor does it fully solve for couch sitting, excessive headline reading, or nail biting. But it can be a contributing element in a healthy, grounded response to stressors in our lives. Especially when taken mindfully, it supports good rest, good nutrition, and psychological self-care, all-in-one.
In the midst of stressful situations, there is often a lot we can’t control. But one thing we can control is our support and care for those we love. If we’re centered in ourselves, we have the resilience and energy to stay balanced in the midst of crisis. If we can assist loved ones to do the same, that is a precious gift to them, and to everyone they touch.
Warming a cup of spiced milk is a small act. But it’s centering, it’s healing, and it’s within our power to do. Let’s all do what we can.
May you and your loved ones be resilient, adaptable, and strong.
[Disclaimer: I am not an Ayurvedic practitioner, nor am I authorized to offer medical advice. This recipe is offered with the expectation that the reader will research and choose the appropriate diet to support their personal health conditions, and adjust accordingly regarding any medications they may be taking. Please approach and adapt with your body’s needs in mind.]