Herbal health care: traditional herbs for spring
Spring – the time when everything is green and growing. As we turn our clocks back and welcome longer, brighter days, the earth is awakening. You too might feel your “sap rising”, so to speak! When the temperatures start to lift and the days begin to lengthen, so too does our desire to move, create, grow, and play. From forest bathing to sipping a daily herbal infusion, there are ways as countless as wildflowers to work with plants in pursuit of health. This herbal empowerment is what we are ALL about.
Herbs are well-suited to support your transition into the season of rebirth. Humans have long leaned on our plant neighbors to help our bodies and minds adjust from winter stagnation to spring movement. And of course, the energy to engage with an awakening world is on all of our minds!
There are a plethora of stimulating herbs that we can turn to in such times. Herbs generally work to increase our energy by activating the inner vitality of our body, through nourishment, warmth, and circulation. This is quite unlike the common cultural concept of “stimulation”, the forcing of energy expenditure that we may not have to begin with! This type of stimulation (ahem, coffee, we’re talking to you…) can actually quickly deplete, exhaust, and even extinguish our inner vitality. We’ve all been there!
But have no fear – there are many gently energizing herbs that do in fact cultivate vitality naturally, restoring our energy reserves and cultivating resilience over time!
So which herbs can we turn to, to energize our bodies and boost our minds? Here are a few easy to access favorites:
Nettles (Urtica dioica)
Most of us know Nettles by its’ itchy sting. This native weed grows wild along old fields, paths, and abandoned farms – which means that it is abundant here in New England, and quite easy to get your hands on! Nettles is a nutrient powerhouse, containing vitamins (A, B, C, K), minerals (iron, calcium, silicon, potassium), flavanoids, and even proteins! Tradition and science alike point to Nettles for it’s value in relieving musculoskeletal inflammation and providing valuable nutrition as wild food. By deeply nourishing our bodies (everything from our bones to our livers), Nettles over time can play an important role in building our overall energy levels. A nourished body is an energized body! Enjoy Nettles daily as a rich tea – steep 4 tbsp (dried or fresh) in a quart of hot water and let it steep overnight. Just make sure to wear gloves while harvesting Nettles – that is unless you want to give “urtification” a shot. It’s an old practice of relying on the Nettles sting itself to stimulate blood flow and clear congestion. Don’t knock it ‘til you try it!
Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
This iconic mitten-leaved tree has long been utilized as a “spring tonic” for “blood purifying”. In fact, it was so well-loved that early colonial settlers exported Sassafras en masse to the Old World, and incorporated it’s wood into ship construction for protection against evil spirits and wrecks. Not the superstitious type? You’d still benefit from Sassafras tea, for it’s healthy stimulation of blood flow and peripheral circulation. Our blood carries vital oxygen into our body, and toxic waste out, so especially in early Spring, it’s important that our circulation is supported. Despite controversy over the high content of safrole in the root bark (banned by the FDA), there’s no strong evidence that the enjoyment of sassafras tea in normal amounts is dangerous (safrole is also found in black pepper, nutmeg, and basil). The best way to enjoy Sassafras tea for a spring energy boost is as a short-term daily tonic. Mix 1 quart of Sassafras tea with 3 tbsp honey and 3 tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar. Sip that daily for up to a month, and enjoy a gentle spring awakening!
Cayenne (Capsicum frutescens/annuum)
Cayenne has been described by famous medical herbalist David Hoffman as “a most useful systemic stimulant.” It does so by regulating healthy blood flow, strengthening the heart, arteries, capillaries, and nerves. When insufficient circulation (think cold hands, stagnant energy) is an issue, Cayenne is a friend indeed! This potent pepper awakens the extremities and enlivens overall energy, acting quickly and systemically. Give it a shot by sprinkling a pinch into hot water with a squeeze of fresh lemon and a spoonful of honey. Try it daily as a morning tonic, before you reach for that pot o’ joe.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
This common kitchen herb happens to be a powerful ally for energy. Compounds (such as ‘rosmarinic acid’) in Rosemary are anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, pain-relieving, and stimulating. Lower inflammation, reduced pain, and gentle stimulation sounds like a recipe for the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed! By relaxing the smooth muscles of capillaries and articles, Rosemary is known to enhance healthy blood flow. This increased circulation can improve mental clarity, memory, and even vision. Benefit from Rosemary by adding it to your cooking, or lightly steeping it as a tea with honey and ginger!
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)
A towering tree with distinctive leaves, Ginkgo’s claim to fame is as a “living fossil” – it’s the only living species of its family left, having been around for over 350 million years. That resilience and strength can be thought of as Ginkgo’s signature, its endowment to us not-so-long-lived humans. The leaves of Ginkgo, which are harvested when they turn bright yellow each autumn, are traditionally enjoyed as a tea (or these days, a tincture or supplement). Ginkgo’s compounds have been shown to improve the brain’s metabolism of glucose and oxygen. This enhancement of brain function translates to potentially improved concentration, cognition, and what we’re aiming for — energy!