The transition from winter to spring marks the movement from a season of rest and reflection into a season of movement and growth. This outer transition is exemplified by melting snow and the first shoots and buds showing themselves. Our bodies are a microcosm of the earth. So just as the gardener will begin to plan for pruning, fertilizing and cultivating their plot to prepare for an abundant season, we too must garden our inner landscape! We must clear out the waste, nourish our cells, and awaken our systems for the busy months and long days ahead.
A word that comes up often in the context of inner spring cleaning is of course “detoxification”. Big businesses will have you believing that detoxification is a process we need to force our bodies into. On the contrary, detoxification is a natural process happening at every moment through a concerted effort of several systems and organs in our incredible bodies. That being said, there are times when those systems need a little extra TLC from mother nature. For instance, after being sick when we’ve got a whole lot of waste products to rid ourselves of. Or, at this very time of year, after we’ve spent the winter months eating heavier foods and moving a bit less.
This isn’t a “bad” thing, it’s quite natural to have taken the winter to nourish ourselves with dense root veggies and meats, to hit the hay early and rise late. But spring is here, and so our bodies are ready to transition! Queue the herbal support. Human beings have always lived in rhythm with nature. When we relied more on our gardens and foraging we didn’t have to look further than out our door to know what plants would support spring detoxification. While it may feel like we’ve forgotten, don’t fret, remembering is simple and fun!
Get to know your liver
When you think detoxification, think liver. The liver is the most critical organ when it comes to inner balance. It’s the largest organ in our body, and processes everything that we take in – whether that be through our mouths, skin, or lungs! In The Science and Art of Herbalism, Rosemary Gladstar explains that “the liver sorts, stores and processes countless compounds. It has the ability to turn harmful chemicals into harmless by-products and flushes them out. It also manufactures over 13,000 chemicals including vital hormones.” Absolutely incredible, right? And as if that wasn’t enough, the liver has the ability to literally regenerate itself. That most certainly makes the liver a symbol of spring renewal.
Suffice to say, the key to spring detoxification for us all is the liver. And if you happen to be coming out of winter experiencing allergies, blood sugar imbalance, and constipation then that’s an extra signal to make liver support your priority. That’s your body saying, “Hey you! Our liver has important work to do and we’re too backed up with toxins to do it!” Have no fear, it happens, and your liver responds quickly to herbal support.
Herbal Liver Support
Vitamin and mineral rich herbs are abundant at this time of year, in the wild and in cultivated settings like farms and gardens. No surprise, they are like nature’s multivitamin. These plants contain crucial nutrition that directly nourishes our livers and strengthens hepatic function. Many of the plants growing at this time have a bitter flavor. In The Herbal Handbook by David Hoffman, he explains that “when we taste a bitter flavor this stimulates the production and release of bile from the liver. Bile has multiple functions, including the processing and elimination of toxins.” So it’s crucial that we stimulate that bile production with bitter flavors!
One of the very best go-to bitter herbs is Dandelion. Both the leaf and the root offer a bitter flavor that stimulates digestion, increases bile production, and in turn will help enhance the process of detoxification. Both Dandelion root and leaf make a wonderful tea that is nutrient-dense and easy to sip daily. For the leaf, an infusion is best. For the root, decoct (simmer) the herb to get the most potent brew. A medicinal dosage of these tonic teas is 3-4 cups daily. Use up to 1 ounce of herb per quart for a rich, medicinal drink. Aim for at least 2 weeks of making it a daily habit, and the proof will be in the pudding!
There also happens to be a class of herbs called “hepatics”, which contain compounds that specifically aid liver function and even regeneration. Dr. Marisa Marciano, the “Naturopathic Herbalist” explains that hepatic herbs “tone, strengthen, and in some cases increase the flow of bile. In a broad holistic approach to health they are of great importance because of the fundamental role of the liver in the workings of the body.”
Milk Thistle is the shining star of hepatics. This is an incredible weed worth researching and befriending. Research has shown that Milk Thistle has the amazing ability to promote the regeneration of liver cells, even in case of disease, and protect cells against some toxins. When liver health is a concern, get your hands on Milk Thistle! The seed of this plant is the medicinal part. It can be directly consumed by crushing and sprinkling on food (you won’t benefit from eating them whole). They can also be taken as a tea, infusing ½ tsp in one cup for 15 minutes. The easiest way to benefit from Milk Thistle daily is widely available supplements or tinctures. Your body will quickly absorb the compounds within and the low effort is worth the great benefit!
Along with direct herbal support for detoxification, we must not forget that our food is our medicine. The liver relies on an array of vitamins and minerals, like Vitamin A, D, E and Iron, to do it’s crucial job. Luckily, these nutrients are readily available in food. Round out your liver support with a diet rich in dark, leafy greens that supply ample vitamins and minerals. Some of the easiest to find and enjoy include Spinach, Kale, Arugula, Bokchoy, Swiss Chard, and Mustard Greens. For the culinary adventurers, try out wild spring greens like Nettles and Dandelion, too – they make a tasty addition to stir fries and soups!