Spirit of Spring
It’s spring. A time of renewal, clearing and starting fresh. We intuitively want to bring this newness, this fresh energy into our lives, breathe it into our being. At different times of the year and for different reasons we may experience this same longing, but there is something about the spring season that speaks to all of us, making us intuitively want a fresh start.
We may want to freshen up our kitchen cupboards, or clean out our closets, our garage, or every single corner of our home! We might want to take on a new hobby, adopt a new exercise regime, or we may feel like our bodies crave a renewal, to be energized after the long, more sedentary, inwardly turned winter months.
Spring is a wonderful time to take account of the parts of us and our lives where we want to feel more movement. It is a time to press the “reset” button and to start some healthy new habits and leave those that don’t serve us behind. Spring is a time to spring into action …it’s about movement.
How Herbs Can Help Us Embrace the Spirit of Spring
One way we can embrace the renewal energy of spring is to look to herbal medicine for herbs that can help enhance our general wellness and transition into this exciting season.
The terms “cleansing” and “detoxification” are plentiful this time of year, and everyone has a detox plan to tell you about. You really need look no further than introducing a few simple ways you can nourish the body systems that take care of this for us. The human body is self-healing and very resilient in many ways. If we support our body’s normal processes, our body will support us!
In the spirit of spring we are going to focus on medicinal herbs that can help us feel revitalized, nourished, energized, and clear. We will talk about supporting our body’s systems of elimination, the organs that support our body’s natural detoxification process. We don’t need to embark on an extreme, and potentially harmful, detoxification program to do this; we simply need to gently and slowly nurture the organs that were designed to do this for us!
Support Whole Body Health with Spring Herbs
Some of the very best spring tonic herbs grow abundantly in the wild in spring, as if mother nature intended for us to use them this time of year.
By gently using herbs that enhance digestive and eliminative functions in the body, we are supporting our bodies natural detoxification abilities, which in turn can have a positive effect on our whole-body health and wellness. Using herbs that support our liver, kidneys, digestive and lymphatic functions can be a wonderful way to help our bodies transition into spring. Our systems of elimination are not limited to these systems, but we’ll start here, as most people can stand to give these systems a “reboot” in the spring.
Herbs that Promote Digestive Health
The health of our digestive system is importantly connected to the health of our whole body. As important as eating healthy food is, it is also vital that our bodies can absorb and excrete what we need and don’t need efficiently. The liver is a very important organ in this process, and so herbs that strengthen and protect the liver’s important functions are beneficial to use in spring. We can pretty much all use some digestive support from time to time. For this we look to herbs with hepatic, bitter and cholagogue actions.
Hepatic herbs support liver function and metabolism. Some hepatics are more protective, while some are more restorative to the liver.
Cholagogue herbs stimulate the secretion and release of bile from the liver, a process which is very important to liver function and health.
Bitter herbs have been used in many traditional cultures to strengthen general digestion. To reap the most of the bitter effect, you need to taste the bitter flavour. This taste triggers increased gastric acid secretion and bile flow which helps increase the clearance of metabolic wastes from the liver. Bitters support digestion, absorption and elimination.
Conveniently, most bitter herbs are also hepatics and cholagogues.
Dandelion root is an example of a spring herb that promotes digestive health.
Herbs for Healthy Kidneys
Our kidneys have many important functions, one of which is removing waste products and drugs through the urine. Diuretic herbs increase the flow of urine expelled by the kidneys, which can help with the removal of toxins, as well as with water retention.
Dandelion leaf and stinging nettles are examples of spring herbs that possess diuretic actions and help to promote kidney health.
Spring Herbs to Support the Lymphatic System
Our lymphatic systems also play an important role in helping remove toxins and waste products from the body. It is thought of as our body’s “drainage system” which carries the body’s waste from the tissues to the bloodstream, where it is filtered through the lymphatic organs. These organs can get congested and there are many ways we can promote lymphatic drainage, including use of lymphatic herbs.
Cleavers, calendula, burdock, and nettles are examples of spring herbs that help support a healthy lymphatic system.
My Three Favourite Spring Herbs
My favourite three spring herbs are dandelion, burdock and nettles. Read on to find out more about them and how you can prepare a simple tea with each. I’ll be posting full profiles of each, which contain much more detailed information on their medicinal use, with recipes, throughout the spring. Stay tuned!
Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica):
Nettle are one of my favorite spring herbs. They are the first to pop up in my garden, peeking through the spring snow as I write. They are commonly viewed as a favorite tonic herb, and one of the most widely applicable herbs, that help strengthen and tone the entire body.
They are extremely nutritive, whether used as a food or medicine, and are high in a host of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, C, B, E and K, and the minerals calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium and silicon. They make an excellent nourishing, energizing tea, a tea that energizes you with straight nourishment!
Nettles have a long history of use as a spring tonic, helping the body with its natural eliminative abilities, and getting things moving after a long winter. Nettles have a diuretic action which helps with the removal of metabolic waste through the kidneys, as well as alterative and anti-inflammatory qualities which make nettles popular for a wide range of musculo-skeletal conditions like arthritis and conditions of the joints.
They have a positive effect on the lymphatic system and kidneys, and will help bring nourishment to many important parts of your body. They also make a wonderful spring tonic to use for people who experience seasonal allergies. More on that in a future post in Stellaria Herbals’ Spring Wellness Series!
Nettles as a Food: Fresh young nettle leaves can be steamed (make sure to steam them long enough to remove the stings) and can be used as a spinach replacement in cooked recipes like soups and stir fries.
At first the idea that this plant stings can be alarming but don’t let this stop you. You just need to learn how to use it properly.
Nettle Tea: To get the most medicinal benefit from the nettles, nettle tea is best prepared as a long infusion, for four hours or overnight.
Use between 15-30g dried herb/litre of boiling water.
Adults can drink up to 3 cups per day.
Where to Find Nettles: Nettle can be found throughout much of North America and the temperate world. Here in Nova Scotia they are very easy to grow, but be careful where you plant them as they can spread and do sting when touched. Be sure to wear gloves when harvesting them.
You can also easily buy dried nettles from your local herb shop or herbalist.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale):
Dandelion takes over our lawns and ditches, and anywhere from sidewalk cracks to garden beds. If you can accept that it has much to offer you, you can start enjoying the bounty of medicine it offers, as one of the best known and widely used tonic herbs.
Dandelion roots, when dug in spring are bitter and an excellent tonic to the liver and digestive system. It is considered both stimulating and decongesting to the liver. It stimulates the flow of bile, helping break down cholesterol and fats, and offering benefit to congested livers and gall bladder conditions like gallstones. Strengthening your liver can help with so many things you might not guess, including chronic skin issues and hormonal imbalance.
To reap the most of dandelions bitter effect, you need to hold the taste in your mouth for a moment. This taste triggers increased gastric acid secretion and bile flow which in turn increases the clearance of metabolic wastes from the liver.
Dandelion leaves have a tonic effect on the kidneys. They are known as the perfect herbal diuretic. They are high in potassium, so unlike pharmaceutical diuretics which deplete this mineral, dandelion leaf replenishes the body of important vitamins and minerals, including potassium. As a diuretic, they support the kidneys and help rid the body of excess waste through the urine. They are useful in cases of occasional water retention, like swelling of the ankles.
Dandelion is highly nutritive. The leaf and root contain vitamins A, B, C and D and the minerals potassium, iron and copper. The leaf also contains carotenoids, and the roots some phosphorous and zinc.
Dandelion as food
Fresh spring Dandelion leaves are commonly steamed or cooked in a stir-fry with other greens and veggies. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice.
Dandelion Leaf Tea: Prepare as an infusion using 1-2 tsp. dried leaf/cup boiling H20. Infuse covered for 10-15 minutes. Strain. Use between 4-10g dried leaf per day.
Adults can drink ½ to 1 cup 3x/day.
Dandelion Root Tea: Prepare as a decoction using 2 tsp. dried root/cup of water. Bring to a slow, gentle boil using low heat and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes.
Use between 2-8g dried root per day.
Since dandelion leaves have a bitter taste, most people enjoy them blended with other herbs. My Stellaria Herbals Vitamin Tea contains a blend of vitamin and mineral-rich herbs, including dandelion leaf and nettles.
Where to Find Dandelions
Dandelions should be easy for you to find if it’s the right season. You can also buy the leaf and root dried from your local herb shop or herbalist.
• Obstructed bile ducts due to gallstones, cancer of the bile duct or pancreas, cholangitis
• Obstructed intestines/intestinal spasms
• Liver cancer
• Unconjugated hyperbilirubinaemia
• Acute or severe hepatocellular disease (cirrhosis, adverse drug reactions, viral hepatitis)
A full plant profile on Dandelion (with recipes) will be coming up—maybe around the time they bloom in NS!
Burdock Root (Arctium lappa):
Known by most as a massive weed yielding burrs that get stuck to clothes or dogs’ fur in fall, you may be surprised to learn that burdock is a valuable food and medicine. Its root, also called gobo, is a staple in Japanese cuisine.
Burdock root is used widely in both Western and Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is known for its ability to help the body detoxify, and is considered one of the best alterative herbs, an action which helps alter chronic disease, often by aiding with the release of metabolic toxins.
Burdock root is wonderful to help get things moving in the spring, especially for people with chronic skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, acne or boils. Due to its alterative actions, it can also be very valuable as part of a broader treatment for rheumatic conditions like arthritis.
Fall dugs burdock roots contain up to 45% inulin, a pre-biotic starch which offers health benefits including improved gut flora, decreased inflammation of intestinal mucosa, and enhanced immune function.
Burdock is considered a lymphatic tonic that can help clear lymphatic congestion, another factor which has a positive impact on immunity.
Burdock Root Tea: Prepare as a decoction using 2 tsp. dried root/cup of water. Bring to a slow, gentle boil using low heat and simmer gently for 15-20 minutes.
Use between 3-18g dried root per day.
Burdock as Food:
Burdock root is nutritive, with a slightly sweet taste. Use burdock as you would any other root vegetable in a soup or stew, or prepare steamed and seasoned with sesame seed oil and seeds as in Japan.
Where to Find Burdock: You might get lucky and find a farmer at your local market selling it, or you can harvest some yourself. Since it’s a biennial plant, you need to harvest the root in the fall of the first year or the spring of the following year. You can also find it at your local herb shop or from your local herbalist.
• Generally thought of as a very safe herb
• When using alterative herbs, it is best to start at lower doses and gradually increase as needed. Since burdock is such a strong alterative herb, it is possible that it may initially cause the worsening of a skin condition. Starting with a low dose helps avoid this.
There is so much more to say about the medicine of burdock. Watch for a full profile coming up in the Stellaria Herbals’ Spring Wellness Series.
It is always important to seek appropriate medical care as needed, and to follow the standard protocols for when this is necessary. The use of herbs as described in this blog are not a substitute for medical care. If you have a medical condition or are taking medications, consult with your doctor or healthcare provider before using these herbs.
Do you have an herbal question for me? Send me a note through my contact page. I’m always looking for questions that I can answer in my blog—Herbal Q&A! Have fun trying out these herbs as you transition into spring!