Mother Earth Living

Spring Cleaning For Your Body

Try our herbal cleansing and detoxification program for health and rejuvenation.
By Laurel Vukovic
March/April 2002
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Red clover (Trifolium pratense) encourages lymph cleansing throughout the body.
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Would you like to have more energy, sleep better, and feel calmer? Perhaps you want to improve your digestion or to clear up a nagging health concern such as chronic sinusitis, allergies, or painful joints. What all of these disorders have in common is a breakdown in the body’s ability to maintain health. Chronic health problems are your body’s way of letting you know that something isn’t working in the way that you are taking care of yourself.

• Plans For A Complete Three-Day Cleanse 

Body Cleansing Recipes:

• Purifying Herbal Tea
• Purifying Herbal Tincture
• Aromatherapy Purifying Bath
• Herbal Detoxifying Bath 

Our bodies have powerful healing capabilities but may be hindered by layers of physical toxins. We encounter numerous toxic substances every day, from environmental pollutants to the metabolic wastes created by our own bodies as a byproduct of normal metabolism. Even emotional stress creates physical toxins. When we are overloaded with toxins, the stage is set for disease to occur. The health breakdown may be as commonplace as a cold or flu, or it can be a serious, life-threatening illness such as heart disease or cancer. Degenerative diseases are often the result of years of chronic low-level toxicity. When we clear out toxins, we provide our bodies with the opportunity to heal. The organs of detoxification—the liver, kidneys, lungs, skin, lymphatic system, and intestinal tract—work tirelessly to cleanse the body and maintain balance in the midst of ever-changing conditions. With such a heavy daily workload, it’s essential to give your body a break to allow it to do necessary housecleaning and repair work. An herbal cleansing program that incorporates healthful eating, gentle exercise, hydrotherapy, and plenty of rest and sleep creates a healing environment that enables your body to concentrate on repair and rejuvenation. At a minimum, plan to undertake a three-day cleansing program twice a year, in the spring and in the autumn. At most, follow a cleansing program for no more than three weeks twice a year unless otherwise prescribed by your health-care practitioner. Obviously, it’s also important to live in a health-conscious manner on a daily basis. No amount of cleansing and detoxification can compensate for an unhealthy lifestyle. If you are suffering from a serious health problem, consult your doctor for help in designing an appropriate cleansing program. A naturopathic physician, qualified herbalist, or holistically oriented doctor can offer guidance. Whatever your current state of health, it’s important to remember that your body has remarkable powers of rejuvenation.

Eat A Healthful Cleansing Diet

A healthful cleansing diet provides your body with all of the nutrients it needs to function optimally while supporting the natural processes of cleansing and rejuvenation. To help cleanse your body, focus on fresh, organic vegetables and fruits, complex carbohydrates in the form of whole grains and legumes, easily digestible proteins such as fish and tofu, and healthful fats such as extra-virgin olive oil and flaxseed oil. Equally important is what you don’t eat. Avoid saturated, polyunsaturated, and hydrogenated fats, refined flour and sugar, processed foods, caffeine, alcohol, and excessive amounts of animal protein. Fresh, organic vegetables and fruits are the basis of a cleansing diet. They provide an abundance of health-protective vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients and are rich in soluble fiber, which helps to cleanse the intestinal tract. Aim for seven servings of vegetables and three servings of fruits daily (see “How much is a serving?” at right). In general, the most colorful vegetables and fruits are the most potent sources of protective antioxidants. For example, choose dark, leafy greens over pale lettuces, and purple grapes over green grapes. In addition, include sulfur-rich vegetables such as onions and garlic, which help remove heavy metals from body tissues, and eat generous servings of vegetables from the cruciferous family (such as broccoli, cabbage, kale, collards, and mustard greens), which block the formation of cancer-causing toxins. Fruits and vegetables rich in the amino acid glutathione also play an important role in detoxification. A potent antioxidant, glutathione helps to neutralize and break down cell-damaging free radicals so that they can readily be eliminated. Good sources of glutathione include cauliflower, asparagus, broccoli, onions, tomatoes, oranges, potatoes, avocados, strawberries, and watermelon.

Fast For More Intensive Detoxification

A brief juice fast of one to three days gives your digestive organs a rest and allows your body to focus more energy on detoxification. Fresh juices supply an abundance of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that enhance the cleansing process. Throughout the day, drink six or more 8-ounce glasses of fresh vegetable and fruit juices. In addition, drink at least one quart of purified water or mild herbal teas such as chamomile (Matricaria recutita) or peppermint (Mentha xpiperita) every day. Juice fasting is most appropriate in the spring and summer when the weather is warm. Unless you live in a tropical climate, a juice fast is often too harsh during the colder months and can cause coldness, fatigue, and weakened immune function.

If you want to fast during the late fall or winter, you can do so healthfully by consuming warm vegetable broths, light vegetable soups, and steamed vegetables. In addition, drink a quart of warm herbal tea or hot water with lemon throughout the day. To aid in the removal of toxins, take one tablespoon of supplemental fiber such as powdered psyllium husks (Plantago spp.) daily while fasting. Stir the fiber supplement into water or juice, and follow with an additional glass of water. If you are prone to gas or bloating, start with one teaspoon of fiber to give your digestive tract an opportunity to adjust.

While fasting, you should keep your life as simple as possible. Choose a time—such as a weekend or vacation—when you can devote your attention to cleansing and rejuvenating activities. Yoga and gentle walks are appropriate during a fast, and a sauna or other detoxifying bath will help stimulate cleansing. Rest, sleep, and allow yourself plenty of time for relaxation and renewal.

Be sure to break a fast gently. The morning after a fast, eat a breakfast of fresh or stewed fruit, and make lunch an easily digestible meal of a variety of vegetables and a light protein such as fish or tofu.

Support Cleansing With Herbs

Herbs have been used for centuries for cleansing and rejuvenation. Purifying herbs enhance the functioning of the liver, kidneys, intestines, lungs, lymphatic system, and skin, and stimulate the elimination of toxins. When undertaking a detoxification program, it is essential to support all of your body’s pathways of cleansing. This prevents any one organ system from becoming overburdened with toxins and encourages thorough detoxification.

Herbs work in a variety of ways to promote cleansing.

• Hepatic herbs are those that stimulate liver cleansing. They usually have a bitter flavor and improve liver function by triggering bile flow. Examples of hepatic herbs are dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale), burdock root (Arctium lappa), yellow dock root (Rumex crispus), and Oregon grape root (Mahonia aquifolium).

• Diuretic herbs stimulate increased urination and help to cleanse the kidneys and urinary tract. Nettle (Urtica dioica), dandelion leaf, parsley (Petroselinum crispum), and marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis) are all excellent, gentle diuretics.

• Diaphoretic herbs promote perspiration and help the body to eliminate toxins through the skin. Effective diaphoretics include yarrow (Achillea millefolium), ginger (Zingiber officinale), peppermint, and elder flower (Sambucus canadensis).

• Lymphatic herbs encourage cleansing of the network of lymph vessels and glands throughout the body. Cleavers (Galium aparine), red clover (Trifolium pratense), prickly ash (Zanthoxylum spp.), and echinacea (Echinacea spp.) are all good choices for lymph purification.

• Laxative herbs stimulate bowel cleansing. The most gentle are fiber laxatives such as psyllium husks. The bitter herbs used to improve liver function also have a mild laxative effect. Stronger laxative herbs such as cascara sagrada (Rhamnus purshiana) and senna (Senna alexandrina) stimulate contractions of the intestinal tract and should be used only as a last resort in cases of stubborn constipation. They can be habit-forming and may cause cramping and diarrhea.

For a balanced cleansing formula, include herbs from each of these categories in an herbal tea or tincture. Try the following formulas, or create your own.

Enhance Detoxification With Hydrotherapy

Herbal, mineral, and aromatherapy baths and saunas are an essential component of a cleansing program. These therapies stimulate deep inner cleansing by enhancing blood and lymph circulation and increasing perspiration. During a cleansing program, soak in a therapeutic bath at least a couple of times a week, and try to use a sauna once or twice a week. Because hot baths are deeply relaxing, they are best used just before going to bed. For the greatest detoxifying benefits, make the water as hot as you can tolerate, but not so hot that you burn your skin or become dizzy. In general, keep hot baths in the range of 100 to 103°F.

If you are pregnant, or have high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or other serious health problems, do not use saunas or hot baths without the consent of your health practitioner.


Laurel Vukovic writes and teaches about herbs and natural healing from her home in Southern Oregon. She is the author of 14-Day Herbal Cleansing: A Step-by-Step Guide to All Natural Inner Cleansing Techniques for Increased Energy, Vitality and Beauty (Prentice Hall, 1998).


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