Spring Greens, Herbal Tonics, and Natural Detoxification

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Spring has sprung and many of us are still feeling sluggish from our winter hibernation, heavy eating, and lack of sunshine. While we need those heavy and hearty meals during the cold winter months, Spring is the time to lighten up our diets and head outside.

Historically, people grew and harvested their own food and ate with the seasons. Local spring greens and herbs were coveted as they would help to invigorate the blood and rejuvenate the spirits. There are numerous references throughout history which refer to herbs as “blood purifiers” or “blood cleansers”. Wild herbs and greens would be eaten or otherwise consumed in the spring as a tonic to help improve digestion and “cleanse” the blood. Cleansing the “blood” is more of a reference to improving elimination.

Today you hear people talk about doing a “detox” or a “cleanse” using harsh and expensive products which act more to “purge” or force the body into eliminating or “detoxing”. Traditionally people relied on the body’s natural ability to eliminate and would give the body a little nudge in the spring by consuming fresh greens and herbs, getting outside and by breathing fresh air.

Allim spp. flower. Photo by Natalie Vickery

5 Tips to Naturally Improve Elimination

The body is very adept at the process of elimination. However, when the system becomes a bit sluggish, elimination can be enhanced naturally through various means. Here are a few tips to give the body a nudge to improve elimination.

  1. Improve digestion: Eating healthy foods and avoiding those that are refined and processed not only helps to maintain health but will also help to improve digestion. Another great way to improve digestion is by incorporating bitter foods and herbs into our diets. These bitters help stimulate digestive secretions, improve integrity of tissues, increase nutrient absorption and increase elimination.
  2. Deep Breathing: One way the body naturally detoxifies is through respiration. Most people are shallow breathers and respiration is inhibited. By focusing on breathing and taking deep breaths not only can we increase energy and reduce stress, but we also increase elimination.
  3. Stay Hydrated: Water is essential to our well-being. Not only does water carry nutrients and oxygen to our cells but it also helps to rid the body of waste byproducts.
  4. Exercise: The benefits of exercise on health are almost endless. Exercise improves elimination by increasing lymphatic flow, perspiration and respiration.
  5. Sleep: While we sleep our bodies are repairing and rebuilding. A lack of sleep or inadequate sleep can be very detrimental to overall health.

5 Herbs to Help Improve Elimination

Burdock (Arctium lappa)

Burdock has been traditionally known as a “blood purifier” and “spring tonic”, helping to improve elimination and used for skin conditions such as eczema, boils and psoriasis. The root acts on the liver where there is sluggishness and is often used for conditions such as gout, arthritis or muscular rheumatic conditions.

Burdock root is mildly bitter and oily and can be combined with other herbs to help improve digestion and may be beneficial for constipation associated with dryness due to poor utilization of fats. The seed has more of an influence over the kidneys and acts as a mild diuretic helping to remove gravel and metabolic debris. The seeds may also benefit the digestive system helping to ease indigestion and the respiratory system where the mucous membranes are dry and irritated.

Chickweed. Photo by Natalie Vickery

Chickweed (Stellaria media)

Although it seems like a very simple and unassuming plant, Chickweed can be quite beneficial when incorporated into our diets. Chickweed’s uses are diverse being both edible and medicinal. As an edible herb this tender little plant has a mild lettuce like flavor with a slight little sour tang and contains numerous vitamins and minerals.

As a medicinal herb, Chickweed is considered a lymphatic herb and is indicated for swollen glands and edema. When applied topically, it helps to soothe tissue where there is redness and irritation. Chickweed acts as a diuretic and can be combined with other herbs to address urinary tract infections.

Plantain (Plantago spp.)

Plantain is one of those herbs that can be found just about everywhere. The young leaves are edible and the Plantago psyllium is the species from which we obtain psyllium seeds and husk. Psyllium is used as a laxative by some and helps to lubricate the bowels while creating bulk. As a wound healing herb, Plantain is top notch. Plantain contains a constituent called allantoin which increases cell proliferation and other constituents which help to reduce inflammation and pain. When taken internally it can benefit conditions such as ulcerations, gut permeability, hemorrhage, diarrhea, dysentery, hemorrhoids and infections.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelion is one of the first herbs to pop up in the spring and is a traditional wild food. The leaves are slightly bitter as well as acting as a mild diuretic. The leaves can be added to a salad or sautéed and are high in vitamins and minerals. The root is one of our traditional bitter herbs which improves digestion, supports the liver and acts as mild laxative.

Violets (Viola spp.)

Violet leaves and flowers are edible and can be added to salads, vinegar, as a thickener or candied. Steeping the leaves and flowers in cool water over night helps to extract the vitamins and minerals from the plant as well as creating a tea rich in soluble fiber.  Violet is a wonderful herb to use to help reduce inflammation and to soothe irritation in a host of different conditions such as constipation (lubricates the bowels), sore throats, dry coughs, red and angry looking skin conditions, etc. As a lymphatic herb, it can help to reduce swollen glands, abscesses and has also been used topically for mastitis and fibrocystic breasts.

Yellow dock plant and leaves (left); yellow dock seeds (right). Photos by Natalie Vickery

Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus)

The root of yellow dock is used medicinally and is bitter, therefore affording it all the qualities attributed to bitter herbs such as improving digestion, absorption, metabolism and nutrition. The young leaves may be eaten raw in small quantities but contain high amounts of oxalic acid which is reduced when cooked. The seeds of the yellow dock plant can be dried, ground and used like flour in various recipes.

So, before you rush out to purchase the latest very expensive and very harsh cleanse, consider incorporating this gentle approach into your daily lives. It is always better to support the body naturally rather than trying to force the healing process.

Disclaimer: Never consume any plant without positively identifying it first.

All information and resources provided are based on the opinions and experiences of the author, unless otherwise noted. Information is intended to encourage readers to do their own research and come to their own conclusions, and should never substitute or replace the recommendations of a qualified healthcare provider. Always consult your physician before making changes to your diet, exercise, or general wellness plan, even when using holistic methods.

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