Spring Cleansing: Nine Ways to Cleanse Your Body

Herbs can help you shed sluggishness and greet the spring with vigor.

| March/April 2001

Each spring, my uncle and I would hike into the woods beyond his house. Once there, he would plunge a spade into the soft earth and begin to dig. Soon the sharp, sweet smell of root beer would fill the air. We found what we were searching for—sassafras root. Later that day, a delightful aroma of sassafras tea brewing would waft through the house.

This tradition of harvesting tonic, cleansing herbs in the spring was not unique to my family. European immigrants brought it to the New World and quickly adapted it to include American herbs such as sassafras (Sassafras albidum) and sarsaparilla (Smilax spp.). They also collected roots of European herbs such as burdock (Arctium lappa), chicory (Cichorium intybus), dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), and yellow dock (Rumex crispus)—all of which literally grew like weeds in North America.

Herbal roots make perfect spring cleansers. They can be dug as soon as the ground thaws, even before the first wild greens emerge. They provide storehouses of nutrients that are designed to give plants the burst of energy they need to re-emerge in the spring. Roots offer similar benefits to our bodies, cleansing and refreshing them so that they operate more effectively.

The concept of cleansing the body in the spring appears in many cultures. It comes from observing the rhythms of nature. As we emerge out of winter into warmer and longer days, we tend to eat and dress lighter, and to be more physically active. Spring is a time of transition, so it offers us the perfect opportunity to make a positive change for better health. Read belwo for more specific cleansing regimes.

1. Root beer tonic

Who says that spring tonics need to be boring? In the days before refrigeration, herbal spring cleansers were purposely fermented to preserve them. This turned them into the first “root” beers. In the early 1900s, the healing recipes were converted into “soft” drinks—essentially tonics without the alcohol—and were bottled and sold at soda fountains.

Below is a quick recipe for making your own tonic root beer. (I’ve eliminated the traditional addition of sassafras root bark because large quantities of one of its compounds—safrole—have been shown to be carcinogenic in rats. The jury is still out on whether drinking sassafras tea poses any risk to humans, but until we know for sure, you might as well use herbs known to be safe.)

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