You know that feeling you get as soon as signs of spring start billowing through your open windows? That feeling like you want to rid your living space of any dust, clutter, and grime?
Well, that urge to clean is really a manifestation of what’s going on inside your body. Your winter-logged system wants that same kind of airing out. Just like your closet and drawers are stuffed with warm, bulky winter-wear, your body, too, is stuffed with a similar winter-wear. In this case, it’s excess fat (yes, we all put on a little weight in winter—it’s totally normal) and general metabolic sludge that your liver hasn’t gotten around to sweeping out of the corners. The same way we sort of neglect giving our homes a good cleaning during the winter (because we’re conserving energy and just sort of naturally slow down during cold months—evolutionarily speaking, we just don’t get inspired to really move during the winter), the body has, too. The metabolism slows down to conserve energy, food and warmth, so the detoxing organs (liver and kidneys) might get a little sluggish, too. But, hey! Then comes spring and we get all revved up again. Things are growing, the metabolism awakens, knowing there’s a virtually endless supply of green things to keep it going. Suddenly you crave salads and lighter fare, putting the potatoes and heavier stews and casseroles away until next year.
What’s so great about this time of year is that you can jump on this inspirational surge of energy while it lasts and really give your body a good spring cleaning. With certain herbs (which tend to grow naturally in the early spring), you can help your body rid itself of stored metabolic wastes, toxins and excess fat. No fasting required.
1. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
If you live away from major traffic and from neighbors who spray their yards with pesticides and artificial fertilizers, then you can go right out into your yard and start picking some dandelion leaves. Throw them in a salad or a green smoothie—just make sure to pick the leaves while they’re young. Larger leaves are much more bitter. Don’t want to pick your own? Purchase some dandelion (leaf or root) tea. Drink a few cups a day. Tasting the bitterness is important in order for the herb to have the best effects, but if you can’t stand the taste of the herbs (but try—you do get used to it) you can take up to six capsules a day.
Why Dandelion is awesome: this herb is a liver and kidney powerhouse. It’s a diuretic, so wastes are quickly removed from the body. As a bitter herb, it stimulates the digestive system, causing it to digest your food more efficiently. Why is this important? Nutrients become more readily available to the body, thus less waste is generated. This means the liver can focus on the really important tasks, like helping to rid the body of excess fat stores. And, like all early spring greens, dandelion leaves are loaded with vitamins and trace minerals—something the body has lacked over the winter due to the low supply of fresh fruit and veg.
2. Nettles (Urtica dioica)
If you’re familiar with wild plants (or “weeds” as those not in the know call them), you’ll know nettles. These are the spiky green plants that grow anywhere that’s damp or near water. If you decide to harvest your own, please wear gloves (these are called “stinging nettles” for nothing…). Also, be sure to steep, steam or dry leaves before consuming. This takes the sting out of the nettle.
Nettles are amazing sources of iron, vitamins, and trace minerals. They have stores of magnesium and calcium which, in this form, are wicked easy for the body to assimilate—way easier than your over-the-counter multivitamin. They also clean metabolic waste from the blood and act as a diuretic, helping the kidneys and urinary system to do all their filtering and cleansing work. I recommend taking this as tea, and drinking lots of it. If all that liquid doesn’t do it for you, you can easily find nettles in capsule form.
3. Red Clover (Trifolium pretense)
Red clover supports the liver, cleanses the blood, and has been used by herbalists to prevent and lessen tumor growth. The flowers, not the leaves, are what you want. You can probably find these in your yard (assuming your yard falls under the safety regulations outlined above with dandelion). Add the flowers to salads or pick up a tincture at your local health food store.
Red clover has many uses, beyond prepping the system for spring. As an immune system tonic, clover helps prevent illness and infection. It’s also a wonderful remedy for coughs and respiratory system congestion as well as for those trying to boost their fertility or going through menopause.
4. Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)
Alfalfa is one of the most nutrient-dense herbs out there. Why, may you ask? Well, its roots grow more deeply into the soil than most plant roots. This allows it to access nutrients other plants can’t reach. You can eat the sprouts in salad or brew the leaves in tea. This herb is mostly used for its nutrient powerhouse-ness, but it’s also a good tonic for the digestive system and the liver. And, kind of cool, alfalfa is the only vegan source for vitamin D3. There are only trace amounts, but still—that’s pretty groovy.
5. Burdock (Arctium lappa)
Finally, I’ll throw some burdock in here. This is a really good general cleansing herb. You might notice that, once you start your detox, you’ll have less-than-pleasant side effects such as break outs, achiness, and general icky-ness. What your body is calling for is some good lymph support.
Burdock helps clear the skin, joints, and liver from general toxic congestion. It strengthens the immune system and cleans the blood. Because it contains inulin (which mimics insulin in the body) it’s good for hypoglycemia and early/pre-diabetic states.
There are lots of ways to get burdock into your system. You can chop up the roots and sauté them with other veggies or add it to soups. You can also take it as tea (which is especially groovy, as it turns the tea blue). If none of these methods appeal to you, you can take it in capsule form. ***
Now, these herbs will do a lot for the body on their own, but you have to make a little effort as well (yeah, you knew that was coming, right?). You don’t have to fast but, while you’re using the herbs, help them out a little by avoiding refined sugars, easy carbs, and fried foods. Give your digestive system a break—feed it with lots of fresh fruit and veg, lean proteins, and lots of water. Take long, leisurely walks. Think of yourself as one of those delicate little sprouts out in your garden—you want plenty of sun, nutrients, and water, but you don’t want to overdo it. You can have too much detox.
Don’t drown yourself—feed yourself well. Do the work now so that when July rolls around, you can laze in the hammock eating ice cream, guilt-free. Well. Okay. Mostly guilt-free.
– Amy Jirsa
Amy Jirsa is a writer, wanderer, yoga instructor and master herbalist. She makes her home in her studio, Quiet Earth Yoga, and on her blog, quietearthyoga.com. You can follow her on Twitter @QuietEarthYoga or on Facebook at Quiet Earth Yoga.