Gentle Herbs for a Spring Cleanse

Springtime is analogous with the liver element in Chinese Medicine - the emperor of detoxification, and is especially responsive to purging toxins this time of year. You can help your liver accomplish this important task with some simple habits and herbal remedies - safely and effectively.

A Note About "Cleansing"

An important factor I always like to remind myself and my clients is: when it comes to detoxification, your body is remarkable at it.

The human body is detoxifying constantly. Not just when you decide to cleanse.

It seems these days that everyone has a favorite "cleanse," and there is an underlying theory among "health nuts" that cleansing is necessary for vibrant health. While some of the programs out there are perfectly reasonable and safe - even therapeutic - it is important to move forward in the name of cleansing with care and caution for two main reasons:

  1. Cleansing can negatively impact the relationship to our bodies - leaving us feeling "unclean" or "toxic" in our everyday life. This is a dangerous pattern to fall into, and can create eating disorders like orthorexia - the obsession with "healthy" or "clean" food. It can also rely heavily on cleansing as rationale to sustain unhealthy habits in our everyday life. This mentality completely negates and separates us from the innate wisdom and healing capacity of the body, a vital connection to women's health and well-being.
  2. Cleansing can cause problems - some cleanses out there are just too extreme for certain individuals or certain health circumstances, and it can be difficult to discern which is right for you until you've tried it. Inappropriate cleansing can lead to digestive distress, metabolic imbalance or hormonal fluctuations. Working with a skilled holistic health practitioner can help you determine the best protocol for you.

Just like your lungs breathe in oxygen and your heart pumps blood, the body is constantly filtering and eliminating toxins - via the skin, breath, urine and bowels. Supporting this process needn't require radical changes or commitments, but a few simple steps.

1. Determine Your Timeline

I look at cleansing as an alteration from normal habits. The reasoning behind doing a cleanse is as varied as the cleanses out there, and is certainly an important aspect to know for yourself before beginning. Some common reasons to cleanse include:

  • Curiosity About Symptoms/Health
  • Evaluating Environmental/Food Intolerances
  • Illness/Symptom Reduction or Recovery
  • Seasonal Health
  • Spiritual Reasons

In addition to discovering your "why," it's also important to know your timeline for cleansing. This helps with commitment and evaluation of progress. Do you intend to cleanse for 24 hours? Or, 24 days? Perhaps longer? The timeline can always be lengthened, but I encourage you to choose something in alignment with your goals and what you believe you can achieve.

2. Eliminate the Sludge

The first step in facilitating healthy detoxification in the body is by eliminating external toxic load - the main culprit being Alcohol (and cigarettes/drugs if applicable). By removing these items, you'll immediately and positively impact your body's ability to rejuvenate.

Taking it a step further, the following items offer little-to-no nutritional value, and in some cases may be taxing to the system. The following items directly tie-up the liver energy in Chinese Medicine, making it take longer to process and eliminate any toxic load. Consider eliminating them for the duration of your "cleanse" (which I recommend be anywhere from 1-3 weeks):

  • Caffeine
  • Sugar
  • Refined White Flour

And one-step further would be to remove the most common allergens in the modern diet: such as soy, dairy, wheat/gluten or eggs. These items can be self-selected based on individual symptoms, and provide valuable information about potential food-irritants in the diet (it is best to work with a skilled practitioner).

3. Morning Liver Tonic

After you have naturally fasted throughout the night, the perfect way to stimulate the liver and kidney energies into detoxification mode is through this simple tonic:

Place in an over-sized mug:

  • 1 Tbsp Fresh Lemon Juice, with lemon wedge and peel
  • 1 tsp Raw Honey
  • 1 tsp Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 2 slices fresh ginger root, peeled
  • Cover with 2 cups Warm Water

Let the brew steep for 10-15 minutes, and then drink. The lemon is great at stimulating the liver and preventing kidney stones. The cider vinegar is probiotic and aids detoxification through the skin and the ginger stimulates healthy digestion and the water helps hydrate all the cells and tissues of the body. The raw honey is mostly there just for taste, but it offers anti-microbial benefits as well, feel free to omit if you are avoiding sweeteners.

Once finished, move on to your healthy breakfast - ideally one rich in fat and protein for blood-sugar and hormonal stabilization.

4. Herbs for Liver Detoxification

Dandelion (Pu Gong Yin)

Pu Gong Yin is the same plant often referred to as an “inconvenient weed”  (or, Dandelion) that sprouts up in the middle of gardens or sidewalk cracks. The resilience of this plant to grow in the most obscure of places is part of it's signature of use in medicine. It has an innate ability to dredge through obstacles (like cement and toxins) in order to flourish.

The leaves of the dandelion plant are wonderful liver detoxifiers and help promote healthy liver function, release gallstones, support digestion, reduce inflammation, treat viruses, promote urination and clear acne from the skin.

In Chinese Medicine, Pu Gong Yin (dried Dandelion) is used in cases of severe heat toxicity - that is, clearing viruses and infections from the system. It is an especially common herb for relieving (and preventing) post-partum mastitis as it clears heat trapped in the liver channel, which runs through the breasts.

How to Consume

My favorite way to enjoy this herb during the springtime is as a food. Dandelion greens are typically in-season this time of year and readily available at most health food stores and farmers markets. Add a handful to your salad, or gently sautee them. Fresh (or dried) leaves can also be steeped in hot water to make a nourishing tea.

The plant leaves are potent sources of Vitamin K, Iron, Vitamin A and Calcium. Because dandelion can grow in toxic places, it is best not to consume or harvest dandelions from lawns that aren’t specifically trying to grow the plant.

Nettle (Qian Ma)

Nettle is often referred to as “stinging nettle” as the plant is equipped with little hairs that release an acid and literally sting the skin when handled. This "stinging" nature can be likened to its affect on calming a bristled nervous system.

Nettle is most commonly used in Western Materia Medica, and is known to assist in liver detoxification and a useful nervine (anxiety reducer) - making it an ideal herb to ignite the liver function to propel toxins out of the body, in addition to nourishing deficiencies like fatigue or anemia.

Nettle is key in the removal of uric acid from the body, relieving Kidney Stones, Eczema, Skin Rashes and Gout. The plant contains a significant amount of protein, and is also a great source for trace minerals and iron. Many herbalists consider nettle to be a highly nutritious food because of its complex nutrient profile.

While Nettles have a less prominent place in Chinese medicine, they are said to drain dampness through the urine, cool the blood and release toxic heat through the pores. In short, Qian Ma (Nettle) clears out toxicity from many avenues.

How to Consume

Just like Dandelion, fresh nettle leaves can be found this time of year. Because the plant is naturally sharp in nature ("stinging nettles"), it's best to consume the plant cooked. My favorite way to use nettle is in a strong tea - made by steeping dried or fresh leaves in warm water for several hours, then straining (though fresh nettle also makes a delicious herbal pesto!).

Nettle Tincture is readily available at most health food stores and a convenient way to take the herb during a period of "cleansing."

5. Move Liver Qi

The liver energy functions optimally with appropriate movement - both physical and energetic. Just like opposing yin and yang energies, the liver thrives on balance between active physical movement and restorative breath-work.

As you move forward with supportive liver detoxification techniques, don't forget to move your body - run, stretch or swim. And also to rest your body - meditate, restorative yoga or sleep.

The liver is responsible for our emotional growth and development. If we've taken the winter to deeply connect with our souls-purpose, then a healthy liver will grow out of that foundation in alignment with our highest self this spring. We'll be connected to an enormous about of energy and inspiration in service of our goals.

Enjoy the vibrancy of this season - it is by far one of my favorites!

In health,