It’s now late March and we have passed the vernal equinox (how did that even happen?) We are past the onslaught of New Year’s resolutions and social media commitments to juice fasting. We are into Spring! In case you didn’t know, the dead of winter is the absolute worst time of year to consider cleansing your body. Our bodies are built to hold on to nourishment for that time of year, and so forcing a cleanse is actually biologically inappropriate. There are many reasons why I don’t recommend hardcore cleansing or fasting for the average person, but here are a few reasons in a nutshell:
- Most people need nourishment, not punishment. For most people in most cases, a cleanse is the last thing they need to do. Many people choose to do a cleanse after a period of illness, or feeling run down for a while. When this is the case, the body generally is depleted and needs nourishment, not punishment. This is not to say that cleansing does not have its place, but that its place is much smaller than the health food industry would have us believe. Add to that the fact that as our soil and food supply is severely depleted of minerals, so too, are our bodies. Most of us really need building up, not a massive clean out.
- Our bodies are already great at cleansing themselves-lets’s support it! Cleanses are chosen sometimes due to weight gain, or because a person knows they have been eating crap for a while, and they don’t feel good because of it. Our bodies know how to detoxify our system. We have kidneys to extract waste from our blood and our liver to detoxify chemicals and other foreign substances. We also have an entire lymphatic system that does a damn fine job of filtering out and moving out most of what is harmful to us. We can definitely support these organs/systems in doing their job more effectively, but that happens by cutting out the crap and letting them do their job!
- The way we like to cleanse is not at all ancestral in nature, although cleansing itself can be. Hello, master cleanse! I’m looking right at you here. While I don’t dispute that many people report positive changes while subsisting solely on lemon, maple syrup and cayenne powder, many people also have had less than optimal experiences on that type of fast. Sometimes the shift itself, regardless of what the change is, that is the healing agent.
What I recommend instead:
Seasonal Tonics! This is what our ancestors did, and we can play with that to create some unique and delicious seasonal tonic blends for ourselves and our families. Right now, my family is feasting on the veritable bounty of detoxifying wild greens. We make juice with cleavers and chickweed, add in henbit and deadnettle to our smoothies, eat lots of salad with fresh garden greens, make pesto with all of the above wild greens plus plantain leaf, dock leaf, dandelion leaf and more. We also infuse these wild greens into a mineral rich spring tonic vinegar to add into other recipes. We take advantage of the short season for poke greens, preparing them properly and adding to fritattas, curries and more for a more substantial yet powerfully cleansing and lymphatic system supporting seasonal food.
In addition to all of the fresh wild greens available right now, there are other traditional springtime cleansers. These herbs generally fall into the category of alteratives, which by their nature cleanse and purify the blood. Some locally available and bioregional alteratives to consider are yellow dock root, burdock root, red clover, sassafras root, and prickly ash.
Nutritive herbs We want to build the body by giving it an abundance and variety of minerals and vitamins. Typical nutritive herbs would be nettle, oatstraw, raspberry or blackberry leaf, dandelion leaf, plantain, and red clover teas. Polysaccharide rich decoctions with burdock root, dandelion root, yellow dock root and medicinal mushrooms like turkey tail and reishi also build and nutrify the body on a cellular level; massage oils infused with those same herbs listed above provide another pathway for the herbs to work.
Have you ever committed to making a nourishing infusion for yourself regularly? There is a lot that can shift by deciding to add in a mineral rich herbal brew to your routine every day, without having to take away anything or deprive yourself. My hunch is that you will find yourself craving junk and sweets much less, because that is just what happens when a body is optimally nourished. If you are looking for a place to start, start here. Take one ounce of dried nutritive herb (see those listed above-nettle, oatstraw, dandelion etc.), put it into a large quart sized mason jar and pour hot water over the top to fill the jar. Cap and leave for at least two hours, but overnight is great. Strain and drink that quart over the course of the day and evening. Switch out your herb over the month, and once you develop a taste for the plants you can always mix and match following your tastes and intuition.
Digestive fire Coming out of winter, when the nature of things is to slow down and hibernate sometimes the truth is that we need a kick-start for our digestion. Warming herbs such as ginger, cardamom, cinnamon and chili pepper can be added liberally to food. Spicy curries are great this time of year, as are steaming mugs of aromatic chai tea (have you tried chai made with our native yaupon holly leaf instead of black tea? Still caffeinated yet bioregional and local). Homemade lactofermented sauerkraut with added garlic and chili pepper is a great addition to any meal to not only increase our digestive fire (Agni) with the spices but also gut healing probiotics. I wholeheartedly recommend that anyone who has ever experienced digestive upset to increase their probiotic intake- whether through supplementation or ferments.
Bitters (though generally cooling) can be used to start the physiological digestive process and prepare the body for food. The bitter flavor is one that in our modern diet, we have shied away from and decided that we don’t enjoy it. It is however, a fundamental flavor and part of an entire cascade of processes that the digestive system goes through to get the body ready to eat and digest. One drop of bitters is enough to activate the salivary glands and stomach enzymes necessary for proper digestion.
Exercise. If you don’t have a routine already, starting small and gentle is the best way to go. Walking around the neighborhood, exploring a local nature park, YouTube yoga videos, working on your squats- all of those are wonderful.
Specifically for building and amping up your digestive fire, Sat Kriya is a great standalone exercise from Kundalini Yoga. It involves breath of fire and mantra practice. Start out at one minute and work your way up to 11 minutes at a time.
Sunlight The healing effects of sunlight in general and Vitamin D in particular cannot be overstated. It’s no secret that we spend entirely too much time inside, especially during winter when the cold, rain and depending on where you live, snow, make it not the most appealing prospect to be outside in the elements. Well, now we can! Sometimes that means that we have to shift some habits to open the time and space to make it happen. Committing to 20 minutes of being in the garden each day and/or a weekly nature walk are both so necessary for our body, mind and spirit.
I want to link to a few Red Earth Wildcrafted products that are the perfect support for this time of year. While collecting and using your own weeds and herbs is ideal, I recognize that it isn’t always possible or practical for everyone, which is why I created my apothecary line. I want for everyone to have access to the healing and restorative power of nature through the experience of wild foods and bioregional herbalism. So here are some springtime tonic offerings for this moment in time:
Nourish and Balance is a blend of nettles, holy basil and red clover. This tea blend helps support the liver in detoxifying stress hormones from the body and provides a healthy dose of mineral rich nourishment. Great for those who want to incorporate nourishing infusions into the routine.
Mineral Vinegar Tonic is chock full of wild spring greens gently infused into apple cider vinegar in a way that can replace your regular ACV in salad dressings, splashed in to brighten up soups, stews and grain dishes, added to bone broth at the beginning of cooking, or mixed with water as a cleansing morning shot.
We also have our Spring Clean Liver and Lymph tincture formula locally at the Agora Borealis or in our shop by request. This seasonal blend of wild greens and liver supporting herbs is a great way to support your body in doing what it does best. We like to add a few droppers to our water bottle throughout the day for ease of use.
I hope this helps! Let me know what you are doing to take advantage of this auspicious time for awakening our body and senses to spring.