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Juniper Berry Bath

Sometimes your favorite herbal concoctions come out of nowhere. One day a woman came into the herb shop with an ambiguous book under her arm called something like “Herbal Cleansing” and a list of about twenty herbs she needed for a such a cleanse. Hours after I helped this person with her herbs, I found a little scrap of paper with a formula called simply “Detox Bath”. It sounded so yummy I made it up right then and tried it out that evening. I call it “Refreshing Bath”, because I feel renewed after a soak in its freshness.

Refreshing Bath

  • 1 part Juniper berries, ground coarsely
  • 1 part Rosemary, coarsely cut
  • 1 part Calendula or comfrey
  • 2 parts Peppermint

Directions: Steep 3/4 cup herbs in 6 cups just boiled water, covered, for 30 mins. Strain. Add to bath and adjust water temp.

Alternate directions: Tie 3/4 cup herbs in a thin cotton flour sack towel or place in a muslin bag, position under the faucet, and run hot water through to “steep”. Adjust water temperature, soak and enjoy.

Juniper (Juniperus communis) is an antiseptic diuretic rich in volatile oils and tannins. By itself, juniper is quite strong, but luckily it blends well with other cooler aromatic herbs. And no, it does NOT smell like gin, gin smells like juniper! Juniper is not recommended for internal use during pregnancy or severe kidney infections or disease (you don’t want to over-stimulate delicate kidneys) and I would extend those basic guidelines to external use.

Calendula (Calendula officinalis) and comfrey (Symphytum officinale) are great herbs to add to just about any bath because of their topical healing properties. Pick one, or both. I often choose calendula because it adds color to the mix (quite beautiful with dark purple juniper berries!) and is a gentle lymphatic. The other herbs in the recipe, rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) and peppermint (Mentha piperita) are wonderfully aromatic and stimulating members of the mint family that add to the experience.

Medicine Making – Herbal Baths Overview

Labor Day is over, and for most of us in the States that means summer is winding down to a close. The shorter days carry cool breezes, overnight frosts threatens almost-ripe tomatoes, and sweaters and scarfs come out of their hiding spot. Now is the perfect time for enjoying a … herbal bath.

I have to pause here for a momentary rant. Perhaps you though I was going to say, “Now is the perfect time for enjoying a … hot cup of spiced chai”. Go ahead, have your chai, or any other warming and comforting teas for that matter. But let us not forget about good old fashioned baths. Let’s expand our herbal protocols to include the inside our physical bodies as well as the outside. Why not have both? Drink your tea while soaking in a bath. You don’t even need an actual bathtub to take one.

There are many different types of herbal baths, but in essence it is like immersing your body (or at least a part of it) in a giant cup of tea. Just like tea that we drink, this tea for the bath can be relaxing, ritualistic, pain-relieving, energizing, nutritive, cleansing and can be used for skin therapy or acute infections. Have your pick based on your mood, physical state, or both.

Herbal baths have a few qualities that make them a valuable menstrum (vehicle for delivery). First, baths posses the virtues of hydrotherapy. Put simply, hydrotherapy uses water temperature to affect the body’s circulation by either dilating or contracting the tiny capillaries, which in turn affects our body and mind. Warm water has a sedative action, cool or cold water can be a febrifuge (lower elevated body temperatures), and both cold and warm water can direct blood flow (especially handy in sitz baths to heal stressed genito-urinary tissues).

Secondly, herbal baths are great for topical treatments and soothing, healing and simply bringing vital life force into the skin. The skin, the largest organ of the body, absorbs herbal constituents while the senses are also engaged via volatile oils if aromatic herbs are used. The energetic uses of herbal baths are marked; there is no doubt that for most of us a hot bath is a relaxing experience, a time when we physically and emotionally cleanse.

Here are a few types of and methods for herbal baths:

  • Basic herbal bath – Steep about 1 cup of herbs in 6 cups boiled water, covered, for 30 mins.
    Strain carefully, add to bath water. Soak and enjoy!
  • Steep in the tub bath – Tie the herbs in a thin cotton cloth. Hang the herbs over the faucet, so the water flows through the herbs.
  • Herbs right in the bath – Pick two handfuls of herbs (whole flowers or sprigs work are the easiest to clean out of the tub later), throw them in the bathtub.
  • Foot baths – Similar qualities and directions to the basic herbal baths, but with a conscientious focus on warming (or cooling) the feet and directing energy downward. Useful for colds, insomnia, anxiety, sore feet, skin infections, ritual. Hand baths are good, too, especially if there are sore joints.
  • Sitz baths – Similar directions as basic herbal bath, but pour the steeped tea into a sitz bath (Rubbermaid storage bins work great) and immerse the pelvis, with the knees and feet hanging over the rim of the tub. Great for healing the genito-urinary area, especially during the postpartum.
  • Herbal rinses – Prepare a big pot of strong herbal tea as described in basic herbal bath, but pour or rinse an isolated area or the whole body. Great for skin conditions and for time when a full bath is undesirable or not available (works great in the shower).
  • The non-herbal bath – No herbs handy? Take a salt or oil bath, with or without a few drops of essential oils (do be careful with potent essential oils, start with literally a few drops to avoid mucus membrane irritation).

David Hoffmann’s New Holistic Herbal

Here in the Western world, in addition to formal education, apprenticeship, and first-hand experience, reading books is still one of the main ways to accrue information and learn a particular subject. Luckily for those studying herbalism we have many valid opportunities to engage in all of these forms of learning. Home study courses, classes, conferences and books abound, and of course we can take a walk and meet some plants along the way.

There are many types of herbalism out there, and there are many corresponding books. When people ask for a book recommendation as they begin or expand their herbal education, I first ask a few prying questions to get a feel for their style of herbalism and learning. Matching an herb book to a person is not always transparent, though. For example, I knew one medical student who, contrary to my first impression, didn’t want any research-driven, phyto-chemistry heavy, plants as drugs resources (think Tyler’s Honest Herbal). Instead, it turned out she was craving the more New Age-y, mystical, plant spirit medicine type books as a break from the daily grind. The beauty of herbalism is that there are little rules – both ways are perfectly valid!

But when it comes down to it, most people that I talked to didn’t really care what they read, especially starting out. They were open to and thirsty for any decent herbal information. For pretty much everyone, Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal is a good starting place due to it’s beauty, wisdom, variety and practical bent. Matthew Wood’s The Book of Herbal Wisdom was recommended often, as it dedicates many pages to a single herb to help the reader get to know the plant, it’s energetics, and plethora of uses. There are more similarities then differences within herbalism (at least I think so); if it works and promotes health, it’s medicine.

Back to the book. Last week I finished re-reading a well-known herbal, The New Holistic Herbal by David Hoffmann. I choose to bring this book with me on vacation for a number of reasons. Mainly, it has a good herbal section, an alphabetical section of well over 200 herbs containing growing habitat, parts used, constituents, actions, dosage and of course indications. I am building an herbal reference notebook, so the book I brought with me had to have a decent herbal. The other reason I brought it with was simply to re-familiarize with a book I often recommend to as an introductory book (the last time I really sat down with it was in 2004). If I am telling others to read it, I better know well what’s in there!

In addition to the herbal, The New Holistic Herbal has information about preparation, chemistry, action categories, a small section on harvesting (the suggested harvest times are not for every bio-region, especially Minnesota!), self-care and prevention and a brief section on creating an herbal protocol for yourself. The uses of the herbs themselves and examples of formulas are in a body systems format. Basically, this book as a little bit of everything which is what makes it so useful for those discovering herbalism.

The edition in my possession was updated and printed in 1990, nearly 20 years ago, but it originally was published in 1983. Some ideas have changed with the times, and having read his much newer Medical Herbalism book, I know Hoffmann has updated some things, too. One example of this is seen in dietary recommendations. A healthy diet in the early 1990’s often emphasized whole grains, limited fats and lots of fruit. Nowa days, quality protein and veggies reign.

Details and dates aside, I’d still recommend this book as an introduction because of it’s underlining emphasis on holistic herbalism. Holistic in this sense emphasizes the interconnectedness of all life, within the earth and withing out bodies, and moves us to overcome “…centuries of conditioning to ‘apartness’ thinking”. The first page of the book says, “A herbal celebrating of the wholeness of life”.

Instead of listing all the herbs good for this or that, Hoffmann keeps reminding the reader of two underlining principles of herbalism. First assist the person, not the disease, and secondly, to learn the qualities of herbs (like action categories) – advice that is more pertinent now then ever.

Meeting New (and old) Plants – Midsummers’ Wonder

It’s been a few weeks since my last blog entry, and it will most likely be a few more until the next because I am in transit. All my herbs books and field guides are packed away, as are my computer and cords to import photos; tinctures, dried herbs are put away, too. That leaves me to experience herbalism in the simple, joyous way of meeting plants along the road, field or woods and wondering about them.

I have met a bunch of  plants for the first time recently this way, some of which I recognize from books or from seeing their cultivated varieties, others are plants that don’t grow around Duluth that I don’t get to see often. Here are a few that have piqued my interest…

  • Lobelia inflata – I am pretty sure this is the variety that grows in my area. It must be, because one tiny bit of leaf left on the tongue for barely a minuet was quite stimulating and moving for the entirety of my body, and it’s seed pods have the characteristic inflated appearance.
  • White vervain – Verbena urticifolia looks just like blue vervain in the stem, leaf and flowers, except smaller and more delicate. This white variety grows in similar locals as blue vervain, along roads, in ditches, on shores of rives and lakes. What a beauty!
  • Anise hyssop – I have seen this herbs cultivated in many an herb garden, and have cultivated it myself. It is one of my favorite herbs for children, as Agastache foeniculum is deliciously calming and carminative. When I grew it in Northern Minnesota, it never came back as a perennial, but a couple hours south it is a common weed in the country, growing in the much the same places as the white vervain. One thing that strikes me about the wild anise hyssop is that it seems even more aromatic than the ones in the garden, as if it’s qualities are augmented by wildness.
  • Wild ginger – I love this plant. Asarum caudatum creates a shiny dark-green blanket under hardwoods and ceders along the steep bluffs of the St. Croix River valley. It’s rounded heart-shaped leaves mingle with another heart-shaped plant, violet. Maude Grieve says that wild ginger’s medicinal actions include “stimulant, carminative, diuretic, diaphoretic”, and that is is “used in chronic chest complaints, dropsy with albuminaria, painful spasms of bowels and stomach”.
  • Bee balm – I am not sure exactly what Monarda species grows around here, but it doesn’t really matter because it is sooo freshly fragrant and spicy! I have one cup of honey from Cloquet, MN left that I have been wondering how to use; after tasting the local bee balm I was inspired by Kiva Rose’s blog to make a little Beebalm flower infused honey, with a few anise hyssop flowers added for good carminative and nervine measure. When I get to Oregon this fall, I’ll open up a jar of sweet Midwest summertime.
  • One more mint – Catnip. Nothing too special here, as catnip grows just about anywhere, even in Duluth. None the less, it’s around and I love it. What can I say? The gentle and effective herbs used for children are some of my favorites, chamomile, elder flower, anise hyssop and of course catnip. Fresh Nepeta cataria tea tastes a little ‘green’  but is easily enhanced by lavender, lemon balm and a bit of honey. I can’t say for certain if it was the catnip or the OTC anti-prostaglandins, but after having a strong tea of it with the two other mints and two Aleves, a bad case of cramps were relived and I was able to get the best night’s sleep I’ve had in months.
  • Figwort – The mouth-watering delicious smelling (in my apparently singular opinion) figwort, Scrophularia nodosa, is already to seed but it doesn’t stop me from munching on it’s leaves. It grows in all over the country side as well as in abandoned lots and alleys in towns. Mullein and foxgloves are in the same Scrophulariaceae family, as can been seen in the snapdragon-like flowers.
  • Speaking of mullein, there is plenty out right now in flower. I am not using the leaves or employing it as medicine in any way, just sticking my nose in it’s sparkly yellow flowers on a daily basis. Yum! Verbascum thapsus is one of my favorite smelling flowers, it is so unapologetically floral.
  • Solomon’s seal – One of my first blog entries was about Polygonatum multiflorum, Solomon’s Seal, and it has captured my attention since although I haven’t had a lot of experience using it in practice. Whenever I find it in the woods it takes my breath away for a moment. Its’ line and drape is gracefully beautiful, and it’ particular shade of grayish-, blueish-green is soothing to look upon. What strikes me the most is it’s surprisingly large size; although I probubly think that because I am used to seeing the false Solomon’s seal everywhere, which is quite minscule in comparison.
  • Collinsonia C. canadensis is quite prolific around these parts. At first it resembels a stunted, rounded nettle more than a mint family member, as can be seen in these pictures. If you look closely, you can see their flowers are indeed little mint flowers. I have not used Collinsonia medicinally, but I have come across it in researching formulas for hernias and vericose veins. Here’s what Henriette’s Herbal has to say about it (actually, it is Harvey Wickes Felter from the Eclectic Materia Medica). What an awesome online resource!
  • One more, actually two more: an uni-dentified pea family member with tiny pink flowers and transluscent green seed pods, as well as a smaller than dime-sized wild orchid growing on a long (1-3 feet) thin stalk, having pinkish white flowers. I have looked online in an attempt to identify these pretty plants to no avail. Sigh. Sometimes the internet just doesn’t cut it…

A tea when everything’s perfect

Why do I use herbs more when I am sick then when I am well? Perhaps because most of what I know about herbs came from reading about how to help the body in times of illness. At the point at or just prior to the start of a health imbalance, I reach out for more pointed botanical support and either restore vitality or get sick, convalesce and then restore vitality. Herbs help us regain a sense of wholeness, or offer something we are lacking.

Even the herbs I use preventativly to build reserves, like the nourishing, vitamin- and mineral-rich plants like nettle, raspberry leaf, alfalfa or even supportive roots such as dandelion, burdock and yellow dock to give me something. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with the quest for support, well-being, and wholeness. It’s kinda part of the whole point of herbalism. Indeed, there is an inherent need to be engaged with consistently taking care of ourselves with food, rest, exercise and so on, just to make it through the day (otherwise we could end up like the guy from Super Size Me).

One of the first herbal medicine books I read (and thoroughly adored) was Rosemary Gladstars’ Herbal Healing for Women. I particularly enjoyed her “Joy Tea”, (with hawthorne berries, leaf and flower, hibiscus, cardamom and more) not only because it was delicious, but because she suggested to be drink it in times of joy, like celebrating the birth of a baby. I made a big batch and gave it to friends and family for he holidays.

What about sipping tea without any expectations? How would my favorite herbs change if I didn’t want some specific action in return?

I tried chamomile, figuring it is a good place to start since it is often a beverage tea. I tasted this perennial favorite herbs of mine in a new way, to my surprise it was bitter in a sour, even when it was still hot. Hmm…

I tried skullcap tea. Yes, I use dried skullcap even thought I have heard it is not nearly as effective as when it is fresh. In the past, it has ‘worked’ by making me sleepy  and quieting a million-thoughts-a-minuet mind. I waited to see if that would happen without needing it to (nothing happened).

I was feeling like tinkering around with my dried herbs and tried to make a licorice spice tea. The key word is “tried”; it tasted flat.

Then next day I got a great idea: how about a tea bag from a store bought tin! Perfect. I never expect them to do anything except be warm and tasty and easy. I picked rooibos, and it was good. I realized I was thirsty swallowed a pint of it in one drink. Damn, it was serving a purpose: hydration.

Finally I came to my senses. It’s full-on summer time, the garden in in full bloom, why not gather some fresh herbs for my ‘tea for when everything’s perfect’ tea. I gathered whatever looked good: heart’s ease pansy, catmint, thyme, mallow flowers, spearmint and bee balm, placed them in a jar, poured on some hot water, drank a while later. It spicy, minty and delicious.

Perfection is a relative term, and certainly not the rule. I don’t strive to be “perfect” or feel bad when I am not. To me, perfection is a more like contentment, a state when I don’t need anything and am reminded to simply appreciate things around me and offer gratitude for them being the just the way they are.

Reflections on Chinese Medicine, Resolved

The reflections continues.

This fall I will be starting a program in Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture. I am excited to start a new adventure down the healing path, but I also have a few points of concern.

The main concern I have is a common one for me: local versus global. Western herbalism is present in my backyard and spice rack. I can walk three steps out my front door and harvest nettles (yes, I stupidly planted nettle right in front of my house), chickweed, plantain, yarrow and more.

My family is of European descent, I live in the USA, I grew up acculturated in Western linear, rational thought, and have been studying Western herbalism for over eight years. My roots lie here.

Chinese medicine is present around me too, but more in theory and than practice. Acupuncture needles don’t grow on pine trees, and even if I did have Chinese herbs growing around (which I do, actually), I don’t know a lot about harvesting or preparing them.  How do you make ‘raw’ versus ‘cooked’ rehmannia? What herbs have to be aged? Soaked in wine? Boiled for days? How do they make those little teapills I see everywhere?

Like most (all?) medical and healing traditions, Chinese medicine has within its roots legends of how people met certain plants. But by and large, there isn’t a whole lot of green vitality present in Chinese medicine. Growing and gazing at plants has helped me learn and appreciate the medicine and beauty they offer. Will a lack of live plants influence my appreciation for and understanding of Chinese herbalism?

When I was taking a tour of the gardens at the school I’ll be attending, someone pointed to little plantain and asked the typical question, “what’s this one good for?”. The tour guide said, “Oh that? It’s just a weed. The seeds of a related species are the source of psyllium”. To me, plantain is one of those plants that scream green, fresh, juicy aliveness. I haven’t heard of any herbs being used fresh in Chinese medicine (I could be very wrong, though).

The process of writing this has cleared the air! I feel a lot better already…

First, as if I have grown or met every single herb that I have taken. Ha!

Point in case: right now I am loving ashwaganda. It kept coming up in books, intuition and conversation, and seemed like a good herb to try. Just because I don’t have ashwaganda plants around me doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it’s healing power nor have some sort of connection with it.

Secondly, it’s no shock that I am interested in a “global” modality. My BA is in anthropology, and I have always been seeking to learn about the people and their ways of life on this planet we all call home.

And so what if my ancestors would’ve used Western herbs in their homelands? They also ate rotten cod soaked in lye and drank horrendous coffee that sure isn’t native to Sweden. There’s no harm expanding the palate, of food, medicines or philosophy, especially if done so consciously and sustainably.

Another thing that just resolved itself is that I can’t try to make three and a half years studying Chinese medicine anything it is not. I am not doing this to learn a ton about growing herbs or Western herbalism. It’s not the point. It’s not called “Western Medicine School with a dash of Plant Spirit Medicine”.

Instead, let me recall all the fun reasons I have pursued this in the first place; to take pulses, look at tongues, learn the organ systems, five element theory, energetics, acupuncture (I’m a body person, of course I’d be attracted to a modality that incorporates working with my hands with a manual yet energetic form of healing), and on and on.

Most of all, I pursued this to help people. I wish to develop skills to assisting others on their healing path. This is just one of many ways to do so.

Upcoming Women’s Health and Botnaical Medicine Classes

I have three classes scheduled before I move from Duluth. This series of classes combines two subject very near and dear to my heart: women’s health and herbalism. I find that they support each other nicely, for many years I have seen these two topics as partners. It is my wish that mainstream women’s studies continues (or starts) to embrace empowering modalities that help us learn to care for ourselves.

Plant ID – Who are these?

I have two plants I cannot identify. I have looked online, to no avail. The lily-ish one looks very familiar, I know it is in a field guide (but I have packed all of my field guides, so I am flying blind here). Anyone know?

I love this purple one. It was a vine of some sort, growing close to the ground at one spot and up a shrub in another.

Herbal Aspirations

All this time away from the internet has created a lot of space for reflection. I am a constant question asker, and of course I ask myself questions related to herbalism. One such point of reflection is simply: what are my goals?

  • Attend more conferences. I love conferences. I have gone to a few and always learn a ton. Plus, it is great to be surrounded by all the plant people! I can only be a solitary learner so long before I start craving learning from an actually person, not a book. Here are a few I have my eye on:
  1. Medicines from the Earth. I am going this year and can hardly wait.
  2. Mid America Herb Symposium. Held in Winona, MN.
  3. Women’s Herb Conference. I got to go in 2007, and it was a such a blast! It was good for the soul to be around so many fabulous women herbalist.
  4. Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference. I have never been to the Southwest. Now I have even more of a reason to get down there; this conference sounds amazing!
  5. Years ago, I spied an international botanical medicine conference in India that seemed interesting. Of course now I can’t find it. Here is the International Herb Symposium that happens every other year in New England.

  • Finish Home Study Course. When I was an intern at Sage Mountain, I received a copy of Rosemary Gladstar’s home study course in herbalism. I read through it all when I was interning, but didn’t start the course work. That was almost 3 years ago, and I have barley started since. It is such a gift to have received it and I want to finish it! I love how it combines different aspect of herbalism; materia medica, body systems, action categories, food and nutrition, health philosophy, ect…
  • Learn about Western herbal history, from way back when to Greece to present day. I am fascinated by healing and medical theories, and want to learn more. Much of my interest was sparked by this comparison of the history of Chinese medicine and Western medicine By Roger Wicke, Ph.D.
  • Explore different types of herbalism. Who are the Eclectics, the phisomedicalists, Thompsonions? They all interest me. The little taste of Southern folk herbalism history I heard from Phylis Light was brand new and intriguing to me. And what’s going on in European herbalism? I majored in Anthropology and delight in exploring the cultural implications of different schools of thought. I would like to  delve deeper into plant spirit medicine, shamanism, and Native American herbal traditions, too.
  • Continue meeting plants. Plant identification is a journey that never ends. I have lost some of my taxonomy sharpness since I’ve been out of college, so I need to brush up on my plant families and the relations in between them. This year I have meet a few new plants and want to figure out who they are! Soon I’ll post some questionables.
  • Streamline classes. I have been teaching a couple basic herb classes for a while. Each time that I do, I find that I make them more simple and to the point. I have learned that information needs to be accessible and built on a solid foundation, I’d like to apply this to more classes.
  • Learn from other herbalists. One of the reasons I am moving from Duluth is that I need an educational community. I don’t have a lot of experience, so I thirst for the opportunity to learn from others’.  Which is one reason I love reading blogs and books!
  • Read intro books on Chinese medicine. I know I’ll be steeped in Chinese medical theory in school this fall, but I can’t wait.  This summer I want to read/reread these three books:
  1. Between Heaven and Earth. A Guide to Chinese Medicine. by Harriet Beinfield and Efrem Korngold.
  2. Wood Becomes Water: Chinese Medicine in Everyday Life. by Gail Reichstein.
  3. The Web that Has No Weaver: Understanding Chinese Medicine. by Ted Kaptchuck.
  • Organize and downsize! My herb paper work is a disaster. My overzealous tincture making is bursting at the seams. Do I really need 20 ounces of bugelweed in brandy? Help!
  • Work as an herbalist. Yes, I’d like to be a practicing herbalist someday! I have seen a few clients, but I would like to see more. When I’m ready I’d love to embrace herbalism as my full-time job. This is a long-term goal.
  • Promote herbal teas. People ask me all the time where they can buy my teas, besides the web. I have them in one store (Rooted Folks Community Wellness), and I think I could find a couple others, too. I need to get over my fear of marketing and being in business. Yes, I admit it, it is challenging to me. But I’m working on it and realizing that being in a healing field doesn’ t mean that it’s a sin to charge for your services, and that promoting a product doesn’t mean your deceptive.

The Simplest Herbal Cleanse

Let’s say you are interested in doing some sort of cleanse and would like to add herbs for extra nourishment and support. Where should you start? Well, that is entirely up to you and your needs.

One thing I like to to is start general and easy. Simple means rather than specifically focusing on one body system (like the skin or urinary system) to base herbs around, start with alteratives, lymphatics or other herbal categories that are more supportive of the whole body. After a few weeks, perhaps the body systems that need more attention will present themselves (something I heard from Nicholas Schnell). By easy, I mean don’t overwhelm yourself with trying to keep up with taking a plethora of herbs! Why not choose some herbs that are local to your region? Depending on the season, harvest some tender tops of nettle or dandelion roots if you can to add the zest and vital nature of wild foods to your protocol. Easy also means it’s not too complicated to make, like good old-fashioned teas. Above all, herbs should be individualized. Here are my personal guidelines for a basic three-week herb-supported cleanse:

Week one:

  • Drink a quart (4 cups) of a decoction of one herb, an alterative, daily.
  • Drink a pint (2 cups) of an infusion on one herb, from an action category of your choosing that supports cleansing, daily.
  • Follow the dietary guidelines of your choosing.
  • Include any adjunct practices for body and mind, and make any other lifestyle changes.
  • Note: I often alternate a few different herbs for the infusion, but I keep them withing the same action category. For example, dandelion root on Mon., yellow dock on Tue., burdock on Wed., Oregon grape on Thu., dandelion on Fri. – Sun. I would not alternate red clover  (a lymphatic) and skullcap (a nervine), because I don’t see them as analogous remedies.

Week Two:

  • Continue the teas as in week one.
  • Step the diet, home spa practices and any other mental/emotional/spiritual work up a notch. For example, if you were doing a diet of whole foods, see if you can eat 10 servings of fruits and veggies a day rather than 5. Go for a walk every day instead of three times a week, meditate or journal for longer.
  • Take 30-40 drops of a personalized tincture, to support cleansing of the whole body, three times a day.

Week three:

  • Option one: continue as in week two.
  • Option two: change teas and tinctures to move from generally supporting the whole body to more specifically working with weak areas that have showed up.

Is that simple or what?! In truth I hardly want to call it a cleanse because there is nothing fancy to it. One more thing to add: simple can be effective! You don’t have to be taking 25 herbal capsules and drink 5 gallons of tea to feel better. Quality and intention are often more important than quantity.

How you feel at the end of a cleanse, whether physically, mentally or emotionally, will vary from person to person. The first time I did an intentional cleanse, I felt great during but was back to my lethargic self as soon as it ended because I didn’t make lasting dietary changes. The next time I cleansed was the opposite; I felt awful during the cleanse but wonderful afterward! A few years later, I tried it again with my husband and felt so depleted and weak I quite halfway through the cleanse to have a cheeseburger. No kidding. Yeah, it was bad timing for me; it was late fall and getting quite chilly, I was iron deficient and had just finished bleeding. Cleansing and restrictive diets when you are depleted in any way are not a good idea. Instead, I listened to my body and added nutrient-rich foods and blood-building herbs and took lots and lots of naps and felt better shortly thereafter.

A few weeks ago, I completed the herb-supported cleanse I outlined above. It is definitely the easiest and most basic cleanse I have ever done, yet still effective. I restricted my diet a little bit, mostly of things I consider “junk” food. Yes, even certified organic, locally grown with utmost love and care, gourmet food can be “junk” (like potato chips and chocolate truffles). My dietary goal was to avoid the aforementioned “junk”, wheat, fried foods, coffee and sweets, and add in more veggies, grains and legumes. Simple. Herbal teas included burdock, dandelion, yellow dock concoctions and red clover infusions. I also started a personalized tincture blend that included lympatics, alteratives, liver and endocrine support.

More important to me than the diet was actually a fast from particular behaviors that had been getting on my nerves. I also added in activities that my soul had been yearning for, like reading Rumi, watching spring begin, and getting in contact with family and friends. At the end of the cleanse, I felt much more grounded and healthy, as if I have replenished my supplies to prepare for the transitions to come.

Supplements & Recipes for Cleansing

Demulcent Tea Blend

I go back and forth about how I feel about supplements (which includes but is not limited to vitamins, fiber, herbal capsules, amino acids, essential fatty acids, ect…). There have been times where they have served my health extremely well, and other times where I felt it had little if any effect. But that’s just my experience.

Now I honor supplements almost the same way I do Western biomedicine; as a wonderful offering of modern day technology that we can intentionally choose or occasionally need to take to empower our health or correct a serious imbalance.

That being said, there are two supplements I have seen work well with cleansing. The first is a fiber and/or digestive demulcents. I say “and/or” because although they are often combined together and work well as one, considering they act on the same place (the gut) they don’ necessarily need to be. Fiber supplements can do more than simply add more dietary fiber to your diet.  The “bulking” or absorptive quality of fiber can bind to heavy metals, cellular waste products and other general “toxins” and remove them, as well as increasing healthy bacteria in the gut. Demulcent herbs often added to enhance the actions of fibers, but offer their own level of healing, soothing and support for gut as well.

Fiber + Herbs Powder

  • 3 parts Psyllium husks
  • 2 parts Apple pectin
  • 1 part Triphala – (harada (Terminalia chebula), amla (Emblica officinalis), behada  (Terminalia belerica))
  • 1 part other demulcent herbs blend – marshmallow, licorice, plantain, ginger, or slippery elm

Mix all the powdered ingredients by weight, take 1 teaspoon mixed (shake water and herbs vigorously in a jar to mix thoroughly) in a cup of water or juice one a day. I think it is best to take fiber on an empty stomach or between meals, but I haven’t hear the final word so use your own judgment. During a cleanse, take daily. Some cleanse kits offer a similar fiber supplement to take three times a day during a fast. Doing so works surprisingly well at keeping hunger at bay while providing enough bulk to stimulate digestion.

The next supplement is a mild herbal laxative. The only reason you may need a laxative during a cleanse is when you are fasting and thus not having regular (daily) bowel movements. During a cleanse in which you consume a normal amount of food (although it may be different food than normal!) you generally do not need a mild laxative.

You can find herbal “digestive simulators” on the market, but why not make your own? Making your own tea is cheaper and engages your senses, which is helpful when taking herbs like cascara sagrada and senna. Who knows? Maybe one sip is all you’ll need, and you can tell the moment it hits your tongue. Here’s a classic recipe from Rosemary Gladstar:

“Emergency Constipation Remedy”

  • 4 parts fennel
  • 3 parts licorice
  • 2 parts yellow dock
  • 1 part cascara sagrada
  • 1 part psyllium seed
  • 1 part senna

Prepare as a decoction. How much should you drink? That will be up to you. Start with one small cup a day, increase if needed. Not for long term use.

Another “supplement” comes to mind for cleansing, although it is more of an herbal formula, and that is a bitters tincture. Bitters! I love them. I love making them, because you can personalize the bitters to your needs.

Formula for Bitter Tincture:

  • 1 part artichoke leaf
  • 1 part dandelion root
  • 1 part wild yam
  • 1 part gentian root
  • 1 part fennel seed
  • 1/2 part orange peel
  • 1/2 part ginger
  • 1/2 part cardamon
  • 1/2 part angelica root

Prepare as a tincture. Take 45 drops (or a large dropperful) 30 mins. before each meal. Bitters assist digestion and assimilation, and are especially good for reliving bloating.

Garlic Lemonade/Broth

  • Chop 4-6 cloves raw garlic.
  • Bring to low a boil in 4 cups water for 30 minuets.
  • Cool a bit, add juice from 1 to 2 lemons.
  • Mix in honey or maple syrup to taste to taste.
  • If you would like a savory broth, add miso, bulion, ginger, scallions and grated veggies instead of the lemons and sweetener.

Here’s a time-tested recipe for a surprisingly tasty garlic drink. The first time I had it, a friend had cut me off – it was that good! It is pretty strong, so it might be a too stimulating to drink on a regular basis. 4 cups for a day or two in the spring, fall is the “dosage” I was told. This drink doesn’t have any particular reason to be affiliated with a cleanse, although the “stinking rose” is almost a household panacea with numerous health benefits.


Basic Congee Recipe

  • Add 1 cup white rice to about 8 cups water
  • Cook on medium for 2-4 hours. It takes a long time!
  • Add in your medicinal herbs, spices or veggies about half way through.
  • Eat and enjoy!

Congee is basically rice that has been cooked so much that it has fallen apart – it almost has the consistency of watery rice pudding. The congee is derives its flavor from the what you put it in. Actually, the rice in congee is simply a vehicle to deliver the herbs, spices of veggies you want. It makes a great meal during a cleanse because it is a gluten-free and easily digestible.

Don’t forget to add herbs! That’s one of the perks of congees – it blends easily with herbs. One of my favorite additions are Chinese herbs lotus berries, white mushrooms and black cumin seeds with a chopped fresh pear flavored with cinnamon, ginger and cardamom. Or I go for a fruity version: lycii (goji) berries, schizandra berries, elder berries and rose hips with a sliced blood orange and cinnamon.

The herbs that work good in congees are dried fruits, berries, roots, seeds, fungus, that sort of thing. Anything you would normally decoct for a tea would probably fly (although some really woody roots would not be fun to chew, so remove them before serving). I would not add leaves and flowers, like peppermint or calendula as they would not blend well in the congee.


Gladstar, Rosemary. Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal.