April 14th, 2010 § § permalink
Tender springtime growth of common weeds and herbs have been used for centuries as cleansing “spring tonics”. A few examples are nettle, chickweed, cleavers, dandelion greens, burdock, purslane, lamb’s quarters and violets. Most spring tonics are have at least two things in common; they’re bitter and nourishing.
The bitter taste stimulates and often improves digestion, as it promotes bile secretion (an earlier post about bitters is here). As the years go on and my taste repertoire expands, I find myself appreciating and even craving the bitter taste, especially if I’ve had too much fried or heavy food. The nutrition from some spring tonic herbs makes sense in the scheme of cleansing, too. Cleansing becomes counterproductive if what you are cleansing with is nutrient-devoid and does not support the body. Even strict fasts include something your body needs -pure water.
Below are a few lymphatic and/or alterative herbs that can be helpful during a cleanse to address your individual needs. Years ago when I first started taking herbs, the herbs I used during a period of cleansing were very different than what I use now. Echinacea, red root, figwort, blue flag and wild indigo were key players for me then, as I needed “cleanse the blood” and address chronic sore throats, infections, skin problems and tender, swollen lymph nodes. Now I like a yellow dock, licorice, ginger and cardamon decoction as well as an infusion of red clover to support digestion, liver and lymph.
It seems that many alteratives and lymphatics support digestion, assimilation and elimination, by promoting liver and gallbladder function, which increases bile, the main lubricant and promoter of the bowels. They also assisit the kidneys and lymph system in removing. Many promote healthy skin, and are useful in mild (acne) to chronic (eczema) skin conditions.
I like taking general liver/alteratives/lymphatic herbs first in a cleanse, then hone on the body system that presents itself as needing further assistance. Many body systems tie back to digestion, blood and lymph anyways and can be indirectly strengthened by alteratives. Take hormones and the endocrine system, for example. Alteratives support digestion, which in turn supports nutrient absorption and bowel motility, which reduces re-absorption of waste-product hormones. They also support the liver, and the healthier the liver is, the healthier our blood is and the better it can process the hormones that pass through it.
- Dandelion root – A bitter tonic, stimulates the liver and bile production making it useful for sluggish liver and digestion. Dandelion contains inulin and FOS, which stimulate the growth of beneficial bowel flora.
- Burdock root – Burdock also has inulin and FOS. Indicated in swollen lymph nodes, cystic breast disease and skin conditions. Supports the kidneys as well as the liver. The seed is also quite useful, especially for chronic skin problems like eczema, though a little more difficult to harvest (unless you like to sift through burdock burrs!).
- Yellow dock – Bitter and earthy yellow dock increases iron absorption and storage, often used as iron tonic. Use it similarly as dandelion and burdock: skin conditions (acne, eczema, ect…) and poor digestion (constipation, sluggish liver).
- Oregon grape root – Good liver tonic and cholagogue. Oregon grape supports digestive symptoms of PMS, especially constipation. Soothes the genito-urinary mucus membranes, useful for UTI. Specific for acne on back and chest (Winston).
- Sarsaparilla – Sarsaparilla is a noted anti-inflammatory and can be soothing to hot skin conditions like psoriasis, arthritis, inflammation of the connective tissue (Winston).
- Figwort – A great lymph, blood and skin tonic. I like figwort for times my lymph feels particularly overburdened with chronic swollen glands, sore throat, stiff neck or acne.
- Sillingia – A small dose (5-15 drops of tinctures) of stillingia alone or in a lymph formula has been used for assisting lymph, kidney, skin and liver.
- Echinacea – Echinacea is known as an immune modulator but is also as an alterative, blood cleanser and lympatic. Especially useful for skin infections and conditions; boils, hives, eczema, psoriasis and septicemia (Smith, 33).
- Red Clover – Red clover is in my first line of support for singular swollen lymph nodes (rather than a bunch of little swollen lymph nodes, which, according to Matthew Wood, calls for calendula). Also useful for chronic coughs and postnasal drip.
- Cleavers – Gentle but effective lymphatic and diuretic. Can be soothing to the nerves, too.
- Chickweed – Chickweed can be used externally for inflammation and itching, but is also a mild diuretic, vulnerary and anti-inflammatory. Not the strongest acting herb, but it is very prolific and quite tasty as a salad green.
- Calendula – A bit bitter, calendula is a liver tonic, anti-inflammatory and lymphatic. Externally, it is renowned for disinfecting and soothing cuts, rashes and infections.
- Poke – Poke oil is externally stimulating and soothing to areas of lymph stagnation, especially breast tissue.
- Red root – This herb is specific for the mucosa and lymphatic congestion.
- Alder – Alterative and cholagogue called for in cases of skin conditions and infections and chronic constipation or sluggish digestion.
Finding herbs to use as part of a cleanse can seem complicated, especially when you consider the many “herbal detox” products that line the shelves at a health foods store. I suggest herbs be kept simple and individualized. “Treat the person, not the disease”.
Wood, Matthew. The Book of Herbal Wisdom.
Winston, David. Herbal Therapeutics.
Smith, Ed. Therapeutic Herb Manual.
April 4th, 2010 § § permalink
We are more than just our physical bodies.
Within each of us is an emotional body, the part of ourselves that interprets the meaning of our life events through feelings and emotions. We also have a spiritual body, which is reflected in our development to our sense of purpose of our lives and how we connect to our highest self. Shakespeare said, “To thine own self be true”; a great adage to describes the essence of our spiritual side. Mental health is yet another aspect of our beings.
Before we get into the details of cleanses and how herbalism can be used to assist and support the body for that purpose, let’s take some time to think about simple, cheap (often free!) and time honored ways we can add to increase the depth of a cleanse.
Below are just a few ideas for you to try. Feel free to add your own practices and listen to the desires and needs of your body.
- Relaxing, uplifting music.
- Reflection and introspection, through journaling, reading poetry.
- Guided meditations or relaxation.
- Creative pursuits like drawing, painting, sculpture.
- Spending a bit of each day in nature, even if it is a simple walk in your yard to notice what’s growing and living next to you.
- Dream work.
Spiritual and Emotional body:
- Clean, organize and rearrange your living spaces.
- Connect with others, share your appreciation through letters, calls or thoughts.
- Charting personal goals and aspirations – no matter how far fetched (note: this should be different that a to-do list).
- Make a list of 25 things that make you happy and do one each day (a recommendation from Nicholas Schnell, a great Nebraska herbalist who has a fabulous book about cleansing).
- Engaging in a spiritual practice.
- Rituals of starting anew, letting go or anything in between.
- Saunas, steams, sea salt baths.
- Massage, professionally or at home.
- Skin brushing, salt scrubs.
- Stretching, yoga, martial arts.
- Exercise that is pleasing to you.
- Slow walks (an amazing practice taken from Paulo Coelho’s The Pilgrimage) or brisk walks.
- Lots of sleep! Naps if you need them.
March 30th, 2010 § § permalink
Spring is a supreme time to lighten from the heaviness that lingers from winter. Whether it is from our rich, comforting diet, the stagnant air of having the windows shut for months, or the weight of our upcoming plans we dreamed up during the long nights of winter, we often have the desire, or need, to gear up for the outward expression of summer. An excellent way to usher in a new phase is to do some form of intentional cleanse.
A cleanse is simply a way to support the body’s natural detoxification with a specified diet for a designated length of time. The specified diet is up to you and your goals, but here are few common cleansing diets:
- Whole foods. A diet that emphasizes fruits, veggies (at least 5 servings), slow-cooked whole grains, legumes, small amounts of dairy and animal protein, if you partake, and lots of water and herbal teas. Fast food, fried foods, junk food, sweets, processed foods and drinks, stimulants and intoxicants are left out. Even if you are a pretty conscious eater, this can be a great cleansing diet to start with. I think this is what popular weight loss diets are striving for (real food!), but more than often miss the mark (by a long shot).
- Restricted diet. This is taking the whole foods diet a step further, by either avoiding a particular food on purpose, like dairy, wheat or red meat, or including foods you want to eat as a mainstay of the cleanse, like soup, kichiree or congee.
- Elimination diet. A process of systematically cutting out, and then adding back in, specific foods to see if there is physical evidence of a negative or allergic reaction. Marcell Pick has a good list to check out of foods to eliminate on different levels.
- Fasting. Includes the popular “supreme cleanse” (1/4 cup lemon juice, 1/8 – 1/4 cups maple syrup, pinch of cayenne in a quart of water), water fast, colon cleanse (often with supplemented juice), with our without herbal support.
Nicholas Schnell highlighted something in a 2008 class about cleansing that has really stuck with me: you need to have a definite time frame. Anywhere from 3 days to 6 weeks is good. And don’t go crazy, there’s no need to start with a 40 day fast! Defining your boundaries is important, other wise you may get lost in the always-needing-to-cleanse zone. You plan a three week elimination diet, take a little excursion with a cookie or two (but they’re organic!), feel defeated and then start all over again. That is simply unsustainable and not really healthy, either.
Which brings me to another point I need to make about cleansing; be gentle with yourself! It is not about perfection. Who cares if you get it just right, or even about having a certain outcome. On this note, you may want to define your personal reasons for cleansing as well as your beliefs and expectations.
What is the purpose of a cleanse? Why are so many people intrigued by the idea? When I worked at a co-op in the health and body care section, it became apparent that some populations of people are obsessed about cleansing the body. I certainly agree that there are a plethora of man-made chemicals that are assaulting Earth and all her creatures, and I think that we must strive to find alternatives to environmental pollutants. However, I do not think that humans are innately “toxic” and need to be fasted and cleansed constantly to have a fighting chance at health (Susun Weed discusses this issue as she compares the scientific, heroic and wise way healing philosophies in Healing Wise). Our body is incredibly capable in detoxifying, and is constantly doing so. We can, however, take actions to not impede its efforts as well as help it along.
A cleanse should transform the whole body. Many people find that their thoughts, spirit, emotions, body, lifestyle and diet change during and after a cleanse. A cleanse usually includes a restricted diet so the digestive system can work on healing itself rather than digesting food. Adding medicinal herbs to a cleanse promotes both tissue repair and toxin secretion, which will be another topic…