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.
May 19th, 2008 § § permalink
For the second time on this blog, I have to state how much I love Iona Teeguarden’s The Joy of Feeling. This entry is drawn from her writings.
What energies and activities do we associate with spring? First and foremost, we see that THINGS ARE GROWING! This is very exciting, and I think it sets the mood for spring. No longer are seeds simple potential-packets, nor are the trees and other perennials satisfied to energetically chill out in their roots. No sir, now is the time for living things to actuate.
Hun is aspect of the psyche (as well as an aspect of nature herself) that is associated with spring. Hun could be described as the forces “which allow us to carry out our functions and responsibilities.” The tree is the symbol of Hun, wood the substance. Teeguarden explains that the tree is a symbol for self-actualization, and that “the psychic activity of Hun is like the force that causes a little seed to sprout, to push its way through obstructions of the dark soil, to finally emerge into the light, growing towards the life-giving rays of the sun.”
The website Renew 5 (http://renew5.org/index.php?page=the-five-elements explains beautifully the aspects of Hun and Spring; here is an excerpt:
“[On an individual level] Spring is a time to articulate vision both long and short term; a time to be strategic with plans for the future, and to take specific actions right now. This is an excellent time to be creative and filled with determination. [On an organizational level] Spring is a time to mobilize resources; to set the vision for the year ahead and to do fiscal planning. It is time for teams to set plans in motion; a time of movement, of creation. Tough decisions need to be made in order to ensure success in the year to come.”
If you are new to Chinese Medical philosophy, it may seem strange to include wood as a basic element, along with water, fire, earth and metal. Most of us are used to the ancient Greek humoral theory, there are four elements: fire, air, water and earth. These four elements are present among some Native American peoples, and associated with the four seasons and for directions. In contrast, Aryuveda has three elements of fire, water and earth. The five elements are related to each other both in the shape of a star and a clock-wise circle.
As you can see, Hun and the element of wood is associated with the Liver and Gallbladder. The feelings and qualities of the wood element are those which help us actualize and direct ourselves outward: inspiration, planning tasks and carrying them out to their end, assertiveness, using verbal communication positively, developing responsibility and being efficiently organized. On the road to becoming the the person we want to be and taking up our space in the world, we are bound to experience either too little or too much of the Hun energy. Teeguarden describe the difference between the deficient feelings of powerlessness and the excess feelings of aggressiveness: “One extreme is being unable to express oneself or take charge; the opposite extreme is a tendency towards over-control, or an egotistical desire to demonstrate power over others (p. 73).”
No matter where we find ourselves on the spectrum, we would be well off to strive for a middle ground of asserting ourselves without force. For me, this takes place in the daily tasks on my to-do list. I tend to try to accomplish as much as possible one day, then the next day or two (or three!) I have low energy and can’t seem to get anything done. There is nothing wrong with taking impromptu time off from the daily grind, but I wish I had more energy during those days off to really enjoy them, rather than be frustrated because I am falling behind. At this point, I may become angry with myself, placing blame and beating myself up for “not doing enough”. The cycle starts again when I overcompensate by busily take care of stuff all day long, trying to control everything in sight, and becoming angry with myself when I can’t control it enough.
How do you think one could reach middle ground when in this cycle? I have found that being more regular and steady with my activities has helped; I try to do a little of my “have-tos”everyday rather than a lot one day and nothing the next. Also, I have learned to recognize the difference between motivation and the desire to control my surroundings (which usually stems from being frustrated or angry with myself). Now I know that when I am motivated to do something, it is more enjoyable and I do it better and more complete. The more I act on motivation and inspiration the more it comes to me; and the less I try to make myself do things, the less room there is to feel inspired.
It is normal to feel angry when we are not being the self we want to be. It is difficult to not become frustrated when restrictions get between us and what we think should be (p. 74). When we get to this point, we must remember to be self-assertive enough to channel frustration into creative ways to actualize our potential.
Teeguarden, Iona. The Joy of Feeling
December 12th, 2007 § § permalink
I’ve always been a fan of bitters; my taste-buds appreciate the wake-up call, my belly the appetite stimulation. I have taken them from time to time, and felt they were effective. Until this morning, I never gave them my undying support much thought…until I read in Simon Mills’ The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine that bitters may not be indicated in cold conditions or people. I am a cold person (just listen to my screaming boyfriend when I crawl into bed at night and lay my icy paws on his back), and here I have been using bitters the whole while! After some investigation, I have found that aromatic digestives (sometimes simply referred to as aromatics) are indicated for cold people and conditions like myself. Aromatics will be discussed in the next post.
Mills (226) states that bitters are indicated for hot conditions, such as liver conditions like jaundice and food/drug toxicity, gall-bladder disease, poor digestion, food intolerances, “chronic inflammatory diseases of the skin, joints, vascular system and bowel, migrainous headaches and fevers”, and blood-sugar regulation.
Bitters work quickly through stimulation of the taste buds that seconds later trigger gastrin secretion, which is why they are effective as in cooling hot conditions (430). Since bitters stimulate bile, and bile your body’s natural laxative, some bitters are gently stimulating laxatives. Here is Mills’ description of the bitter action (321):
“Comprised chemically of the most diverse array of molecular structures, the bitter principles have in common the ability to stimulate the bitter receptors inside the mouth, and thus evoke the taste of bitterness. Unlike other taste effects that of bitter stimulation seems to involve no electrical event on the surface of the cells: the conclusion is that each bitter molecule acts on cell membrane receptors to produce intercellular biochemical change. The immediate result is a rise in the concentration of calcium within the cell: this is likely to initiate the signal to the gustatory nerve.”
For the chemistry geeks out there, a group of terpenoids include most of the bitters. They are iridoids (gentian, dandelion, wild lettuce, valerian), sesquiterpenes (Artemisias, blessed thistle, gingko), diterpene (white horehound, Curcubitacea), and some alkaloids (coffee, goldenseal, quinine) (321-2).
Just a few bitters:
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) is a digestive and hepatic (liver) tonic. The leaves are nature’s perfect diuretic as it contains a large amount of potassium and well suited for edema but will not strain the heart, and the root is a mild laxative and detoxifier (434).
Gentian (Gentaina lutea) is an important bitter as it stimulates digestion and has an anti-inflammatory action. It is used “as a foundation for any prescription seeking to use the cooling, drying, and digestive stimulant effects” that may be present in inflammatory conditions (435).
Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) is a bitter with a warm temperament. When I first purchased wormwood and brewed a cup on an chilly Minnesota spring day, I took two extremely bitter sips and felt a welcomed long-lasting warmth spread through my body and last the rest of the day. It is so bitter as well as astringent that its acrid constituents actually raises the temperature. As it name implies, it is useful for purging parasites, but let’s focus on wormwood as a bitter. Used for gastrointestinal infections, inadequate stomach acid, colic, and spasmodic dsymenarrhea, wormwood has been quite effective (438).
Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) is one of the most healing and astringent remedies to the gut wall and other irritated mucosal linings, and is a bitter digestive stimulant and cholagogue (liver stimulant) (440). “Dyspepsia with hepatic symptoms [is seen as] the main indication for using goldenseal”, as it is a strong bitter (441).
Anyone who has tried a tripled-hopped beer can attest to hops’ (Humulus luplus) bitterness…and also to its relaxing qualities. Hops has a relaxing effect on the nervous system similar to chamomile, as well as tension-related indigestion (it’s tannins lend their astringency quite nicely here) and headaches (Hoffmann, New Holistic Herbal 206). Hops can be useful in upper-digestive infections, irritable bowl syndrome, Crohn’s or diverticulitis, nervous coughs, palpitations, nervous dyspepsia or “whenever there are signs of visceral tension in the body” (460), so long as it is indicated. Would one use hops with watery loose, stools? I would say not.
A gentle and sometimes forgotten bitter is cold chamomile (Matricaria recutita) tea. Another visceral relaxant with bitter properties. Chamomile is great for children–indeed some of it’s best uses are for anxiety, teething pain, colic, and sleeplessness. Chamomile beautifully and subtly combines its calming and bitter qualities; it both calms the gut wall (useful for nervous digestion) and stimulates digestion, bile flow and pancreatic action (454-5).
Rue (Ruta graveolens) combines anti-spasmodic and bitter properties like chamomile, but not so sweetly. Don’t get me wrong, rue is a very nice plant, it is just very bitter in the cup. Hoffmann suggests using it for relaxing smooth muscles “especially in the digestive system where it will ease griping and bowl tension” (229). It is known to bring on suppressed menstruation. I have no experience of using is as a woman herb…have any of you used it as such?
That is just the beginning to bitter herbs. Try them where indicated, enjoy the peace in the belly that may follow.