Cleansing is often associated with diet culture, but it really does so much more. I’m here to demystify the talk around cleansing. Let’s get deeper than losing weight and talk about whole body health, and answer the question: Why should I do a spring cleanse?
Cleansing is beneficial for restoring balance within the body, but it’s important that it’s done mindfully. You have to consider if cleansing is even the right choice for you. If it is, you’ll also need to spend time investigating what kind of cleanse is best for your body. Doing this requires you to take note of patterns within your body systems. The final piece to planning a cleanse is timing. You want to pick the least stressful time for your body.
This is where spring cleansing comes into play. Spring is an optimal time to start a cleanse. And no, it’s not about getting your “summer bod” back. This is about treating your body like the finely balanced ecosystem that it is. It’s also about recognizing that your body is tapped into a larger ecosystem–the Earth’s cycles.
Spring is a time where life force begins to rise. There is movement here. The life and light of the season uplifts vital force. Think of it as igniting an inner fire that the winter cold dampened. Spring energy inspires us to release sluggishness–both in our bodies and in our lives. Spring is a time of cleansing and renewal in the natural world. As much as we humans would like to pretend otherwise, we too are part of the natural world. Inviting the external cycles inward is a beautiful opportunity to find inner balance.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) associates spring with the element wood. It is also associated with organs like the liver and gallbladder. This healing practice recognizes spring as a time to release fat & toxin build up from the winter1.
And this brings us to the question I know you’re thinking….. “So why wouldn’t I do a cleanse mid-winter to eliminate this build-up?” Winter Cleansing is taxing on the body. It is not aligned with seasonal shifts, as winter is a time for rest. Our bodies need to store up excess in order to get through the cold, dark months.
Here’s an example of how you could create more imbalance within your body by cleansing in the winter. Let’s look at a popular choice: juice cleanses. By consuming cold nutrients, you are increasing coldness in the body and creating more work to maintain an inner fire1. This inner fire is essential for immune function, a healthy nervous system, and maintaining whole-body balance.
Okay, don’t get too far ahead here. I know what you’re thinking now……. “It’s settled. I’ll do a juice cleanse in the spring.” But, it’s important to keep in mind that spring is not all sunshine and rainbows. This is still a chilly time of the year. The shifts of the season bring strong, cool winds and dramatic weather variance. It is still advised to stay away from cold food and drinks. For this reason, it could be good to do a kitchari cleanse–find more info here! Keeping caffeine out of this picture is also essential for nervous system support. Limiting your diet can be stressful, so supporting gentleness is crucial in your process.
Here’s what you should incorporate into your spring cleanse:
- dark, leafy greens–a great local spot to fuel up on fresh green food options is Green Source
- Spring greens like dandelions, lamb’s quarters, chickweed, and nettles–see who’s popping up around you. These plant friends are perfect allies to incorporate into your cleanse
- Cooked vegetables
- Whole grains
- White meat over red
- Herbal teas
- Herbs that support eliminatory organs–which I will highlight later on
Exercise should be prioritized, but keep in mind that gentle movement may be best. Even light movement will help move stagnant energy and help support the cleansing process.
Remember that cleansing isn’t for everyone, and that excessive cleansing can be harmful. The right cleanse should not cause discomfort throughout the entire process. A couple days of dizziness, headaches, and brain fog is normal, however anything beyond that is your body talking to you, saying that it’s not right for you1. Traditional Chinese Medicine highlights the importance of coming off a cleanse. This healing tradition understands the “come off” as a vital element in the process. The “come off” should be just as long as the cleanse. Use it as a time to slowly re-integrate foods, starting with easily digestible options like broth, watery, grains, and soups1.
Cleansing is about more than slimming down to fit into this chaotic world. I cannot emphasize this enough. Engaging in a cleanse helps to re-establish gut-health, balance body systems, and flush out lymphatic and blood congestion. There are many herbs that can help facilitate this process–whether you want to commit to a full cleanse or just change things up a little bit.
Read on if you want a more in-depth exploration of the cleansing herbs we carry in store (link to bulk herbs list)
Burdock Root, Arcticum lappa
Energetics: cool, bitter, mildly sweet
Historical Use: Traditional Chinese Medicine uses Burdock seeds for sore throats with red, swollen presentation.1 It is thought to clear heat and thus relieve red swelling conditions like boils, lesions, and the beginning stages of rashes from measles and chicken pox.1 TCM also sees this herb as clearing out heat associated with anger, irritability, and restlessness.
In Japan, the raw root is known as Gobo, and has historically been used as food. This is done by slicing the root into thin portions, soaking it in vinegar water for 15 minutes, and finally boiling the slices in salt water. It is typically eaten in the morning, to help cleanse the body, add fiber into the diet, and help reduce cravings for sweetness1.
In many traditions, burdock root is used in soups and stir-fries alike.
Western Therapeutics: Burdock is widely known in western healing practices as being a triumphant ally for skin diseases like eczema, psoriasis, acne, and boils. Because of its ability to work on hot, irritated conditions, it is also used in managing symptoms in arthritis, rheumatism, and gout1. Burdock helps to flush out the kidney, clearing toxins which may ultimately alleviate lower back pain1. This herb is a prized blood, liver, kidney, and lymphatic cleanser, but it does more than flush these systems. Burdock is high in iron1 so it helps replenish some of the minerals that are lost through the detoxification process.
Contraindications: Generally safe, especially when used as food. Avoid using Burdock seeds while in the first two trimesters of pregnancy2. When using the tincture or decoction, it is best combined with diuretic herbs like dandelion to help support the detoxification process.
Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale
Energetics: cold, sweet, bitter
Historical: Dandelion is a traditional blood and liver tonic. It has a long history of use to help find respite from chronic skin conditions as well as assisting with digestion. A traditional use that is still common today is using the fresh flowers to make dandelion wine or beer in the spring2. In Europe, this plant is grown as a vegetable. The plant gets incorporated into spring cuisine to help clear out winter excess. The Chinese use the root to treat hot, protruding afflictions like swelling, boils, fevers, and infection. They also use this herb for breast afflictions like sores, tumors, cysts, swollen lymph nodes, and mastitis1. Native Americans use the latex-ey juice that comes from the stem to treat poisonous bites1.
Western: Dandelion is an effective diuretic, helping to reduce water retention and lower blood pressure. Because it is high in iron, vitamins, and minerals, it is less harsh than conventional water-flushing medications. It pairs nicely with burdock root for skin issues. Dandelion offers great liver and digestive support. Its bitter taste stimulates bile production which supports the digestion and elimination processes. This herb has been known to help with kidney stones, and is also helpful in managing blood sugar.
Contraindications: Dandelion is generally gentle and safe to use.
Milk thistle, Silybum marianum
Energetics: cool, bitter, sweet
Historical: Milk thistle has a record of over 2,000 years of use in Europe, having been used to treat jaundice and syphilis3. It was commonly grown by “peasants” in backyard gardens throughout the continent3.
Western: Milk thistle helps to both protect and restore the liver from damage1. It has been studied for its antioxidant compound known as Silymarin, which can offer support for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, chronic liver cirrhosis, and hepatitis4. Herbalist Leslie Tierra finds Milk Thistle to be useful in dealing with chronic allergies associated with liver heat and congestion1.
Contraindications: Milk thistle is generally safe to use.
Artichoke, Cynara spp.
Energetics: cold, bitter
Historical: This herb was popular throughout the 16th-19th centuries in eclectic medicine5. It was valued for its ability to maintain healthy urination and digestion. Artichoke has also been historically used in Europe to support healthy skin and appetite5. It has also been used to alleviate gallstones2, although modern application advises against use with gallstones.
Western: Seeds or leaves can be used in a tincture or tea to stimulate the liver and gall-bladder. Artichoke helps to digest fats, and has been used to help manage obesity and cholesterol levels.
Contraindications: Jerusalem Artichokes are not medicinally interchangeable with artichokes that are in the Cynara genus2. Seek professional guidance for use with gallstones.
Turmeric, Curcuma longa
Energetics: cool, pungent, spicy, bitter, bitter
Historical: The tuber and rhizome of turmeric stimulate blood circulation, but it’s important to note that they do so in slightly different ways. In TCM, the tuber is considered cooling, while the rhizome is warming1. The rhizome is what is primarily used in ayurvedic medicine, which prizes turmeric for helping with inflammation, and blood purification1. The rhizome is used to tone digestion, promotes a healthy gut flora, and can also help with constipation and gas1.
TCM recognizes turmeric rhizomes as being helpful for pain in the shoulders, along with stimulating menstruation and alleviating dysmenorrhea due to coldness1.
The tuber is indicated for use with agitation, mental fatigue, seizures, and anxiety1.
Western: Turmeric is another herb that supports liver function. It can be used to aid liver detoxification and decongestion. Because of its ability to get the blood moving, it is useful for bruises, and inflammation, as well as supporting the healing process of wounds and trauma1. Turmeric has been, and continues to be studied for its antioxidant properties, which can help protect against cellular damage6.
Contraindications: Refrain from use while pregnant. Consult a physician for use with gallstones5. This herb also thins the blood so use with caution if on blood-thinning medications.
Red Root, Ceanothus spp.
Energetics: bitter, sweet, pungent,
Historical Use: traditionally used as a mouthwash due to its astringency7. It has also been used as an alterative, supporting balance and overall health.
Western: Red root does a beautiful job of encouraging lymphatic flow. For this reason, it is helpful in relieving glandular, spleen, and liver congestion. It is also used to support cyst drainage2. Red Root does a great job at supporting tissue structure, helping to tone any loose, or boggy tissue states.
Contraindications: Do not use while pregnant. Do not use with warfarin2.
Red Clover, Trifolium pratense
Energetics: cool, sweet, salty
Historical Use: The clover plant has deep historical symbolism, with the three-leaf clover being a symbol for the triad of goddesses in ancient Greece, the four-leaf clover being adopted as a symbol of the cross in Christianity, as well as being thought to represent total happiness in medieval folk rhymes8. TCM has used it to help produce healthy, productive coughing, and it has also been used in Russia to treat bronchial issues8. The herb has been used for a variety of treatments by Native Americans (both as food and as medicine), including sore eyes, being added to healing salves, coughs, fevers, cancer, and menopause8.
Western: Red clover is used as a blood and lymphatic purifier. It has the ability to mildly thin the blood1. It shows promise in helping resolve skin issues, like supporting healing in wounds that just won’t resolve themselves. It is also used for fevers, gout, hot flashes, and tumors.
It can help to decongest swollen lymph nodes and aggravated salivary glands 1. Red clover also contains a chemical phytoestrogen called formononetin, which plays a role in alleviating hot flashes and maintaining bone health in peri/menopausal individuals1.
Contraindications: Do not use with pharmaceutical blood thinners.
As you can see, there are so many supportive cleansing herbs! If you want to incorporate some of these herbs into your life, consider picking up some of Heart Beet Herbals’ bitters here is store, or some of Meadowsweet’s very own bulk tinctures:
Liver Support Tincture: (Dandelion, Milk thistle, artichoke)
Pristine Waters Tincture: Arctium lappa seed, Taraxacum officinale rt, Mahonia aquifolium rt, Rumex crispus, Zanthoxylum americanum, Ceanothus americanus
We also carry a tea blend to help support your body’s detoxification process:
Pristine River Tea: Burdock rt., Dandelion rt., Lemongrass, Marshmallow rt., Pau D’Arco*, Red Clover, Redroot, Turkey Rhubarb, Tulsi Basil, Figwort, Juniper, Mugwort
We hope to see you this spring to try out some of these seasonal allies. If you feel like making something tasty at home to kick off the spring season, try out this warm green smoothie which features some of the cleansing herbs discussed in this blog.
- Tierra, L. (2003). Healing with the Herbs of Life: Hundreds of Herbal Remedies, Therapies, and Preparations. Clarkson Potter/Ten Speed.Cech, R. (2016). Making Plant Medicine. Herbal Reads LLC.
- Cech, R. (2016). Making Plant Medicine. Herbal Reads LLC.
- Elliott, B. (n.d.). Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) Herbal Monograph. Brett Elliott. Retrieved March 18, 2023, from https://www.brettelliott.com/milk-thistle-silybum-marianum-herbal-monograph/
- Gillessen, A., & Schmidt, H. H.-J. (2020, February 17). Silymarin as Supportive Treatment in Liver Diseases: A Narrative Review. Advances in Therapy, 37(4), 1279-1301. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7140758/
- Gaia Herbs Farm. (n.d.). Artichoke. Gaia Herbs. Retrieved March 18, 2023, from https://www.gaiaherbs.com/blogs/herbs/artichoke
- Turmeric root – Curcuma longa. (2023). American Botanical Council. Retrieved March 18, 2023, from https://www.herbalgram.org/resources/expanded-commission-e/turmeric-root/
- Red Root Extract. (2023). Mountain Rose Herbs. Retrieved March 23, 2023, from https://mountainroseherbs.com/red-root-extract
- Red Clover. (2023). American Botanical Council. Retrieved March 23, 2023, from https://www.herbalgram.org/resources/herbalgram/issues/69/table-of-contents/article2908/