In the Traditional Chinese system of medicine (TCM) there are 5 elements, each of which is associated with a season. The element associated with spring is wood element: the upward rising energy of new growth, new beginnings, and renewal.
The wood element governs growing structures like the trunk and limbs of a tree or the spine and joints of a human body. It also governs metal structures like ideas and planning, organization, and decision making.
Each of the elements, and seasons, is also associated with a pair of organs. The organs for spring and the wood element are the liver and gallbladder. These complex and essential organs may need extra support and care in the spring.
You may already be familiar with the idea of a spring cleanse. One of the best ways to take advantage of the natural energy of the season is to choose herbs for your cleanse that support and tone the liver and gallbladder. Of these, some of my favorites are: Turmeric root, Burdock root, and Dandelion leaf and root. All of these are readily available to buy as bulk herbs, in capsules, or as liquid extracts. Burdock and Dandelion are incredibly easy to grow in our area and can be found growing wild in most neighborhoods. The Turmeric, which is a semi-tropical plant from India, can be grown indoors in large pots.
For a more in-depth look at a gentle and effective spring cleanse, check out Tom’s article here.
For the liver and gallbladder, let’s look closer at these three herbs.
Turmeric, Curcuma longa
This slightly bitter and spicy herb is best known as the golden color in many curry powders. Commercially in the West it is known as a powerful anti-inflammatory used for arthritis, allergies, menstrual pain, and digestive discomfort. But it is also a specific tonic for the liver, supporting the liver’s essential work, including flushing stored toxins and balancing hormone (including thyroid) function. Turmeric is also helpful in breaking down fats and dissolving gallstones.
It can be difficult to get a full dose of this herb just by eating curry powder. Instead, it can be taken as a capsule or tincture, drunk as a tea, taken in the form of Golden Milk (see more here on Golden Milk), or used as a broth for vegetables.
To support your liver and gallbladder in the changing season, take about 800-1000mg (about a quarter of a teaspoon) of the pure powder two to three times per day with food. Some people find liver detoxification to be an intense experience. You can start with a lower dose and work your way up gradually.
Burdock root, Arctium lappa
A large and vigorous plant, Burdock has a wide variety of medicinal uses, and is also a valuable food plant. The root can be used fresh or dried, and is an excellent tonic for the liver and kidneys. It is a cooling alterative and is a favorite for spring cleansing of the whole body. It is also used to treat skin problems of all kinds, especially those influenced by a too-heavy diet, allergies, or excess heat in the body. Burdock root, taken as capsule, tea, tincture, or eaten as a vegetable, can ease skin eruptions, cool and soothe redness and rashes, insect bites, and other skin irritations. For liver, kidney, and gallbladder support in the spring, a generous amount can be taken. 1000-2000mg upto 3 times daily depending on personal tolerance (it’s always best to start low and work your way up) or 1-2 quarts of strong decoction. It can also be eaten daily in soups (a great recipe here).
Dandelion leaf and root, Taraxacum officinale
Another well-known and vigorous “weed”, Dandelion has a multitude of uses. The tender greens grow early in spring, and are a favorite bitter tonic for the whole digestive system. They are also a natural diuretic, and are high in potassium, which is usually depleted with pharmaceutical diuretics. Dandelion leaves can be eaten as soon as they come up, and the bitter taste can be gentled somewhat with apple cider vinegar, also an excellent tonic for the digestion. The older the plants, the more bitter they become, so most people don’t eat them once the flowers have started to form.
The root of the Dandelion is tonifying to the liver and gallbladder and promotes healthy breast tissue. It can be used as a spring or fall tonic for the gut, for deep-rooted skin disorders such as boils, to ease constipation and for digestive discomfort of all kinds. It makes a pleasant, rich, nutty tea, especially when roasted. For general liver and skin support it can be taken with Burdock and Yellow Dock roots, in equal parts, boiled twenty minutes and strained. Dandelion root can be taken as a capsule, 400-800 mg twice daily, as a tincture, or as a tea to support a healthy spring cleanse.
A strong and happy liver is essential to good overall health. Springtime is an excellent time to give your liver a little extra love and support. These simple herbal remedies, added to a sensible diet and lifestyle, will help you to feel like a healthier, more vibrant you! Now is a wonderful time to refresh your health by aligning yourself with the rising Wood element energy of Spring!
In good health!
We’ve had a few mild sunny days here in the Mid-Atlantic, and it’s easy to get over-excited about Spring gardening. But the final frost date in our area is May 15th, so it’s not quite time yet to go full tilt into digging and planting. Still, if you’re eager to get out there and get your hands in the dirt, here are a few things you can do in our area (Zone 7) in March.
*Some notes on trimming perennials:
Remember that with our Mediterranean herbs, like Lavender, Rosemary, and Thyme, you should wait until the first green growth shows before trimming. These plants will produce new leaves on old branches, so wait to look for dead wood until later in the season.
Mints, on the other hand, grow back from the root, so you can cut back old branches and add these to your mulch or compost.
Nettles, if you have them in your garden, make great compost for other plants, but be careful to only use dried leaves and stems, root pieces will likely grow into new Nettle plants! To be on the safe side, you can soak old Nettle plants in a bucket of water for 2-3 days before adding them to other garden beds. Add the water too, it’s great for the soil!
**If you’d like to know more about preparing garden beds, check out our blog post here.
If you’re as eager as I am to get the vegetable garden started, there are some annuals that can go in the ground now, despite the possibility of frost or late snow. I’ve grown kale and beets in all kinds of weather here, for instance, and peas are a favorite first vegetable of the year for many gardeners. Here’s a list from thevegetablegarden.info
Vegetables that can be planted in March in Zone 7-8:
Beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, lettuce, mustard greens, onions, peas, potatoes, radishes, spinach, turnip
Most herbs prefer to wait until after the frost date to be planted out in the garden. You can start seeds indoors now to give them a head start or wait and buy plants in May. Some fall blooming flowers like chrysanthemums can be divided now.
And of course, if you don’t have a garden of your own, or aren’t quite sure where to start, you can always join us in Smile’s garden on Wednesdays and Fridays to learn more about the joys of working the land!
In the cold winter months it can be challenging to recover completely from a cold or lung infection. Lingering coughs are all too common, and it’s easy to get re-infected if you haven’t fully recovered from the last round.
If you have a cold or mild flu, the best thing to do is stay home, get lots of rest, and stay hydrated (perhaps with herbal tea!). If you have more severe flu symptoms, a high fever, or a secondary bacterial infection, you should seek medical care. But if you have a cough or wheeze with no infection, or are producing plentiful clear mucus, there are plenty of wonderful herbs that help get your lungs clear and happy again.
And for those of you with chronic conditions, you may be more susceptible to mucus, congestion, and inflammation. Herbs can really help control your symptoms and help prevent re-infection (or secondary infection).
One of my all-time favorite herbs for lingering respiratory troubles and asthma is Elecampane.
Elecampane is a tall, vigorous, perennial plant with lovely yellow flowers. The aromatic root is the part used medicinally, although the flowers are also used, especially in Traditional Chinese Medicine. In the West, the root is more common. This herb is rich in essential oils and resins, giving it a strong bittersweet flavor. It is equally effective in tea (decoction), tincture, or capsule/tablet form.
Elecampane is pungent, warming, and penetrating. It has expectorant, antiseptic, and anti-nausea properties, among others. It is effective against the nausea caused by excess mucus in the stomach, whether from weak (cold) digestion or post-nasal drip.
Ayurveda uses the root to treat colds, asthma, cough, and digestive upset. It breaks up phlegm, reduces excess Kapha, and strengthens the lungs.
For wheezing, asthma, and thick phlegm, Elecampane can be mixed with Ginger, Pippali (Indian Long Pepper), Cinnamon, and Cardamom. This blend, in powdered form, is mixed with raw honey and taken daily as a lung tonic or preventative during cold and flu season. A standard dose for an adult would be ¼ to 1 gram twice per day.
A lovely tea to tone the lungs in the cold winter months would be a decoction of Elecampane and fresh or dried ginger. About 1 tablespoon each of the dried herbs to one quart of water, simmered for 20 minutes makes a good medicinal tea. Strain and drink hot, with a spoonful of raw honey if you like.
Recently some interesting findings were released linking gingivitis to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Pretty scary, since about a third of us have gingivitis to some degree or another. The long-term effects of inflammation of the gums is also known to stress the cardiovascular system, so those are two strong reasons to take excellent care of your teeth and gums!
Gingivitis is caused by a build up of plaque. This film of bacteria feeds on sugars and other carbohydrates in the mouth. The resulting by-products, which include acids, damage the gum tissue and cause irritation and inflammation. Daily brushing and flossing are essential, of course, but sometimes just not enough to cure stubborn gum disease.
Fortunately, the ancient traditions of Ayurveda have an effective solution for oral care: Triphala mouthwash.
You’ve probably heard of Triphala as a digestive remedy, and it is that. One of the most safe and effective bowel tonics out there, Triphala promotes regular and healthy bowel movements without straining the system or causing cramping and diarrhea. Safe for children and the elderly, Triphala is so well-loved in India that a common saying is “You do not have a mother? Do not worry, as long as you have Triphala”.
But Triphala’s astringent action and anti-bacterial, antiseptic, and anti-inflammatory properties are good for more than the gut. This combination of three fruits (Amalaki, Bibitaki, Haritaki) is also used as an eye wash, a mouth wash, a nasal/sinus rinse, and to treat topical skin issues like acne.
Triphala powder, the most readily available form, is easily found in many health food stores. To make the mouthwash, all you need to do is boil the powder in water, cool and strain, and swish daily. You can also sprinkle the powder onto your toothbrush and gently brush your gums with it, but most practitioners recommend the mouthwash as being more effective.
Make Your Own Triphala Mouthwash
2-3 Tablespoons Triphala powder
1 quart (4 cups) water
Gargle a small amount 2-3 times per day for best effect
It’s pretty exciting news that this simple, centuries old herbal remedy may have an essential role to play in the prevention of dementia.
To your health!
The Super Nutrient You May Not Be Thinking About, But Should
Fiber. It’s one of those things you know you should be getting enough of, but it’s easy not to think about. Most of us only get 15 or so grams per day, when we should be getting around 30 grams (25g for women, 38g for men).
The many health benefits of fiber include:
Soluble and Insoluble Fiber
Both soluble and insoluble occur naturally in many fresh foods, and both are important to good health. Here is a basic overview of the two types:
Soluble fiber is found in beans, peas, lentils, oats and oat bran, psyllims husks, nuts & seeds, berries, and apples. It is linked to lowering LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, regulating blood sugar, and reducing the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Insoluble fiber is found in whole grains of all kinds, wheat bran, dark leafy greens, most root vegetables (with skins!), squash, and dried fruits like raisins and dates. It promotes healthy and regular bowel movements and reduces the risk of colon diseases like diverticulitis.
Foods High in Fiber
Whole grains, beans, and fresh fruits and vegetables all contain fiber. There are some herbal supplements to help make sure you get your daily intake when you’re on the go.
To naturally increase your daily intake of fiber, try these tips:
Adjust your fiber intake slowly, and drink plenty of water, to give your digestive system time to adjust. Remember, the more gradually you introduce new habits and lifestyle changes, the more likely they are to stick. Be good to yourself!
Looking for recipes? Try these earlier posts!