Spring has arrived, the soil is warming back up resulting in all forms of life to be active once again. Like the rest of nature, we are ready for growth, healing, and expansion. We have physically and mentally been in our own versions of hibernation and it is time to break free and break out. In order to function at our optimal capacities, we must nourish our bodies and feed our minds; wipe away the dust and give ourselves some much needed attention.
Lucky for us, Mother Nature has provided us with everything we need to aid in this process. Along with the warmth and energy of the sun we also have our plant allies, we call these natural medicines Spring Tonics. A Spring Tonic is anything that strengthens the organs of elimination.
These organs, known in Chinese medicine as the “Four Chimneys”, are the liver, kidneys, large intestines and the lungs. The skin is also an organ of elimination and will step in if the before mentioned are not able to do their jobs. We will physically see this happening in the form of acne, rashes, etc. We need to get in the mind set of nourishing and strengthening our body systems, so our body is capable of doing what it was made to do. So many people feel they need to “cleanse” to become healthy and it is essential that we alter that thought process. We are not going to reach health by depriving our bodies of minerals and nutrients, we must feed it earths medicine and build ourselves up.
There are so many amazing Spring Tonics available right now, but I decided to choose a few of the more common herbs that can be found in most of our backyards. Making your own medicine and harvesting your own food is a powerful tool to have so you can take care of yourself and your family.
However, make sure you are being mindful of where you are harvesting so that you are not harvesting herbs that have been sprayed with chemicals, near roads, power lines or houses with lead paint. It is crucial that you are positive that you have properly identified a plant before you ingest it. If you are unsure, do not harvest it. The best time to harvest any of these plants is in the morning after the morning dew has evaporated and before the sun is at its highest point.
Nettles: I believe nettles are crucial for every time of year but especially in the spring when we are building our systems back up. It is a tonic for the kidneys, lungs, digestive system and blood. This plant is packed with nutrients which makes it a truly nourishing herb, I personally consume nettles daily for my nutrition where others may take a multivitamin. One of its most popular benefits is its ability to ease seasonal allergies. It has been used to heal damaged tissues, make skin and hair more vibrant and support overall health. The entire plant can be used as food, a long infusion, or tincture. During spring the “sting” of nettles can be used topically to assist with lymph flow and arthritis.
Burdock Root: A tonic for the lymph, sweat, and oil glands which makes this herb a strong ally for topical skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. Burdock root has powerful effects on chronic conditions where someone is slow, dragging and lacking momentum; it helps the body remember what it is like to be healthy (Wood, Mathew. The book of herbal wisdom). This plant is often used to provide emotional stability, longevity, sexual vitality and is high in vitamins and minerals. The easiest preparation of burdock root is a tincture and harvesting it can be quite tricky. If you are harvesting yourself, the root should be harvested at the end of its first year in the fall, so this is a medicine you can make at the end of the season for the beginning of the next. Pictured are burdock leaves which can also be soaked in hot water or vinegar and placed on sore muscles, achy joints and burns.
Dandelion: A tonic for the liver, kidneys, pancreas and digestive system. An extremely nourishing herb, high in carotenes, ascorbic acid, potassium, calcium and other vitamins and minerals. Dandelion is great for the immune system as it has been consumed to improve digestion, increase blood circulation and improve lymph flow. It has been known to ease depression, pain, sinus congestion, insomnia, achy joints and to remove free radicals from the body. Dandelion also makes a fantastic diuretic because it increases the flow of urine without depleting the body of other minerals, as over the counter diuretics tend to do. The entire plant can be harvested; root, leaves, and stems. Preparing dandelion as a tea can be drank daily, you can cook the plant and add to any dish or take as a tincture. I love harvesting whole dandelions the morning after a nice rain because you can easily pull them right out of the earth without breaking the root.
Cleavers: A tonic for the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system is important to care for because it is responsible for a strong immune system. It transports waste materials out of the body and transports infection fighting white blood cells throughout. This herb is wonderful at aiding in adrenal health, especially those of the ears and neck. Cleavers are very high in vitamin C and have been used for tonsillitis, urinary tract infections, and itchy skin. Harvest in the spring and early summer before they have gone to seed and prepare in a salad, as a vinegar, tincture or tea.
Violet Leaves: Violet is a powerful spring tonic because of its ability get things moving within our bodies. It is a decongestant, demulcent and diuretic meaning that it will lubricate your internal organs so that bad stuff can easily exit the body while also nourishing your systems. This is the true “cleansing” that your body will appreciate. It is calming to the nervous system, aiding in insomnia, hysteria and nightmares. Used for coughs, wound healing, hot flashes, varicose veins and menstrual cramping. Violet leaves can be found abundantly in fields and yards. Both the leaves and flowers are high in vitamin A and C and can be eaten raw in salads, vinegar dressings or syrups. You may also use as a tincture.
Keep an eye out for these spring tonics on your next hike or walk around the yard. Identify the leaves and flowers, harvest them and see how they can be incorporated into your life. Truly form a relationship with these plants. Once you familiarize yourself with them, you will begin to realize how abundant health foods really are in our environment. These plants are here, not only for us, but for the pollinators and the soil as well. They are the first flowers that bees feed on in the spring and the nutrients these plants give to us humans, they also give to the soil. This is medicine in its most natural form.
This is part two in a series written by friend, farmer and herbalist Stephanie Mullis of Holistic Medicinals. Interested in her first post and journey into herbs? Check out our introduction to her series.