Autumnal Spring Cleaning? Why not …By Eleanor Gallia, Medical Herbalist, MNIMH.
Traditionally a spring clean happens in springtime! That’s when the fresh green growth is at its most exciting and the nettles, dandelions and cleavers burst forth with their invitation to cleanse our kidneys, liver and lymphatic system after the long dark winter. However, this November saw an interest new campaign from “The Alcohol Education Trust”, a Dorset based charity working with schools and parents across the county to raise awareness for the need of responsible drinking.
(www.alcoholeducationtrust.org)“Dryvember,”as its name suggests, has been championing a “pretox” in anticipation of Christmas, at the same time offering a welcome opportunity for us to take stock and the body to recalibrate itself, pre~sparkle. Here’s a glance through a herbal lens as to why spring cleaning in autumn might not be such a daft idea…
HOW OUR BODIES DEAL WITH TOXINS
Everything that we take into our bodies, be it drunken, eaten or otherwise absorbed from the environment, will have its own predetermined route out. Full respect to the organs of elimination: the liver, kidneys, lungs, skin and lymphatic system. With a little thought we can see these routes in action: for example, when we eat garlic we breathe it out via the lungs, asparagus can be smelled in one’s urine and fenugreek can be smelled on ones skin! Bitters such as dandelion stimulate bowel function and the wonder herb of the lymphatic system is cleavers. When one of these five eliminatory routes is blocked, the other organs must work extra hard in an attempt to cleanse the body of the backlog of toxins. Hence when the kidney function is compromised we might see blemishes in the skin and dullness and lack of lustre in the hair. When the liver is stressed the skin might be pale or tinged with yellow, bowel habits will change and the urine might darken. Headaches, nausea, lethargy and depression might also be experienced as the body struggles to cleanse itself. In short all of the body’s systems need to work together. As we say in the world of holistic medicine, “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.”
Of all the eliminatory organs the LIVER has perhaps the hardest role. Not only does it deal with toxins but also with the everyday metabolism of fats, hormones and bacteria. All the blood in the body passes through the liver every hour and it is here that old red blood cells are broken down. The liver also secretes bile and cholesterol and stores glycogen and vitamins D and K. In good health the liver has the capacity to regenerate itself every 6 weeks, it deserves to be looked after! A Christmas PRETOX could indeed be just the thing before the rich foods and drinking associated with Yuletide festivities.
Drinking too much alcohol is a classic way in which we strain the liver, causing it to become fatty and inflamed which, in turn, will affect the metabolic processes throughout the body. Taking a break from alcohol is in particular a blessing for the liver, where the enzymes associated with tolerance can return to their natural levels and the liver cells get a chance to regenerate. The brain, nervous system, skin and kidneys will also be grateful for the chance to rehydrate.
While you’re on your detox, whether for the full month or just a few days, or even looking ahead to Lent, BITTER foods and herbs can provide stimulating nourishment for the liver and encourage the regeneration of any damaged cells. When we taste something bitter the reaction on the tongue is echoed in the liver and while the mouth produces saliva the liver secretes bile which helps in digestion and in the over all health of the liver. FOODS such as chicory and artichoke and HERBS like dandelion root and milk thistle are especially nourishing for the liver cells.
AUTUMN is a wonderful time to harvest roots such as dandelion and burdock. After flowering the energy from the plants drops down from the leaves back into the roots where, if they are not harvested, they will nourish themselves through winter before returning to life in the spring. This reflects our natural inclination to withdraw and return to our roots, often becoming more insular as the darkness draws in.
To make DANDELION COFFEE: Wash the harvested roots (in a big bucket of water) and chop them with a large kitchen knife. Wash them again. Then whizz the chopped roots in a grinder or food processor (2 cupfuls at a time) and spread them out on a baking tray. Bake for a couple of hours in a hot oven with the oven door slightly open to allow the moisture to escape. In this time they should turn from golden to dark and be reduced to about one quarter of their size. This roasted dandelion can be stored in glass jars. To make dandelion coffee add one or two tablespoonful to a pint of simmering water.
DANDELION LEAVES, taken as a simple infusion (tea) or eaten in a salad, are diuretic and cleanse the kidneys. Following this lovely Indian summer the dandelion leaves are still in profusion. They are particularly delicious with roasted beetroot and feta cheese.
NETTLES have a similar cleansing effect plus they nourish and strengthen the blood and through their kidney cleansing action brighten the complexion and the hair. Nettles that were cut at the end of summer will be bright and green again now and ready for a late autumnal harvest. To gather nettles pick just the top 4 leaves, this is best done wearing gloves although any accidental stings will stimulate the circulation and ward off arthritis!
CLEAVERS (or goose grass, Galium aparine) can also sometimes be found at this time of year tucked in under hedges, and they are a remarkable cleansing tonic for the lymphatic system. Infuse them in a warmed pot for a delicious tea which actually tastes green!
LEMON TEA. A year~round super simple healthy way in which to bring zing and help the body to recalibrate is to drink lemon tea every morning. Simply add a few slices and a squeeze of (organic) lemon to a cup of warm water and drink this first thing every morning. It rehydrates the lymphatic system, stimulates the digestion, boosts the immune system, balances pH and encourages the liver to regenerate. And its delicious and super simple. Enjoy!