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Do You Need a Spring Detox?

Supporting our bodies as we transition out of Winter

As we start to think about breaking out of our cozy Winter hibernation and prepare ourselves for more active Spring sprouting, you may be the kind of gung-ho person who has endless supplies of energy and just goes for it start to finish!

Then again... you may be the kind of person who gets excited at the prospect of warmer days enjoying the outdoors - but then either a) feels stuck with a lack of motivation and can't get started, or b) starts out with a bang but burns out quickly after doing too much (it's me- I'm person b)

Powerful ways we can help this seasonal transition go more smoothly include taking the steps to 1) nourish our bodies by adding vitamins and minerals, and 2) eliminate waste by supporting our detoxification organs

Does that mean you need to do a cleanse?

Dandelion Taraxacum officinale

Well, the human body has evolved beautifully to remove everyday waste products through five elimination organs:

  • the bowels,

  • the kidneys,

  • the liver,

  • the lungs, and

  • our largest organ: the skin. 

Because of this, you don't likely need to do a "detox" or "cleanse" and your body isn't full of poisons and parasites. As long as they aren’t injured or diseased, your elimination organs work constantly to make sure of this. The need to filter waste products is an expected part of being a human. That's why these organs have evolved to do this so well!

Yes- our modern environments present some new substances that need to be eliminated via the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. But even our ancestors- whom we might imagine having exclusively eaten hunted and gathered wild foods, drank the purest stream water, and breathed the freshest air... still pooped and peed. 

Thats because their bodies still eliminated "toxins". They metabolized what went into them, turned it into energy, and produced waste products from this metabolism. Metabolic waste is a normal part of human design. There is no level of "purity" in your diet, environment, or lifestyle that can avoid it.

If our systems responsible for elimination become sluggish or overworked, however, we might experience things like: 

  •  low energy, 

  •  chronic inflammatory conditions, 

  •  skin issues, 

  •  autoimmune conditions, 

  •  degenerative diseases,

  •  and poor digestion

When our internal elimination organs like our liver, kidneys, bowels, and lungs can't quite keep up with removing the inflammation caused by things like allergies, autoimmune responses, hormone imbalances, and more, the only remaining option is for that inflammation to appear on the elimination organ of last resort: the skin.

Stinging Nettle Urtica dioica

We probably feel it, but we can’t really look in the mirror and see when our overworked kidneys are causing low energy. Or when our sluggish liver is failing to keep our hormones in balance. Or when our bowels are backed up. These sorts of things we sometimes just accept as our new normal or, at the very least: unrelated.

But we can certainly see when our skin is having to pick up the slack for these other organs. We may be having breakouts, we may feel puffy or inflamed, we may have rashes, eczema, or psoriasis. But because we couldn’t see the internal imbalances leading up to this, it often isn’t until the issue reaches this point that we can see that we even notice anything is wrong. We might not think to connect the way we’ve been feeling inside with these skin issues on the outside, or some people might not even have anything else feeling off at all! 

This is why topical treatments often only work temporarily before the issue returns. The call is coming from inside the house and some or all of our elimination organs might need some extra TLC.

Enter: Alterative herbs

The traditional definition of an alterative herb is one that is “blood-cleansing”.

In modern times- despite what the wellness industry will advertise- if your blood was toxic or in need of cleansing: you would be in septic shock in the ICU.

So, a more accurate definition of an alterative (all-TEAR-uh-tiv is how I pronounce it, but I'm sure others say it differently) is a plant that gradually restores overall body function, vitality, and metabolism. 

Many of them support the body's own elimination organs to optimally perform their jobs ridding the body of waste by providing specialized nourishment so that these organs aren't fighting an uphill battle due to added environmental pressures.

If you’re thinking this sounds extremely unclear, you’re not wrong. Plants that are considered alterative cover a broad spectrum of processes, and the mechanisms of how many work are not fully understood. 

Alteratives can have an impact on almost every body system. Some function in a very broad sense and some have very specific and direct organ affinities. These can be used in combination to speed up the alterative action and target systems that are specifically sluggish. 

Some of the ways an alterative can function are: 

  • Supplying nutrition aka vitamins & minerals

  • Aiding elimination by supporting digestion

  • Supporting the body’s own detoxification organs (liver, kidneys, lungs, and skin) 

  • To stimulating digestion 

  • Balancing the immune system. 

Plantain Plantago spp.

Other terms you might see used to describe alterative herbs are: nutritive, restorative, nourishing, tonic 

Despite our blood not being toxic, if our systems responsible for elimination become sluggish due to our environment and lifestyle, we can still experience:

  •  low energy, 

  •  chronic inflammatory conditions, 

  •  skin issues, 

  •  autoimmune conditions, 

  •  degenerative diseases,

  •  and poor digestion

…And this is where alterative herbs can really shine.

Herbs in this group typically have a slow action, over a 2-3 month period of continuous administration. This is because a deficiency or imbalance likely didn't happen overnight- it could have taken months or even years to develop. Therefore, it takes just as much time and consistency to restore balance and rebuild reserves.

In other words - nourishing ourselves is not an overnight fix!

There are plenty of herbs that have a direct and pretty immediate action on a symptom or ailment: valerian and sleep, chamomile and indigestion, horehound and a wet cough... we love these herbs as we can grab them in a pinch and often notice improvement right away.

We must be mindful, though, that working with herbs this way does come close to working with them allopathically. That is to say, working with them in the "take this herb for this condition" way which is the same way modern medicine approaches ailments with over-the-counter medications. If we're not careful, we can end up using herbs as band-aids in the same way that drugs are used to treat symptoms rather than the cause.

Red Clover Trifolium pratense

This is why, the longer I work with herbs and learn about them- the more I realize that working with alteratives, while less "sexy" and trendy than herbs that address symptoms, proves to address the root cause of more issues than we may realize.

In this way, we may be able to strengthen and bolster our systems to be more resilient and resistant- possibly even avoiding the development of exhaustion, chronic conditions, or symtroms to treat altogether.

This is why alteratives are quite possibly my favorite category of herbs!

So, which plants have alterative actions? 

Here's where I'll introduce several herbs that are known alteratives, which all work in extremely different and unique ways... By no means is this intended to be an exhaustive list.

(Plants marked with an * are profiled in-depth in my Rootcraft Online Herbal Programs- that's where we learn how, when, and why to harvest, prepare, and work with these amazing plants)

Violet viola odorata

Mild alteratives:

*Garlic Allium sativum 

*Black Cohosh Cimicifuga racemosa (endangered)

*Purple Cone Flower Echinacea spp. (endangered)

*Plantain Plantago spp.

Violet Viola spp.

*Chickweed Stellaria media

Strong alteratives:

*Burdock Arctium lappa

*Cleavers Galium aparine

*Red Clover Trifolium pratense 

*Nettle Urtica dioica

*Oregon grape Mahonia aquifolium

Chickweed Stellaria media

*Dandelion Taraxacum officinale

Goldenseal Hydrastis canadensis (endangered)

Yellow Dock Rumex crispus 

Very strong alteratives:

-use with caution and thorough training only-

Poke Phytolacca americana

Bloodroot Sanguinaria canadensis (endangered)

If you're interested in incorporating nourishing alterative herbs into your life, allow me to offer two ways I can help:

  1. If you don't quite have the time, desire, or confidence to make your own preparations: I'm sending out my Revive Spring Greens Oxymel and Inner Glow Liver Support Tonic this March along with lots of other seasonal herbal goodies in my Seasonal Herbal Coven Subscription (the deadline to join for Spring's box is March 1st)

  2. If you are a DIYer and love blending science with traditional knowledge, you can learn about a dozen other categories of herbs like alteratives in my Herbal Actions program or many of my other herbal programs! We focus on alteratives throughout our March lessons in the 10-month Seasonal Herbal Intensive. You can reserve your spot for next year here

Sending you all warm, nourishing wishes as we get closer and closer to the Spring Equinox!



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