Spring, as you know, is a time of new growth in the plant world, and with all of this growth comes many spring herbs, such as alterative herbs, that benefit our body after the long, dark days of winter. These herbs are particularly helpful when it comes to supporting the body in its efforts to cleanse itself from the heavy burdens of the previous season.
In the past, I’ve talked about the difference between cleansing and detoxing as well as how I go about each one, but today I’d like to hone in on the topic of cleansing a bit more and share a category of cleansing herbs that are commonly available during the spring.
These cleansing herbs are often grouped together into one category called alteratives, but this large category can be further divided into smaller categories based around herbs with common actions or herbs that act on specific body systems.
Let me start by explaining what alteratives are, and then we’ll take a closer look at some of the smaller, more specific categories of alterative herbs.
What Are “Alteratives?”
Alterative herbs help support the body’s processes of detoxification and elimination of waste. You’ll often hear folk herbalists refer to this category of herbs as blood cleansers because, through several processes, they reduce the amount of waste being transported around the body via the blood.
What kinds of wastes is the body transporting? Well, there are many things that are considered waste. It can be the unusable parts of the food we eat or the things we drink. It can be byproducts of supplements and medications the body can’t use. It can even be natural wastes of the body, such as dead cells or too many hormones.
There are several systems in the body that are well-known for their detoxification and elimination processes, such as the colon, kidneys, and liver, but there are also some lesser-known body systems that also help with these processes like the lymph and respiratory system.
To summarize these processes in the simplest way possible, the first thing for you to know is that these detoxification and elimination processes are happening constantly in the body, all at the same time.
The blood is constantly being filtered by the liver to remove any harmful substances before they reach the rest of the body. Once blood is filtered by the liver, it then passes through the body to all of the organs where nutrients are dropped off and wastes are picked up to be filtered and eliminated by a different body system. The digestive tract is another location where elimination takes place. Here, nutrients and water are removed from food as it moves through the digestive organs, finally resulting in unused solid waste material being eliminated from the body. This same process occurs in the kidneys. The kidneys work to maintain fluid balance in the body, but they also eliminate certain wastes from the body via urine. The lymphatic system is another system of detoxification and elimination. Here, waste is picked up at the cellular level and dumped into the bloodstream to be removed by one of the filters mentioned above. In the lungs, volatile waste compounds, such as carbon dioxide and other toxic gasses, are breathed out and eliminated from the body.
As you can see, there’s a lot of detoxification and elimination going on in the body. During the long, cold, dark winter months, we tend to eat heavier foods, such as meat, dairy, and starchy vegetables. We also move less frequently. We may even find ourselves consuming more alcohol due to winter holidays and festivities or medications due to prevalent illnesses at that time of the year.
With spring comes fresh plants and warmer days, affording us the opportunity to come out of our winter cocoons. These lighter plant foods and increased activity, as well as the fresh outdoor air, are often all we need to support our body’s detoxification pathways. Sometimes, though, it’s beneficial to give our body a wee bit of help by adding some of these spring alterative herbs into our diet as well, particularly if we tend to have some sluggishness in one or more of these pathways.
Many of the plants that are the first to arrive in this season are the spring alterative herbs, such as burdock (Arctium lappa) root, chicory (Cichorium intybus) leaf and root, chickweed (Stellaria media) aerial parts, cleavers (Galium aparine) aerial parts, dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) leaf and root, violet (Viola spp.) aerial parts, and yellow dock (Rumex crispus) root. These herbs each help with different pathways of elimination and can be further divided into more specific categories of herbs based on their action or organ affinities.
Hepatics (burdock, chicory, and dandelion) support liver function and can be further divided into bitters, choleretic (stimulate liver) and cholagogues (stimulate gallbladder). Diuretics (mostly dandelion leaf, but the roots of burdock, chicory, and dandelion to some degree) act on the kidneys. Lymphatics (burdock, chickweed, cleavers, and violet) act on the lymphatic system. Laxatives (yellow dock) act on the lower portion of the digestive system.
Using Alterative Herbs in Your Food
These spring alterative herbs can be incorporated into many of the foods we eat at this time of the year. Fresh aerial portions of these herbs can be added to mixed salad greens or cooked as a side dish. They can be added to soups, smoothies, and pestos as well or drunk as teas and infusions. The roots are often tinctured and used in small amounts before meals, but they can also be roasted and used as a coffee substitute or dried and used in capsule form.
Now that we’ve talked a bit about the benefits of these spring alterative herbs, particularly when it comes to detoxification and elimination in the body, the only thing for you to do now is to put them to use. Below you’ll find some ways to incorporate many of these herbs into your daily regimen this spring!
- Wildcrafted Spring Salad Mix by Growing Up Herbal
- Pickled Burdock Root by Herbal Academy
- DIY Roasted Chicory Root Coffee by The Little Black Coffee Cup
- Chickweed Pesto by Growing Up Herbal
- Watermelon, Cleaver & White Almond Smoothie by Wild Food Cafe
- Dandelion Fritters by Growing Up Herbal
- Violet Syrup & Lemonade by Fare Isle
- Yellow Dock Seed Crackers by Wild Blessings
- Spring Tonic Multivitamin Herb Balls by Growing Up Herbal
Enjoy, and here’s to gently cleansing your body with spring alterative herbs!
Which of these herbs have you used before? Which recipe do you plan on trying first?
Love and light,