Spring- The Bitter Truth
Fall is the season when we need to build our immunity, it is a season of harvest and reflection. Winter is a season of rest and mood. Spring is a time of rebirth, awakening and renewal. It is a time to detox and purify. It is also the season of the liver. “Liver” is an old English word which means “one who lives”.
Everything we put in our mouths will pass through our liver, whether it is an apple, a piece of chocolate, a glass of wine or a prescribed blood pressure medicine. The liver processes everything. It is the laboratory of the body. We, therefore need to take care of our liver through purification and avoidance of toxins that specifically harm the liver. Examples of liver toxins include BHT, alcohol, processed foods and excess fat and sugar.
BHT is the by product of charcoal broiled meats, so avoid charring your meat on the grill.
Statins, the medication used to reduce cholesterol, may also be harmful to your liver.
It is worth noting that during spring, the time of detoxification, the earth begins to produce plants that are especially helpful in detoxifying the liver. Bitters, found in the form of dandelions, chamomile, artichoke leaf, barberry, gentian, hops, sage, yarrow and arugula are among the first shoots of spring. Primitive man gorged on these natural bitters as soon as the plants emerged. Bitters stimulate our digestive enzymes and prepare the gut to accept, assimiliate and distribute nutrients throughout our blood stream.
Urban Moonshine is a wonderful Vermont based company that handcrafts organic bitters and tonics. It is located in Burlington Vermont. We implore you to check out their beautiful and informative website.
The most popular commercially prepared bitter is Angostura Bitters. Angostura bitters were “discovered” by Johann Siegert, a physician who travelled from Europe to fight with Simon Bolivar in South America. Dr. Siegert was looking for a cure for the stomach disorder which plagued the soldiers in the war. The common misconception is that Angostura Bitters utilize Angostura bark in the preparation of bitters, but the name Angostura comes from the Caribbean port that originally shipped the bitters.
Spring is also a time to forage and we love to forage! Cattail shoots are available from March until early summer. You can add the white hearts to salads, simmer them in soups or sauté them with other vegetables. Cattail hearts have a pleasant taste reminiscent of cucumbers. Cattail flowers, when immature, are high in protein and essential fatty acids. Ostrich fern fiddleheads are a good source of niacin and Vitamin A. Fiddleheads are in season for only about two weeks each spring, so you have to pay attention! Only take the unrolled fiddleheads. Once the fiddlehead begins to unwind into a fern, eating it can cause illness. When harvesting fiddleheads, or any other natural plant/herb, only take small portions from each planted group in order to sustain the plant for the next year. It is good fortune to find edible plants in the woods and being overzealous or greedy when harvesting only serves to deny the next years harvest.`
Stinging nettles come in several varieties and should be harvested before they flower or they can be harmful to your kidneys. Make sure to boil the nettles for a few minutes to remove their stinging qualities. Jewelweed can usually be found growing along side stinging nettles and it is the antidote to the sting of the nettle. Crush the jewelweed stem and rub onto the affected skin and the sting and rash will dissipate. Jewelweed is also useful for soothing mosquito bites!
Our favorite plant to forage is wild leeks. They too have a short growing season. Leeks are amongst the first to emerge on the forest floor and they thrive until the forest canopy denies them direct sunlight. Then the leaves wither and hide the bulbs until the next year. When making leek pesto, only the leaves are needed, so use scissors to harvest the leaves and leave the bulbs to produce in the following year!
Milk thistle, also known as silymarin is an herb that has been used for a long time to help support the liver, especially when taking medications that are harmful to the liver, for example, statins.
Allergies are prevalent in the spring. many of us suffer from itchy eyes and runny noses. The first line of therapy should be the use of a Neti pot, which can be purchased at most drug stores. Use tepid distilled water, add a pinch of non iodized salt or baking soda and follow the directions that come with the Neti pot. Other helpful natural remedies for allergy season are stinging nettle supplement capsules which have an anti-histamine effect without causing sedation.
Quercetin, 500mg twice a day may also help with allergy symptoms.
Green tea also gives some relief from springtime allergies. We like to make green tea iced tea with fresh mint or a squeeze of lemon. It is so easy, inexpensive and refreshing. Place four green tea bags in a pyrex quart bowl and add four cups hot water. Let cool and add plenty of ice, a few mint sprigs to taste and or a squeeze of lemon.
Butterbur has been shown to relieve allergic rhinitis. It is called butterbur because the colonials used this large leaf plant to wrap their butter. The American of Neurology has approved Butterbur as first line therapy for the prevention of migraine headaches. 50-75 mg capsules, taken twice a day, may prevent migraine headaches.
Oregano leaves were used in ancient Greece for the treatment of toxic spider bites as well as respiratory problems. Oregano essential oil is highly effective in treating giardia lambia, the worlds most common intestinal infection.
Chamomile, a bitter, is used extensively in Europe for insomnia, anxiety, IBS and colic.
The first plants of spring provide us with nourishment and protection from many medical issues that arise during the spring season. Get outside and find them!