As is usual for this time of year here, the weather has been swinging back and forth between sunny and rainy, but it’s definitely getting a springy character to it. Looking around the nearby fields and forests, fresh green shoots and delicate flowers are starting to really show, and we’ve started planting the garden we’ll be eating from for the next few seasons.

That garden can’t get going soon enough, as far as I’m concerned- I am getting a little tired of roots and winter squashes and looking forward to greenery. In the meantime, I can satisfy that craving with bitters, both as greens from our yard, and Spagyrics of herbs that are great allies for this time.

One of the flowers that’s been springing up in our field is Dandelion, which I wrote about a few years ago. They start flowering as early as February, and by this time of year, they have nice big juicy leaves that are just the right amount of tasty bitter for salads. The roots, which are the main component of our Essence of Dandelion, are slightly more bitter, working to stimulate digestion and the flow of movement and juices that helps our body absorb nutrients efficiently.

Another classic herb to support digestion, especially the liver, is Milk Thistle. This herb gets its name from both its appearance and use, each a reflection of the other. Its leaves are green, speckled with white droplets like milk, and this is the signature of its use as a galactagogue, or lactation support.

Acting through the liver’s role in balancing hormones, Milk Thistle supports abundant and nutritious milk supply, but it is also very beneficial for any person’s liver health. It’s a mild laxative as well, and the bitterness in our Milk Thistle Essence wakes up the digestive and metabolic system into more efficient action.

Turning the bitter dial up to eleven, we find Kutki, an Ayurvedic tonic herb which is by far the most bitter herb I have ever tasted (which is saying a lot!). Like other herbal bitters, Kutki immediately stimulates digestion, starting in the mouth and then activating the digestive system from the stomach on down. This stimulating action is useful for all kinds of imbalances, from simple upset stomachs to infections and sluggish metabolism, but especially issues of the liver.

Kutki has a direct reparative effect on the liver tissues, and so has been used with success for any liver disorder involving damage, such as toxic exposure, hepatitis, cancer, and cirrhosis. And, since the liver is involved in mediating and regulating so many other body systems and processes, Kutki’s healing effect there can also lead to better overall immunity, reduced allergic and inflammatory response, and a healthier circulatory system, and we have heard great reports about our Kutki Spiritualized Essence helping with seasonal allergies, as well as the traditional Ayurvedic uses for it.

One of my favourite local plant allies, which I wrote about in our Weed Love series, is Red Root. This shrub to small tree grows all along the West coast, glowing with vivid blue flowers in early summer, drawing bees and butterflies. It was a widely-used medicine with the Northwest First nations, and with the European settlers and herbalists who learned from them.

Red Root is also a bit bitter, and very astringent, which is a clue to how it works. It affects the mineral balance of the lymphatic system, increasing electrolyte activity and so helping waste products flow and be removed more easily. In this way, it is like squeezing the sponge of the tissues to drain out infection, toxins, and inflammatory compounds. It combines well with many other herbs, making antimicrobials like Echinacea or Oregon Grape more effective.

Calendula is a great companion to Red Root, and it’s one I grow and use quite often, alone and with many other herbs, as well. Calendula might be best known for its external uses to prevent infection and repair damaged skin that’s been abraded, burned, or cut, but it’s also very useful internally for many of the same types of imbalances.

In almost any type of tissue damage or irritation, from the mouth, through the throat, into the stomach and out the intestines, our Calendula Essence can be called on to reduce inflammation, prevent infection, and stimulate rebuilding. This can be healing to such diverse issues as cold sores, sore throats, ulcers, recovery from food poisoning, hemorrhoids, and more.

Outside of the mucus membranes, Calendula is also a lymphatic tonic, increasing the cleanup actions of the whole body in a way that’s different from Red Root’s actions, but which combines well with it for greater effect.

Our next Spagyric isn’t from an herb at all, at least not any recent ones- Shilajit is a mineral pitch that forms in the Himalayas, where it is thought to be all the plant life that has grown on those slopes, broken down over millennia and exuded back out the rock faces. This makes it like a combination of countless plants and their virtues, coming together in a very concentrated form that is a revered traditional medicine.

Shilajit is very aromatic, partly because of its content of Benzoic acid, a compound also found in many incense resins like Frankincense and Benzoin. This chemical is antimicrobial, a tissue catalyst, and a “director” of the actions of other herbs. Our Shilajit Essence can be combined with almost any other Spagyric to direct its action to different organs or systems- combine it with Milk Thistle for liver health, with Cordyceps as a respiratory tonic, or Turmeric to support the joints and digestion.

The long cloudy days of winter also leave my mind feeling sluggish and slow, and I bet many of you feel that way, too. So our last few Spagyrics for spring cleaning are aimed at the mind and bringing it sharpness and a bright energy for the sunny season to come.

If you’ve known us for any length of time, you probably know how fond I am of Calamus, and how much I rely on it for mental sharpness and to keep my subtle energy and vitality flowing. It was one of the herbs I talked about in a recent lecture for the Salem Witchcraft and Folklore festival, where I discussed its character as an herb of Truth and courageous, heart-centered communication.

Soon we will be starting our own lecture series, and the first lecture, For the Sensitives, will feature Calamus prominently. Besides communication, it’s a plant for moving the subtle energies through the body, clearing obstacles to its flow and helping you regulate any subtle forces you work with in practices like Qi Gong, Tai Qi, hands-on healing and magick and more.

Our Calamus Initiatic is the most vitalizing to the body’s flow of Prana and subtle force, connecting the head, heart, and voice, and activating any part that energy meditations send awareness to. For a more mind-clearing quality, our Calamus Magistery creates a clear, blank slate in the thoughts, sweeping aside mental chatter and moving awareness to a state above language.

Our final Spring tonic herb is both bitter, and clearing to the mind, giving it its Ayurvedic name, Magzsudhi, which means “brain clearer”. We relied on this plant, also called Celastrus, on countless festival mornings, invoking its cobweb-clearing powers to wake up and be bright and shiny for long days in our booth.

In some ways, the dark and inward nature of winter is like one long night that can be hard to snap out of, and a bit of our Celastrus Initiatic can brighten the mood, sharpen and quicken the thought, and protect both the physical brain and the function of the mind.

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