We’ve been engaged in some literal spring cleaning after the storms earlier this month deluged our basement. Not so fun! But now that’s over, and we’re enjoying the happier side of the season, with its increasing warmth and sunshine, flowers and new life, and the promise of an abundant summer to come. Spring cleaning, in both house and body, is a wonderful way to connect with this time of year, to clear out the old stuff that accumulates in our homes and our metabolisms, and to make room for new energies to arrive.
The primary way our bodies clear out waste is through the liver, and this is also the organ targeted by the bitter greens that start to appear on our plates this time of year. We can also access that rejuvenating bitterness with herbs, thistles like Milk Thistle being the most classic. 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.
Red Root is not in itself anti-microbial, but it will make any anti-fungal, anti-viral, or anti-bacterial herb work more effectively. We especially like our Red Root Essence combined with Echinacea for the recovery stages of an infection, with other herbs added in to direct the action to specific organs, such as Oshá for the respiratory system or Uva Ursi for the urinary tract.
One spring cleaning tradition I would like to see come back more widely is real root beer. Hear me out! I’m not talking about the sugary sweet sodas that are a pale imitation of the real thing. I am referring to the classic fermented tonic medicines, made from roots gathered in the fall, and maturing into readiness in early Spring. When we traveled to festivals more, I looked forward to the myriad manifestations of this delicious medicine made by dedicated herbalists from every tonic plant you can think of: roots like Licorice, Ginger, Ginseng, Dandelion, Burdock, and one of my favourite tastes, Sarsaparilla.
Sarsaparilla is sweet and aromatic, and although it’s not familiar to most people, when you taste it, you realize what sugary soda “root beer” is missing. Its sweet taste tells us it is a food-type medicine, loaded with balancing polysaccharides like the roots listed earlier. It is also high in natural cortico-steroids, which act as anti-inflammatories and hormone balancers. Sarsaparilla is especially good at healing toxicities which erupt at the skin, such as acne, psoriasis, herpes, and even the simple hives and itches of Spring allergies. Sarsaparilla is also healing to the nerves and nervous system, and our Essence of Sarsaparilla combines well with Oatstraw and Lion’s Mane for this use, or with any other roots as a general tonic.
Our next Spring cleaning herb is a mushroom- Chaga, which grows parasitically as a black crust on Birch trees. Chaga’s uses go back as far as human existence, as it was one of the items found in the Ice Man, the stone age man found frozen in the alps. We don’t know what he was using it for, but Chaga’s traditional use is as a tonic and cancer preventative, as well as a general cleanser, especially to the liver, immune functions, and as with Sarsaparilla, any toxicity that erupts at the skin. We’ve also found our Chaga Spiritualized Essence to be an uplifting and energizing tonic which harmonizes well with many other herbs.
Shilajit is not something many people consider delicious, but I enjoy its pungent and aromatic qualities, which tell us about its healing properties and uses. It is a mineral pitch which exudes from the rock faces of the Himalayas, and is believed by scientists to be the breakdown product of millennia of plant life working through the soil; and by the native people who revere it to be the soul of the mountain.
High in minerals, especially iron, Shilajit is nutritive and rebuilding, and in Ayurveda, it is used for nearly all kinds of imbalance and depletion, directed by other herbs to target specific organs and systems. For the digestive system, it is combined with Triphala, and for mental and emotional balance, it is supported by Jatamansi.
Shilajit is also very high in benzoic acid, which is found in many aromatic resins such as Frankincense. This gives Shilajit a unique incense-like taste, and contributes to its detoxifying properties. For this use, our Shilajit Essence can be supported by Tulsi, Calamus, or Saffron, all also on sale, discussed shortly.
Speaking of unique and polarizing tastes, our Cilantro Spiritualized Essence is a true expression of this herb’s flavour and healing properties. Whether you love it or hate it on your food, Cilantro is an excellent digestive tonic, as well as being anti-bacterial and protective to the digestive system. More recently, compounds in Cilantro have been found to be chelators of heavy metals, and it has been used by a few of our practitioner friends for removing them from the system, especially when there is brain or nervous system involvement.
Our next two Spagyrics are much more universally appreciated flavours, and bridge physical and energetic cleansing. Tulsi and Saffron are both Ayurvedic herbs, also linking food and medicinal uses with balanced but powerful healing properties.
Tulsi, also called Holy Basil, is planted around temples and homes in India, as it is said that negativity cannot cross its influence. We grow it in the same way, and enjoy its sweet, clearing scent as we come and go through our home and garden. More licorice-flavoured and spicier than Italian Basil, Tulsi is a tonic to almost all the body’s systems, from the brain, throat and lungs all through the digestive system. Tulsi is an adaptogen, and also has balancing effects on metabolism, mood, mental function and spiritual awareness.
Our Tulsi Spiritualized Essence is clearing on all levels of being, easing the mind of worry and sweeping aside negativity, dark energies, blockages, and the residue of difficult people or situations. Taking it feels like being in a room that’s been smudged, in which all stagnation is gone and only positivity and clarity remain.
Saffron has a similar energy of clearing blockages and stagnation, but it tends to focus that quality in the Chakras and subtle body meridians, particularly moving the flow of spiritual force upwards to the crown. In Ayurveda, Saffron is considered Sattvic, being of the spiritual energy which is beyond that of the earthly elements. Our Saffron Alchymical Initiatic has a wonderful levity to its energy, lifting the mind, mood, and spirit body upwards for a higher perspective of wisdom and insight. It combines very well with Tulsi, and also with our next Spagyric, Calamus.
In Ayurveda, Calamus is known as Vacha, meaning “Truth”, and its intelligence relates to communication of truth and wisdom from one’s highest self. Calamus is used in cleansing work for its physical and energetic clearing properties, which move through the energy channels like Saffron, but more dispersed through the body. Many healers rely on our Calamus Alchymical Initiatic to help them draw on healing energies and make sure their work flows through them but not from them in a way that can cause depletion or burnout. For this work, Calamus can be combined with Baltic Amber for a layer of protection.
Calamus is also considered a Sattvic herb, especially in its effects on the mind and its functions, and this property is even stronger when it’s used with Celastrus. Another Ayurvedic tonic, where it is called “Magzsudhi”, which means “brain clearer”. We relied on our Celastrus Alchymical Initiatic at festivals and events to keep our minds sharp, and especially to dispel the fog of tiredness that would set in after a few days of talking. Besides its immediate sharpening effects, Celastrus is anti-oxidant and protective to brain tissue and long-term health, and we like it combined with Rosemary for this use.
Finally, if you’ve had enough activation of your brain and thoughts and would just like to clear out all the chatter, you might enjoy our Sandalwood Alchymical Initiatic. This sacred tree is more familiar as an incense or oil, but it is also used internally for the same gifts as its scent. It is said to clear the “monkey mind”, the chattering of worries, random thoughts, inner dialogue and noise that interfere with calm and clarity, whether you’re seeking that for your day to day life or in meditation.
A few drops and a hush flows across the mind, bringing calm and quiet awareness, mindful attention, and an open, devotional state. This effect is welcome for meditation, prayer, martial arts, Yoga, and other contemplative practices, and also just for daily life to dispel anxiety and restlessness. Try it with Saffron or Tulsi, or with Gotu Kola for extra clarity in mindfulness meditation practice.
Ahhhhhhh, that’s better.