Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Spring Time, a Time for Tonics

Spring time is a great time for detoxing our body after winter hibernation when we can get sluggish. Tonics are a perfect way to "nurture and enliven" our system in the words of herbalist David Hoffman. They help wake the body from our winter rest and get important things like our bile moving to cleanse our liver which can hold many of our toxins. It only makes sense that the earliest herbs we see in  spring are the ones that we should be injesting too. Dandelion, chickweed, violet, nettles, and more. Spring tonics with herbs high in nutrients and minerals and that stimulate and discharge our blood are good for our digestive system, lymphatic system, and urinary system. This batch of spring tonic we made consists of stinging nettles, chickweed, spice bush, sassafras root, dandelion, turkey tail and molasses as a preservative. We spent a sunny but cool spring day building up a fire at Susquehannock State Park, collecting water from the spring, harvesting herbs and making a decoction of the tonic.

Chickweed Stellaria media 
Such a common and often overlooked plant that gets written off as "just a weed." "Little star" is a reference to the many sweet star like flowers that line its stems. It's an amazing all-purpose healing plant used internally and externally. It is considered a cooling herb and found in every continent and found even under the snow. Its a great source of food and contains saponins which have soap like action that works to emulsify and permeate membranes in our cells to absorb beneficial nutrients and minerals, making it great for the lymphatic system and glandular system. It neutralizes toxins, weakens bacteria cell walls to fight off sickness in the body, dissolves warts and growths and cysts. Susan Weed writes extensively about this plant and includes that it is great in helping with thyroid irregularities and weight problems.
Spice Bush
Lindera benzoin 
Spice bush budding about to unfurl its oval lobed leaves.
Spicebush is a common shrub of swamps and woodlands throughout North America. Spicebush is one of the first plants to bloom in the spring and is named for the aromatic, spicy scent that arises from its leaves, flowers, bark and fruit.
Spicebush includes the brewing of teas from the crushed, dried leaves and the grinding of the dried berries for a seasoning spice. The teas are said to have a range of medicinal properties that include relief of fatigue, pain, arthritis, fever, cold symptoms, intestinal disorders and even breathing difficulties. Oils from the berries can be applied topically to treat bruises and rheumatic pain and as a general fist-aid ointment for cuts. 

Stinging Nettles Urtica Dioica
I like to call nettles "natures pharmacy" because it is so beneficial to our bodies being pack with vitamins, minerals, protein and nutrition for the body. They are great to strengthen the kidneys, help heal damaged tissue areas, support the body and  balance the adrenal system, immune, digestive, circulatory, endocrine and nervous system! It is incredibly beneficial for women in their menstrual/moon cycles. Great externally for promoting healthy strong hair and skin, making it great for eczema. Don't let the little sting deter you, just wear your gloves or not!

Dandelion Taraxacum Officinale
Everyone knows this herb and often writes it off as another weed. It is a powerfully medicinal plant, so learn a new appreciation for this one and its healing actions! Dandelion is bitter. Bitter herbs like Dandelion help to nourish the liver by stimulating flow and discharge of bile that help flush out the body. Dandelion is also a natural diuretic. It helps relive water and toxins without depleting the body like many over the counter prescriptions do because it contains tons of potassium. Like the other herbs mentioned already, it helps digestive weakness and strength the blood. Gather the leaves and flowers to eat in salads or stir fries, and the root is great for teas and tonics. 

Turkey Tail
Trametes versicolor
Part of the polypore mushroom family, Turkey Tail is a highly medicinal and easily found in the woods growing on decaying logs with its colorful stripes and turkey fan tail. Its main effects are to strengthen the immune system. It helps to enhance the most important cells in our body, T helper cells. These are the ones that tell the rest of our cells what to do and when to stop. Many autoimmune diseases and cancers attack these important cells especially during chemotherapy and radiation because they inadvertently kills T helper cells so go Turkey Tail! 

Sassafras   Sassafras albidum 
We love this under story tree for its sweet aroma, its mitten leaves and for the amazing teas it makes from the root. The root is typically harvested in the spring to made into a tonic for cleansing the blood. It is considered one of the best alterative herbs. Alteratives are "herbs that gradually restore proper functioning of the body, increasing health and vitality. Some support natural waste elimination via the kidneys, liver, lungs, or skin. Others stimulate digestion" -David Hoffman, Medical Herbalism.  Sassafras also has value as a stimulant, pain reliever, astringent and treatment for rheumatism. Skin eruptions may be bathed in an infusion from the leaves. 

I want to honor the Native Americans of our region, the Susquehannock and the Conestoga who practiced their healing traditions and shared things like using Sassafras for its medicine. I think about what the woods used to look like before the indigenous were pushed out and killed by the white settlers. I think about people living closely to the earth, foraging food from the forest that provided, living off and from the land, utilizing everything and being connected and a part of the earth that so many are estranged from today. On a daily basis, I witness the logging of our forests, the over killing of animals for fun, the spraying chemicals on our soil, the dumping trash into our water ways, the mass production of animals and food for consumption and none of it makes any sense. So wherever we are and how ever small we are, every time we harvest our plants, we make sure to replant one in return, and we find ways to protect all life from any more prolonged abuse in whatever ways we can. 

All mixed together slowly boiling over our fire at Susquehannock on an early spring afternoon.