By March, we tend to feel restless in our winter sloth and motivated to make healthy changes. If you’re feeling sluggish, an herbal detox may be in order. We have long relied upon spring seasonal medicinal herbs and foods to get our digestive and detoxification systems back into gear, helping us to feel more vibrant. Although you can simply take herbs, a good detox protocol also includes diet and lifestyle tweaks. Avoid all processed food, refined carbohydrates, sugar, alcohol, and artificial ingredients.
Consider swapping coffee for green tea and eliminating common food allergens for a few weeks to a month: gluten/wheat, dairy, and possibly eggs, soy, and corn. Focus instead on eating fresh vegetables, some fruit, lean protein from beans, poultry, and fish, carbohydrates from gluten-free whole grains like quinoa, rice, and millet as well as winter squash and root vegetables, and good fats from olive oil, coconut, nuts, seeds, and avocados. Get plenty of rest and gentle movement, which reduce stress, promote relaxation, and encourage liver and lymph detoxification. Then, add in the following herbs.
- Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale): This weed’s leaves and roots are loaded with minerals and other nutrients. They also stimulate liver and kidney detoxification, boost digestion, and may reduce blood pressure. Consider one tablespoon dandelion root per cup of water simmered for 20 minutes for a coffee-like tea (particularly nice with equal parts burdock and roasted chicory root); you can refrigerate extras for a few days. Purée the leaves with pumpkin seeds, lemon, garlic, and olive oil for a yummy pesto. The leaves can also be blended with other cooked or raw greens; they taste best against strong flavors like those listed for the pesto. Note that a lot of dandelion will make you urinate more, so you may not want to take it before bed.
- Burdock (Arctium spp): The root of this weedy dandelion relative tastes a bit sweeter and less bitter, making it even more versatile in recipes. Burdock boasts liver and lymph detoxification as well as gentle digestion stimulation. You can buy chopped dry root in the bulk herb section and find the fresh roots (sometimes called “gobo”) near other roots in the produce aisle. Peel and thinly slice the fresh roots for stir fries and slaw; use in Asian recipes with shiitake mushrooms and sesame seeds. Simmer the fresh or dry roots in soup broth and tea. Burdock and dandelion roots can also be extracted in alcohol (tincture) or vinegar with a small dose taken as a daily bitter digestive tonic before meals.
- Beets (Beta vulgaris var. rubra): These vibrant magenta root veggies have profound benefits for the liver, the detoxification powerhouse of your body. Beets protect the liver, improve its function, and appear to boost liver-friendly antioxidants. The redder the beet, the better it seems to work. Beets also show promise for cardiovascular health, thanks in part to their ability to increase nitric oxide availability, as well as benefits for liver disease, cancer, arthritis, and more. Enjoy beets juiced, in a smoothie, raw, roasted, fermented, or pickled. They’re delicious grated fresh with carrots (and perhaps a little radish and ginger) with a light drizzle of maple syrup and toasted sesame oil.
- Flaxseeds (Linum usitatissimum): A whole foods detox diet should be loaded with fiber, which helps clear waste and toxins via the colon while also slowing down blood sugar spikes, minimizing cholesterol, improving satiety, and aiding weight loss. Vegetables, whole grains, and seeds are good sources of fiber, which also gives your good bacteria something to chew on, improving the quality of your microbiome. Consider increasing your daily fiber quota by sprinkling a spoonful of fresh-ground flaxseeds on your food or in your morning smoothie. Flax contains plant-based omega 3s as well as a type of beneficial phytoestrogenic fiber called lignans. Studies suggest that flaxseeds may also help reduce the risk of breast cancer and other cancers. Store flax in the freezer. If your flax smells or tastes fishy, it’s rancid and should not be used.
SELECTED SOURCES Body into Balance: An Herbal Guide to Holistic Self Care by Maria Noël Groves ($24.95, Storey Publishing, 2016) ó The Detox Diet by Elson M. Haas ($16.99, Ten Speed Press, 2012) ó “Fiber-Famished Gut Microbes Linked to Poor Health” by Katherine Harmon Courage, Scientific American, 3/23/15 ó “Flax and Breast Cancer: A Systematic Review” by G. Flower et al., Integr Cancer Ther, 9/8/13 ó “The Potential Benefits of Red Beetroot Supplementation in Health and Disease” by T. Clifford et al., Nutrients, 2015 ó The Wild Medicine Solution: Healing with Aromatic, Bitter, and Tonic Plants by Guido Mase ($18.95, Healing Arts Press, 2013)