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Tonics for Spring

To align the body with nature is a great endeavor. It is a way we become different. We feel ourselves in relation to things differently; we walk differently and begin to see things differently. We get perspective.

When we think of sustainability, we think of reusing and redirecting energy in the environment. To align our bodies with nature is to apply that same principle to our inner systems – to take into account and become aware of how energy is moving in our bodies and being expended. By approaching our health this way, we take steps toward healing that are deeper. That does not mean curing disease, it means changing patterns of dysfunction. The process is as slow as the process of nature. The process also has its own ideas about what we need to grow, just as the unpredictability of nature. Within this, we learn to let go of the “everything needs to be fixed now” attitude. Within the slowness of the process, we discover and uncover layers of ourselves that have yet to be reconciled or even recognized. As we move energy in the body, new patterns emerge and manifest. The true picture of our internal workings begins to come forth. Each one of us becomes a microcosm for what we want on Earth, balance and strength from within being just a couple of those many things.

Tonics For the Liver

In the previous article, I spoke of the importance of dealing with how stress affects our nervous system and adrenals. When we support those systems of the body with tonics, it sets the stage for greater healing physically, emotionally, and spiritually. As we address how we stress and support our needs, we change a bit. We get perspective. We move closer to aligning ourselves with nature. Tonics, in this instance, help relieve some of our stress, and thus support us in setting new life patterns in motion…over time.

Tonics for the liver are just as valuable. They help our liver and other digestive organs remember a more functional way of processing. In the event that a disease has already taken root, a more radical approach is taken. But in general, tonics are to be taken for a period of time to retrain the body in how to act. We would then stop taking the tonic to see if the body can remember on its own. This process should not be left to the herbs alone. It is a process that we address in the same ways we hope to heal – physically, emotionally and spiritually.

The emotion of the liver is anger in Chinese medicine. I have a theory on anger. I believe it can often be a symptom of a range of emotions that sit behind our anger, and wait to be consciously realized. We can be angry because we fear, or angry because we feel humiliated. People talk about working on their anger, but have trouble coming to terms with it. It is important to look behind the anger. There are messages that help facilitate deeper healing.

Anger is a healthy emotion. It gives us the fire we need to move and take action. Finding the place where anger is a catalyst instead of a hindrance is part of the work.

The Root of the Plant

Herbs that affect the liver do so in their own way, and come from different parts of the plant. From Milk Thistle it’s the seed, Feverfew is the flowering tops and leaves, and St. Johns Wort is the fresh flower. We also have the roots. They are the hardiest and most protected part of the plant. We have Burdock root, Dandelion root, Yellowdock root, Yellow Root, and Oregon Grape root, to name a few.

Root tonics for the liver are amazing healing agents. Just think of what the root is to the plant. When you dig and smell a root, it is the smell of the plant meeting the earth. Break it open, and you find its smell and taste as bitter as the cold of winter. Roots stabilize the plant, giving it a place to withstand and survive difficult weather. They pull food up from the darkness of the Earth for the plant. They are high in enzymes, and sometimes, as in the case of lomatium, are sticky and resinous. As roots connect the plant to the earth, so they connect us as well. They remind us of how strong and durable our bodies are.

When I first began gardening, I lived in Kentucky. It does not get near as cold there, nor is winter so long. Nonetheless, even there I was astounded at the mystery of the plant surviving through its root. I still am. To watch something come from seemingly nothing in the spring is a miraculous and hopeful feeling.

The Plant: Arctium lappa

I read a beautiful story about Arctium lappa, whose common name is Burdock root, which reminded me of the hopeful strength this plant holds for us. It was about an old Japanese man who was struck ill, and remained ill for days. His family went with their bucket and shovels to the edge of the woods and dug up gobo, known as burdock root in Northern Asia. The elderly man’s immune system had been greatly depleted, his energy was low and he had lost his appetite. He was cold. His family took the freshly dug roots and made a warm thick soup with them. The grandfather got better.

Burdock is a biennial native to Northern Asia and Europe. It has easily found a natural home in America as well, and become an underutilized plant medicine. Perhaps it is time to revisit this herb that strengthens the body.

Many refer to burdock root as cooling to the liver, but it has a warming effect on the body. It is considered an alterative, stimulating the function of the lymphatic/immune system, kidney, and liver. Burdock acts as a bitter digestive tonic, stimulating bile production and acting as a mild detoxifying agent to the liver. When used in large quantities and by itself, it causes the body to detoxify too quickly, and for those toxins to excrete through the skin as opposed to through the urinary tract. This can cause a breakout. I have, for this reason, used it in combination with dandelion root for detoxifying to forgo this effect. Dandelion root supports the release of toxins through the urinary tract. Adding ginger increases the energy of the tonic , clearing a path for dandelion and burdock root to move even more efficiently.

By warming and stimulating the functions of the lymph, kidney and liver, we find burdock root to be a fine ally in cleansing programs. It helps the body prepare for the release of toxins before a cleanse, keeps the intestines and kidneys functioning during the cleanse, and helps the body to maintain function after, acting as a tonic. Christopher Hobbs speaks of the ability of burdock root to inactivate mutagens, known as cancer-causing agents, by reacting with them and taking them out of action. Mutagens come from pesticides or from cooked meats in the diet, and they build up in our bodies. When a plant becomes as ubiquitous and pernicious as burdock root, it important to realize it is for a reason. This plant proves to be a great ally.

Burdock is indicated for chronic skin disorders with inflammation, irritation of the urinary tract, and chronic lymph swelling. The seeds are historically known to strengthen the kidneys and respiratory system. They are high in fatty acids and are specifically indicated for the chronic skin conditions. The root, when eaten as a food, is also high in fructo-oligerosaccharides, also known as FOS. FOS is known to be food for healthy bowel flora. In this way, burdock normalizes bowel flora.
We all want to live in balance. Yet we live in an environment where the unreasonable expectation is that we should be able to achieve and maintain balance without the need for maintenance or seasonal tonifying. Tonics like burdock help us seasonally stay well and strong. We can dry it and add it to our soups in the winter with ginger, eat it fresh when available, and take the dried root tincture with tincture of dandelion root in preparation for a cleanse.

Our bodies, through this work, will be drawn toward alignment with nature, but the balance we find will eventually be tested. When it is, we will need to re-visit our tonics. Each time we do, we will find that we have changed. Slowly and over time, we will find we have new perspective, and deeper levels of healing will be achieved.

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