Timing is everything. Nature knows this and teaches us if we are paying attention. From winter to spring we can witness a drastic change in our environment. As that fresh spring breeze blows in and the cold barren landscape transforms into a vibrant display of life, we may feel like getting outside and shaking off some of that winter sluggishness.
In Chinese medicine, Spring is liver time, which is a time of rebirth, growth and movement. It is also a perfect time for supporting our liver function with some gentle detoxification. In accord with Chinese Medicine theory, the regeneration of liver cells is measurably more prolific after the spring equinox. Our bodies know what to do. Liver function, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), includes regulating the movement of qi (energy) and blood in the body. It’s all about getting things moving again after nature’s slow season.
From a western biomedical standpoint, the liver is mainly an organ of detoxification. The liver degrades old red and white blood cells and breaks down toxic chemicals, cleansing and refreshing the blood. It actively filters 1.3 - 1.5 liters of blood every single minute. It also synthesizes bile which carries toxins out of the body through the intestines.
There are 2 main phases of detoxification in the liver that process contaminants like medications, alcohol, and environmental toxins. Phase 1 is responsible for transforming fat-soluble compounds into water-soluble compounds. Phase 2 converts pesticides, alcohol, toxic metals, excess hormones etc. into safer compounds that can then be eliminated by other organs.
Herbology is the internal medicine branch of TCM. We can support liver function and in turn our natural spring renewal process with the use of some Chinese herbs. With an understanding that the safest and most effective herbal therapy is a customized one, we can look at a few herbal detox superheros:
Turmeric: (jiang huang)
TCM categorizes this herb as a blood mover. It unblocks qi and blood stasis and eases pain.
Western pharmacology recognizes its blood-moving and anti-inflammatory properties as well. It is known to support both phase 1 and phase 2 of liver detox. A study on mice showed it also improved liver detoxification by lowering inflammatory markers, reducing oxidative stress and increasing glutathione (another important body detoxification product made in the liver).
Turmeric can be enjoyed as a food, seasoning, supplement, or in tea. ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder can be added to meals. Be sure to add a little black pepper to increase absorption. You can also grate fresh turmeric root into soups, salads and curries.
Schizandra Berry (wu wei zi )
This amazing medicinal herb is also known as 5 flavor berry because it exhibits all 5 flavors. It also remarkably enters all 12 meridians and therefore has multiple beneficial effects on the body. It is mainly thought of as having an astringent action, which can treat symptoms of liver and kidney deficiency by preventing loss of qi and yin fluids. Bio-chemically, it is known to support regeneration of healthy liver cells. It has been used to help induce regeneration of liver tissue after part of the liver was surgically removed. It also activates the phase 1 detox pathway, helps to decrease free radicals, protects cell membranes, and can assist in lowering stress-related increases of liver enzymes.
Small amounts of the berries can be eaten fresh or dried and there are also tinctures, powders and supplements. But why not relax with a cup of some medicinal and delicious 5-flavor tea?
Gold Coin Grass: (jin qian cao)
Another herbal powerhouse to keep on hand for spring cleaning is Gold Coin Grass. TCM functions are to drain damp, remove heat and toxins, and eliminate stasis. In Western herbology, it is recognized for its ability to dissolve and prevent gallstones and promote bile secretion to help to move sediment and clear bile ducts. This is in addition to it’s antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects
Gold Coin Grass is known for making a drinkable tea, but can also be taken as a supplement or tincture. It is not advisable for patients with diarrhea or those on anti-diuretic medications.
Listen to your body this spring. You may hear it calling for exercise, or emotional release. While you’re at it, try one of these 3 herbal superheroes and see what their powers can do for you!
To discover the full benefits of Chinese herbal therapy and how it can help you optimally adjust to the changing season, call your Chinese Medicine practitioner to schedule your next appointment!
Rebecca M H Kitzerow is a Licensed Acupuncturist practicing in La Center, Washington. With over a decade of experience she has won 10 Nattie consumer choice awards from Natural Awakenings Magazine since 2014.