"Tis the season for renewal. Lots of folks are planning a cleanse of one type or another. As an herbalist, I have always had mixed feelings about the idea of “doing a cleanse.” My concerns come from the rather puritan idea circulating within the holistic community that the body can be “purged” of impurities of one type or another. This desire is commonly channeled into taking a “kit” of herbal formulas designed to cleanse the colon, lymph, blood, etc., often in an all-at-once approach or in a numbered system.
Next, I like to keep it simple. Without being able to assess each person reading this, I would like to recommend a few easy changes that may make a profound difference in your health. I will focus on the digestive system, as that is where nutrients need to be absorbed. It is also a system where inflammation often begins. And finally, it is a system which may be burdened by either deficiency or excess. In this article, I will focus on the following Formulas and herbs: Warming Bitters Blend, Original Bitters Blend, digestive enzymes, Slippery elm (Ulmus rubra), Blackberry leaf (Rubus fruticosus). Keep reading for the good stuff…
'Tis the season for renewal. Lots of folks are planning a cleanse of one type or another. As an herbalist, I have always had mixed feelings about the idea of “doing a cleanse.” My concerns come from the rather puritan idea circulating within the holistic community that the body can be “purged” of impurities of one type or another. This desire is commonly channeled into taking a “kit” of herbal formulas designed to cleanse the colon, lymph, blood, etc., often in an all-at-once approach or in a numbered system.
Michael Moore, the legendary western regional herbalist who passed away 14 years ago, taught an eloquent, albeit unfinished, western system of energetics that I have embraced in my own practice. Using this system, each of us can embrace this new year as a springboard to not just grab the closest one-size-fits-all cleansing systems, but instead, to make a fundamental change or two to our daily diet and supplement regimen that will make all the difference. Using energetics can make an extremely positive change to the way our body processes and breaks down toxins and absorbs nutrients. In this way we may be able to not only reduce our overall burden of chemicals but may also put in place changes that will create a more permanent state of health and well-being.
The beloved Herbalist Michael Moore and his groundbreaking
Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West book
Next, I like to keep it simple. Without being able to assess each person reading this, I would like to recommend a few easy changes that may make a profound difference in your health. I will focus on the digestive system, as that is where nutrients need to be absorbed. It is also a system where inflammation often begins. And finally, it is a system which may be burdened by either deficiency or excess.
DIGESTIVE DEFICIENCY SYMPTOMS: start in the mouth. Symptoms may include: problems with your gums or teeth, bad breath in the morning, a dry mouth and a coated tongue. Stomach: symptoms may include problems digesting fats and indigestion and bloating after meals.
FOCUS ON HERBS AND FOODS TO STIMULATE DIGESTION: These would be the bitter stimulants, including Oregon grape root, Mahonia spp., Gentian root, Gentiana spp., Angelica root, We might as well throw some warming, liver protective, carminative and antioxidant herbs in there to warm up the digestion, relieve gas, protect the liver and protect against the damaging effects of oxidation while we are at it. Some of the following herbs encourage increased circulation to the mouth, stomach and pancreas.
HERE IS MY FORMULA DESIGNED TO BE USED WITH DIGESTIVE DEFICIENCY:
Warming Bitters Blend Tincture contains individually prepared tinctures of: Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum/ Cinnamomum loureirii) bark, Ginger* (Zingiber officinale) root, Dandelion* (Taraxacum officinalis) root, Angelica (Angelica archangelica) root, Artichoke* (Cynara scolymus) leaf, Gentian (Gentiana lutea) root, Lemon Balm* (Melissa officinalis) leaf, Orange (Citrus sinensis) peel.
Gentian (Gentiana lutea)
Grows in Colorado
How to take: 30 drops (one dropper), 2-3 times per day in water, 10 - 30 minutes before meals. It works best if the tincture is swished in mouth. That is because not only will the herbs stimulate the digestive system once they are in the body, but also the taste of the bitter herbs within the formula will act to stimulate all the digestive juices. This process starts with increased saliva in the mouth, proceeding to increased HCL in the stomach, continuing down to increase pancreatic juices and bile salts. In other words,…It gets things flowing….and that’s what you want for good digestion. And good digestion is how the body “cleanses” each day. Cool, huh?
Bitters Blend: this blend contains the same herbs as the Warming Bitters, but without the ginger and cinnamon for those who have acid reflux. PS: it is common to have acid reflux and also to have digestive deficiency.
CONTRAINDICATIONS: folks with acid indigestion with digestive deficiency symptoms should avoid bitters tinctures and may want to consider taking digestive enzymes and/or an infusion of bitters herbs in a tea form (mix ½ oz Gentian root, 1 oz Angelica root and 1 oz Dandelion root instead to avoid the alcohol which can inflame irritated tissues.
FOODS TO ADDRESS DIGESTIVE DEFICIENCY: why, the bitter ones of course! Like all the dark greens such as kale, Swiss chard, collards, and mustards (although the last two are rare in these parts). These greens may be cooked, or spines removed and thinly sliced and added to salads. But also, heirloom carrots are sometimes a little bitter and can add to the mix. And let’s not forget radicchio, that little red cabbage looking vegetable. Start by thinly slicing and adding just a small amount to your salads to deepen the flavor and add a digestive stimulant to your daily meals!
DIGESTIVE EXCESS SYMPTOMS: an overly moist mouth and a stomach that over-secretes HCl (stomach acid) are earmarks of digestive excess. You may even have a red-tipped tongue, which may be sore at the tip. Rapid evacuation and diarrhea are common with this condition as well as a tendency toward high protein and fatty foods.
FOCUS ON HERBS AND FOODS TO COOL DIGESTION: Herbs to cool digestion would be either coating and cooling to the mucosal membrane, or astringent. You might want to include an herb to relieve gas as well.
grows all over Colorado
How to take: A heaping teaspoon Slippery elm bark powder, shaken well in a jar with 1 - 2 cups filtered water or more traditionally made into a “cold infusion”* is a quick way to use mucilage to cool and calm inflamed, spasming mucosal tissues.
*The so-called “cold infusion” is a common preparation among herbalists, where a mucilaginous herb is used to make a tea. First a Tablespoon of the powdered or shredded bark is placed into a muslin bag. The bag is then immersed into 3 cups of room-temp filtered water in a saucepan. Allow to soak for about 8 hours or so (overnight is perfect). When done soaking, the bag full of the Slippery elm will be swollen with the saturated Slippery elm. With clean hands, squeeze out the mucilage from the bag into the saucepan. You will have to squeeze it out several times (you’ll find out what I mean). Once complete, simmer the infusion (that’s the tea) for 20 minutes on low. Drink cool. Store in fridge for up to 2 days, then discard in the garden. Drink 2-3 cups per day will usually cool things down quick.
For the astringent Blackberry leaf, steep 1 heaping teaspoon in 1 cup boiling water for 10-20 minutes and drink ½ - 1 cups per day. Do not take for longer than it takes to resolve symptoms, as it can overly cool, and cause constipation.
FOODS TO ADDRESS DIGESTIVE EXCESS: avoid excess grains and excess meat, which are heating. Cooling foods are going to be watery, and full of live enzymes which will cool down your body. Focus on Cucumbers, celery, asparagus, cooked greens and radishes. Berries, rice and oats are also great for cooling down digestion. So is honey. And my favorite, kefir and Lactobacillis reuteri yogurt or other homemade yogurts.
Radishes are used traditionally to cool the digestion and drain liver fire
Following the above guidelines will help your body to “cleanse” and breakdown your food in your stomach better, absorb nutrients better, dissolve fats and cholesterol better and eliminate better. Now that’s one of the best “cleanses” I can possibly imagine.
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