crocuses have started sprout-ing, so the dandelions can't be far behind. The soft yellow blanket that will soon cover city lawns heralds one of nature's best healing gifts. Consider the arrival of the burbs' most hated herb an invitation to clear out accumulated winter sludge.Dandelions get your liver to up its bile flow. Think of bile as soap clearing unwanted stuff from your digestive tract. But in addition to harvesting unsprayed dandelion leaves for salads, there's other cheap and cheerful stuff you can do to help you shed stored chemicals and get more attuned to spring's zippy energy.
Try a 10-to-14-day regime aimed at eliminating the unwanted and unneeded. Use a rough washcloth or natural bristle brush and spend about five minutes brushing the skin all over your body toward your heart before your daily shower. You don't have to press hard. This practice helps your lymphatic system cart away chemicals.
A tea of equal parts cleavers, calendula flowers, red clover and nettles will rev up both your lymphatic system and your kidneys. Use 21/2 tablespoons of the mixture per pot of tea. Steep in boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes, and have a few cups daily during your "cleanse." And don't forget your eight glasses daily of water.
While you're clearing out, some naturopaths suggest giving your hardworking liver a castor oil pack every other day. Spread a thin layer of oil over your liver, along the right hand side of the body from under the nipple and all along the rib cage. Put a piece of flannel over the oil and a really hot hot-water bottle over that. Then hang out for 15 or 20 minutes. You want your skin to look a bit blotchy when you peel everything away, showing that blood circulation has been increased in the area.
Wipe off the oil and put baby powder or cornstarch on the area. Given that your liver filters toxins out of your blood 24/7 and performs at least 500 other essential functions, a little bit of extra care once or twice a year goes a long way.
Naturally, you don't want to get constipated when you're doing internal spring cleaning. Apples, pears, carrots and brown rice all provide fibre that keeps you moving. Psyllium husks help, too. Take 1 teaspoon in a glass of water and follow with another glass of water. Don't take any vitamins or herbs at the same time -- the psyllium will keep them from being absorbed.
During your special clear-out period you might want to consider keeping a journal or doing a creative project. The holistic viewpoint is that when we release physical sludge, emotional, mental and spiritual dreck is sure to follow. Get it all out and express your transformation through poem, song, dance or picture.
what the experts say
"For detoxification, the liver needs a substance called glutathione. If the amount of glutathione is reduced by disease, nutritional status or alcohol or drug consumption, then the person has a deficient detoxification pathway. To increase levels, decrease the amount of alcohol you drink. Tylenol also reduces your glutathione drastically. Silymarin (milk thistle) increases your glutathione. Many vegetables and fruits produce better detoxification. Dandelion and artichokes increase the flow of bile."
MANUELA NEUMAN, PhD, director of the In Vitro Toxicology Laboratory at Sunnybrook and Women's College Medical Centre
"Bitter greens and sour foods (the juice of half a lemon in water) will get your gall bladder to excrete bile. Foods in the brassica family (broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, broccoli sprouts, cabbage, sauerkraut) support liver detox. Naturopathic tradition holds that apples, beets, carrots and ginger are good for the liver. During a 10-day cleanse, use a liver supplement. The best have milk thistle, artichoke, turmeric, dandelion root and beet root."
JEN GREEN, naturopath
"In Chinese medicine, if someone has red, dry or sooty-looking eyes, brittle nails, aching in the lower ribcage, gets angry or irritated easily or has headaches around the eyes or the top of the head, then liver detox may be needed. You'd need to see a practitioner. If it's not serious you can use a patent medicine available in Chinese pharmacies, Long Dan Xie Gan Wan. Also avoid spicy food, alcohol and rich, fatty foods. There's an old Chinese saying: "Unfulfilled desires cause liver energy stagnation.' Be content -- that's what's needed."
ROBERT McDONALD, traditional Chinese medicine practitioner
"The cytochromes P450 (a class of enzymes) are very important for chemical and drug detoxification. Brassica family vegetables can increase levels of certain members of that enzyme superfamily in the liver. Perhaps we want to talk about not toxifying the liver in the first place. Avoid chemicals, drugs (including recreational drugs) and herbs (germander, comfrey, kava, ephedra or ma huang) that have the potential to do harm. Keep your weight at an appropriate level. With today's obesity epidemic we're seeing fatty liver disease, which causes liver scarring.'
EVE ROBERTS, MD, liver specialist, professor of pediatrics, medicine and pharmacology at U of T
"Fresh rosemary tea is a fabulous home detox herb. Take a teaspoon of rosemary, add boiling water, steep 10 to 15 minutes, add unpasteurized honey and squeeze of lemon; drink a couple of cups a day. Do this for a week to a month. Rosemary's not safe if you're on blood thinners. Another detox would be a teaspoon each of uva ursi leaves, dandelion root and rosemary per cup of tea.'
ROGER LEWIS, herbalist