Spring Fever

Weather is warming here in Minnesota, days are lengthening, and we are looking forward to walking outside sans heavy coats and boots. Spring fever is in the air! But do you know the history behind the term “spring fever?” In the 1700s and 1800s, spring fever, also known as spring disease, was a very real and sometimes deadly ailment involving fatigue, malaise, irritability, easy bruising, bone pain, hemorrhaging of the scalp and gums, and poor wound healing. Yikes! Some historians credit the early American colonists for coining the term “spring fever” to describe the weakness and fatigue they felt at the end of a long winter due to going without fresh fruits or vegetables in their diets. Heavier winter eating also led to a sluggish digestion, which added to the seriousness of the scurvy-like disease. Thanks to the availability of fruits and vegetables year-round now, we do not experience anything close to that degree of spring fever. I have, however, noticed that the winter months — with less daylight, reduced activity, and not-so-wise eating choices (our son gifted us a 5-pound Hershey bar!) — have brought about a feeling of sluggishness in both my mood and my digestion. It’s time for some herbal spring cleaning. The first thing that comes to mind when I think about wellbeing support is the liver, the largest internal organ in our bodies. The liver is a marvelous spring cleaner, responsible for filtering the toxins and waste from our blood. The liver is also the workhorse of the digestive system, processing and storing fats and carbohydrates — pretty much everything we ingest or apply to our bodies. Along with performing over 500 functions, the liver also filters around 1.5 quarts of blood every single minute. While I am not advocating any sort of advertised liver detox, cleanse, or flush, there are some specific ways we can safely support our liver with herbs as we look forward to spring and summer — hopefully with pandemic restrictions behind us and a full season of baseball ahead of us! Besides paying attention to what we put in and on our bodies every day, there are some herbs that are superstars in supporting, cleansing, and stimulating the liver. Regularly taking herbs that support liver health will provide the best liver "detox" ever. Heading my list of liver-loving herbs is dandelion, of course! Why? Because, in my opinion, dandelion simply does everything! Studies are being conducted with dandelion root's effectiveness with some types of cancer and the root is used alongside conventional cancer therapies in many countries. So why not include it in your diet regularly? At this time of year, I take a few drops of dandelion root tincture sublingually every day to support, well, everything. You can easily find dandelion root tea or purchase dried root or leaves in the bulk section of stores. When I make tea, I also add a few drops of the dandelion tincture to get the full spectrum of the constituents extracted both by water and alcohol. (Check out Rosalee de la Forêt's extensive write up about dandelion for further inspiration.) With the temperatures warming and snow melting, dandelion leaves will likely appear in the next few weeks, along with wild mustard and a variety of other spring greens, sure to stimulate your liver and get your juices flowing. These were the first fresh greens available to the early colonists, which was likely part of the reason that they brought dandelion plants and seeds along with them to the "new world". Be on the watch for this bountiful and free source of fresh bitter greens. An internet search for recipes using dandelion will yield such culinary delights as sautéed dandelion greens with garlic as well as soup, pesto and more. Another favorite liver tonic herb is turmeric. which is easily added to all sorts of foods including eggs, roasted veggies, and curries (my favorite). My only regret is that it is not easily propagated here in Minnesota, but the powder is very easy to find and sometimes we can even find the fresh root in the produce section. Milk thistle seed is right up there with turmeric when it comes to liver support and is easily purchased in bulk at stores and online. Milk thistle seed has a lot of oil in it and tends to go rancid rapidly, so I suggest putting the whole seed in a spice mill and grinding it as needed to top salads and soups, for instance. Grind a bit of black pepper on, too, as it is considered a warming stimulant that promotes good digestion and increases the bioavailability of our herbs and foods. While milk thistle grows easily in our area, I choose to purchase the seed as it would require a lot of plants to harvest enough seed, and it certainly lives up to its name with long, sharp thorns surrounding the seedpod. Let's not neglect burdock root either. Along with dandelion roots, both can be dug as soon as the ground thaws and can be included in your diet roasted or added to a stir fry. In the meantime, my most common way to use burdock root is as a powder added to smoothies, spelt flakes, or yogurt. Burdock root is part of my Roots Blend powder, along with Solomon's seal, marshmallow root, and dandelion roots. Another benefit of these roots is the prebiotics they contain which, along with probiotics, are crucial for the health of our microbiome. You can often find fresh burdock root in the produce area of some supermarkets or ethnic foods stores. Finally, along with herbal support, keep in mind the importance of sleep. According to the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) "body clock", the gallbladder and liver are most active between the hours of 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. This is the time they are engaged in cleansing and healing themselves, which includes balancing hormones and processing emotions. These processes are best accomplished while one is asleep. Regularly going to sleep past 11 p.m. inhibits these functions and leads to poor health in the liver and gallbladder. Regardless of what you think of TCM, it certainly won’t hurt you to go to sleep before 11 p.m. and just might help in more ways than you can imagine. Just sayin'.