Tips and herbal guidance from Lily Holmberg, Gaia Herbs Education Director, dedicated home herbal enthusiast, and all-around plant fan!
Our ancestors were onto something: They enjoyed real, whole foods—including unrefined grains, fruits, vegetables, wild game, foraged produce, fermented items, and humanely produced meats from animals raised on a diet of native grasses—and they turned to herbs to support their health.*
What’s more, they aligned their meals with their internal clocks, or circadian rhythm. Plus, they ate with and even healed with the seasons, incorporating the foods and herbs growing and readily available to them into their meals and wellness regimens. Not to mention, they engaged in a great deal of physical activity.
As the days lengthen and we move from the cold and sluggish winter months to the warmer and vibrant weeks of spring, we’d be wise to incorporate their healthy habits into our lives, for overall wellness support during this seasonal transition and to conduct a little internal spring cleaning while we also tidy up our living spaces. Keep reading for four seasonal tips from those who came before us.
Boost Your Intake of Bitter Foods & Herbs
Bitter foods and herbs are plentiful in the spring. These edible plants pop up in all types of natural areas now, often just as soon as the snow melts away. In fact, in a bygone era, bitter herbs and greens were the very welcome signifier of the new season’s arrival, an indication that one no longer had to rely solely on their larder for sustenance.
Although you don’t necessarily see them on menus everywhere today, bitter greens were very common foods for our ancestors; they regularly enjoyed wild Dandelion greens, chicory, dock, and others. These foods were a fresh, tasty, and interesting addition to the diet after months of heavy fare.
Their bitter flavor may not be at the top of your list of preferred tastes, but if you are able to add in a few bitter greens to your diet these days, they can help support healthy digestion and elimination, aiding in the body’s processing of months of stick-to-your-ribs foods and providing a feeling of lightness for the longer, brighter days.*
Consider incorporating Dandelion greens, radicchio, chicory, kale, and arugula into your meals. Fully matured leaves, instead of the “baby” leaves, are preferred for a better bitter experience. You can find many of these greens at health food stores and your local farmers’ market; you may even be able to safely forage them, depending on where you live or hike.
Historically, herbalists have considered Turmeric to be a bitter herb and food, and as such believe it supports healthy bile production, thus supporting healthy digestion and elimination.* In Ayurveda, the ancient healing system of India, Turmeric has been traditionally used to support the body’s natural detoxification pathways.* As a functional food, it is easy to work versatile Turmeric into smoothies, juices, teas, and many dishes. You can also take bitter herbs in supplement form.
Gaia Herbs Turmeric comes in capsules, powders like our Golden Milk, and our new gummies, which will be available to order on April 1! You’ll also find Turmeric in our traditional herbal bitters formula, Sweetish Bitters (along with Dandelion and other bitter herbs), which is formulated to help aid healthy digestion.* We also offer a pure Dandelion liquid extract containing both Dandelion leaves and root (more below) for digestive health and function.*
Incorporate Intermittent Fasting
The last few years have yielded a wealth of research about the health benefits of a “new” eating approach: intermittent fasting, which can be broadly defined as limiting your meals and snacks to either a certain period of time each day or to certain days of the week.
It is interesting to consider, however, that over the thousands of years of human history, only in the past few decades have we had easy access to grocery stores stocked with all manner of foods, along with television that runs all night, streaming services, cell phones, social media, gaming systems, and more. Has this technology, coupled with the convenience and tasty nature of many readily available foods, set us up to eat at times of the day our ancestors didn’t?
Think about how often you eat when your ancestors were most likely sleeping. Many of us stay up later than we would like or should, as we watch another episode on TV or check email one last time, and sometimes this leads us to snack late into the night.
Add to that the fact that humans living thousands of years ago had to forage for their food and may have had to go many hours between meals—and sometimes even days before finding the next proverbial stash of nuts or berries. Just the act of looking for food had humans moving in Nature for long hours.
In the simplest sense, the foraging lifestyle meant we were hungry whenever we next ate. Yet today, many of us sit down for our next meal when we’re not truly ravenous. The old adage “hunger is the best spice” is certainly food for thought. Our bodies have seemingly evolved to go many hours between meals, and indeed, researchers are finding that connecting to this way of eating may have health benefits in our modern times.
If you’d like to eat as our ancestors did for some internal cleansing this spring, not only with the season but also with your internal clock, there are many different approaches to intermittent fasting you can try. For example, the 16/8 approach is extremely popular; this style of intermittent fasting prescribes eating only during an eight-hour window each day and abstaining from food for the other 16 hours.
There’s also an alternate-day method, which involves eating your normal diet one day and then either completely fasting or only consuming a very limited number of calories the next, and so on. These are just a couple of many approaches. Before undertaking any major dietary changes, we recommend talking with your doctor about which approach may be right for you.
Many proponents of intermittent fasting drink herbal tea during their fasts. Consider our Cleanse & Detox herbal tea, with a traditional blend of purifying herbs such as Rooibos, Burdock root, and Licorice root, to support your body’s natural cleansing process.*
Use Roots for Renewal
In Russia, people traditionally combine Rhodiola rosea root and Rhaponticum carthamoides root for spring detoxification support.* These roots are typically taken in decoction (the liquid resulting from concentrating the essence of a substance by heating or boiling) form for several weeks during the spring.* We offer Rhodiola Rosea capsules and feature Rhaponticum in our Adrenal Health® Jump Start formula.
Here in the US, Eclectic Physicians—physicians of the nineteenth century considered eclectic in the sense that they promoted whatever worked best for their patients, including plant-based herbal supplements and homeopathy—often used seasonal roots like Dandelion, Burdock, and Yellow Dock for spring cleansing support.*
Traditionally, Dandelion roots are thought to support healthy detoxification, healthy elimination, and digestive function.* Burdock root is a traditional alterative herb believed to support springtime renewal and help maintain liver, lymph, and skin health.* Yellow Dock, naturally high in plant-based iron, is a very traditional spring cleansing herb, thought to have an action on healthy digestive function and gut motility.*
Get Moving to Move Your Lymph
The lymphatic system plays a role in maintaining healthy detoxification and in immune system health. Supporting the lymph comes easily when we are living an active life filled with a great deal of movement, as was the case for our ancestors who made their living farming or relied on foraging for their food.
Nowadays, with desk jobs, computers, online meetings, cars, televisions, and the ability to get most of what we need delivered right to our door, we spend a lot of time sitting down, relatively stationary and motionless—a reality that would most likely be quite surprising to our great-grandparents.
Instead of allowing the lymph to stagnate in the body, support its movement by engaging in some type of physical activity each hour. Try a few yoga poses at your desk, for example, and walk when you can, even if it’s just up and down the stairs in your house or around your building. Another idea to try? Dry skin brushing, which is invigorating and supports the skin, lymph, and healthy circulation.
Looking Back to Move Ahead
As we all know, sometimes we need to go backwards to move forward. Thinking about how our ancestors that came before us—even thousands of years ago—moved through the year can offer a simple framework for balancing our lives and getting back to the basics this spring. When you weave the wisdom of experience from years gone by into today and tomorrow, you build health and wellness into your future.