Looking out of my living room window on this early March morning, it's a heart-lifting surprise to see the garden radiating in golden Spring sunshine. The grass, the herbs, the flowers, the trees - all the life crammed into our tiny corner of Surrey seems to stretch and luxuriate in empathy with Scraggy, our scruffy, sleepy cat, as he welcomes the new season on the lawn.
Things are finally getting warmer after a long winter. Which means that now is the best time to think about a New Year detox - odd as that may sound.
The downsides of a winter detox
Most people who plan regular periods of detoxification pencil one in for 1st January or thereabouts. Which is perfectly logical: "new year, new you" and all that. The only problem with this timing is that 1st January is slap bang in the middle of winter in the UK. That means cold, wet, windy, dark and generally unfriendly.
It takes a lot of energy just to keep warm in winter. Winter is when we crank up the central heating systems in our homes so that they're on for most of the day, just to keep a pleasant, liveable temperature on the inside. Your body is a bit like that: you need more energy to keep yourself warm and to carry on the activities of daily living during winter. It's why we naturally tend to eat more stodgy, warming or energy-rich foods like stews, casseroles and soups in the winter months.
Just as naturally, we start to think about a 'clearout' as the sun peeks out once more in Spring. The natural world around us recognises and responds to this need by bringing cleansing and detoxifying plants within easy reach at this time of year: herbs like the diuretic and lymph-cleansing cleavers (Gallium aperine) and the classic liver tonic, dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis), are there to be gathered and used come Spring.
Detox is best at the change of seasons
Detoxifying requires a lot of energy, however, and is an energetically very 'cold' process. So diving into a full-on detox programme the second the calendar clicks over onto 1st January isn't necessarily the best idea. Far better to wait until Spring, when the weather is warmer and the calendar of the seasons is in synch with our natural cycles.
Of all our detoxifying organs - liver, kidneys, skin, lymph and bowel - the liver is the undisputed heavyweight champeen, ladies 'n' gennelmen. Keep your liver happy and content and you'll go a long way towards living a long, healthy and, yes - happy and contented life yourself. Which is where the second part of my ebook, The Detox Download, comes in. The first part dealt with the kidneys, and the second part focuses on the liver.
The Detox Download: Liver edition
To get your free ebook, just click on this link and sign up to the HerbSmith mailing list with your email address. I promise not to bombard you with mailouts - just to keep you updated with interesting information, useful health tips and health-boosting recipes!
Just as with the 'kidney edition' of The Detox Download, the 'liver edition' is meant only as a brief primer on detoxification, containing some simple tips that everyone can employ in their daily life. One of the beauties of herbal medicine is that it can be tailored to develop a detoxification programme unique to each individual, depending on their needs - and many people will require a more structured detox programme to reach their health goals. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or via the contact form if you think you might benefit from such a programme.
For this week's Wonderful Weekend Recipe, I thought I'd continue the honey-based electuary theme from last week. My imaginary monks will be pleased!
A delicious Ayurvedic recipe for long life
Ayurveda, which originates from India, is thought to be the oldest system of medicine in the world, dating back 5000 years ago or more. In fact it's even more than that: the word Ayurveda means "science of life" in Sanskrit and represents a complete system of healthful living, encompassing everything from diet and nutrition, herbs, massage and detoxification to the mind, emotions, activity, rest, sleep and how to live according to the seasons. Pretty much every aspect of life is covered in some way, and the key to it all is the concept of the three 'doshas': Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Everyone is governed by these three aspects - which represent the elements of fire, earth, water air and aether - to different degrees. Most people have one particular dosha that is predominant in their inbuilt constitution, and once one understands which dosha they are, they can start to live their life in a manner that will allow health, happiness and contentment to flow. If you'd like to know what dosha you are, there's a great quiz at www.doshaguru.com (registration required).
But this isn't the place for a lengthy discourse on Ayurveda. All you need to know for this recipe is that this Ayurvedic electuary will have numerous health benefits regardless of your dosha. So, with the context firmly in place, on with the recipe!
Get a daily health boost with the Longevity Electuary
Grab a 250 mL (8 oz) jar, and add the following:
Finally, cover the mixture almost to the top of the jar with locally produced honey. Stir slowly, to avoid a cloud of herb powder covering your kitchen, until the herbs are well mixed into the honey, put the lid on, label and store. And that's it! No need to refrigerate as honey is an excellent preservative. The Longevity Electuary is meant as a daily health tonic, eaten directly from the spoon, on toast, dissolved in hot milk, almond milk, coconut milk or ghee - however you like, really!
A host of powerful ingredients
Ashwagandha, shatavari and Siberian ginseng are known as adaptogens, which help the body to resist stress of all sorts: a good brief definition is that adaptogens are non-toxic, produce a non-specific defensive response to stress and have a normalising influence on the body. In my opinion, we all need adaptogens in our lives, and the Longevity Electuary is a delicious way to do it!
Slippery elm and marshmallow aid digestion and soothe the gastrointestinal tract, as well as being highly nutritious.
Elderberry is an excellent immune remedy, being rich in vitamin C and a powerful internal cleanser for conditions like flus and colds.
Turmeric has a wide spectrum of useful properties, including boosting the liver's detoxification pathways and aiding digestion. One of its active constituents, curcumin, is a current hot property in cancer research.
And while not a herb, spirulina - a single-celled, blue-green algae - is highly nutritious and has a host of health-promoting properties of its own. The same, if not more, can be said about the green algae chlorella.
The only potential problem with this amazing recipe might be getting hold of the Ayurvedic ingredients ashwagandha and shatavari. The first place to try is your local independent health food store or herbalist if they also sell dried herbs; or failing that, have a look online. Another alternative is to replace these Ayurvedic herbs with a homegrown adaptogen that will be easier to obtain, such as licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra).
Simple to make, with health benefits for everyone, the Longevity Electuary is one to treasure. Let me know how you get on if you decide to make some!
An irregular blog
I'm Adam Smith, a Herbalist and Naturopath practising in the Surrey/West Sussex/Kent border area. Although I hope it will change, I don't currently post here regularly.