How wonderful it feels to welcome the start of sunshine, and natural light. As the days begin to lengthen and the temperatures get warmer, herbs, like people are beginning to peek their heads out of the soil and welcome in a new season. Trees begin to show leaves, although it’s too early for full bloom, and baby leaves start to pop out on branches in response to the light.
Spring clean, spring detox and spring revamp are commonly used terms around this time of year in the human world. What are the herbs up to at this time?
Springtime herbs have high anti-oxidant status, and act on the pathways responsible for improving the excretion of waste products from cells and tissues. Generally, springtime herbs have an effect on increasing digestive and excretive capacity and inhibit many of the inflammatory pathways that are implicated in allergies. They also tend to be jam packed with nutrients, and they also tend to be weeds: no matter how many you harvest, they will continue to grow throughout spring for an abundant supply. around us.
Let’s take a closer look at some individual springtime herbs and the health treats they contain.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica Dioica)
Stinging nettle has a long history of use in herbal medicine. The Ancient Egyptians used this plant for the treatment of inflammation related pain in poultices, the Ancient Greeks used nettle in formulas to treat conditions where a great deal of mucus was created such as weeping eczema, allergic rhinitis and other weeping conditions. In the western tradition, nettle is regarded as nature’s anti-histamine, a blood tonic and a blood cleanser.
What does our modern view of looking at herbs show us about this special plant? What is known of nettle today is that is has a very high level of iron, vitamin c and vitamin A, including Beta Carotene and calcium, which is probably why nettle is regarded as a blood supportive tonic, helpful for iron absorption due to its nutritional content. Nettle leaves can deliver 90-100% of the daily requirement of vitamin A (including Vitamin A as Beta carotene_. It also contains calcium iron and protein making it extremely nutritious. The vitamin content of nettle is highest when it is a bright green baby leaf, which when used will immediately re-grow again and again all through spring. Nettle can be used as a poultice, as a soup, as a tea, in dried and powdered form or as a tincture. It is a very versatile plant and an excellent spring companion.
Atopic conditions such as hay-fever, atopic eczema and allergic rhinitis are all conditions that are a result of inflammatory markers that are tied to allergic response, and often start to be aggravated during spring time when flowers start to open up.
Nettle has many compounds it in that have been found to inhibit several key inflammatory markers involved in allergic response.
Cleavers (Gallium Aperine)
Cleavers grows in abundance in the springtime and is affectionately known as “the weed of waste” for its affinity with the lymphatic system and its ability to stimulate lymphatic movement.
The lymphatic system is a drainage function of the body. Waste particles are sent to pass through the lymph nodes and into the bloodstream to be cleared through the kidneys. The lymphatic system is very slow to move, moving best on physical movement.
The lymphatic tissues are also covered in immune cells, tonsils and adenoids are an example of lymphatic tissues. These tissues are covered in immune cells to ward of bacteria and clean impurities before they are sent for excretion via the kidneys and the bladder.
In traditional systems of medicine such as herbal medicine and naturopathy, inflammation, particular in the kidneys or urinary system is considered to be a result of poor clearing by the lymphatic system, making Cleavers a traditional favourite for the urinary system.
Burdock (Arctium Lappa)
Burdock is a vegetable, the root of which has a lot history of use as a blood cleanser in traditional medicinal systems. Burdock is traditionally used to “detoxify” the blood. It was given this label after practitioners repeatedly observed over a period of centuries that administration of Burdock would improve the appearance and texture of the skin by increasing blood circulation to the skin.
In modern times, Burdock is still a skin favourite. It is highly antioxidant, antifungal and anti-inflammatory. It increases the action of detoxification pathways in the liver[i], and inhibits the growth of micro-organisms in the mouth[ii].
Burdock root also contains a number of powerful antioxidants, such as phenolic acid, luteolin and quercetin making this a lovely spring time herb: it spring cleans free radicals!
Lemonbalm (Melissa Officinialis)
Lemonbalm is a beautiful springtime plant that can easily be confused for mint. Lemonbalm smells like lemons hence the name.
Lemonbalm grows rapidly during the springtime, and thanks to it’s beautiful scent it draw for bees, attracting them to gardens and assisting the pollination of flowers.
In traditional medicinal use, Lemonbalm is to calm tense nerves: a gentle acting herb that can be taken as a tea, powder, essential oil or tincture to sooth feelings of anxiety and reduce sensations of panic or emotional tension[iii]. This tension relieving effect of the herb is probably why trial subjects report an improvement in cognition alongside mood in trials[iv].
Like most herbs with a strong scent, the oil of lemon balm is antimicrobial and also antiviral. The active compounds of lemon balm are commonly used on cold sores[v].
Plantago is a herb that grows in abundance on lawns and fields. Traditionally plantago has been used topically as a poultice for bites and stings, and internally as a tincture or a tea for allergic rashes or itches triggered by touch or smell.
Like nettle, Plantago has a strong anti-histamine effect, and like Burdock it has an affinity for inflamed or itching skin. This action has been confirmed in clinical trials which show specific skin related anti-inflammatory activities[vi].
So there we have it! The spring time is a time when medicinal herbs begin to grow in abundance, and where the spring time herbs help us to work through allergies, detoxification pathways like lymph and liver, and reduce our anxieties.