Last week when the weather was warming up and the snow was melting I was convinced that spring was around the corner. Now as I sit watching flurries of snowflakes dance their way to coat the streets in another blanket of snow, I realize I might have been premature in my anticipation of baby chicks and cute bunnies. Regardless, thoughts of spring got me thinking about how the natural flow of nature’s cycles can inform our health practices.

Spring is a time of renewal. Hibernating seeds awaken to decorate the fields with new splashes of vibrant green just as hibernating bears wipe sleep from their eyes. There is a freshness in the air that inspires us to have positive forward thinking. Perhaps we are inspired to make new goals to improve our wellbeing and our connection with the rhythms of natural cycles of death and rebirth. As we prepare to shed the layers of winter in the next few months, now is also a wonderful time to think about ways to refresh, renew and detoxify our lives.

In the Pacific Northwest, there is a fluorescent green lily-like leaf that uses an exothermic chemical reaction to melt snow. It is one of the first green things to emerge from the white, like a beacon of hope. Ironically, because it gives off a musty aroma, it has a fun name, skunk cabbage, and is fly pollinated. Who said nature doesn’t have a sense of humor? While most creatures are deterred by this aroma, newly awakened bears seek it out. They devour this stinky morsel with enthusiasm! Skunk cabbage has phytochemical constituents that have a laxative effect. By eating it, as stinky as it might be, it wakes up the digestive system of the bear so it can be rid of the waste it has accumulated over the winter and face the spring renewed and full of vigor!

Like hibernating bears waking from slumber and devouring fresh greens, we too can support the natural urge to detoxify in the spring through our diet. Fortunately for us, this does not mean eating skunky vegetables (in case you were worried). There are many delicious greens that can stimulate digestion and help support detoxification. When they are freshly sprouting, many plants contain far more micronutrients and phytochemicals than they do as they mature. They produce bitter tastes to protect themselves from being eaten by insects and other grazers that might be eager to eat them. This is often a successful strategy for some predators, but not all. In our case, the bitterness of spring greens like dandelion, arugula, kale and mustard greens is not toxic or dangerous to eat. On the contrary, this bitterness is quite beneficial for us. Bitterness stimulates our digestive system. It increases the production of stomach acid and increases secretion of pancreatic enzymes to aid in the breakdown and assimilation of food.

This is no secret in Europe, where it is a common practice to have an aperitif of bitter herbs before meals. This can be accomplished by taking a dropperful of a tincture of bitter herbs before meals. A common formula is Swedish bitters, but really any formula with bitter herbs will work. Look for tinctures with herbs like gentian, blue flag iris, burdock, dandelion root, bitter orange, and chamomile among others. You may find that symptoms such as indigestion, gas and bloating, constipation, and the feeling of food staying in your stomach may resolve by increasing bitter foods in your diet or taking a bitter herbal tincture before meals. Be advised these tinctures do have a small amount of alcohol in them and should be avoided if this is a concern.

Herbal teas formulated for detoxification are another option for increasing bitterness into your diet. Traditional Medicinals is a good brand that makes quality herbal teas that can support detoxification.

Another way to incorporate bitterness in your diet is through sprouting seeds. Simply soak seeds like daikon radish, broccoli, mung bean or any unprocessed seed in water overnight, drain in the morning and store in a warm dark place for a few days. Be sure to rinse the seed twice a day and soon little nutritious seedlings will emerge. This is a great strategy to summon spring early in deceptively long winters such as those in Idaho that have tricked me already.

To your optimal wellbeing and happy early spring!