SPRING CLEANING – From the inside out

Article first published in Yukon North of Ordinary

When the light returns in spring, I feel extra energized and the cleaning bug takes hold of me. But I don’t stop with the house and the yard; I also cleanse my body through gentle herbal detoxification.

For many, spring represents a time of new growth and possibilities and renewal of the body, mind, and spirit. I start my spring rituals when my body tells me it’s time to cleanse after a winter of consuming rich, heavy foods and accumulating excess toxins. The body naturally detoxifies itself, but subtle changes can aid the process.

Our ancestors knew that gathering the new growth of dandelion leaves and roots would help slough off excess mucus from the body and support and mildly detoxify the blood, liver, and kidneys. Common medicinal and nutritive herbs, pure water, exercise, and a clean green diet can support the body and give a much-needed energy boost. Fresh greens can be gathered right out of the earth in late spring. One way I increase my intake is by enjoying a green smoothie packed full of vitamins, minerals, proteins, and antioxidants.

Green plants and leaves have been consumed since the beginning of time and transform energy from the sun into food using photosynthesis. Leaves produce chlorophyll, which is essentially green sunshine. A diet rich in non-starchy, chlorophyll-rich greens supports a healthy heart, cleanses the liver of heavy metals and toxins, and improves the health of the intestines and lungs. A bonus is that greens also improve body odour, are a natural breath freshener, and help regulate the acid-alkaline balance in the body.

Boreal herbs not only cleanse the body, but can also be used to rid negative energy from your home or workplace. Wild spiritual cleansing plants (like juniper, fir, mugwort, and sweetgrass) clear unwanted energies and restore balance to a space through smudging, a long held Indigenous tradition of burning sacred herbs in a bowl or a bundle.

Here’s a useful list of boreal herbs and how to utilize them for your own spring-cleaning needs this season:

NETTLES Nettle-leaf tea is an effective spring tonic and cleansing herb because it acts as a blood purifier. It aids the efficiency of the kidney and liver and is a mild laxative and diuretic. Chlorophyll-rich nettle strengthens and supports the whole body, specifically the digestive, respiratory, urinary, and glandular system.

MINT Mint can make a good morning brew for spring detoxification because it is stimulating, clears a tired mind, and alleviates excess morning mucus. As an analgesic, it can also deflect an oncoming headache. As a digestive, it can alleviate nausea. (Both headaches and nausea can be symptoms of the detoxification process.)

Aromatic mint-leaf tea is full of naturally occurring vitamins and minerals, including calcium and magnesium. Drinking mint tea aids the digestion system and eases indigestion, gas, heartburn, and ulcers. It also acts as a blood cleanser and diaphoretic that eliminate toxins by promoting perspiration.

JUNIPER Juniper needles have long been used in traditional saunas because of their antimicrobial healing actions, helping prevent colds from taking hold. Juniper berry is considered a purifier of the blood and an overall system cleanser. By removing excess acid and toxic wastes from the body, it reduces overall susceptibility to disease.

SWEETGRASS The medicinal properties of sweetgrass are in its spiritual-healing qualities. The telltale pinkish sheaths of sweetgrass distinguish it from other grasses. Giving it a little rub will release the sweet fragrance.

Sweetgrass grows along the shores of Bennett Lake and the Porcupine and Yukon rivers.

If you’re visiting Hootalinqua (a historical hunting and trading site along the Yukon River), note the rising smell from the sweetgrass as you pull ashore. It’s a very pleasant and welcoming scent, almost as if you’re being cleansed before entering the site.

Sweetgrass is an astringent herb. When ingested or used topically, it can reduce excess mucus secretions. It also contains tannins that cleanse the body and assist in detoxifying by discharging excessive stagnant matter and helping achieve firmness of tissue.

A sweetgrass infusion can be gargled or drunk to aid a sore throat. When applied topically in a cream, sweetgrass can relieve chapped skin caused by harsh, dry temperatures and wind.

First Nations across Canada use sweetgrass for smudging, which is a sacred cleansing with the smoke from sacred herbs. Dry herbs can be placed in a bowl and set alight. The flame is then put out and the herb starts to smolder and smoke. I was taught by the Elders to smudge every day. I keep a smudge bowl in front of my woodstove.

The tradition of braiding sweetgrass has deep and significant First Nations teachings attached to it as well. Each piece of grass used has meaning, as does each section of the braided strands.

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