Gentle Spring Cleansing with Violet
Written by Meghan Gemma
Photography by Juliet Blankespoor
Spring is a season of pure genesis. As the earth warms, the landscape exalts in a profusion of fresh greens, pastel blossoms, and joyous birdsong. The energy is fecund, yet undeniably gentle. Like eggs in a nest, creation is having a grand moment—but there’s a distinct softness and tenderness about it all.
I keep these nuances in mind as I approach the yearly tradition of spring cleansing: a ritual centered around restoring vitality and coaxing our bodies back into balance after a long winter.
Are you ready for an internal clean sweep? Let me first say a few words about cleansing and fasting. There are plenty of protocols out there, and some can be harder on the body than others. I’ve noticed a general tendency to approach cleansing with a go hard or go home attitude. And sometimes, an aggressive strategy can yield desired results. However, if you’re wanting to experiment with a rigorous cleanse, I recommend consulting with an experienced holistic healthcare practitioner. This will help you to cleanse safely, and to make the most of an appropriate protocol.
But cleansing needn’t be all or nothing. In fact, it can be ever so gentle.
Spring cleansing is traditionally a simple and natural invocation of the wild green plants that appear as the days grow warm—and it can be as sweet and soft on the body as tulip petals on new grass. Done right, it can leave us feeling restored and renewed.
Life is attuned to this renewal. Every spring, a plenitude of cleansing, detoxifying, and mineral-rich herbs abound across the temperate landscape. These plants have a signature exuberance—they are generous and vibrant with green life force energy. Herbs like violet, dandelion, and chickweed are innately possessed with the cleansing properties and minerals needed by the body after a winter of hibernation and heavier foods. Incorporating them into meals and teas is often all the body needs for a revitalized sense of health.
Violet & Other Herbs for Spring Cleansing
Violet is one of my most beloved spring cleansing herbs—just the sight of its tender heart-shaped leaves and soft flowers fills me with hope. The leaves are a classic alterative herb, stimulating the release of wastes from the body by optimizing liver, kidney, lymphatic, and digestive functions. They are also sky-high in minerals and soluble fiber, which encourages healthy populations of beneficial intestinal flora. The pleasant mucilage in the leaves can soothe inflammation in the digestive tract and impart dew-fresh moisture to our tissues.
You can read more about violet’s medicinal uses here.
Violet flushes out in the spring with an entourage of other alterative detoxifying herbs. In truth, it’s no mistake that these plants burst forth in tandem green glory—they’re meant to work together. Consider integrating any of the following herbs into your gentle spring cleansing protocol:
- Violet, leaf and flowers (Viola spp.)
- Dandelion, leaf and flowers (Taraxacum officinale)
- Stinging nettles, leaf (Urtica dioica)
- Cleavers, leaf and stem (Galium aparine)
- Chickweed, leaf and stem (Stellaria media)
- Burdock, root (Arctium lappa, A. minus)
- Plantain, leaf (Plantago spp.)
- Purple dead nettle, leaf and flowers (Lamium purpureum)
- Mint, leaf (Mentha spp.)
Want to read featurettes on the herbal co-stars mentioned above? Just click on the links we supplied. Curious where and how to find these plants, and safely identify them? Take a wink at our list of the Ten Best Books on Foraging Wild Foods and Herbs. You can also refer to our article on The Top Herbal Foraging Blogs, Podcasts, and YouTube Channels. Please always be 150% sure of your identification before you gather any wild plant!
Planning Your Gentle Spring Cleanse
There are many ways I like to work with spring cleansing herbs and they’re all traditional, with the exception of juicing. What’s more, they’re gentle, and can be safely used by most people—including children and the elderly. Please see the end of this article for a brief list of contraindications.
1) Eat Herbally. Eating your herbs is an easy way to bring them into your spring cleansing practice—and it’s such a tasty one. Violet, chickweed, and dandelion greens are all delicious additions to spring salads and pestos. For salads, try combining them with lettuce, arugula, and radicchio in generous quantities. Then sprinkle violet blossoms and other spring flowers on top for a dose of beauty and bioflavonoids.
For pesto, you can substitute wild greens into any recipe that you enjoy. You can also refer to my recipe for Cold Season Wild Greens Pesto (sub in any greens that are available to you).
Some spring greens are delicious cooked, and here stinging nettles steal my heart. Nettles are fantastically rich in vitamins and minerals, and add a dark, leafy appeal to sautées and stir-fries. You can prepare them as you would kale or spinach, but note that they must be well-cooked to disarm the fine stinging hairs that cover the stems and leaves. Handling nettles requires some care (and perhaps gloves), but their flavor and nutrition are worth it!
If you’d like recipes and serving suggestions for a wealth of spring greens and wild foods, check out this book list, which includes several cherished wild foods cookbooks, and this roll call of online wild foods resources.
2) Enjoy Juice. Freshly pressed juices are a popular and delicious way to get your cleanse on. I love adding handfuls of cleavers and chickweed that are still wet with morning dew to juice blends, and relish a tip I got from Rosemary Gladstar: add fresh pineapple to your juice1—it’s phenomenal! Other additions can include fresh parsley, carrots, apples, ginger, turmeric, lemon, celery, and beets. Follow your palate!
I prefer to make juices first thing in the morning, and to drink them about half an hour before having breakfast. You can also opt to drink them between meals. If you don’t have a juicer, blend your ingredients of choice in a high-powered blender with some water and strain.
3) Steep A Cup of Tea. Tea employs one of our most ancient channels for medicine and healing: the fluid element of water. Water is vital to cleansing the body at any time, and the more you can integrate it into your practice, the better. All of the herbs mentioned in this article can be steeped into tea. I personally favor stinging nettle, violet, dandelion, chickweed, and mint. Follow the guidelines in our article on Herbal Infusions and Decoctions for making medicinal-strength teas.
4) Infuse Herbal Vinegars. Vinegar is a classic solvent for extracting minerals from herbs, and is a traditional preparation for capturing the vitality and nutritional blessings of spring greens. Herbal vinegars can be taken by the spoonful with meals, or, more pleasantly, can be integrated into salad dressings, condiments, and marinades. See our recipe for Violet Springtime Fairy Vinegar for inspiration!
Whatever ways you choose to gently cleanse with spring herbs, try your best to stick to a regular routine or plan, and to set attainable goals. For instance, if you decide to drink one quart (32 ounces) of violet and nettle tea every day for 2 weeks, help yourself out by preparing 2 days’ worth at a time and storing the tea in quart-sized jars in the fridge. If you favor salads, gather enough greens and blossoms for several meals at one time.
Take Your Gentle Spring Cleanse to the Next Level
Tending to our health is a multi-faceted and living ritual. If we cleanse periodically and fine-tune other dimensions of our lives and lifestyles, we can create real change in our present and long-term well-being. At the same time, it’s certainly worth noting that taking our medicine—whatever it may be—in small doses can be helpful. In this light, you can support gentle cleansing with as many, or as few, of the following as you care to:
- Hydrate each and every day (set your sights on at least 64 ounces per day). Drinking clean, fresh, mineral-rich water is one of the most important foundations of health. Keep in mind, by the time you feel thirsty, your body is already dehydrated! If you’re one of those folks who isn’t naturally inclined to drink water throughout the day, try infusing your water with a sprig of mint, basil, lemon balm, or anise hyssop—or a few slices of lemon, lime, or orange.
- Engage in joyful movement as often as you’re able—brisk walks down the lane, yin yoga, dancing in the kitchen as you make dinner, and whatever else tickles your fancy. Movement shakes things up, gets the blood moving, and aids the body in detoxification. It’s also one our best natural remedies for banishing the blues. If you have a rebounder or trampoline, bouncing gently for 10–15 minutes per day can help to stimulate the circulation of your lymph, which boosts the immune system.
- Get your sweat on. In addition to gentle movement practices, try to have a nice sweat once or twice throughout the week. When our bodies heat up—as in a sauna or sweat lodge— our cardiovascular system pushes blood away from our internal organs toward the surface of our body, releasing deep toxins. I enjoy steam saunas and hot yoga classes, but any kind of sweat-inducing activity or higher-intensity cardiovascular exercise that feels fun to you will be beneficial.
- Eat a fresh and whole foods diet. Our diet—everything we ingest, including herbs—affects us top to bottom. Nutrition plays a starring role in the quality of our emotions, energy levels, heart health, cognitive abilities, digestive processes, and immunity. Food is our first medicine, and Hippocrates’ famous medical adage from the 1st century BC is more relevant now than ever: “let your foods be your medicines, and your medicines your food.”
Curious what kind of food choices we’re talking about? Whole foods are foods in their natural state, as you would find them right off the farm or growing in the backyard—think vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, eggs, milks, and wild or farmed meats and fish. I’d also encourage you to seek out the fresh seasonal foods of spring as you cleanse: greens, carrots, radishes, and turnips will all be at their peak.
- Rest, deeply. Don’t skimp on your beauty rest: deep sleep also promotes inner beauty! Sleep has a direct effect on our overall longevity, health, and immunity—our bodies do their deepest healing and repair work while we snooze. So if you’re skimping on your zzz’s in order to get more done or to accommodate your social calendar, it might be time to get to bed early.Supporting your natural circadian rhythms can help if you’re sleep-challenged. Artificial blue light—emitted from computer and phone screens, televisions, and LED lighting—is especially detrimental to sleep. Anytime artificial light strikes our retinas between dusk and dawn, sleep-promoting neurons are inhibited and arousal-promoting neurons are activated. To enhance your ability to sleep at night, put all screens away 2-3 hours before bedtime and use soft, warm light bulbs (or candlelight!). If you work a night shift, or frequently use electronics in the evenings, invest in a pair of blue light filtering glasses or download a blue light filtering app to your phone and computer. And make sure you spend some time outside in natural light every day!
- Sync with the season. Step out into the sunshine and fresh air of spring. Synthesize some vitamin D (produced by our bodies when we soak up the sun). Walk barefoot on the earth if possible. Gather springtime herbs and flowers. Let your body attune to the fresh, clean spirit of the season.
Safety & Contraindications: The herbs mentioned in this lesson are typically quite safe for general use in large quantities. But there are a few exceptions to note:
- Violet: Avoid internal use with folks who have the rare inherited disorder G6PD (glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase) deficiency, because it can aggravate hemolytic anemia.
- Dandelion: The leaf is a powerful diuretic, and will compound the effects of pharmaceutical diuretics. People who are allergic to bee pollen or honey have a high likelihood of reacting to dandelion pollen, and therefore should avoid ingesting the flower or any preparation from the flower that would contain pollen (i.e., the infusion).
- Stinging nettles: Nettles are diuretic and astringent, and can be very drying (when taken frequently) for folks who already have dry skin and dry mucous membranes. Additionally, the diuretic effects may compound pharmaceuticals with the same action. Nettles may potentially alter blood sugar levels—diabetics should monitor blood sugar levels closely when ingesting the plant as food or medicine.
- Chickweed: Avoid use if you are prone to kidney stones, as this plant contains dietary oxalates, which can increase the formation of kidney stones.
- Gladstar, R. Rosemary Gladstar’s Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health: 175 Teas, Tonics, Oils, Salves, Tinctures, and Other Natural Remedies for the Entire Family (Storey Publishing, 2008).
MEGHAN GEMMA is one of the Chestnut School’s primary instructors through her written lessons, and is the principal pollinator of the school’s social media community—sharing herbal and wild foods wisdom from the flowery heart of the school to an ever-wider field of herbalists, gardeners, healers, and plant lovers.
She has been in a steady relationship with the Chestnut School since 2010—as an intern and manager at the Chestnut Herb Nursery; as a plant-smitten student “back in the day” when the school’s programs were taught in the field; and later as a part the school’s woman-powered professional team. Meghan lives in the Ivy Creek watershed, just north of Asheville, North Carolina.
JULIET BLANKESPOOR founded the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine in 2007 and serves as the school’s primary instructor and Creative Director. She's been a professional plant-human matchmaker for close to three decades. Juliet caught the plant bug when she was nineteen and went on to earn a degree in Botany. She's owned just about every type of herbal business you can imagine: an herbal nursery, a medicinal products business, a clinical practice, and now, an herbal school.
These days, she channels her botanical obsession with her writing and photography in her online programs and here on her personal blog, Castanea. She's writing her first book: Cultivating Medicinal Herbs: Grow, Harvest, and Prepare Handcrafted Remedies from Your Home Garden. Juliet and her houseplants share a home with her family and herb books in Asheville, North Carolina.
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