Spring cleansing

Welcome to the cheeping and buzzing of spring!!

yellow flower bee

The blustery cold, deep sleeps, and gracious rains of the winter have passed for this year, and we are heading into another bountiful season.  Happy birds seem to be everywhere rejoicing in worms, early seeds and bugs aplenty. They are regaling us daily with their beautiful songs. Nest building and complicated courtships are earnestly underway.  Bee are emerging from the deep center of the hive, cleaning it out from winter debre.  The queen is making worker-bee 1000's of worker-bee eggs and a few drone eggs as well.  The old workers are heading out for nectar to make honey and pollen to feel the young.

The cleansing foods and herbs of spring:

In Chinese medicine, spring is considered the liver’s time, and after a long sluggish winter it needs the foods and herbs that grow so abundantly at this time of year.  Wood is the element associated with the liver. The cleansing and nourishing rains of winter, followed by the rising temperatures and increasing light of spring help to clear the sludge and move the energy upward.  The sap in the trees rises, and flowers and new leaves burst forth.  Wood governs growth and flexibility. The opportunity of wood is that it provides solid structure and support, while having enough flexibility to bend in a strong wind or storm. Similarly, after the heavy and warming foods of winter, our bodies want and need lighter fare. Spring is a natural time for cleansing, both internally and externally. 


So, bring on the greens!  Bitter is better, but any will help, and daily is best.  These help to invigorate the liver so it can better release the accumulated toxins and debris that can result in skin problems and digestive difficulties. Chickweed, Miner’s Lettuce, Lamb’s Quarters, Dandelion, and Milk Thistle are but a few locals that can be used in fresh salads if you are certain of identification and know how to use them. Arugula, mizuna, and tatsoi are easily grown in the garden with other cleansing foods such as asparagus (kidneys), horseradish and beets (liver).  A great book for learning how to identify edible wild plants, complete with recipes, is “Edible and Useful Plants of California” by Charlotte Bringle Clarke. 

If you have nasturtiums growing in your garden, you can add a few of their peppery flowers and leaves to a spring salad. Both nasturtium flowers and leaves are edible. Another lovely and tasty spring flower is violets. Their leaves and flowers support cleansing in the lymphatic system, so add a few of these to your salads too.  The aforementioned chickweed is also super for cleansing the lymphatics. 

Nettles are fantastic in the spring but must be cooked.  They can often be purchased at the farmer’s market, harvested in the wild, or bought dried. Picking them is an exercise in staying completely present, if you like that sort of thing. Even when buying them at the farmer’s market, be careful not to touch them with your hands or they will sting. Fresh nettles get their sting from the little hair like fibers that easily pierce the top layers of skin and release formic acid, causing redness and itching for up to 24 hours. These are completely broken down when cooked and dried.   They are great as a medicinal spring tonic and can be prepared as tea, added to soups, or simply steamed and tossed with a bit of lemon juice and olive oil, or butter. Dr. Shapiro cooks them with a little rich bone broth (usually chicken), adding some fresh butter and a bit of sea salt.  Nettles are rich in calcium, carotenoids, chlorophyll, and are one of the best sources of digestible plant iron.  They have many medicinal uses and are widely used as a tonic all over the world. They are especially good for supporting healthy kidney function. Persons with a tendency to urinary tract infections, including pregnant women, could have a cup of nettle tea daily. The medicinal constituents of nettles are best extracted with water or when eaten as a vegetable, but a tincture can be used in a pinch. 

Your environment:

Emotionally, spring is a great time to clear out mental clutter, and focus on what really brings us meaning in life. Cleaning your physical house is a great start to cleaning your mental and emotional houses… So, open the windows!  Shake out that rug!  Let that breeze clean out the house and infuse our homes with new life. Think about your belongings. If an item is not useful, beautiful, or meaningful to you, then it is probably ready to move on to a new home (or the trash). There are lots of great resale shops like “Out of the Closet” in Berkeley which supports AIDS related charities, and “Community Thrift” in SF where you can get a tax credit for your donations, or donate to the charity of your choice.   

It is also time to get the garden in while the ground is soft and moist.  Take off your shoes and feel the earth feeding your body with its energy.  Bask in that sunshine and fresh air and let the beauty of the season help you pace yourself.  Step gingerly into those projects you’ve been planning all winter.  Continue to get enough sleep and stay warm.  Be prepared when you leave the house that the weather could change.  Let the lengthening days and increasing warmth take you softly into the next season, allowing you to gather your strength as you go along with it.  That way, when summer arrives, you will be in full swing, healthy and fully in sync with the energy of the most productive season.

Some things to do in spring:  

Plant a garden 

Clean the house

Eat more raw foods, and greens every day

Exercise more

Consider, what can I do to make my nest work better for me?

Clear out mental clutter, notice and let go of negative beliefs and “tapes” which no longer serve you.  

Sing and appreciate life’s beauty like the birds. 


Dr. Shapiro frequently gets calls about cleansing and detox diets and programs, especially in the spring. These can often be supportive for people in good health, especially for people who are mostly well. But if you are weak, chronically ill, or convalescing, please discuss any detox plans with us or another practitioner before you undertake any program.  There are many ways to do detoxification, depending on which areas need to be addressed. Dr. Shapiro is happy to meet with you to discuss a custom program, or you can try one of these ideas on your own at home:

Lemony Drink:

For cleansing and support of the liver, Dr. Shapiro loves this simple beverage:

1 whole organic lemon (including peel and seeds):  quarter lemon and put in blender with 

1 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

and 1 cup water.

Blend at high speed together for 1-2 minutes. You will have a milky looking liquid. Feel free to strain out any chunks if you want. Drink this first thing in the morning (it is reasonably pleasant!)

The olive oil activates the liver, and supports bile flow. 

The lemon peel, and (especially the pectins of) the lemon pulp, emulsifies fats, alkalinizes the body, and supports the liver and lymphatic system. 

The lemon juice helps normalize body pH, and is mildly laxative. 

Other Detox Ideas:

1. Homeopathic detox is one of Dr. Shapiro’s favorite approaches. We often advise a “Basic Detox Kit” from Pekana. This company makes outstanding spagyric remedies, which work not only physically, but gently support emotional cleansing as well.  The kit has 3 formulas, one each to support liver, kidneys and lymphatic detoxification. Dose can vary from person to person with as little as one drop of each bottle, to as much as 50 drops one to three times daily in water, away from food. 

2. Cleanse using diet and herbal teas. We often advise a candida diet, and you can get an information sheet about Dr. Shapiro’s approach from the office. This cleanse eliminates sugar, sweets, fruit juice, dried fruits, wheat and gluten, and most, but not all dairy products. Whether or not you actually have candida, this is a nice cleanse which emphasizes fresh veggies, whole grains, free range meats and eggs, and healthy fats. Usually we advise the diet for a minimum of six weeks. 

3. For those of you who prefer powder beverages, we have a number of medically designed detox products such as Ultra Clear® and Ultra Clear Plus® by Metagenics. We also have a good selection of organic green drinks, which can supplement any detox program, or just be used on their own for nutritional support. At our office we especially enjoy Deeper Greens by Orthomolecular, Fruit and Greens by New Mark (commercially in stores this is available as New Chapter brand) and Pure Synergy, which is a blend of herbs and greens.  Pure Synergy is also available on the internet. All are quite high in antioxidants and give you many of the benefits of consuming lots of fruits vegetables. But, of course, we’d most prefer for you to EAT the fruits and vegetables if you can. 

4. You can enhance any cleanse by working with herbs.  A few basic ones are discussed below:       

Dandelion root and leaves decongest the liver and assist the flow of bile. From a Chinese medicine perspective, dandelion cools “liver heat” which causes physical symptoms like gallstones, high blood pressure, and acid reflux, and emotional symptoms like irritability.

Nettles, discussed above as a tea or capsules 

Milk Thistle protects, cleanses and nourishes both the liver and kidneys. It is best used as an extract of silymarin, as this is the medicinally active constituent. Silymarin accounts for only about 3% of the whole herb but 70-90% extractions of silymarin are widely available.   

Red Root (ceonothus) as a tincture is great for supporting lymphatic and blood cleansing.

Burdock root, available as a vegetable (called gobo, in Japanese cuisine), tea, tincture, or capsule is great for assisting sluggish bowel function safely. It also is useful for clearing blood of heat and toxins, and supports the liver in flow of bile. Often used for skin rashes including eczema. 

Trifala, an ancient Ayurvedic combination of three fruits, is excellent and safe as a daily laxative and bowel toner. 

5. Lymph drainage self massage, or lymph drainage massage by a practitioner. Normally lymph only flows at about two liters per day. This can be enhanced up to ten fold with lymph drainage techniques that allow the body to more easily clear accumulated toxins from intracellular spaces. Jumping rope, or using a rebounder are also quite helpful for lymphatic cleansing, as are saunas. Be sure to drink lots of water and have lots of fresh vegetables if you are doing any lymphatic cleansing.  

6. Avoid alcohol and drugs for ideal outcomes during any cleanses. 

7. Fruit juice fasts put too much sugar into the system, and strain the adrenals. Dr. Shapiro does not recommend them. 

8. Other types of metabolic detox and cleansing can be discussed individually in an appointment, if you prefer. 

On diet: 

Dr. Shapiro feels the most healthful diet emphasizes fresh local foods. Just because we can get peaches year round doesn’t mean that they are ideal to eat year round. A lot of nutritive value is lost when foods are shipped long distances. For most of human history people ate what was in season and grown within a 100 mile or so radius of their homes. A few items, like spices, were traded over long distances, but most foods were local, and, of course, organic, because pesticides and herbicides did not exist even 100 years ago. We in the Bay area are extremely fortunate that we have so many year round resources for fresh seasonal local foods. 

Generally, a local and seasonal diet is best for ourselves and the planet (not so much fossil fuels burned transporting out of season items hither and yon). Local organic foods are fresher and full of nutrients. Even meats that have been raised closer to home will be fresher, and minimize our carbon footprint. 

Be sure your diet includes lots of foods with live cultures. Dr. Shapiro generally advises including foods like yogurt, raw milk cheeses, kefir, whey (unless you are allergic to dairy), and lacto-fermented foods such as raw sauerkraut, natural pickles, coconut kefir, kombucha, and live (unpastuerized) miso. 

See our suggestions on allergies.

Recipe for Staying Well:

It is common for imbalances to show themselves as the seasons change. These imbalances need not become illnesses, if we tune in to the needs of our bodies. This helps us to stay in balance and prevent illness. It is a good idea to visit your acupuncturist at least four times per year at seasonal changes for a “tune-up” to the new season. At seasonal changes, Dr.Shapiro can provide an acupuncture session for you if you wish, or a referral to one of the many wonderful local providers.

Prayer of Gratitude

Thank you, earth, for the rains and the sweet darkness that helped me sleep deep into the dreamtime, nourishing my body and soul with rest.  Thank you for the winter soups, the candles, the soft warm blankets and my safe nest in which to snuggle with my loved ones, both two and four-leggeds.  thank you for the quiet, and the comfort of friends with the darkness got too long.  Now I am rested and ready to face a new season of more light and growth with the clarity and energy of a new morning.

Magic Pet Publishing 2012 Copyright Marcey Shapiro MD