Ah yes, the birds are chirping, the bees have been busy, and the yellow fields have been greening up as spring is here upon us in the prairies and foothills. Hooray for spring! In Traditional Chinese Medicine, spring is the season best associated with the liver, as TCM practitioner Efrem Korngold states,
“The organ that shares the character of this season is the Liver, tasked in Chinese medicine with the job of instigating movement and arousing the mind by allowing tension and pressure to build. As spring signals the rising of sap in the trees, so the Liver lifts the blood upward and spreads it outward. Alternately gathering and releasing our rivers of blood, the Liver modulates the intensity and force of all body movement and process. “
I like to think of tea and herbal brews as necessary (and delicious!) tools in one's medicine chest. And so, in the spirit of the season, we will look at some liver loving brews you can add to your food arsenal, in order to best support this hard working organ. Perfect time of the year to do so.
First things first. Your liver is your main detoxification organ, and does something like 500+ jobs in the body. It hangs out just under your rib cage on the right hand side of your body (unless of course, if your inner organs are hanging out on the other side. In our cadaver lab at school, we got to witness this incredible phenomenon – FASCINATING. But I digress.)
The liver's main tasks are to cleanse your blood and build blood-clotting factors, move the waste and toxins out, break down hormones, build up new ones. It gets rid of so much stuff, like chemicals, junk produced during metabolism and packages them back up in to bile. This good stuff helps emulsify the fats you eat, which means it makes those fats easier to digest and better to assimilate the nutrients found within. So bile is the perfect recycling tool, see? Isn't your liver a star?
The liver also regulates the sugars in your blood, and is the key player in metabolizing carbs, fats and proteins. It builds proteins from the smaller building blocks called amino acids. The liver is also a storage house for some good things like extra vitamins (the fat soluble ones, my favourites), and extra blood just in case. It is also a key player in your immunity, and is the principal organ that deals with inflammation in the body. Enzymes are made by this organ. As if it didn't have enough of a workload...
My favourite part about this big organ – IT REGENERATES LIKE A DREAM. It loves to repair and rebuild. Itself. Multi tasking, folks. That's what this organ's main super power is. It is the only organ in the body that can do this.
Herbs and Teas
There are so many things we can do to love our livers up, ways to let them know we appreciate their workload and are thankful for all they do. (Who's game to start having Liver Day, in addition to Mother's and Father's Day? I think it is warranted.)
Today's post is focusing on beverages that are best suited to this wonderful gland.
You can seek out Burdock root at your favourite local health food store and steep the dried parts in simmering water for a good 20 minutes. I personally like to throw in a few slices in when making good ole meat stock. Chicory root is another one that benefits the liver, and is a great alternative to coffee if you're looking to curb your caffeine intake. Know that chicory helps stimulate bile production, and so thus could help get your colon rollin. You can sometimes find a good coffee alternative that will include both of these liver-supportive roots in the mix.
Yellow Dock Root might be worth seeking as well: it has been shown to help purify the blood and super bile inducing. Astragalus root is a traditional Chinese herb that has been shown to be of wonderful support to the immune system, as well as showing promise of supporting liver metabolism, especially in those diagnosed with diabetes. I share a recipe on how to use it below.
Imbibing bitter brews will help support the liver, and influence it to produce bile. Think hot lemon with water, or nettle tea. (Remember my good friend nettle?) Peppermint tea, while not of the bitter persuasion, can stimulate the bile production as well. It's good at bringing down cholesterol as well, double bonus!
I am a big fan of the delicate notes of Green Tea as well, when it comes to liver support. The polyphenols found in the tea protect your cells from free radical damage, possibly contributing to slower aging and keeping certain diseases such as cancer and heart disease at bay. Be forewarned, green tea supplements may not be a good idea and in fact may prove to be toxic to some folks' livers. Consult your medical team before embarking on this new brew.
There are two roots I routinely use in my cooking and brew-making that you may want to get to know better: ginger and turmeric. They are in the same rhizome family, and are both wonderful protectors of the liver. They are adept at reducing overall inflammation, and are excellent sources of antioxidants, those all-important compounds that help reduce free radical damage at the cellular level. One of the active chemical compounds found in these rhizomes is called curcumin: it has been shown to be liver-protective, also helping to up the production of bile. They also help stimulate your liver to produce enzymes that will flush toxins out. How to make a brew: check out Toronto-based nutritionist Meghan Telpner's site for a good one. You can also easily purchase ginger tea in prepared bags for simpler preparation, or for taking on the road.
Rooibos tea is another good one you may already have in your cupboard. A 2008 study found that this loose leaf tea native to Southern Africa is high in antioxidants and may be a good tea for those wanting to support their liver.
Rose Hip tea is another popular wild-foraged food that can be made into a Vitamin C rich brew by allowing the rose hips to steep in just-boiled water for a time. This essential vitamin is a key player in this organ's detoxification work.
The wonderful world of medicinal mushrooms is an ancient practice that is seeing new light these days. Find your way to this article to read on the benefits of Reishi mushroom in particular, noting that it is a liver-protective herb that can be a key player in mitigating the effects of chronic inflammation and supporting the immune system, a system intricately linked to the liver.
Chaga is another wonderful medicinal mushroom that grows on birch trees and has been used traditionally for many centuries. (My sister has some growing on her property and recently shared some of her winter harvest with me!>. This mushroom serves as a potent blood purifier, and excellent at reducing chronic inflammation as well, providing the body with key nutrients necessary for the body's detoxification and antioxidant protectors. Check this article from Calgary's local lovelies The Light Cellar for a comprehensive write-up, including tips on how to prepare your own brews.
I like to prepare my own concoction at home to support my liver. Every few weeks, I set a pot of this goodness to simmer for the better part of the day, with the intention of consuming a good mugful every day until the pot is empty. I leave it on the stove top and bring it back to a good boil once a day before consuming it. I sweeten it with some delicious local honey to taste.
LIVER and IMMUNE SUPPORTING BREW
Steeping on a low simmer for six hours:
8 cups of filtered or spring water (the chlorine in tap water is an added toxin the liver has to handle)
5 slices dried Reishi mushrooms
1.5 tbsp chaga pieces
4 slices astragalus
2 cinnamon sticks
2" fresh ginger, sliced
1" fresh turmeric, sliced
4 cardamom pods cracked open
Dandelion Root Tea is a popular one in our house; it is a wonderful liver tonic. (Did you know the word dandelion comes from the french word 'Dent de lion'? I find that funny because the french name for this flower is 'pissenlit'. Which literally means pee the bed. And Dandelion root tea is a diuretic. See what they did there? Those smart frenchies.) I think this one may be my absolute favourite liver loving brew. It helps incite your liver to rebuild and function at a higher capacity. Read on for more information on this magical brew.
What kind of cuppa will you prepare next?
The information provided in this post is not intended to replace your doctor's advice. This is for educational purposes only. If your liver is currently giving you cause for concern, it is best to seek out the support of your Medical Team before consuming any of the brews mentioned in this post.