Herbal Spring Tonics


Cheryl Hoard


Spring is a traditional time for all kinds of cleaning. Spring house cleaning is a common occurrence in many cultures as well as the use of spring tonics for the body. These spring tonics are usually blood and liver purifying herbs. The folk concept behind these spring cleaners was to counteract bad food eaten during the winter months. In our modern society we have fresh, nutritious food available year round but we also encounter and absorb our modern toxins and chemicals year round as well. Spring tonics are still a sound practice to continue at any time of the year.

The definition of tonic is: “A substance which gives a feeling of well-being to the body, stimulates nutrition and permanently increases systemic tone, energy, vigor, and strength, improves bodily performance, strengthens or invigorates organs or the entire organism.” Many herbs are designated as tonics, some of which are in the category of blood and liver purifiers. It is the bitter herbs that are often used to aid the liver and the digestive system. In the late 1800’s Mrs. Antonette Matteson authored what is now considered a rare American herbal “The Occult Family Physician and Botanic Guide to Health”. She believed in the “remedies from the vegetable world” and also was “convinced of the existence of intelligent spirit”. Calling herself a trance and healing medium fit right into the style and atmosphere of her era. Mrs. Matteson described a tonic as that which increases the tone of the muscular fibre and consisting of vegetable bitters. Tonics by her definition act by influencing the digestive system and hence on the whole system. She claimed the use of a bitter principle is absolutely essential to health and found in the majority of plants in the vegetable kingdom. Her example being that animals feed on these type of plants and if their food is restricted to a diet of insufficient bitter principles, they soon become weak and die.

Even though the teachings of the Druids were passed on orally, it has been recorded that the herbs of the Spring Equinox included Acorn, Celandine, Cinquefoil, Dandelion, Dogwood, Honeysuckle, Iris, Jasmine, Rose, Tansy and Violet. Some of these herbs are still familiar and easily available to us today. They were used in rituals to celebrate and honor the change of season as well as medicines. Just as could be expected, this group of herbs contains bitters as well as blood & liver purifiers.

Here in America one of our most revered and popular purifiers, Red CloverTrifolium pratense, is also known as a folk cancer remedy. James Duke has an explanation in his book ” The Green Pharmacy”. Angiogenesis is a process where tumors, needing a blood supply, send out a biochemical signal that coaxes the body into growing blood vessels right into them. Cancer researchers have been studying ways to stop these new blood vessels from forming and it has been discovered Red Clover contains an anti-angiogenic compound called Genistein. This herb is avoided during pregnancy and with blood thinning medications. Red Clover is full of vitamins and minerals and makes a really delicious “honey tasting” cup of tea. Folklore states that to dream of a field of clover is very fortunate.

Burdock Root Arctium lappa is an extremely popular herb possessing blood & liver purifying actions according to historical traditions and is safe to consume when used appropriately. Coming from Europe originally, it has now become a common weed in the USA. In 1914, during the World War I, European supplies of drug plants were cut off and it became a patriotic effort to produce homegrown plants. Its latest scientific claim to fame is that it contains compounds which have shown in the laboratory to be active against HIV. Burdock Root in Japan is a culinary agent used in soups. Now you can find fresh Burdock roots in grocery stores all across the USA. Soup recipes with Burdock are not too hard to find and you can also just incorporate it yourself into your own recipes. It has been described as fusing the flavors of potato and celery. When making tea to drink, the root fresh or dried needs to be gently simmered for about 20 minutes.

Food preparation and herb intake has always changed with the seasons in cultures world wide. It has always been fascinating for me to understand the reasons behind these traditions. I am enjoying a cup of Red Clover / Burdock tea at this very moment. The taste is prompting me to eat fresh and nutritious food today. Let’s all drink to our spring health!



Christopher, John R. School of Natural Healing. Springville, Utah: Christopher Publications, Inc. 1992.

Hoffmann, David. The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal. Shaftsbury, Dorsett: Element Books. 1996.

Kowalchik, Claire, and William Hylton, Ed. Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale Press. 1987.

Lust, John. The Herb Book. New York: Bantam Books. 1974.

Matteson, Mrs. Antonette. The Occult Family Physician and Botanic Guide to Health. Glenwood, Illinois: Meyerbooks. 1993.

Rose, Jeanne. Herbs & Things. New York: Perigee Books. 1983.

Sellar, Wanda. The Directory of Essential Oils. Saffron Walden: The C.W. Daniel Company Ltd. 1992.

Wren, R.C. Potter’s New Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs & Preparations.Saffron Walden: The C.W. Daniel Company Ltd. 1994.

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