What Are Spring Tonics?

by on January 8th, 2011
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What is a Spring Tonic?

Spring tonics are special tonics made with early spring herbs and plants that help cleanse the body and supply it with important vitamins and minerals. It can be thought of as giving the body a spring cleaning and sprucing up. After the long winter months of less physical activity and more of the heavy, warm comfort foods, what could be a better way to welcome the spring and summer than to treat the body to the extra burst of energy and nutrients supplied by spring tonics?

Some people have very specific ideas when it comes to making spring tonics, but in reality, they can be prepared in many different ways. The first herbs or roots and bark may be steeped in water to make strong, bitter teas. They can also be cooked down into thick syrup with sulfur and molasses. The newly grown dandelion leaves, violets, watercress, and wild onions may even be used as ingredients in large salads or soups. Any way they are prepared, spring tonics are full of wonderful nutrients and healing properties that have benefited people for thousands of years and are still beneficial today.

Why did people take spring tonics?

Throughout history, spring tonics have been important since most people had very little to eat during the winter months. Most family diets during this time consisted of dried or salted meat, perhaps a little fresh if they could find and kill it, and a few root vegetables and dried legumes such as lentils and beans. The winter months brought death to many. Those that survived were usually ailing and malnourished by the spring. The first, nutrient-rich plants that pushed their way through the soil were quickly gathered and made into bitter, but life-saving tonics. These tonics helped the weak survivors to cleanse and nourish their winter-worn bodies as they looked forward to the fresh fruits and vegetables they would soon harvest from their gardens and orchards.

Why do we need to take spring tonics?

Today, with the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables year-round, most people no longer feel there is a need for spring tonics. While they may not be as necessary as they were in times past, the winter months can still cause wear and stress on the body. Annual spring tonics still offer the same cleansing and healing properties as in years gone by. Some people claim that the nutrients in a good spring tonic will give an extra burst of energy for the upcoming busy days of summer.

What are spring tonics made of?

The spring tonics of the past were made from a wide variety of plants. Nettles, dandelions, sassafras, violet leaves, watercress, wild onions, rhubarb, asparagus, hawthorn, rosemary, parsley, burdock, sarsaparilla and many, many other first plants of spring were all used in spring tonics. These beautiful and bitter herbs are once again becoming popular as people learn more about the wealth of nutrients and healing properties they contain.

These first plants to push through the soil in the spring are full of health and energy. They provide an abundance of valuable vitamins and minerals. Many herbalists and nutritionists feel that it may be because these plants are forced to grow in such hard conditions that they are so nutrient-dense (overflowing with nutrients).

The ingredients of the spring tonics of the past were determined simply by what herbs were available. The combinations were endless. Today, since we are able to purchase almost any of these herbs from local health food stores and mail-order companies, the ingredients we select for our tonics are chosen for what healing and nutritional values we would like most in our finished tonic.

Listed below are a few of the herbs that are commonly used for spring tonics along with their most well-known nutritional values and healing properties.

Nettle tops are a favorite for spring tonics from many years back. The nutritional benefits include high volumes of calcium, iodine, iron, magnesium, manganese, sodium, sulfur, vitamin C, beta-carotene and many different B vitamins. It was commonly used for gout, hay fever and scurvy.

Dandelion leaf and root is another popular favorite, and is probably the herb that is most readily available in the spring. It is so popular that it has been used for almost every ailment common to man. Dandelion is valued highly as a diuretic (aids urinary tract function) and bowel tonic. It is well known for its high nutrient content as it is rich in calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, and contains vitamin C, beta carotene and other carotenoids and B complex.

Sassafras root bark, also called cinnamon wood, has for centuries been considered a cure-all for any disease. Of course, recent studies have shown that this is not quite true, but it still has several benefits. It can act as a diuretic and a stimulant (energy producer). Sassafras is widely used to calm inflamed and irritated parts of the body, as well as to purify the blood and encourage cleansing in the kidneys.

Violet leaves and flowers were the dainty herbs of the spring tonics, very mild and sweet in smell and flavor. Their main uses were to help the body fight off coughs, colds, and fever. They were also used to battle any kind of infection that was difficult to shake. Violet leaves and flowers can be added to salads or made into a syrup.

Watercress, a wonderful early spring green found growing in streams and marshy areas, was not used for cleansing properties, but for the large amount of vitamins and minerals found in its crisp, green leaves. Watercress was a valuable addition to the spring diet as it helped to supply their bodies with good nutrition and vigor.

Hawthorn was one of the most “goodly bitter” herbs there was to have in a tonic. Its taste was awful, but it was known far and wide as the best heart tonic known to man. Leaves, flowers and berries were made into teas, syrups and tinctures.

Rosemary was easily recognized its crisp smell and wonderful taste in home cooked meals. It was used in spring tonics mainly for the way it helped to cleanse the sinuses and chest. It also aided food digestion.

Burdock leaves were often used as a poultice for bruises and aches, but when time came for the spring tonic, the nutrient rich root was considered to be one of the best blood purifiers and builders. Burdock root also contains inulin, a rich source of Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) which can help to promote growth of normal bowel flora.

Sarsaparilla root was another widely known cure-all for many generations. It was used for its wonderful blood purifying properties. It also was known for its ability to soothe inflamed and irritated muscles and joints in conditions such as arthritis, gout, and rheumatism.

How can one receive the full benefit of the spring tonics?

Spring tonics have been proven to be beneficial in the past, and they are not difficult to make. However, many people today wonder if it is possible to get all the rich benefits of the tonic from taking it only once? Most modern herbalists would answer, “No!” To get the most from a spring tonic, it should be taken every day for one to two weeks. Care must be taken to use only herbs that are safe to be taken for that length of time. Annual spring tonics can be a wonderful and gentle way to cleanse and refresh the body. With the abundance of herbs available on the market and in the fields today, the ease of preparation, and the benefits to be gained, it is no wonder that the annual spring tonic is becoming popular once again.

While spring tonics can be beneficial, extra caution should be used when taking any herb in any form. Some herbs are fine to take daily, while others can cause reactions or problems when taken in large amounts. Some herbs interact with medications and other herbs or supplements. Others are not safe to use if certain health conditions are present. Be sure to research and know which herbs are safe before consuming them. Herbs are a wonderful and gentle way to treat our bodies naturally, but only when used correctly.

Sources:
Internet:
-Medicinal herbs by David Hoffman: http://www.hoptechno.com/medicinalherbs.htm
-Herbs for Spring Tonics: http://stephen-a-christensen.suite101.com/herbs-for-spring-tonics-a95829
-Time for a Spring Tonic, Dave Tabler: http://www.appalachianhistory.net/2011/03/time-for-spring-tonic.html

Books:
-Using Plants for Healing, Nelson Coon, -Rodale Press
-The Healing Herbs, Michael Castleman, -Bentam Books
-Evidence-Based Herbal Medicine, Michael Rotblatt & Irwin Ziment, -Hanley & Blefus inc.
-Therapeutic Herb Manuel, Ed Smith, -Ed Smith


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