Spring is a time of optimism, inspiration and motivation. Like the young seedlings pushing up through the soil, you can harness that spring time energy of determination, shooting upwards towards the sunlight and freedom of movement.

If you’ve been able to take full advantage of the settling, reflective time of winter, you will have planted your seeds wisely, and will now have the energy and capacity to grow.

Most of us experience at least a little stagnation in winter, however, and may have some baggage to get rid of first.

This is why springtime is so wonderful for cleansing: the timing is perfect and the energy and motivation is there. If you don’t have the inner vitality to shift toxins, the natural upthrust of spring will provide at least a little shove. This may be helpful – or may end up taxing your liver and routes of elimination. We’d like to give you some insight into how this all works, and how you can spring forward with a holistic approach.

Spring and the Wood Element

In Five Element nutrition, spring relates to the Wood Element, which in turn is expressed by the functions of your liver and gallbladder. Appropriately, your liver is the central hub of your natural detoxification and elimination processes (more on this shortly).

The liver is also known as “The Planner”, as it is involved in regulating so much activity, including processing incoming nutrients, balancing blood sugar and breaking down excess oestrogen. It’s easy to see how your liver might get overloaded, especially in an environment as polluted as ours has become.

If your liver is also lacking the nutrients and energy it needs to carry out all of its tasks, this will add to its struggle. You may, as a result, feel toxic, stagnant, bloated, tired and irritable (anger is the emotion associated with the wood element). You may experience joint problems, itchy skin, headaches, nausea, blood sugar dips or menstrual problems, as your body seeks to push toxicity to the extremities, or release them in other ways. Anything to keep the heart, brain and other high-ranking organs clear.

Your eyes are said to be the orifices of your liver, and accordingly, problems with sore, itchy, blurry or watery eyes may indicate a need for liver support. Your tendons are equally associated with the Wood Element, as is flexibility and strength, like a strong and well-nourished tree swaying, but not breaking, in the wind.

If your “Planner” is out of balance, then you may find yourself living chaotically, or with an obsessive need for order. On emotional levels, anger may burst out in unhelpful ways, or you may suppress it to extent that it becomes a form of depression. The gallbladder is known as the “Decision Maker”, so you may equally experience indecision or frustration.

All of these are signs that your liver may be overloaded in general. At springtime, your body’s natural urge to cleanse may put even more stress on your liver. So whatever your current state of health, spring is often a good time to give your Wood Element some extra support.

Food for the Wood Element

The colour relating to the Wood Element is green, which means that incorporating green foods into your diet will be nourishing for your liver, gallbladder and all their activities. In fact, accenting your environment with splashes of green – be it in your interior design, your clothing or spending time amongst the grass and leafy trees – will revitalise your Wood Element. Immersing yourself only in green is likely to throw your Wood Element into orbit, however – Five Element theory is about bringing things into balance and flow, not pushing them to extremes. The sour flavour is said to stimulate the Wood Element, although again, you don’t want to be overdoing it. A slice of lemon (or vibrant green lime) in your water or tea will be enough of a hint to set things in motion. A whole lemon every morning may overstimulate your liver, and the acidity of the juice may be too harsh – not least for the enamel on your teeth.

Green and sour foods for your Wood Element: limes, lemons, green leafy vegetables, courgettes, asparagus, green beans, green peas, mung beans, green lentils, avocados, grapes, sourdough bread, sauerkraut

Nutrients for detoxification enzymes

On a daily basis, toxins are carried by your lymph and blood from all over your body to your liver. There, they are processed by glutathione plus Phase 1 and Phase 2 detoxification enzymes, and then sent to your gallbladder in a fluid called bile. Bile is released into your small intestine whenever you eat anything fatty to help break it down, and at the same time, the processed toxins are delivered to an exit tunnel. From there they can travel to your large intestine, and then be released with your stools.

To make detoxification enzymes, your liver needs a vast amount of nutrients.

In phase I toxins are processed and then bonded to a chemical structure called a hydroxyl group to the toxin. This requires and enzyme called P450, which is produced largely from iron. At this stage, the resulting chemical is still toxic. In fact, sometimes it is more toxic than the original toxin, especially in the case of some carcinogens, so it is important that Phase II is able to take place.

Phase II is where this chemical is bonded to another molecule called a ligand to make it a little safer. Ligands are made either of sulphate, or an amino acid called glycine, a sugar derivative called glucoronic acid.

To enable all of this, you need to ensure you have good levels of:

  • zinc, magnesium, iron, selenium, copper, manganese (e.g. from seeds, pulses and green leafy vegetables)
  • a range of B vitamins, including B2, B6, B12 and folate (for non-vegans, regular animal proteins and green leafy vegetables is the easiest way to include these)
  • vitamin C (in raw herbs, fruit and vegetables)
  • co-enzyme Q10 (in the form of ubiquinol – or from meat, oily fish or big bowls of broccoli)
  • essential fatty acids (e.g. from fish oil, nuts, seeds)
  • sulphate (Epsom salt baths can provide this)
  • amino acids (in particular glycine, cysteine and methionine, from meat, fish, egg yolks, yoghurt, broccoli, sprouts, garlic, onions, brazil nuts, sesame seeds, wholegrains

The main phase II detoxification enzyme we hear about is glutathione. Glutathione can be produced from certain proteins, but only if you have enough B6, B2 and zinc to convert it. If you are lacking in any of these, and your body does not have the correct pH or temperature, then you will struggle to produce glutathione, and therefore to detoxify many heavy metals and other toxic chemicals.

Bile stimulants

In addition, it may be helpful to include foods which stimulate your bile production. Globe artichokes are particularly good at this, as is dandelion root. When buying dandelion root coffee, make sure you are getting pure roasted root, not the granule form (which usually contains sugar). Or simply make it yourself (once the bees have had a chance to feast on the dandelion flowers!).

Normal caffeinated coffee will also stimulate bile production. Take care not to overuse coffee as a stimulant, however, if your fundamental energy is low – instead you may need to consider adrenal and/or thyroid support. Coffee can also be punishing to the stomach lining. Coffee is therefore often recommended in enema form, a gentle way to get coffee to the liver, bypassing the stomach, and for many people, without such a heady effect. Dandelion coffee may also be used in enemas, as can chamomile tea, another bile stimulant.

The spices ginger and turmeric are also natural cholegogues (bile stimulants).

Hydrating the Wood Element

A tree needs to be well watered for its sap to be flowing. Then it can do the following well

  • Carry nutrients to every branch, twig, leaf and bud on the tree
  • Grow straight and tall
  • Bend in the wind without breaking

Similarly, you need to be well hydrated so that:

  • Your liver can distribute nutrients (via the blood) to each part of your body
  • Your connective tissue and structure can grow with integrity, and you can stand straight and tall
  • Your joints can be flexible and strong

Most people do well on around 1.5-2 litres of well filtered or spring water daily. If you’re intake is much lower, then increase it gradually, and avoid drinking too much at once. If you drink a lot more than this, then you may be putting a strain on your kidneys, and it might also be worth getting a diabetes test. Finally, be aware that caffeinated drinks, and indeed most herbals, are diuretics, and so make you wee more fluid out.

Letting go

So you’ve fed and watered the organs and systems that process toxins and send them on their way. Now you need to get them out of your body. The main place you do this is via your poo. So a couple of questions:

  • Are you emptying your bowels around 1-3 times a day?
  • If so, does it feel smooth, easy and complete? Are your stools well formed and mid-brown?

If you’ve answered yes to both of these questions, then you may be eliminating sufficiently. Although it’s not a guarantee, so if you’re doing everything to support your detoxification processes, but still feeling toxic, then it may be that there is still stagnation in your gut.

If you’ve answered no to either or both those questions, then whatever you are experiencing, there may be issues around letting go.

There are a number of ways of dealing with this. Here are some suggestions to help get you going (if you’ll excuse the pun!):

  • Breathe, relax, give yourself space – both in general and on the loo
  • Are there any emotional issues you haven’t resolved, and are holding onto? Or current stresses that are creating tension? Can you manage those in a way that helps you feel more relaxed?
  • Chew your food – it helps create peristalsis (contractions) all the way through your digestive tract, which keeps everything moving
  • Include a small amount of sauerkraut, or a good quality probiotic supplement – to help with your bowel health, help your bowel make healthy stools, support your immune system and to help ease your response to stresses and traumas
  • Find out about naturopathic techniques such as enemas and castor oil packs – we often talk about these on our retreats.

At Bloom Holistic Retreats, we bring together Five Element theory and wisdom from around the world with the latest scientific research, and share practical ways you can begin to make simple but noticeable changes. On your plate, on your yoga mat and in your day-to-day life.