Yesterday, I wrote about dandelion tonic, a liver cleanser that our wise grandmothers often made for their families, as it was believed to help purify the blood in the Springtime.
The idea of Spring tonics is a very old, well respected one in herbal medicine. After the long Winter months, when people were sustained by whatever they could scavenge, cure or preserve, with little or no fresh vegetables or meat available, the sluggishness of body and spirit was understood to need a “spring cleaning.”
According to herbalist Cheryl Hoard, 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, like dandelion, 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 fiber and consists of plant bitters. Tonics by her definition act by influencing the digestive system and hence, 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. She pointed out 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.
It is no accident that one of the most important parts of the Jewish Pesach ceremony (Passover) is the eating of bitter herbs. All ancient peoples knew that bitter foods were vital to health, even though, by definition, unpleasant. In a culture that now almost completely shuns bitter tastes, and instead emphasizes sweets, we can see an epidemic lack of balance and healthfulness. Is it a coincidence?