It’s a rainy Sunday in mid March. I am sitting at my kitchen table, watching the rain fall and the snow melt. I can feel the seasons shifting around me as the deep freeze of winter is replaced by the wetness of spring and the promise of new growth. I can’t see them yet, but in the thawing earth the crocuses are turning towards the sun. As the seasons change, my thoughts turn to the liver. You might think this an odd thing to cross my mind, here in my kitchen watching the rain. I am thinking about the liver because I am thinking about Spring.
In Chinese medicine, the liver is the organ that is associated with Spring. The energy of the liver is the forward momentum of the sprouts breaking through the ground, the determination of saplings growing tall towards the sun.
From a Western perspective, the liver is one of the principle organs of detoxification in our body. All of the stuff that goes from our digestive tract into our blood stream goes first to the liver. It is the liver’s job to neutralize any harmful substances before they can cause damage in the rest of the body. For example, pesticides on food. This filtration is why excessive drug and alcohol use can cause liver damage. The liver needs to take care of all the toxicity in those substances, and sometimes it can become too much for it to handle.
The Spring is a great time to support the liver in it’s job of detoxification, and do some internal spring cleaning, so to speak, after all the heavy processed food we’ve eaten during the winter. There are many different ways to do this, but the simplest is through eating foods that are both tasty, and supportive of your liver.
Some of the earliest vegetables to appear in the market are dark leafy greens such as kale, swiss chard and spinach. These vegetables are fabulous at supporting healthy liver function. Here are some of the reasons:
- Fiber: After the liver processes toxins, it will release some substances back into the intestines to be excreted. In order for these substances to then be fully eliminated, it is important for the bowels to be moving regularly. Fiber is an essential component of good bowel health. In addition, fiber can bind up certain toxic substances in the intestine and prevent them from entering the blood stream in the first place.
- Vitamins and Minerals: Dark leafy greens are chock full of vitamins and minerals, many of which the liver requires for its proper functioning. For example, these vegetables are a good source of folic acid, carotenes and vitamin C.
- Low fat: Fats are processed in the liver. This process is energy intensive, and a diet that is high in fat puts an extra burden on the liver. While healthy fats are an important component of a balanced diet, eating fewer fats and more vegetables is a good way to support your liver.
I love to cook and to me there is nothing better than the taste of foods that are fresh and in season. Here are a couple of my favorite recipes for Springtime detoxifying cooking:
Massaged Kale Salad
The kale and dressing are the heart of this dish. The apples and seeds add a nice texture and flavor. You can leave these out, or substitute with other fruits, vegetables or proteins.
-1 bunch of kale
-1-2 Tbs lemon juice
-1-2 Tbs olive oil
-1 tsp sea salt
-1/4 cup of pumpkin seeds (or other nuts and seeds)
-1/4 cup of chopped apples
Directions: chop the kale into bite sized pieces, and mix in a bowl with the oil, salt and lemon juice. Massage with your hands until the kale is limp and has the texture of cooked kale. Add nuts, seeds, and fruit. Enjoy!
1 bunch of kale
1 Tbs olive oil
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Directions: Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Remove the stems from the kale, and chop the leaves into bite sized pieces. Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and any other spices you desire. Place kale on a baking sheet and bake for 20 min or until crispy. Enjoy!