Q. Taught by my grandmother, I practice the time-honored tradition of eating spring greens: dandelions, burdock, stinging nettles, pigweed, lamb’s quarters, plantain, shepherd’s purse, garlic mustard, chickweed, cleavers, and so on. What does modern nutrition have to say about this? Are these greens truly “blood cleansing” or “liver cleansing?
A. In traditional Chinese acupuncture, each season is associated with a different organ and spring is the season of the liver. Many other traditional and alternative healing systems teach that certain plants “cleanse” or “strengthen” the blood or other organs. You won’t find too much about that in Western nutrition science, though.
Nutritional Benefits of Spring Greens
The greens you mention here are all highly nutritious, bursting with antioxidants and folic acid, nutrients that support healthy organ and immune function. Some spring vegetables (in particular, dandelion greens and asparagus) are also mild diuretics, which can help rid the body of excess fluids. Although it might seem like foods that make you pee more might be “cleansing” your kidneys, these foods simply increase the amount of sodium and water that is excreted in the urine.
Do You Need to Detox?
Your body’s detoxification pathways work year-round to break down and remove toxins and impurities from your blood and tissues. Eating a lot of fresh vegetables (and cutting back on sugar, alcohol, sugar, and other junk food) is good for your whole body and supports all your organs but, in my opinion, your organs don’t need or benefit from seasonal “cleansing.”
See also: How to Detoxify Your Body
In your grandmother’s day, green vegetables (other than cabbages, which store well for the winter) may have been few and far between during the winter months. By the time early spring greens arrived, people’s nutrient reserves were running low and their bodies were hungry for the nutrients in these vegetables. It was smart to making the most of spring’s nutritional bonanza. That’s less likely to be the case nowadays, when finding a green salad in January is as easy as heading to the nearest grocery store.
Benefits of Eating with the Seasons
But I still love the idea of eating with the seasons because it means that the foods you’re eating are fresher and at their nutritional peak. Eating foods grown close to where you live also reduces the carbon footprint of your diet. So, even if they aren’t doing anything special to “cleanse” your blood, eating fresh spring greens is a great move for your health.