Spring Tonics as Herbal Formulas

In the days of old, blood enhancers were called spring tonics and farmers would religiously take them come springtime after a long sedentary winter to get their sluggish blood in shape for the upcoming season of farming. A spring tonic is anything that strengthens the organs of elimination. These organs, known in Chinese medicine as the “Four Chimneys”, are the liver, kidneys, large intestines and the lungs.

Rumex crispus, yellow dock

The approximately 200 species of the genus Rumex (sorrel, Polygonaceae) that are distributed worldwide in European, Asian, African and American countries. Some species have been used traditionally as vegetables and for their medicinal properties. (1) Yellow dock is used as a minor supply of iron and it assists the body with the absorption of iron. Yellow Dock Root is an alterative herb, or blood purifier, that can be used to stimulate bile and digestion and aids a variety of skin and liver conditions. According to Michael Moore, the esteemed herbalist from the Southwest, it “supports the normal liberation of iron stored in the liver, making it useful for supporting iron deficiencies” and the plant is helpful in supporting normal healthy liver and gall bladder function. The juice from the leaves can be used to pull rust and mildew stains off linen, silver, and wicker. (2)

Urtica dioica, stinging nettle (leaf)

The Nettle tribe, Urticaceae, is widely spread over the world and contains about 500 species, mainly tropical, though several, like our common Stinging Nettle, occur widely in temperate climates. Many of the species have stinging hairs on their stems and leaves. The flowers are incomplete: the male or barren flowers have stamens only, and the female or fertile flowers have only pistil or seed-producing organs. Sometimes these different kinds of flowers are to be found on one plant; but usually a plant will bear either male or female flowers throughout, hence the specific name of the plant, dioica, which means 'two houses.' The whole plant is downy and covered with stinging hairs. Each sting is a very sharp, polished spine, which is hollow and arises from a swollen base. In this base, which is composed of small cells, contains the venom, an acrid fluid, the active principle of which is said to be bicarbonate of ammonia. When the sting pierces the skin, the venom is instantly expressed, causing the resultant irritation and inflammation. It is a strange fact that the juice of the Nettle proves an antidote for its own sting and being applied will afford instant relief. The burning property of the sting is dissipated by heat, enabling the young shoots of the Nettle, when boiled, to be eaten as a pot-herb. (3)

Its fiber is very similar to that of Hemp or Flax, and it was used for the same purposes, from making cloth of the finest texture down to the coarsest, such as sailcloth, sacking, cordage, etc. In the sixteenth and seventeenth century Nettle fibers were still used in Scotland for weaving the coarser household napery. After the Nettles had been cut, dried and steeped, the fiber was separated with instruments like those used in dressing flax or hemp, and then spun into yarn, used in manufacturing for every sort of cloth, cordage, etc. Green (Universal Herbal, 1832) says this yarn was particularly useful for making twine for fishing nets, the fiber of the Nettle being stronger than those of flax and not so harsh as those of hemps. When Germany and Austria ran short of cotton during the War, the value of the Nettle as a substitute was at once recognized, and the two ordinary species, U. dioica and U. urens, the great and the smaller Nettle, were specially selected for textiles. Among the many fibrous plants experimented with, the Nettle alone fulfilled all the conditions of a satisfactory source of textile fiber, and it was believed that it would become an important factor in agriculture and in the development of the textile industry. (3)

Medicago sativa, alfalfa

Alfalfa is a plant originally native to Asia, but now is found growing abundantly throughout the world. Alfalfa belongs to the Fabaceae family, the pea family. Alfalfa contains isoflavones, coumarins, sterols, and is rich in enzymes including amylase, lipase and protase, it contains Vitamin A, C, D, B6, and vitamin K and is said to contain 10 times more mineral value than the average grain. (4) Alfalfa is known as the “Queen of Forages,” as she is the world's most important and widely grown forage legume. Alfalfa, rich in proteins, vitamins and minerals, provides highly nutritious hay and pasture for animal and dairy production. (5)

Taraxacum officinale, dandelion leaf:

Dandelion, belonging to the Asteracea or Sunflower Family, is a sunny, subtle, yet incredibly healing plant used for thousands of years in China and mentioned in traditional Arabian medicine in the tenth century. It has been used for centuries, in traditional medicine practices all over the world, as a restorative tonic, edible food, and in herbal wines and beers. Taraxacum is derived from the Greek words ‘taraxos’ meaning disorder and ‘akos’ meaning remedy, the name referring to dandelion’s many healing properties. The word ‘dandelion’ originated from the Greek genus name ‘leontodon’ or ‘lion’s teeth’ which is thought to be related to the tooth-like shape of the leaves. In the United States, various Native American tribes considered dandelion to be a prized edible, a gastrointestinal aid, a cleansing alterative, and a helpful healing poultice or compress. (6)

The roasted roots are used to form Dandelion Coffee, being first thoroughly cleaned, then dried by heat, and slightly roasted till they are the tint of coffee, when they are ground ready for use. The roots are taken up in the autumn, being then most fitted for this purpose. It is said that its use for liver complaints was assigned to the plant largely on the doctrine of signatures, because of its bright yellow flowers of a bilious hue. (7)

Cymbopogon citratus, lemongrass:

The genus Cymbopogon belongs to the grass family, Poaceae. Cymbopogon is a genus of about 55 species, which are indigenous in tropical and semi-tropical areas of Asia and are cultivated in South and Central America, Africa and other tropical countries. (8) Cymbopogon genus are herbs known worldwide for their high essential oil content. Ethnopharmacology evidence shows that they possess a wide array of properties that justifies their use for pest control, in cosmetics and as anti-inflammation agents. (9)


  1. Vasas, Andrea, et al. “The Genus Rumex: Review of Traditional Uses, Phytochemistry and Pharmacology.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 4 Dec. 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26384001.
  2. botanics, Author: backwater. “Yellow Dock Root (Rumex Crispus).” LONE PINE, 8 June 2014, https://backwaterbotanics.wordpress.com/2013/12/18/yellow-dock-root-rumex-crispus/.
  3. “Nettles.” A Modern Herbal | Nettles, https://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/n/nettle03.html.
  4. Admin, About the Author: Blog. “Alfalfa Leaves ~ Medicago Sativa.” Canadian Herbalist Assoc., 1 Mar. 2018, https://www.chaofbc.ca/alfalfa-leaves-medicago-sativa/.
  5. Yang, Shengming, et al. “Alfalfa Benefits from Medicago Truncatula: the RCT1 Gene from M. Truncatula Confers Broad-Spectrum Resistance to Anthracnose in Alfalfa.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, National Academy of Sciences, 26 Aug. 2008, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2527883/.
  6. Admin, About the Author: Blog. “Dandelion Monograph.” Canadian Herbalist Assoc., 19 Mar. 2019, http://www.chaofbc.ca/dandelion-monograph/.
  7. “Dandelion.” A Modern Herbal | Dandelion, https://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/d/dandel08.html.
  8. Shah, Gagan, et al. “Scientific Basis for the Therapeutic Use of Cymbopogon Citratus, Stapf (Lemon Grass).” Journal of Advanced Pharmaceutical Technology & Research, Medknow Publications Pvt Ltd, Jan. 2011, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3217679/.
  9. Avoseh, Opeyemi, et al. “Cymbopogon Species; Ethnopharmacology, Phytochemistry and the Pharmacological Importance.” Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), MDPI, 23 Apr. 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6272507/.