Tuesday March 20th is the Spring Equinox. This means that finally there is exactly the same amount of daylight as there is darkness each day. The light is returning. The winter days are receding. The darkness and blues are behind us and summer beckons on the horizon.
Have you noticed how many green shoots are coming through? Ground elder, comfrey, chickweed, sorrel, nettles, dandelion. I’m being woken up each morning by the birds chattering away at full volume, advertising on bird ‘Tinder’ and planning their nests. Out in the town I’m seeing a spring in everybody’s step. We feel more cheery – well until we read the news. We’re brighter, happier and our energy is returning.
It’s no coincidence that it’s also Lent, traditionally a time for fasting. Hmm. Fasting, dieting, detox. These words usually just remind me of past, failed New Year’s resolutions. But no more. I doubt you even noticed this, but, amongst the clamour of January detox headlines and media posts, here at Napiers, in January we did not say a single word about detoxing! Yes not a single “New Year, New You” post. For a very good reason. January is in the middle of winter and that always doomed my best-hatched plans to failure!
I want you to come back in time with me for just a few minutes. Think about our pre-farming ancestors, and really think about how we survived the winter? How were our bodies nourished in the spring? Where did the tradition of a spring fast – a spring cleanse – come from and why do I believe that it’s still relevant today?
Let’s leave the twenty-first century for a while and imagine what was going on in our foraging past – in our wild state. Those of us who were going to survive the winter would have worked hard in the autumn. We collected lots of nuts – Scottish Neolithic archaeological sites turn up mounds of hazelnut shells – and probably some primitive grass grains to store up and help us through the winter. We’d have found shelter from the worst of the storms and snow in the forests among the warmth of the trees. We’d have hunted deer, rabbits and other non-hibernating animals and dug up roots such as dandelion, wild burdock, wild carrot, etc. when the ground wasn’t frozen. Fruit was an autumn memory - the last of the bilberries, blackberries, rosehips eaten by us and the birds. So few of our calories would have come from sugar, even fructose (fruit sugar) unless we’d found some late haws or sea buckthorn berries, or had raided a wild bees nest for its honey. From what was available, our winter diet would have been primarily protein, fats and carbohydrates.
We wouldn’t have gone far from our shelters as this burnt up calories, a dangerous game unless you were sure of a meal at the end of the trip. So we would probably have spent a lot of time snoozing or cuddled up, restricting the amount of calories we used. Cave couch-potatoes – except that we hadn’t discovered spuds at that point! And after a few months of it we’d have had ‘cabin fever’ big time. After a diet of rough grain gruel, boiled roots, nuts and occasional meat, we’d have been longing for fresh greens and dreaming of salads in our caves.
How we would have rejoiced in the Spring! That’s why the Spring Equinox was such a special festival. Not just because of the light and the warmth of the sun on your skin again. Come Spring the plants burst into leaf again. And, all the new growth – the young nettles, cleavers, dandelion, thistle stems, seaweed fronds, etc., are either diuretic, mildly laxative or lymphatic cleansers. Now, when you go out and forage as I do, you’ll notice that you naturally enter a Spring Detox phase. Nature’s new growth stimulates our metabolism, the digestive system and awaken our bodies as we change our diets away from winter fare and stop eating carbohydrates. What sensible forager would dig up a root when it was providing fresh salad vegetables?
Medical research nowadays shows that intermittent fasting is actually good for us. It helps to protect our cells against age-related diseases, improves heart health in the same way as aerobic exercise does, improves brain health (the brain is the only organ that doesn’t shrink in size during prolonged fasting as we need our wits about us). So yes, after Christmas I started to cut down on calories but not to any extreme. January and February are just too cold and dark to find the enthusiasm to go against my body’s natural drive. But now. Now is different. Spring is in my soul and I’m actually craving the pleasure of detoxing. Getting rid of the last of the winter weight, casting off the sluggishness, stimulating my senses again.
So that is why, this year, I decided to get off the January detox bandwagon and share my own insights from the natural world with you. I’ve asked two of our nutritional therapists, Angela and Patricia, to also share their tips over the next few weeks so follow us on Facebook and Twitter or on our website here to see what we’re up to. Join me – I’ll certainly be doing this too as I know several kilos have to come off! But this is so much more than weight loss. It’s about feeling reenergized. It’s about using your own inbuilt seasonal drive and harnessing your natural circadian rhythms to reboot after the winter and feel amazing. And the Spring makes it so much easier!
Best wishes and a Happy Spring Equinox!