Welcoming Spring with Plant Medicine: Tips and Insight from Community Herbalist Brittany Ducham
by Emma Honcharski
May 8, 2023
Longtime Pittsburghers are quick to share about the fickle nature of spring in our area, where snow in May might be followed by an unusually warm blue-skied day.
As we shift into spring, how can we nurture our bodies and tend to the energetic changes that happen inside of us? How can we tune into the seasonality of our bodies, and participate in the environmental shifts around us as the days get longer and lighter?
By connecting with nature and paying attention to spring ephemeral plants that come up for just a couple of weeks each year, we can ground ourselves in a sense of place and welcome the new life of the season.
“I think about a bear coming out of hibernation,” Pittsburgh-based community herbalist and masseuse Brittany Ducham says. “You want to shake off the winter and get all of the juices flowing. Lymph herbs and liver herbs really help work those internal rivers in ourselves in very beneficial ways.”
Some of the plants that Ducham loves connecting with in early spring also happen to be some of the most commonly found in yards across western Pennsylvania.
“Shifting our relationship with dandelion can be really profound,” she says, explaining that dandelions are beneficial for liver health, which can help with allergies and inflammation. Dandelion flowers and greens are both edible, and she recommends putting them in a salad, after properly cleaning them.
“Violet is such a lovely lymph mover,” Ducham says. The small purple flowers you’ve likely seen growing throughout a yard can be used as a garnish on salad or cakes, or made into a simple syrup to be added into tea or any beverage. “It’s a really good plant for self-acceptance and self-love. I think in times of seasonal transition, especially winter to spring, there’s so much energy and hyperactivity. Violet is a cooling plant, so it’s useful in cooling down your nervous system and getting your lymph flowing.”
In her 2021 book, Radical Remedies: An Herbalist’s Guide to Empowered Care, Ducham uses violets and dandelions in an assortment of recipes incorporating herbs that are available in western Pennsylvania. The book uses welcoming, accessible language to explain the benefits of plant medicine for digestion, mental clarity, stress and anxiety, immunity, pain management and more.
In addition to working with plant medicine, we can honor seasonal shifts by paying attention to the foods we are craving.
“If you want to think about plants and humans mirroring each other, plants are putting so much energy into bursting forth in the spring, and I think that’s something humans also do.”
In the winter, we’re more likely to seek out heavy, heartier foods, like warm soup and roasted root vegetables. As the seasons change, we may seek out brighter foods that awaken our digestive systems, like sour flavors and fermented foods.
“I really like looking at how things are physically manifesting, and then also emotionally, spiritually, mentally… how we’re not just digesting our food, which liver herbs help with, but we’re also digesting the world around us.”
In addition to getting into our neighborhoods and noticing the plants that grow around us, Ducham recommends purchasing herbs from Cutting Root Apothecary, based in Butler County, owned by Michelle Soto.
Cutting Root sells a wide range of dried herbs, tinctures, and salves made of whole plant medicine. They recently released a line of Prince-themed tinctures (yes, The Artist) including “When Doves Cry: care for tears and grief” with tinctures of chamomile flowers and mugwort, and “A Coat of Pink Cashmere: for ease and protection” with tinctures of milky oats and rose blossoms. Ducham recommends purchasing plant starts from Cutting Root if you’d like to grow your own medicinal herbs.
If you’d like to learn more about healing through plant medicine and taking care of your body physically and energetically, Brittany Ducham is available for herbal consultations and massage therapy through Spellbound Herbal.