Seasonal Transitions and Rituals: The Winter Cleanse

It’s no secret that our dedicated team of Prairie Star herbalists believe that humans should follow the path (and wisdom) of the seasons.  It’s key to thriving in our particular prairie environment, but the lessons apply regardless of what latitude and longitude you call home.

Seasonal change moves in a circle, following the pattern of the sun.  Indigenous peoples had no choice but to live their lives according to this movement.  Some associated the north point of the compass with winter, the direction of the cold winds that bring snow to the prairie.  Winter is also associated with the element of water, and the conditions of cold and damp.  We might also consider winter as symbolic of a dormancy or introspection phase of the lifecycle of living things – plants, animals, humans.  In many traditions, the organs of kidney and bladder (related to the element of water) are particularly important to this season.

Our bodies need water to survive.  It transports nutrients, determines blood pressure, and hydrates the complex structures of our bodies.  Water also assists the blood and lymph systems to eliminate waste from the body.  The kidneys filter the blood, removing toxins and adjusting minerals and pH.  Liquid wastes are directed to the bladder to be exported as urine.  This is a time to ensure that our water organs are working efficiently and effortlessly.  Imbalances can cause edema, stagnation, and a retention of toxins within our body tissues.

It makes sense to have a ritual to allow us to stay in balance with the seasons.  After all, our busy world sends us messages that we need to be doing more, pushing us away from slowing down to take care of ourselves.  The boundaries of seasonal transitions, like the winter equinox, provide us a gentle reminder.  A seasonal ritual to cleanse and tonify is an opportunity to work with our body’s natural resources to prepare for the season, to align our food selection and preparation with local seasonal foods, to take special care of our kidney and bladder, to minimize stress, and invite a sense of peace and balance into our lives. 

I personally find connecting with the seasons helps me to get my system back into balance in a gentle and profound way.  While you might be familiar with seasonal cleansing, particularly a liver cleanse that’s traditionally performed in the spring, you may just be discovering that each season has its own version.  Many cleanse protocols guide us to focus on our physical bodies.  While clearly important, this approach is incomplete without considering the emotional and spiritual significance of the season. 

This may seem a bit overwhelming at first.  So, here’s a “day in the life” of my recent winter cleanse.  While it’s a very personal experience, it might make it more approachable, especially if you’ve been putting it off.  So, here goes:

A typical day during my winter cleanse starts early.  I begin my day with a strong tea of roasted roots, with a touch of ashwagandha infused ghee.  I move into a time for meditation, connecting to my breath and scanning my body for tension and resistance.  I’m especially aware of how fear (a water element emotion) limits my perspective, making me feel small and disconnected.  I often make notes in my journal, using this time for reflection on what I have learned, and how it applies to my life experience.
Next is breakfast, a simple, yet hearty oatmeal, slow cooked with dried cranberries and cardamom, and sprinkled with walnuts.  Somedays breakfast is a stir-fry of leftover rice and roasted vegetables, topped with an egg.  Off to work, with a tea of holy basil to keep me hydrated.
Lunch is a layered bowl of roasted sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts and steamed rice, doused with balsamic vinegar and soy sauce.  I drink a few cups of the nettle/marshmallow tea that I started early in the day.
An evening meal of hoppin’ john (a stew of rice, black-eyed peas and spices), cabbage slaw made with fire cider, and roasted plums.
My snack, if I need it, maple glazed walnuts with a sprinkle of sea salt.  Satisfying and simple.
You may have noticed that rice is mentioned in many/all of the meals.  A grain, like rice or quinoa, is an easy thing to make a big pot of.  I tend to make things in advance, and dip into it to cut down my prep time for meals, especially when cleansing.


Some days early in my cleanse, I sense discomfort in my kidneys and lower back.  I found that I needed to choose herbs to be more tonifying and restorative.  You may want to consult with your favorite herbalist for assistance if you share this experience.  I also may experience a dull headache that I’ve come to recognize as caffeine withdrawal.  Full disclosure – I do love that one strong cup of coffee in the morning.  During my cleanse I replace it with a liver-supporting blend of roasted roots – dandelion, carob, chicory and burdock – it’s as much about the ritual as it is about the caffeine.

I've used this transition time to challenge my routines, and improve my resilience to stress.  A teacher of mine says that changing our routines and habits increases the neuroplasticity of our brains.  This practice provides me with flexibility and adaptability that becomes a super-power in my daily life.

We're rapidly approaching the mid-point of the winter season.  I hope that you've enjoyed our series of posts on winter self-care.  You'll find them here in our blog.  It's not too late to bring something new to your life as a celebration of the winter season.



1 comment

  • Gay Turner

    Enjoyed reading your Winter Cleanse ritual. I am doing my cleanse & it is helpful & motivating to hear how about yours. Thanks for sharing !

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