I wasn’t a born athlete. Heck no. I came to sports relatively late in life. At least, looking around my dogen in the first few months of my training, it felt late in life. I realized that at nearly forty, I was going to need a different approach to healing if I wanted to keep training next to all those kids who were half my age. Taekwondo, my sport of choice, isn’t an old-man’s game, nor is it an old-woman’s game. But, I reckoned it could be. My husband agreed. So we stuck with it even through those first six months when our bodies begged us to throw in the towel. Together, we’ve chosen to become stronger, healthier, more powerful warriors, and we’ve been using herbals to ease all the aches, pains, bumps, and bruises we’ve gathered along the way…and we’ve had a lot of aches, pains, bumps and bruises along the way.

One thing I’ve noticed is that more and more of my fellow students are interested in finding natural solutions not only to healing their wounds but also to supporting them in their daily lives and practice. Folks both younger and older than myself have begun to ask me what we use…to heal our bruises, ease those aching joints, disinfect our gear, replenish our electrolytes, cleanse our bodies both before and after workouts and tournaments, reduce muscle strain, recover after flu or  colds, and more. I’m not a professional health care worker or doctor, of course. My philosophy when I answer their questions is simple: While I offer my experiences to you with suggestions on what you might try, I’m not in any way responsible for your health and well-being. Your body, mind, and Spirit are your own, and it’s up to you to be responsible for them. Just like in our training, you can and should say no to anything that causes pain or distress, and you can and should consult with your healthcare team if you’re in doubt about whether or not a remedy is safe for you to try.

With all that said, I welcome you to Herbalism for Athletes.

In training and in life, it’s always good to be light on your feet. Many of us are striving to lose weight through our workouts. Many more are trying to move faster and lighter, just like our teachers, coaches, and instructors keep telling us. Even when we’re lightening fast, we can still feel sluggish. As a result of training and often of just living, our bodies can accumulate a build-up of toxins, such as stress hormones and a variety of chemicals we’ve encountered directly or inadvertently. Those toxins weigh us down, making us feel sluggish and slow even when we appear to be moving quickly…or if you’re like me maybe not so quickly. Whether I’m seeing my body move as fast as I’d like or not, I know using a selection of tonic, cleansing herbs daily even for a week or two can make a huge difference in how I feel before, during, and after training.

Good herbs for a light cleansing include roots like Burdock and Dandelion, greens like Cleavers and Nettle, and flowers like Red Clover. The roots help to draw toxins out of our bodies, much like they draw nutrients out of the soil for the plants they support. Burdock has special affinity for the intestinal tract, where lots of toxins accumulate. Dandelion is good for supporting the liver and digestive system in general. The leaves offer good support as a whole. Nettle is chock full of nutrients that help the whole system to rebuild while Cleavers is a particularly good support herb for the kidneys, urinary tract, and immune system. The flowers offer overall cleansing. Red Clover is particularly good at helping our largest organ, the skin, to clear and shed wastes and toxins.

To get that light cleanse going, try making a decoction or a tincture blend.

To do the decoction, make a dry mixture of equal parts of the Burdock Root, Dandelion Root, Nettle, and Red Clover. Put it into a sealable container for storage. That’s your “tea.” To make, or decoct, your tea, add a tablespoon of it to a quart of water and simmer it over medium heat for 20 minutes. Pour the simmered mixture into a heat-safe, sealable, non-reactive container, such as a canning jar, and let it stand for up to a day on the counter or three days in the refrigerator. Drink it by the cup through out your day, adding a dropper of tincture of Cleavers to each cup if you like.

To do the tincture, make a one-ounce blend of tincture of Burdock Root, Dandelion Root, Nettle, Red Clover, and Cleavers in equal parts. Take one to two droppers of your tincture blend thrice daily until the bottle’s gone.

So long as you keep it light, a cleanse any time of year can do wonders for your whole body, improving your training sessions as well as your recovery time and giving your whole system a boost.

Try one of these recipes, or see our Recipes section: