The lymphatic system has been on my mind, the waters of the body. The word is derived from latin, lympha (lymphae) aka water nymph-we can think of this as loving life as much as water. It is a one way river, your vitality, your defense system against disease. It is a system needing more attention as we emerge from winter, a stagnant time, where the body is contracted and hardened by colder temperatures and less movement-depending on your lifestyle and environment. With warmer temperatures and the emergence of a new season, we see water moving again. Rivers and streams start their flow, rain brings patterns of cleansing and nourishing. The same needs to be reflected in the body. Unlike other muscles, the lymphatic system doesn’t have the same capacity for movement, therefore we need to bring that ebb and flow to it.
The cardiovascular and lymphatic system are linked via the circulatory system. Both work together to distribute blood and fluid throughout the body. The blood stream is united with the lymph via the venus system. The lymph is a network of vessels that carry lympathic fluid (comprising of plasma, lipids + proteins, cell debris, toxins such as bacteria + viruses, and B + T-cells ) directly into the lymph nodes to then cycle back into the bloodstream. Therefore, we can imagine it as a giant filter system for the body. It allows T-cells (the warriors that attack microbes and other toxins directly) to mature in the lymph nodes and thymus, which help us fight infection (this is when we feel swelling in our lymph nodes, which is an indication of your body fighting an infection of some sort). There are hundreds of lymph nodes in the body, located along the neck and clavicle, armpit/pectoral area, abdomen, and groin for example.
Using lymphatic herbs and lymph stimulating practices are integral to lymph health. A lack of movement in the lymph taxes the immune system. Signs of a congested lymph system are wide spread; some symptoms may include cysts, swollen nodes, edema, joint pain, irregular ovulation/menses, poor liver clearance, and skin conditions such as acne.
We can target the superficial lymph system by practices like dry brushing (using a stiff bristled brush, working in circular motions towards the heart, starting down at the legs and moving up), and body oiling (self massage). Visual benefits include more glowing skin as circulation is brought to the area with dead skin cells sloughed off. You can incorporate herbal nourishment topically by using a violet (viola odorata) or calendula infused oil. Rosemary, juniper, and sweet birch are other herbs to use as infused oils that may be incorporated to stimulate lymph.
Some of my favorite examples of lymphatic herbs to take internally include red clover, cleavers, calendula, and burdock root. One or a combination of these taken long term (2-3 months) as tincture are more like daily nourishers and cleansers, whereas echinacea angustifolia may be use when an active infection is present. Making nourishing herbal infusions (a 4 hour to overnight steeped brew of nutritive herbs such as red clover, nettle, comfrey, and oatstraw) are a great practice to incorporate to support all body systems and deliver vital minerals to your tissues.
Exercising regularly through walking, yoga, lifting weights, jumping on a trampoline, etc. all help pump our lymphatic fluid and aid the body’s filtering process. Breath work, and breathing appropriately with your diaphragm are all means to relieve congestion and support your lymph.
There is also an emotional component to consider in lymph health. Anytime a stagnant emotional state persists, such as grief, sorrow, regret, burrowed anger and other unfinished emotional business, a correlation of congested lymph may be observed. It is important to witness this experience of mental and emotional health being linked to body state, and to seek support how you see fit.