Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
All holistic healing systems share two core concepts: ensuring that the body eliminates its metabolic wastes and preventing harmful substances from entering the body and wreaking havoc. Health maintenance is relatively simple—give your body what it needs, and avoid letting it have too much of what it what it doesn’t need. Still, imbalances occur, and when you are exposed to noxious substances, they may not get eliminated quickly or efficiently enough. Cleaning out these “toxins” that build up in your body leads to renewed strength, overall health, and vitality.
Turn to botanical medicines to enhance your body’s major detoxification pathways. Some signs that your body needs help with internal cleansing include low energy, brain fog, weight gain, dark undereye circles, rashes, dull skin, insomnia, poor digestion, canker sores, nausea, insatiable hunger, moodiness, and leg cramps. Here are a few of the best herbs to support a whole-body cleanup.
Herbs for Liver Detoxification
The liver is the body’s chief organ of detoxification, so it’s only fitting that any sensible program begins here with these two important herbs for liver detoxification:
Few herbs are more widely used than burdock root (Arctium lappa) for detoxifying the liver. British herbalists, especially, esteem burdock for just about any liver toxicity condition, including eczema, psoriasis, and boils. A member of the daisy family, burdock is loaded with anti-inflammatory flavonoids, lignins, and bitter glycosides. In a series of studies, scientists in Taiwan recently confirmed burdock’s powerful liver-protective effects.
In Japan, you’ll find burdock root served as a food known as gobo. Bearing a resemblance to a long brown carrot, burdock can be prepared similarly, as a fresh juice or a stir-fry. If you prefer, use burdock root in capsules at a dose of 5 grams per day.
Dandelion has been used for centuries by herbalists the world over, who have long held this common lawn weed in high regard. Dandelion is a major herb in at least three ancient herbal traditions—Western, Chinese, and Ayurveda—which use it to treat conditions including jaundice. This root is bitter and a bit salty, due to its high mineral content.
A Korean test-tube study found that dandelion extract inhibits oxidative stress and inflammatory responses. Another paper reports that a water extract of dandelion reduced oxidative stress and liver injury. And an Israeli study testing dandelion root extract showed similar results. Human studies on dandelion are hard to come by, but one interesting 2011 test-tube experiment concluded that dandelion root extract presents a potential nontoxic adjunct therapy to conventional leukemia therapy. Take 5 grams per day in capsules or enjoy a cup or two of dandelion root tea each day..
Detoxing Your Skin
Sarsaparilla (Smilax officinalis), native to tropical America, has a history of European use as a blood purifier dating back to the 16th century.
Several compounds in sarsaparilla have been shown to be effective in treating psoriasis and dermatitis, diseases often related to toxicity within the body. In a controlled study, one of these components, sarsaponin, greatly improved symptoms in 62 percent of patients, and completely cleared the disease in 18 percent. Another study found that sarsaparilla
saponins showed anti-inflammatory effects by inhibiting COX-2 enzymes. And a 2016 scientific paper found that sarsaparilla reduced dermatitis.
The flavonoid astilbin is the major active component that is extracted from the rhizome of sarsaparilla, which has been widely used in China to treat inflammatory and autoimmune diseases such as psoriasis.
Sarsaparilla binds endotoxins, bacteria byproducts that are absorbed from your digestive tract. If these endotoxins evade the liver and circulate in the blood, they contribute to gout, arthritis, psoriasis, and fever. Take 3–12 grams of sarsaparilla root per day as a tasty tea, or the equivalent in capsules.
Chinese violet leaf is bitter and cold, so it is useful in targeting inflammation, making it one of the most widely used Chinese herbs for skin inflammation. Traditional Chinese medicine says that it is used to “cool heat, disinfect, and detoxify.” Violet also has some antibacterial action, so it might be a particularly good match for inflamed, infected, toxic skin. A 2016 study confirmed its anti-inflammatory effects.
Take violet leaf as a tea. Start with a teaspoon of the dried herb, brewed, and work up to as much as 30 grams of the dry weight of the herb, brewed, per day, as necessary. The Western herb wild pansy (Viola tricolor) is very similar and can be substituted.
Using Artichoke for Blood Detoxification
Detox your blood with a cooling herbal food. Known mainly as a striking vegetable, globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus) is an excellent detoxifier of the liver and gallbladder. Artichoke contains cynaropicrin, a sesquiterpene lactone that accounts for its characteristic bitter taste. Another substance found in artichoke, cynarin, promotes bile flow and has antitoxic liver functions similar to milk thistle. The globe artichoke brings blood to the liver and supports regeneration. It reduces blood fats, including cholesterol, and effectively treats gallstones, effects that also make it valuable in treating obesity.
One study showed a significant reduction in elevated cholesterol (12.2 percent) and triglyceride (5.7 percent) levels in people who took artichoke extract. These patients also lost body weight. Another study with artichoke extract produced a significant reduction of cholesterol and an 11 percent improvement in general well-being over a period of 12 weeks.
Artichoke leaf is normally consumed as a vegetable, but you can also juice the raw globe. Artichoke extract, made from the whole plant, is available as a dietary supplement.
Maintaining Efficient Kidney Function
Punarnava (Boerhaavia diffusa) is a unique herb that helps maintain efficient kidney and urinary functions. Punarnava is a mild, well-tolerated diuretic, antispasmodic, and anti-inflammatory agent in the urinary tract. The anti-edema action is beneficial for disorders involving water retention, including congestive heart failure, asthma, scanty urine, and internal inflammation. A 2014 review paper found multiple benefits for the urinary system, including reducing kidney stones, inflammation, edema, and liver damage. Use 250–500 mg per day in decoction or capsules.
Long-Term Digestive Health
Triphala, an Ayurvedic combination of the fruits amalaki, haritaki, and bibhitaki, is a classic herbal remedy for long-term digestive help. It tones the intestinal walls, detoxifies the system, and promotes easy evacuation. Triphala is suitable for children and is ideal for older folks who need just a little daily help with regularity. As a short-term laxative to detox the colon, use 6 grams per day. An easy bowel movement should come in about 8 hours.
Formulas for Whole-body Cleansing
Bluebonnet Targeted Choice Liver Detox contains sustainably harvested/wildcrafted herbs including dandelion.
Flora Flor•Essence is a gentle detox elixir with burdock and other herbs.
NOW Liver Refresh features artichoke along with liver-friendly nutrients such as NAC.
Organic India Liver Kidney blends Punarnava with other cleansing Ayurvedic herbs.
Paradise Herbs Triphala is a concentrated, full-spectrum formula, processed without toxic solvents.