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Cleansing Herbs

Revive, recharge, and renew with these beneficial botanicals

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Giving our bodies an occasional cleanse is much like spring cleaning a home. Some parts may need more attention than others. In your house, the garage or a spare bedroom may be too cluttered to serve its original purpose-or maybe the attic or basement pose bigger problems. In a human body, the liver, blood, and colon are key areas that tend to accumulate “stuff” that interferes with their function, and the degree of clutter in each area varies from one individual to another.

The ideal cleanse would be customized by a holistic health professional to address your individual situation. But for a do-it-yourself approach, it makes sense to use a commercially available formula that includes a combination of different ingredients.

Here are some effective herbs found in cleansing formulas. If you prefer, you can also try single-herb supplements for any of the botanicals mentioned below.

For the Liver: Milk thistle has been used for more than 2,000 years as a remedy for liver, kidney, and gallbladder issues. The main active ingredient, which is found in the seeds, is silymarin. Studies show that silymarin extracts protect liver cells against destruction by toxins, and also help to repair damage. Silymarin is also an antioxidant and reduces inflammation. Oregon grape supports the action of milk thistle and purifies the blood. These herbs are typically used short-term for cleansing, and longer-term for anyone with fatty liver disease or hepatitis.

For Regularity: Efficient elimination of waste is vital when cleansing. Effective herbal laxatives include Senna and Cascara sagrada, which work by irritating the intestine and thereby triggering muscle contractions; these should be used only temporarily, until you have bowel movements once or twice daily. Fenugreek, which lubricates the intestine, can be taken longer-term; studies show Fenugreek also helps to balance blood sugar and relieve asthma. Along with herbs, adequate fiber is essential for regularity.

For the Blood: Chronic inflammation, fevers, sore joints and muscles, and skin disorders are signs of blood impurities. Red clover is traditionally used to cleanse the blood, and to relieve skin and liver disorders. Sarsaparilla, also known as sasparilla, is another traditional blood purifier.

For Relief from Bloating: Flushing out stagnant fluids is a part of the overall cleansing process, and diuretics, along with drinking plenty of water, can help. Diuretic herbs include Uva ursi, which also helps keep the bladder healthy. Gotu kola and Dandelion leaf are also diuretics, as well as blood cleansers. Dandelion tea is a tasty way to de-bloat.

For Better Digestion: A healthy gastrointestinal tract is essential for eliminating toxins. Licorice improves circulation in the lining of the digestive tract; helps keep intestinal cells in good shape; and is traditionally included in Chinese cleansing formulas. It can cause blood pressure to rise, and if that is a concern, deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL), which doesn’t affect blood pressure, can be used. Taking a chewable form of DGL about 20 minutes before meals can also prevent stomach indigestion.

Final Thoughts

Other cleansing herbs that benefit multiple organs include blessed thistle (not related to milk thistle) and slippery elm bark.

In addition to herbs, cleansing formulas may include detoxifying nutrients such as chlorophyll; algae such as chlorella or kelp that help to remove metals and other toxins; and vitamins and minerals to support detoxification and healing.

Of course, an herbal formula is only part of an overall healthy cleanse. Another key ingredient is fiber, which is found in most cleansing formulas in one type or another. I also tell my patients to make fiber-rich flax seed a regular part of their diets, as most of today’s popular foods tend to be low in fiber. And during a cleanse, I also recommend abstaining from alcohol and drinking plenty of water.

Most often, a cleanse should last for 7-10 days. Some products or programs are designed to be used longer, but you should never use them beyond the specified time period.

Editor’s note: For information on top fiber foods, see “75 Grams of Fiber” on p. 68.

Flor-Essence gently flushes away toxins with herbal extracts including red clover and blessed thistle.

Gaia Herbs
Milk ThistleYellow Dock supports liver health and also contains Oregon Grape-just add drops to water.

Planetary Herbals
Red Clover Cleanser blends purifying
botanicals such as red clover and licorice.

Steven Rosenblatt, MD, PhD, ( is an integrative physician in private practice in Los Angeles and a leading pioneer in combining Eastern and Western Medicine.