By Brigitte Mars
Most of us take the time to clean out our closets and drawers from time to time. So why not do the same for our bodies and help them regularly in their process of elimination and detoxification? Our bodies, through the liver, kidneys, urine, feces, breathing and sweat, have their own cleansing mechanism. Keeping these elimination systems in good condition improves and protects health.
Many of us, however, overload this elimination apparatus, feel sluggish and gain weight. Although weight loss is not the primary goal of a detoxification period, it is one of the consequences and provides a feeling of freshness and lightness. When the body is cleansed, we also feel more creative, motivated and energetic.
More than ever we are exposed to chemical agents. Fatigue, heaviness of mind, allergies, headaches, skin problems, digestive system diseases, degenerative diseases and a weakened immune system are largely the result of pollutants in our bodies. Herbs can be a safe, natural and time-tested method of improving our body's natural functions.
Categories of herbs
Many categories of herbs are used in the detoxification process. Alterative herbs, those that purify the blood, are among the most popular. They improve the blood purifying organs, such as the liver and kidneys, by helping to eliminate harmful by-products caused by metabolism. Alterative herbs increase blood flow to tissues, detoxify, improve assimilation and stimulate metabolism. They are often rich in electrolytes and trace elements. It is best to use them over a period of time because they have a strengthening influence.
Antifungal agents inhibit the growth of harmful yeasts that contribute to candidiasis. Antioxidants help protect us from free radicals, which are unstable molecules that we are exposed to because of pollutants in the environment that damage the cell structure. Cholagogues promote biliary excretion from the liver and help break down fats. Emollients soothe irritated tissue in the throat and gastrointestinal tract. This effect is due to the presence of mucilage in the plant; it is a lenitive and slippery substance that lubricates and heals.
Diuretics increase the function of the kidneys and thus the elimination of urine and excess fluids. Nutritive herbs are rich in vitamins and minerals; these strengthen and develop the body. Herbs with rejuvenating properties help renew the body and mind and slow down the aging process. They are generally invigorating and highly nutritious; they neutralize stress and gently increase endurance. Vulnerable herbs promote cell growth and repair.
Herbs used for detoxification
Herbs that should be included in the detoxification process include:
Psyllium seed (Plantago psyllium, P. ovata) is a mucilaginous and lubricating fiber used for its laxative properties because it expands. It can also create the sensation of having a full stomach, thus reducing the desire to overeat. Psyllium fiber acts like a broom, sweeping away toxins clinging to the gastrointestinal tract. It is important to drink plenty of water when using psyllium as a cleansing agent.
The nut shell of the black walnut tree (Juglans nigra) is an alterative and antifungal antifungal agent that helps the body eliminate parasites.
Hibiscus flower (Hibiscus species) is a mild bactericidal agent. It also has calming properties. It is also a mild diuretic and parasiticide.
Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) is considered an alterative, an antifungal agent and a diuretic. It is extremely rich in trace elements and improves the health of bones, flesh and cartilage.
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has a mild laxative effect. It is also a nutritive and rejuvenating plant. It calms irritated mucous membranes and nourishes the adrenal glands. Consuming small amounts of licorice gives a feeling of calm
Alfalfa (Medicago sativa) is a natural diuretic and laxative. It is also an excellent source of fiber. Because it contains natural chlorophyll, it has deodorizing properties, helps purify breath and freshen body odor.
The bark of cascara sagrada (Rhamnus purshiana) is appreciated everywhere for its rapid laxative effect. It stimulates the secretions of the liver, the gall bladder, the stomach and the pancreas thanks to its bitter content of anthraquinone.
Oat straw (Avena sativa) is very nutritious, and rejuvenating. It calms the nervous system and even helps in cases of depression and exhaustion. Oat straw provides minerals that nourish bones, skin, hair and nails.
Pumpkin seed (Curcubita pepo) helps the body get rid of parasites. It is also very nutritious and contains linolenic acid.
Irish moss (Chrondus crispus) is a kind of seaweed. It is an alterative, emollient and nutritive plant. It calms an irritated gastrointestinal tract.
Yucca root (Yucca species) is effective as an alterative and laxative agent. It helps to break down organic waste in the body. In folk medicine, it is used primarily to relieve inflammation associated with arthritis.
Passion flower leaves (Passiflora incarnata) are well known for their calming effect on the nervous system. They help calm stress and slow the erosion of neurotransmitters. They also help calm an irritable bowel.
Marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis) is an alterative, emollient, diuretic, mildly laxative, nutritive and rejuvenating herb. Its mucilaginous content calms an irritated digestive system and moistens dehydrated tissue.
Violet (Viola odorata) leaves have alterative, antifungal, emollient, diuretic and laxative properties. It is a safe and soothing plant and is rich in beta carotene and vitamin C.
The bark, leaves and twigs of witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) are rich in flavonoids. These help heal damaged blood vessels. This plant also has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.
The bark of the fat elm (Ulmus rubra, U. fulva) is an excellent anti-inflammatory agent. Because of its emollient, laxative and nutritive properties, it calms irritated tissues of the gastrointestinal tract. It is one of the easiest substances to digest.
Mullein leaves (Verbascum thapsus) are emollient, diuretic and vulnerable. They calm irritated tissues and are especially good for the respiratory system.
Capsicum, also known as cayenne pepper, (Capsicum fructescens) has alterative, antioxidant, antiseptic properties, and stimulates circulation. It is rich in vitamin C and improves metabolism, thus contributing to weight loss.
Gentian root (Gentaina species) is an alterative and antiseptic agent, and a cholagogue. It is extremely bitter. It is an excellent tonic for the digestive system because it stimulates digestive secretions. It also helps to break down proteins and fats. It even helps to improve nutrients like iron and vitamin B12. It has a cooling effect on the body and helps reduce inflammation and infections.
Milk Thistle Seed (Silybum Marianum) is commonly used to improve liver function by stimulating protein synthesis. It is also a hepatoprotective agent (liver protector). Milk thistle is considered a natural antioxidant because it helps detoxify many potentially harmful contaminants including drugs, alcohol and many chemicals.
Other detoxification strategies
To help the purifying herbs in their cleansing work, it is also necessary to make some changes in diet and lifestyle:
- Eat a high-fiber, low-fat diet
- Reduce your intake of refined foods and alcohol
- Choose organic foods whenever possible
- Minimize your exposure to chemicals, including smoke
- Exercise regularly and find a healthy way to reduce stress
- Drink plenty of pure water (this helps eliminate waste). This will be even more effective if you add a little lemon juice to the water you drink
About the author
Brigitte Mars is an herbalist and nutritional consultant. She has worked with natural medicine in Boulder, Colorado for 30 years. She teaches herbology, has a weekly radio program called Naturally, and is the formulator of UniTea Herbs. She is also the author of Elder (Keats Publishing) and a comprehensive herb CD, The Herbal Pharmacy.