The key to optimal health is optimal liver function. Responsible for detoxification and digestion, among many other tasks, the liver is the largest internal organ in the body. The liver is also one of the fastest growing organs in the body and it can regenerate itself after losing 75% of its own tissue. A healthy liver will promote quick healing of most any condition.
Many people understand the importance of liver detoxification, and are familiar with the more common liver cleansing herbs such as burdock, dandelion, licorice and milk thistle. Some who have experienced the strong results provided by these plants may be wondering what similar plants are available.
1) Artichoke (leaf extract) - Cynara scolymus (Compositae)
A perennial native to the Mediterranean, artichoke plants thrive in warm climates and loamy soil. The flower heads, leaves and root are used as both food and medicine. Artichoke contains sesquiterpene lactone cynaropicrin (a strong bitter that contains inulin) and the leaves contain cynarin (an antioxidant). Both are known to have liver protective properties. Similar to milk thistle, artichoke (in particular the leaf) defends the liver against toxins and infections. All parts of the plant are bitter and induce bile secretion. Artichoke is used to lower cholesterol, treat gallbladder problems, nausea, indigestion and late-onset diabetes as it lowers blood sugar. Fresh artichoke leaf juice is a valuable liver tonic. Artichoke has diuretic properties.
2) Astragalus (root) - Astragalus membranaceus (Leguminosae)
Astragalus is a member of the pea family that has been used for thousands of years in China, where it is called "huang qi". Astragalus helps to promote the liver and gallbladder to release toxins (according to Chinese folklore this was to "rid the stagnant (sha or killing) qi" from the liver). With a sweet taste and warming effect it is particularly suited for young and/or physically active people. Astragalus boosts the immune system, improves circulation, relieves night sweats, reduces fluid retention, and increases both strength and endurance. It is considered similar to and even superior than ginseng. Despite being one of the most popular herbs in Chinese medicine, astragalus is not well known in the western world. Astragalus has adaptogenic, diuretic and antiviral properties.
3) Bilberry (fruit and leaf extract) - Vacciniuim myrtillus (Ericacea)
Bilberry is a deciduous shrub with berries that ripen to purple-black. Native to Europe and North America (and related to blueberry and cranberry) bilberry thrives in undergrowth, on moors and in heathland. The fruit and leaves are collected in the summer. Bilberry contains anthocyanosides which have a tonic effect on blood vessels. Bilberry also contains vitamins A, B and C. Bilberry extract has a strong effect on the liver and it reduces stress-induced damage. Bilberry strengthens capillaries, treats varicose veins, and relieves hemorrhoids along with urinary tract infections. Bilberry has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic properties. Caution: Bilberry should only be used for short lengths of time due to high tannin content or it may actually damage the liver.
4) Boldo (leaf extract) - Peumus boldus (Umbelliferae)
A strongly aromatic evergreen that grows up to 20 feet high, boldo is native to Chile and Peru. The leaves contain isoquinoline alkaloids, including boldine along with volatile oil and flavonoids. The berries are also eaten as food. Known as a traditional liver tonic and remedy by the Araucanian people in Chile, boldo stimulates bile flow. Chiefly valued as remedy for gallstones or gallbladder pain, boldo leaf is normally only taken for a few weeks at a time (this is a good general strategy for all herbs). Boldo treats urinary tract infections, cystitis, and (when combined with barberry and fringe tree) treats gallstones. A tincture or infusion of the boldo leaves are the normal method to administer. Boldo has antiseptic and demulcent properties. Caution: Boldo should not be taken by pregnant women. Some countries impose legal restrictions on this plant (so it must be good).
5) Chicory (root) - Cichorium intybus (Compositae)
A perennial with deep roots, oblong leaves, and blue flowers, chicory is native to Europe where it flourishes along roadsides and in dry fields. The roots are unearthed in the spring or autumn and contain 58% inulin along with sesquiterpene lactones. Chicory is primarily a liver tonic that is a mild bitter. Similar to dandelion, chicory supports the stomach, digestive tract and liver along with cleansing the urinary tract. Used to treat arthritis and gout, chicory aids digestion and is a mild laxative that is safe for children. Historically the juice was mixed with rose oil and vinegar for a headache remedy. The roasted root is used as a coffee substitute. Chicory has anti-inflammatory properties.
6) Club Moss (spore) - Lycopodium clavadum (Lycopodiaceae)
Club moss is an evergreen moss found mainly on mountains or in moorland in Europe and Russia. Gathered in summer, the moss and spores contain .1 to .2% alkaloids along with lycopodine, polyphenols, flavonoids and triterpenes. Used medicinally since the middle ages, club moss aids in the flushing of liver toxins and kidney stones. Club moss treats chronic urinary problems, indigestion and gastritis. The spores can be applied to the skin to relieve itching and for insect bites and eczema. The spores are also used to coat tablets since they are water resistant and (because they ignite explosively) they are used in fireworks! Club moss is normally used in powdered capsule form and a Chinese form was shown to improve cognitive function in Alzheimer's disease. Club moss has diuretic, antispasmodic and sedative properties. Caution: Club moss is potentially toxic in high doses. Do not take while pregnant. Use only under professional supervision.
7) German Chamomile (flower) Chamomilla recutita (Compositae)
German chamomile (similar to Roman chamomile) is an aromatic, slightly bitter flower that is familiar to tea drinkers. The medicinal uses however are not so well known. Chamomile contains the volatile oils proazulenes, farnesine, alpha-bisabolol and spiroether. Chamomile also contains the flavonoids anthemidin, luteoliin and rutin, along with the bitter glycoside anthemic acid, coumarins and tannins. Used since the 1st century AD, chamomile has many uses including treating disorders of the liver, lung, skin and digestive tract. Chamomile helps relieve pain and nervous tension, and helps with auto-immune disorders such as Crohn's disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Chamomile has anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, and carminative properties.
8) Nettle (root) - Urtica dioica (Urticaceae)
Known as "stinging", nettle is native to Africa, Australia and the Andes. The sting from nettle is caused by tiny hairs that contain histamine, serotonin and acetylcholine which burn like poison ivy. The key uses for nettle are cleansing and detoxification, as it will encourage the elimination of waste products. Nettle increases urine production and also treats skin disorders such as eczema and arthritis (often an indication of a sluggish liver). Nettle slows or stops nosebleeds and menstruation, treats allergies, and relieves hay fever and asthma. Nettle can be applied to insect bites to relieve itching, and nettle juice even treats the sting of nettle itself! Nettle has diuretic, astringent and anti-inflammatory properties.
9) Picrorhiza (rhizome) - Picrorhiza Kurroa (Scrophulariaceae)
A perennial with elliptical leaves and spiked flowers, picrorrhiza is native to the mountains of Nepal, India and Tibet. The rhizome or picrorrhiza contains the bitter glycoside kutkin (containing picrosides I, II, III and kutkoside), cucurbitacins and apocynin (a powerful anti-inflammatory that reduces platelet aggregation). Used in Ayurvedic medicine since the earliest times, picrorrhiza induces the liver to produce bile. Used as the antidote to snake bite venom and to treat hepatitis, picrorrhiiza is used as a bitter tonic and is similar to gentian (Gentiana lutea). Given for a wide range of liver or digestive troubles, picrorrhiza helps treat indigestion, ulcers, jaundice, cirrhosis, constipation, diarrhea, dysentery, asthma, infections, immune disorders, vertigo, psoriasis and auto-immune disease. Picrorrhiza helps kill parasites such as Lishmania donovani which causes the tropical disease leishmaniasis. Picrorrhiza has anti-inflammatory properties. Caution: Professional supervision is recommended.
10) Schisandra (fruit) Schisandra chinensis (Schisandraceae)
One of the most popular tonic herbs in China (where it is known as wu wei zi) schisandra has protective effects on the liver, kidneys and sexual organs. It strengthens the nervous system, cleanses the blood and increases stamina. With a sour and salty taste, schisandra contains lignans, phytosterols and volatile oil, along with vitamins C and E. The nearly 30 different lignans in schisandra have a pronounced anti-hepatotoxic (liver protective) action. A 1976 study showed it to be 76% effective on treating hepatitis with no side effects noted. Schisandra is also known to stimulate the nervous system, improve vision and hearing, treat depression, and mental illness, increase sex drive, and relieve diarrhea. Schisandra has both stimulant and sedative properties (adaptogenic).