Herbal cleansing and the healing power of nature: Alterative, not just alternative therapy

by Shayne Foley

This article was originally published in April 2005

Shayne Foley

(April 2005) — The difference between common botanical medicine and naturopathic botanical medicine encompasses a philosophical concept that has long separated the best herbal practitioners I know from the rest.

Naturopath Dr. Wade Boyle spoke about this a decade ago. He said the day would come when mainstream medical practitioners embrace using herbal medicines and that the important difference between “us and them” won’t be so much in the medicines we use (although there will be differences), but more in the way we use them.

Herbal medicine, at its best, is a “vitalist” therapy. A vitalist practitioner harnesses the innate vital energy of the body — often called the ‘vital force’ — to aid the healing process. The condition of a person’s vital force can determine how well he or she responds to a therapy and how gentle or forceful the therapy will need to be. With this in mind, it makes sense to understand what can be done to build and harness this energy.

One of the best things we can do to support the body’s vital force is simply to get out of its way, remove the obstacles from its path, so it can energize the healing capacity of the body. This is where the unique class of herbal medicines known as “alteratives” can be particularly useful. While the definition of an alterative is often debated, at the most basic level, alteratives work to remove accumulated metabolic encumbrances and help to correct cellular nutrition.

Nature seemingly encourages the use of cleansing alteratives by giving us a bounty of herbs such as dandelion, burdock, echinacea, chickweed, violets, baptisia, cleavers and so on. Many alteratives burst into life as we transition into early spring, enticing us to throw off the heavy encumbrance and accumulated waste of winter.

Herb Pharm’s Healthy Liver Tonic is an excellent all-round alterative formula. It helps to tonify, restore and protect the liver. By helping also to cleanse the liver and gall bladder, it helps to remove wastes gently from the body. It can be used as a seasonal maintenance tonic, or to cleanse and strengthen after illness or abuse. It’s also useful in chronic constipation.

Dandelion extract, which is an important ingredient in the Healthy Liver Tonic, also can be used as a gentle alterative. Herb Pharm’s liquid extract of fresh certified organic dandelion is a good general tonic that improves both appetite and digestion. Acting to cleanse and decongest the liver and gallbladder, it naturally enhances bile flow and promotes regularity of bowel movements. It is also a kidney cleanser and a gentle diuretic that does not deplete the body’s potassium.

Milk Thistle extract is Nature’s liver protector and restorative. It is rich in antioxidant flavonoids and often is used as a general vascular tonic and anti-inflammatory. Follow the instructions on the label, but take a little extra at night if you tend to eat late. Chances are you’ll wake up feeling more refreshed.

Extract of Goldenseal is another excellent digestive bitter and tonic. It improves appetite and digestion and tonifies the muscles of the stomach and intestines. Goldenseal is particularly useful when the secretions of the mucous membranes of the body are disturbed.

All these extracts are alterative and can help cleanse cellular wastes from the body. Learn to incorporate them into your daily and seasonal routine. Whether you’re taking herbal alteratives as part of a seasonal cleanse or using them for a specific purpose, make sure you drink plenty of water; get regular, moderate exercise; take time to breathe and relax, and eat with the seasons, whenever possible.

You can use alteratives at any time of year. But it’s particularly wise to use them during the change of season, as part of a general maintenance cleanse. Using herbs to enhance the vital force of the body has been in practice for hundreds of years. It’s good alterative medicine, not alternative medicine.

Shayne Foley is a medical journalist and botanical researcher and currently is education director with Herb Pharm, a manufacturer of herbal medicines based in Williams, Ore.

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