Mother Earth Living

Natural Healing: Herbs for the Liver

Ann Louise Gittleman, N.D., M.S., C.N.S.
March/April 2002


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The liver is the Grand Central Station (so to speak) of the body’s functions, especially for the detoxification process. The largest internal organ, the liver sits in the right upper abdomen and helps keep the energy flow of the body in balance, regulates the blood flow, produces digestive enzymes and amino acids, and ensures the optimal function of the menstrual cycle. Simply put, the liver is the key to life. Every second of the day, the liver is systematically filtering and detoxifying everything that enters the body, from food to medications, protecting you from becoming poisoned. As the body’s central clearinghouse, the liver has the sole responsibility of determining which substances are beneficial to the body and which ones need to be kicked out. And that’s where the critical phases of the detoxification process come into play.

Giving your liver special nurturing during the spring will help you attain better health. This program will help nourish the liver, regenerate cells and tissue, support the purification of the blood, and energize and soothe the nervous system.

Cleanse your liver

Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale) is a premier springtime herbal tea because it has a long history of gentle, effective liver cleansing and decongesting. It’s known as a primary liver tonic and offers more nutritional value than most vegetables. Dandelion helps alleviate liver inflammation and congestion by stimulating bile. Other liver-protecting herbs include gentian root (Gentiana lutea), milk thistle (Silybum marianum), yellow dock (Rumex crispus), and Oregon grape root (Mahonia aquifolium). Chlorophyll-rich spices such as dill, mint, tarragon, and thyme are time-honored detoxifiers that nourish and purify the bloodstream while assisting the body with digestion. Fresh lemon and lime juice, natural diuretics, should be included in the spring detox plan because of their antiseptic, germicidal, and mucus-elimination properties. They have been used for centuries as liver toners.

Ten-day detox food diet

Spring is the time to emphasize lots of fresh veggies, especially purifying dark-green leafy vegetables such as kale. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner foods should be chosen from the categories listed below. The following list is restricted to whole, natural foods without seasonings (except for the cleansing spring spices discussed above). With or between meals, drink 1 cup of dandelion root tea daily. With breakfast or dinner, take a liver-supporting supplement containing one or more of the liver herbs discussed above.

  • Oil—2 tablespoons organic flaxseed oil daily.
  • Lean protein—at least 8 ounces daily. Choose from eggs, fish, lamb, poultry, pheasant and quail. Vegetarians can substitute whey and moderate soy products for animal proteins.
  • Vegetables—Unlimited steamed or raw, low glycemic. Choose from high-fiber selections such as peppers, asparagus, beans, sprouts, cabbage, onions, squash, broccoli and tomatoes.
  • Fruits—2 whole portions daily. Choose from oranges, apples, grapefruit, avocados, plums, apricots, nectarines and strawberries.
  • Filtered water—8 glasses a day to rid the body of waste, keep tissues moist, and lubricate the system.

Keep moving

After a sedentary winter, many individuals carry around as much as ten pounds of toxic wastes. Exercise programs that emphasize cardiovascular, strength, and flexibility should be enjoyed during and after a spring detox. Be sure to balance your exercise between indoor and outdoor activity. Try brisk walking, jogging, tennis, dancing, and stretching. Exercise daily for at least thirty minutes.

Castor oil packs benefits

Since ancient times, castor oil has been used for a variety of maladies, but particularly for those related to the liver and gallbladder. Castor oil is believed to be able to penetrate as much as four inches into the body. At a 1992 Conference of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians in Tempe, Arizona, it was reported that daily use of castor oil packs resulted in a normalizing effect of liver enzymes and greater well-being and energy among the research participants.

I frequently use castor oil packs as a detox therapy to stimulate the liver and gallbladder and to draw toxins from the body. You will need pure, cold-pressed castor oil, wool (not cotton) flannel, and a heating pad. Fold the flannel into three or four layers and soak it with castor oil. Put the flannel in a baking dish and heat it slowly in the oven until it becomes hot—but not scalding. Rub castor oil on your stomach, lie down, and place the hot flannel on top of your stomach. Seal off the flannel with plastic wrap. Cover with a heating pad for one hour, keeping the flannel as hot as safely and comfortably possible. During the detox period, use the castor oil pack once a day for three successive days, take three days off, and then use it for another three successive days. You can safely continue this regimen throughout the spring.


Ann Louise Gittleman, N.D., M.S., C.N.S., is one of the foremost nutritionists in the United States. She is the author of The Fat Flush Plan (McGraw Hill, 2001), Eat Fat, Lose Weight (Keats, 1999), and Why Am I Always So Tired? (Harper San Francisco, 1999).


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