Categories
Herbalism Wild Foods

Herbal Actions Series

Alteratives: The Path to Balance in the Body

Alteratives are both, most important but, equally vague.  Generally speaking, they help the body eliminate and detoxify different systems.  Now, most people know that the body works regularly to detoxify the body of external toxins, such as, pesticides, chemicals and other environmental toxins.  However, alteratives also eliminate things like body waste, cellular waste, proteinaceous wastes, hormones and the normal wastes from our body.  In this way, they can be very drying.  However, if someone has a urinary tract infection that is very dry, hot or burning.  Then an herb such as Corn Silk (Zea mays) which is very cool and moist can easily help ease the pain of the membranes involved.

The human body has 5 paths for elimination;

Lungs- remove carbon dioxide from the system as well as airborne elements

Kidneys – Rid the body of water-soluble waste through urination

Bowels – remove solid  physical waste from the body including oil-soluble waste assisted by bile from the gall bladder

Liver – this is the body’s main detox organ. It helps both the gall bladder and the kidneys to eliminate wastes.  It provides what these organs need to eliminate solid and liquid waste.

Skin – The largest organ in our body, not only helps us detox through sweat but also clues us in to how well the body is at detoxing.  This is why conditions like eczema, psoriasis and acne are considered symptoms of “bad blood” conditions in the body.

Different alteratives are used for different systems, sometimes in combination.  This is because they affect the metabolic system, either in the anabolic phase (digestion), in which they build up, nourish or help the body get what it needs, or the catabolic stage (waste elimination), where they break down waste, filter it and allow us to get rid of it.  Most have an affinity for the elimination stage. They are linked to what they used to call “bad blood” disorders because they stimulate the body’s natural detox systems.

Once again, constitutional factors exist.  They are extremely dying and draining to the body because they make you urinate, defecate, sweat and move things out of the body.  So, naturally, these would be contraindicated for dry constitutions. However, you have to keep in mind that there is a difference between  core constitution ( how a person generally is) and assumed constitution (the presenting issue). The main difference is that for an assumed constitution, the issue is usually acute and the herbs are used in a less potent form or for a short period of time.

In the old days these herbs would be used for “bad blood syndrome,” which was oftentimes associated with buildup of waste in the tissue systems that we associate with accumulating dampness or moisture. Conditions such as edema, swellings, puffiness, swollen lymph nodes slow digestion or constipation, eczema, acne, boils, low grade fever, septicemia, chronic infections, low immunity, chronic fatigue and low energy levels, to the most severe which would be things like tumors, malignancies, and cancer.

Our bodies are amazing organisms.  They seek to attain balance in the tissues.  So, when there is an accumulation of toxins, the body initiates an inflammatory response so it tries to burn or purge the infection from the tissue. This brings on a secondary hot, drying pattern that most often the pattern that requires alteratives is referred to as “damp heat.”

Greek medicine, Ayurveda and even TCM have referred to this condition in very similar terms.  The Greeks called it “humors in the blood,” and early western herbalists referred to it as the damp/stagnation tissue state.

Understanding these paths of elimination and how they present is key to using alteratives or detox plants successfully in herbalism. They are naturally drying and diuretic in nature and this is exactly what you want since the core pattern being treated is dampness. These herbs make you open everything up to move out of the body. Alterative plants are typically always contraindicated in people with extremely dry constitutions. There are always exceptions to this rule, but it is a good one to follow when you first start using them.

There are many people nowadays who are sure they are filled with pesticides, chemicals and poisons and NEED to detox. Not having thought about the older definition of detoxification, they use these herbs without thought to extended and unwarranted use.  The detox craze has caused people to completely damage their core constitution by misuse of these products without proper research.

The list of alterative herbs is extensive because there are so many ways the various systems eliminate waste.  In his book Evolutionary Herbalism, Sanjah Popham, further breaks down the category of alteratives by system.  I have found this extremely helpful in healing my own auto-immune issues.

It is important to think about whether they are constitutionally appropriate and whether the person does indeed need alteratives to begin with. From there it’s important to consider the specific affinities and actions that you want your herb(s) to have and use these charts to find some suitable that match what you are looking for.

Diuretic Alteratives

These remedies have an influence upon water elimination through the kidneys and help to drain fluids systemically from the body.

Blue Flag (Iris versicolor)cold and dry
Burdock (Arctium lappa)Neutral and amphoteric
Celery seed (Apium graveolens)Warm and dry
Cleavers (Galium aparine)Cool and moist
 Dandelion leaf (Taraxacum officinale)Cool and dry
 Elder flower (Sambucus spp.)Cool and dry
Horsetail (Equisetum arvense)Neutral and dry
Juniper (Juniperus communis)Hot and dry
Nettle leaf (Urtica dioica)Slightly cool and dry
 Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)Cool and dry

Hepatic Alteratives

These herbs work on the liver, mostly through bitter tonic actions, which stimulates digestion.

Blue Flag (Iris versicolor)Cold and dry
Burdock (Arctium lappa)Neutral and amphoteric
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)Warm and dry
Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale)Cold and dry
 Fringe Tree (Chionanthus virginicus)Cold and dry
 Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)Cold and dry
Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium)Cold and dry
 Red Root (Ceanothus americanus)Cold and dry
Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus)Cold and dry

Diaphoretic Alteratives

These plants help to sweat during fever, but can also be used for detox through the skin.

Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)Cold and dry
Burdock seed (Arctium lappa)Warm and dry/moist
 Calendula (Calendula officinalis)Warm and dry
Cayenne (Capsicum annuum)Hot and dry
Elder flower (Sambucus spp.)Cool and dry
Garlic (Allium sativum)Hot and dry
Sarsaparilla (Smilax spp.)Warm and dry
Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)Hot and dry

 Immunological Alteratives

These herbs affect the bodies capacity to handle metabolic waste products by boosting immune function, containing antimicrobial properties, and/or lymphatic/ diaphoretic actions.

Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)Cold and dry
Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia)Cool and dry
 Elder (Sambucus spp.)Cool and dry
Garlic (Allium sativum)Hot and dry
Wild Indigo (Baptisia tinctoria)Cold and dry

Lymphatic Alteratives

These herbs have their impact the lymphatic system, reducing swelling and draining lymph. Many will also influence immunity, as the immune system is strongly rooted in the lymph.

Blue Flag (Iris versicolor)Cold and dry
 Calendula (Calendula officinalis)Warm and dry
 Cleavers (Galium aparine)Cool and moist
 Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia)Cool and dry
Figwort (Scrophularia nodosa)Cold and dry
Poke (Phytolacca decandra)Cold and dry
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)Cool and moist
Red Root (Ceanothus americanus)Cool and dry
Wild Indigo (Baptisia tinctoria)Cold and dry

Bowel Alteratives

See herbs under hepatic alteratives. All of those remedies are bitter tonics; they tend to increase digestion and bowel movements. This includes stimulant laxatives, such as:

Cascara Sagrada (Rhamnus purshiana)Dry
Red Rhubarb (Rheum spp.)Dry
Senna (Senna alexandria)Dry
Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus)Cool and dry

Skin Alteratives

These are herbs that are commonly used for chronic skin conditions such as eczema.

Burdock (Arctium lappa)Neutral and amphoteric
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)Warm and dry
 Cleavers (Galium aparine)Cool and moist
Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale)Cool and dry
Elder flower (Sambucus spp.)Cool and dry
Figwort (Scrophularia nodosa)Cool and dry
Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium)Cool and dry
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)Cool and moist
 Sarsaparilla (Smilax spp.)Warm and dry
Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus)Cool and dry

Circulatory Alteratives

These herbs are circulatory stimulants. Some are more specific for detoxification, but increasing circulation during alterative therapy is critical to keep everything moving through the system and to the channels of elimination.

Cayenne (Capsicum annuum)Hot and dry
Garlic (Allium sativum)Hot and dry
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)Warm and dry
Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum americanum)Hot and dry
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)Warm and dry
Sarsaparilla (Smilax spp.)Warm and dry
Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)Hot and dry

Nutritive Alteratives

Keep in mind, alteratives act upon metabolism, which includes the nutritional/ anabolic side. These herbs contain a high nutrient content.

Alfalfa (Medicago sativum)Neutral and dry
 Horsetail (Equisetum arvense)Neutral and dry
Kelp (Fucus vesiculosis)Neutral and dry
Nettle leaf (Urtica dioica)Slightly cool and dry
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)Slightly cool and moist
 Red Raspberry (Rubus ideaus)Slightly cool and dry

IMPORTANT NOTE: Remember that most alterative plants are drying, thus you must always assess your constitution and make sure they are not starting to have signs of excessive dryness (dry mouth, eyes, bowels, skin, etc.) or if they start to have any sort of spasm, cramping, nervous irritability etc. These are all signs of constitutional imbalances occurring and the necessity to tone down the alteratives, use or mix them with more moistening remedies, or change up the formula in a way that is more suitable for you

REFERENCES: “Evolutionary Herbalism”; Sanjah Popham

By Stargazer

I am a lifelong learner. I have lived experience in many, many forms but what I hold dear is my connection with the land, my spirituality, my ancestors and teaching others that there is another way to live besides the current offering!

One reply on “Herbal Actions Series”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.