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Love Your Liver

I have allergies and am considering a "liver cleanse," but do not know anything about them. I hear there are some herbs that can be helpful. Can you please explain what such a cleanse is and what I should be able to expect from it? After your skin, your liver is the largest filtering organ in the body. More than 200 functions have been identified. It processes many substances to metabolize fats, proteins, and hormones, helps to balance blood sugar, stores iron- and fat-soluble vitamins and helps clean toxins from the blood.

Herbalists are very interested in liver function. When we see clients with conditions such as allergies, skin problems, tiredness, headaches, mood swings, problems with eyesight and hormonal imbalances, we try to assess whether the liver needs support or protection. The liver can become overtaxed with all the functions it has to perform, which leads to the conditions called liver congestion or stagnation. The intake form I use in my consultations helps me to make that assessment.

Some "liver herbs" stimulate the organ's function, while others calm and nourish an overworked liver and still others protect it. Hepatic herbs strengthen and tone the liver. Cholagogues promote the discharge of bile from the liver; the liver makes about a liter of bile a day, which is stored in the gall bladder until needed to digest fats.

A liver cleanse can be mild or drastic. A mild one would be to drink a tablespoon of good quality apple cider vinegar in a glass of water first thing in the morning every day. Vinegar's sour taste indicates that it is an acid food with astringent properties that help detoxify the liver and digestive system. (See Catalyst article, "Herbal Vinegars," July 2005).

Adding more bitter flavors to the food you eat can also be helpful. Try some bitter lettuces like arugula. Chocolate and coffee are also bitters. Swedish bitters are available. The alkaline properties of bitter-tasting foods help the cascade of digestive secretions to fire off in proper order.

Health food stores offer three-day liver cleanse kits. One of my students who worked in such a store told me that customers often returned this product with complaints that it made them feel awful and very angry. (The liver has often been called the seat of anger in the body. Liver imbalance can cause emotional excesses like rage, greed and resentment.) These preparations contain strong herbs that can have strong physiological effects with harsh reactions like nausea, diarrhea, pain, gas, mood swings, and exhaustion.

Usually, by the time clients call me for a consultation, they are not feeling very well. The last thing I want to do is stress the body further, so I avoid strong liver cleanses. I prefer instead to figure out which liver herbs are most appropriate for the person and combine those with remedies for their other health complaints to strengthen, nourish, balance and tone the whole body.

Many herbs affect the liver. If I could pick only five, these are the ones I would choose.
The herbs recommended here should not be mixed with pharmaceutical drugs. They should not be taken by those with hepatobilary disorders, liver disease or obstructions of the liver or gall bladder. Diet plays a major role in liver health, so avoid fatty foods and eat apples and green, leafy, chlorophyll-rich veggies, and drink healthy juices.
Herbal Bitters Tonic
Herbal bitters tonics are traditionally used for improving sluggish digestion and associated problems such as indigestion, flatulence and constipation. Bitter herbs such as dandelion root and gentian stimulate the flow of digestive fluids, while ginger and fennel sooth the gastrointestinal tract. Bitters tonics can be taken daily and are especially helpful for improving the digestion of large meals or meals containing proteins and fats. (Caution: People with high blood pressure should avoid licorice.)

1/2 ounce dandelion root 1/4 ounce gentian root 1/4 ounce licorice root 1/4 ounce fennel seeds 1/4 ounce dried ginger root 1/4 ounce dried organic orange peel 1/4 ounce cardamom pods vodka

Grind the herbs in a blender. Place in a glass jar and add enough vodka to cover the herbs, plus two inches. Close the jar tightly.

Place the jar in a warm, dark place, and give the jar a gentle shake every day or so to keep the herbs from settling. After three weeks, strain the liquid from the herbs through a colander or strainer lined with several layers of cheesecloth. Squeeze the herbs to strain out all of the liquid. Funnel your bitters tonic into a dark glass container, and store in a cool, dark place.

Take 1/2 to 1 teaspoonful of bitters tincture in 1/4 cup warm water 15 to 30 minutes before eating.

Merry Harrison is a clinical herbalist, teacher, author and wildcrafter.
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Reprinted with permission: Catalyst Magazine

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*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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