(Health Secrets) It seems as though one of the natural functions of many plants is liver cleansing, detoxification and protection of our livers. You may be familiar with one of these masters of liver cleansing, Milk Thistle. There are many such plants that provide liver cleansing and detoxification! This article, the first of a two-part series, will explore 5 lesser-known examples of natural foods that are known to cleanse and detoxify the liver.
Part I (Plants 1 – 5)
1) Artichoke – 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 also 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 encourage the liver and gallbladder to release toxins (according to Chinese folklore this was to rid the stagnant 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 more 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 as well as 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 a 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 methods to administer. Boldo has antiseptic and demulcent properties. Caution: Boldo should not be taken by pregnant women.
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, as well as 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.