Updated: Jul 29, 2021
Every substance that enters the body, whether by mouth, respiration or through the skin, travels through our blood and must be detoxified and neutralized. Heavy metals, radiation exposure, metabolite waste products from biochemical reactions, pain killers and most other over-the-counter drugs, saturated and rancid fats, smoking and alcohol consumption, high protein diets, pesticides and herbicides, are just some examples of factors that cause our liver and kidneys to do extra work. Many of these items do not break down well and become seeded in tissue throughout the body. Others can cause damage to the digestive tract, liver, kidneys and even the brain. This is why it is extremely important to support the body’s efforts to remove these substances before they lead to health problems. Fortunately our amazing plants can help us to have happy, healthy cells that keep our bodies functioning optimally. Below are just a few of the choices available to help you cleanse, boost antioxidant activity and support you overall on a cellular level.
Barley Grass (Hordeum vulgare) – The young leaves from this plant (and wheat grass) are extremely high in nutrients, enzymes, protein, vitamins and minerals, and it is from this plant that many of the “green drinks” available on the market are derived. Barley grass has a reputation similar to spirulina for its ability to draw heavy metals and other toxins from the body. It is widely use to detoxify the body, boost the immune system and prevent damage from environmental toxins.
Horsetail (Equisetum arvense) – This silica-rich plant has a reputation for drawing heavy metals and toxins from polluted environments and that ability can help do the same for the body. Horsetail can help eliminate a variety of toxins from the body and should be considered for use in any formula for detoxification. It is particularly valuable when elevated aluminum levels are present as this plant's silica content helps to balance the effects of this metal. Note – to ensure the best quality of this herb, harvest only in environmentally sound areas away from roads, polluted rivers and streams and industrial sites. Use only the young upper parts of this plants (within their first 6 weeks of emerging) as the older plants can irritate tissue.
Rose Hips (Rosa spp.) – High in Vitamin C, flavonoids, B vitamin and numerous other minerals and nutrients, rose hips are an excellent nutrition booster and immune supporter. They also help to bind to toxins and draw impurities from the body. They can diminish the effects of oxalates and uric acid in the production of kidney stones and flush other impurities from the body. They are particularly helpful for individuals trying to quit smoking, as they replace much needed nutrients in the body and support the removal of tar and nicotine from the system.
Kelp (Fucus spp.) - Brown sea vegetables, especially kelp and bladderwrack, are highly protective against cancer (particularly of the breast), environmental illnesses and act as specifics for detoxifying the side effects of radiation. This herb works to support and balance the organs of metabolism of the thyroid. Laminaria, a common brown kelp, is rich in algin (sodium alginate), which is responsible for the inhibition of the uptake of environmental radiation and other pollutants, including heavy metals such as cadmium and lead. Studies have shown that ingestion of small amounts of kelp on a daily basis is highly effective in preventing absorption of radioactive strontium.
Burdock (Arctium lappa) – a powerful alterative and anti-neoplastic herb, research has now indicated that burdock may have an “anti-poisoning” action. It is unclear as to how this action is exactly achieved, but burdock appears to support the liver in removing potentially toxic substances from the body and then works to protect the body on a cellular level from the impacts of harmful chemicals and toxins. This ability makes burdock an excellent herb for a detoxification program. It can also be added to your everyday eating pattern as it is a mild root vegetable with a pleasant flavour.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)- This tree's leaf is rich in flavonoids that help to protect cells (especially in the brain) from oxidant damage that can occur from certain medications, heavy metals and other toxins. Because of this ability to protect cells and to increase blood circulation and reduce platelet aggregation, it was given to Chernobyl recovery workers to help combat radiation sickness. Ginkgo can be used as a protective agent for those exposed to radiation or toxins in the workplace, decreasing the risk of cell damage in the brain.
Calendula (Calendula officinalis) - This beta-carotene rich herb is used both internally and externally to heal and protect the body from radiation exposure. Like gingko and Siberian ginseng, this herb was used at Chernobyl and has a reputation for healing radiation burns. Recently it has been studied for use in treating radiation-induced dermatitis associated with breast cancer. Calendula can be added to any sunscreen formula to protect the skin from the suns UVA rays. It should be taken both internally and topically to minimize the impact of X-rays and radiation therapy.
Green Tea & Black Tea (Camellia sinensis) - Rich in the polyphenol catechin, both green and black tea showed radio-protective effects when taken before or after exposure to radiation. Green tea contains the higher amount of catechins, but both can be used for this effect. Green tea has a wide reputation as an anti-oxidant plant and this action may help to prevent cell changes to the digestive tract, which is often the site where toxins build up and can do a great deal of damage. A cup of green tea after a meal will help to protect the stomach and intestines from free radical damage. Adding either black or green tea to skin products can help to reduce the risk of sun damage.
Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennius) - The essential fatty acids in this plant work as a protective agent for neural and hepatic cells when exposed to toxins. It has a particular role to play where alcohol abuse is a factor, as studies have shown that it can actually reverse the effects of alcoholic poisoning on the liver. There are also suggestions that this plant may protect the myelin sheath in the brain from heavy metals such as aluminum and lead, reducing the risk of developing diseases associated with demyelination of the nerves. This herb is recommended to assist alcoholics and smokers with withdrawal symptoms.
Milk Thistle (Carduus marianum) - Milk thistle is widely used for hepatic and biliary disorders and nephrotoxicity. It is specifically used for protection and enhanced liver regeneration after exposure to heavy metals, radiation or toxic chemicals. The protective effect of milk thistle is mostly attributed to its anti-oxidant and free radical scavenging properties. Clinical trials have shown that the seeds of this plant can protect the liver by counteracting a number of toxic substances including, amanita mushroom poison, alcohol, acetaminophen and carbon tetrachloride. Milk thistle actually alters liver cell membranes, which prevents toxins from passing through the cell and it inhibits the release or the synthesis of certain enzymes, which are toxic to liver tissue.
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) - High in isoflavones and coumarins, the blossoms of red clover appear to have a protective action on cells preventing cell mutation. Isoflavones have a strong inhibiting effect on hormone related malignancies and in research the coumarin activity in this plant was found to have a direct effect on tumour cells as well as a monocyte/macrophage stimulating effect. This common herb has been used internally and as a poultice to draw out breast cancer and to treat skin cancer. It is also used for ovarian, cervical and prostate cancer.
Sweet Potatoes & Yams (Ipomoea/Dioscorea batatas) - Besides being a great source of beta-carotene, sweet potatoes and yams have the ability to remove heavy metals from the body. In fact, doctors in the Soviet Union have prescribed a diet rich in these root vegetables for factory workers continually exposed to toxic chemicals. Sweet potatoes contain phytochelatins which bind to harmful substances like copper, cadmium, mercury and lead which we are exposed to on a regular basis from air pollution. The phytochelatins help pass these toxins out of the body.
Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) - This flavourful herb has a place not only in the kitchen, but in the medicine cabinet too. The preventive effect of cilantro leaf on lead has been proven in experimental studies in which it was found to significantly decreased lead deposition in the body. Cilantro also accelerates the excretion of mercury and aluminum from the body though the urine. So next time you want to detoxify, add a little salsa to your diet!
As always, if you have a medical condition, are taking medications or are pregnant or breastfeeding, ensure that you consult a health practitioner before using therapeutic doses of herbs. All material contained herein is provided for general information purposes only and should not be considered medical advice or consultation.