Spring is the perfect time to cleanse our body from the inside out. Here are five of the top cleansing herbs that have been used for centuries.

Burdock (Arctium lappa)

Burdock is notable for cleansing the skin and for its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antioxidant effects. The root contains cleansing constituents which include a bitter, crystalline glucoside lappin, the flavonol quercetin, fixed and volatile oils, and tannic acid.

What does it treat?
Conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, dandruff, and chronic acne have all shown improvement with burdock use.

How does it work?
The first method of action is on the excretory system. By stimulating the release of toxins from the body, it cleanses the blood of impurities and facilitates toxin elimination through the skin. The second method of action is directly on the skin. It acts specifically on the body’s largest organ to speed the healing of skin.

How do I use it?
Burdock comes in many forms such as capsules, liquid extracts, teas, and tinctures. It is mainly taken internally, although if the skin is unbroken, a topical treatment may be applied by soaking a cloth in the tincture or tea.

Precautions
Do not take burdock before consulting your health care practitioner. Burdock may interact with diuretics (water pills) or medications for diabetes. If you have allergies to ragweed, daisies, or chrysanthemums, do not take burdock as it may trigger similar allergic reactions. Avoid this herb if you are pregnant or nursing.

Nettles (Urtica dioica and Urtica urens)

Stinging nettles are hard to miss, especially if you’ve ever been stung inadvertently. The stem grows 2 to 4 feet tall, and the green, heart-shaped leaves taper to a point and are covered with downy stinging hairs. The leaves and stems contain active ingredients including formic acid and histamines.

What does it treat?
The herb has been used to treat migraines, arthritis, prostate enlargement, and allergies.

How does it work?
Nettles have varying methods of action depending on the manner of use. The histamine in the plant works to decrease inflammation when taken internally. If fresh nettle juice is taken or freeze-dried capsules are used, it has an anti-inflammatory effect that can help arthritis, migraines, and allergies.

How do I use it?
Nettles are widely available in capsules, tinctures, teas, cremes, and fluid extracts.

Precautions
Avoid touching the plant without knowing proper handling techniques. Pregnant women should avoid this herb as it may contribute to miscarriage. Discuss your desire to use this herb with your health care practitioner if you take medication for diabetes or high blood pressure, or if you take blood thinners or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS).

Psyllium (Plantago psyllium)

Psyllium is taken in the form of husks derived from the seed of this shrublike herb. Each plant may provide up to 15,000 gel-coated seeds, each encased in the husk where its cleansing ability is contained.

What does it treat?
The psyllium husk is taken orally and acts directly in the large intestine to absorb toxins and cholesterol. It can relieve constipation and diarrhea.

How does it work?
When psyllium contacts water, it swells and sticks together to help move waste products through the intestines. This swollen mass of psyllium moves through the intestines and stimulates the body to pass stool more easily. This is a high-quality fibre source for people suffering from constipation.

How do I use it?
The typical dose is 1/2 to 2 tsp (2 to 10 mL) psyllium seeds with 1 cup (250 mL) water. Mix the seeds in the water, and drink it quickly before it becomes a gel. Start with small doses and work your way up to 2 tsp (10 mL).

Precautions
Psyllium interacts with many drugs, including antidepressants, cholesterol-lowering medications, diabetes medications, digoxin, and lithium. If you have other serious health concerns such as kidney disease, talk to your health care practitioner before taking psyllium.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelions can grow up to 12 inches tall. Their grooved leaves funnel rainwater down into the root; their bright yellow flowers open to the morning sun and close at night.

What does it treat?
Studies have shown that the root may improve liver, gallbladder, and intestinal health.

How does it work?
This natural diuretic helps the kidneys excrete water and salt. Dandelion also contains potassium, which synthetic diuretics tend to deplete.

How do I use it?
Dandelion can be taken as a tea, tincture, or powdered extract.

Precautions
Due to the diuretic effect of this herb, it is important to discuss its use with a health care practitioner as it may increase the excretion of drugs from the body. Do not use dandelion if you are taking quinolone antibiotics, lithium, or antacids.

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum)

Milk thistle has a spiny stem and wide leaves that secrete a milky fluid when crushed. The seed is the main part of the plant that is used medicinally due to its active ingredient, the flavonoid silymarin. It is usually standardized to 70 to 80 percent silymarin.

What does it treat?
Silymarin is helpful for the repair of damaged liver cells and may offer protection for new liver cells.

How does it work?
This popular herb is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Silymarin helps to prevent liver cell damage by toxins, and it also encourages liver cells to create more bile. This increase in bile aids digestion and nutrient absorption.

How do I use it?
Milk thistle is taken as a capsule, tincture, or liquid extract.

Precautions
Avoid this herb if you have a hormone-related cancer, are pregnant, or are breastfeeding. It can interact with allergy, cholesterol, anti-anxiety, and many other drugs. Consult your health care practitioner before taking milk thistle.


Foods to avoid during a cleanse

  • sugar
  • caffeine
  • alcohol
  • wheat
  • dairy products
  • animal products

About the Author

Brenna Jacks, ND, practises in Langley, BC. Her family practice focuses on treating women’s health, stress, infertility, and food allergies.