Herbal Spring Cleaning: 3 Surprisingly Powerful Herbs for the Liver

Timing is everything. Nature knows this and teaches us if we are paying attention. From winter to spring we witness a drastic change in our environment. As fresh spring breezes blow in and the cold landscape transforms into a vibrant display of life, we may feel like getting outside and shaking off some of that winter sluggishness.

In Chinese medicine, Spring is liver time, which is a time of rebirth, growth, and movement. Spring is also perfect time for supporting our liver function with gentle detoxification. In accord with Chinese Medicine theory, regenerating liver cells is measurably more prolific after the spring equinox. Our bodies know what to do. Liver function, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), includes regulating the movement of qi (energy) and blood in the body. It’s all about getting things moving again after nature’s slow season. 

From a western biomedical standpoint, the liver is mainly an organ of detoxification.

The liver degrades old red and white blood cells and breaks down toxic chemicals while cleansing and refreshing the blood. It actively filters 1.3-1.5 liters of blood every single minute. The liver also synthesizes bile which carries toxins out of the body through the intestines. 

There are 2 main phases of detoxification in the liver that processes contaminants like medications, alcohol, and environmental toxins. Phase 1 is responsible for transforming fat-soluble compounds into water-soluble compounds. The second phase changes harmful products into safer compounds which other organs are able to eliminate. Some of these harmful buildups are pesticides, alcohol, toxic metals, and excess hormones.

Herbology is the internal medicine branch of TCM. We can support liver function and in turn our natural spring renewal process with the use of some Chinese herbs. With an understanding that the safest and most effective herbal therapy is a customized one, we can look at a few herbal detox superheros:

Turmeric: (jiang huang)

Powdered and whole turmeric root. One of the powerful herbs for a healthy liver

TCM categorizes this herb as a blood mover. It unblocks qi and blood stasis and it also eases pain.

Western pharmacology recognizes its blood-moving and anti-inflammatory properties as well. It is known to support both phase 1 and phase 2 of liver detox. A study on mice showed it also improved liver detoxification. Turmeric does this by lowering inflammatory markers, reducing oxidative stress, and increasing glutathione (another important body detoxification product made in the liver). 

Turmeric is often enjoyable in food, as seasoning, a supplement, or in tea. To receive benefits of turmeric in food, add ¼ teaspoon turmeric powder to meals. Be sure to add a little black pepper to increase absorption. Another way to incorporate it into your diet is to grate fresh turmeric root into soups, salads, and curries.

Schizandra Berry (wu wei zi ) 

Glass of red tea next to a brown, ceramic teapot

Another amazing herb is the Schizandra Berry, also known as 5 flavor berry because it exhibits all 5 flavors. It also remarkably enters all meridians and therefore has multiple beneficial effects on the body. It is mainly thought of as having an astringent action, which can treat symptoms of liver and kidney deficiency by preventing loss of qi and yin fluids. Bio-chemically, it is known to support regeneration of healthy liver cells. This berry has been used to help induce regeneration of liver tissue after part of the liver was surgically removed.  It also activates the phase 1 detox pathway, helps to decrease free radicals, protects cell membranes, and can assist in lowering stress-related increases of liver enzymes. 

Small amounts of these berries can be eaten fresh or dried. There are also tinctures, powders and supplements. But why not relax with a cup of some medicinal and delicious 5-flavor tea?

Gold Coin Grass: (jin qian cao) 

Amber bottle with eyedropper lid. Used to hold tinctures.

Another herbal powerhouse to keep on hand for spring cleaning is Gold Coin Grass. TCM functions are to drain damp, remove heat and toxins, and eliminate stasis. This powerful herb benefits the body in many ways. One of these ways include dissolving and preventing gallstones. Another benefit is promoting bile secretion to move sediment and clear bile ducts. This is in addition to it’s antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects.

The 3 ways to ingest this herb is as a tea, supplement, or tincture. It is not advisable for patients with diarrhea or those on anti-diuretic medications.

Listen to your body this spring. You may hear it calling for exercise, or emotional release.

While you’re at it, try one of these 3 herbal superheroes and see what their powers can do for you!

To discover the full benefits of Chinese herbal therapy and how it can help you optimally adjust to the changing season, contact us to schedule your next appointment!