I hope you are enjoying the beginning of our herbal action series. Last week we discussed adaptogens. This week we are moving onto alteratives. This phrase is a bit less specific than adaptogens but they are very valuable herbs in restoring proper function to many different systems of the body.

Generally, these herbs appear to interact with metabolic processes in the body, digestion, use of the energy we receive from digestion, and detoxification, removing toxins and waste from the body. Alteratives can alter function of the kidneys, liver, lungs, and skin to support detoxification. Some will enhance digestion. Others alter immune action to support the detoxification process. [So what can we use them for?] These actions lead alteratives to be used for a variety of chronic inflammatory and degenerative diseases such as autoimmune challenges.

GarlicGarlic Cloves

If you have been following my blog for a while now, you know how amazing I think garlic is. It is super accessible and we can all learn how to use fresh garlic in our daily lives. Garlic as an alterative can be supportive both topically and internally for respiratory congestion, low digestive fire, as well as a nice prebiotic for intestinal function.


Burdock was one of the first herbs I took regularly, and for it’s alterative effects. It often is associated with irritations of the skin when they are due to build up of toxins in the liver. Burdock root is common and can even be found in many Asian grocery stores under the name gobo. This past fall Betsy posted a wonderful article on burdock.

Red Clover

This flower you may often see on the side of the road when you are driving. The flowers are used most commonly in tea and are easily harvested and dried. I also began to use this herb to support my skin. It has an affinity towards supporting the nervous system, especially when it is strained. Red clover was a good herb for me when I was anxious and my skin irritation would get worse when my mental stores were low.

Stinging Nettlenettlebig

If you caught it last week, stinging nettles are great herbal vitamins. As you can assume, you get your vitamins and your body works better. Stinging nettle go one step further and specifically support digestive and urinary function. The action on these systems mostly come from nettle’s ability to nourish detoxification organs and increase urinary output.

For more information on herbal actions such as alteratives, please consult the book “Medical Herbalism” by David Hoffmann. If you are interested in using these and other herbs on a daily basis, please consult with a professional herbalist.

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