Hepatic herbs offer a broad range of support to the liver. These actions include strengthening tone and function of the liver tissue as well as supporting bile flow. With the liver having such a large impact on the rest of the body, hepatic herbs can make large changes with simple interventions.
One of the main functions of the liver is to detoxify our blood and remove a variety of molecules that would otherwise harm our body. Some of these are toxic to the liver as well, causing additional damage. The liver is easily able to heal itself but long term exposure can still cause significant damage. A variety of actions, including liver protective herbs, anti-inflammatories, and cholagogues combine to create the category of hepatic herbs.
Dandelion root is the hepatic herb I probably use most often as it is inexpensive and easy to come by. The leaf is most often used as a diuretic but the root is a gentle cholagogue and choleretic. This increase in bile flow can be great for jaundice and encouraging removal of toxins from the blood stream. The results of this detoxification can help with rheumatism and other symptoms associated with blood disorders.
Goldenseal is one of the plants labeled by United Plant Savers as being at risk for moving onto the endangered species list. It is not ideal to use this plant due to it’s status but knowing goldenseal’s uses can be helpful in encouraging it’s protection and cultivation. Goldenseal is excellent at stimulating bile production. Berberine is one of the molecules found in goldenseal. It has a variety of immune and gallbladder stimulating actions and is also able to calm spasms making it ideal for an irritated liver that needs to be flushed. Goldenseal should not be used during pregnancy.
Oregon grape is another berberine containing plant. It is most often used for treating chronic skin conditions, symptoms that are commonly connected with liver challenges in many traditional herbal philosophical systems. This plant is a general liver and gallbladder tonic but is also useful for stomach related nausea and vomiting.
This is one of the best known liver tonics. There is excellent modern research that is showing that milk thistle is able to protect liver cells from damage due to chemotherapy and other chemicals. Just like other hepatic herbs, milk thistle seeds stimulate bile flow but this is not it’s only support for the liver. Milk thistle is unique in being able to restore liver function that has been impaired and has been shown to have this action in a number of research trials.
For more information on herbal actions such as hepatic herbs and to read up more on the research of milk thistle, 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.
Jillian Carnrick, founder and manager of The Dancing Herbalist, has a Masters of Science Degree in Herbal Medicine, practices as a nutritionist, and is a Certified Personal Trainer and Exercise Is Medicine Professional through the American College of Sports Medicine. Join her for live classes and The Dancing Herbalist’s home herbalist courses online for more learning opportunities.