Alteratives and depuratives, which are known in traditional folk medicine as blood purifiers, are a very important class of herbs in botanical medicine. These herbs generally act through the lymphatic, glandular and mucous membrane systems, and to a lesser degree through the skin. Their primary action is to favorably alter disordered metabolic and catabolic processes, especially those associated with the breakdown and elimination of metabolic waste. Their related secondary action is to enhance better overall absorption and assimilation of nutrients. Collectively these metabolic and catabolic activities serve to balance and normalize overall physiological chemistry and thereby restore vital health.
Alteratives and depuratives are indicated in cases of retrograde metabolism, which are constitutional disorders associated with tardy breakdown and excretion of metabolic waste, deterioration of normally healthy tissues and slow reconstruction of new tissues. These indications are sometimes associated with loss of vitality and strength, loss of appetite, weight loss and general debility. Alteratives and depuratives are also indicated in a similar condition, which was traditionally described as a depraved state of the humors and a morbid condition, especially one that involves imbalance of component elements.
Although Echinacea is stereotyped as an “immune system herb,” it is also an excellent alterative and depurative and is especially associated with lymphatic glands and what traditional folk medicine refers to as “bad blood.”
Another great herb in this category is Burdock, of which I use a 50/50 combination of the root and the seed. Burdock is an excellent restorative cleanser/ detoxifier for the liver and kidneys. Burdock also soothes and cleanses the lymphatic vessels, serous membranes, and mucous membranes
Wild Indigo fresh root is another great alterative/depurative, but it must be used with caution and in moderation because of its strong action. Wild Indigo is useful in treating deep-seated, chronic and sub-acute issues. Wild Indigo is best taken in smaller doses and along with doses of Echinacea and plenty of water.
One of my all time favorite alterative/depurative herbs is Dandelion, of which I prefer using the whole fresh plant with its root, leaves and flowers. Dandelion is an effective but gentle-acting detoxifier of the liver and kidneys, and thereby is also useful in the treatment of various conditions of the skin. Dandelion is also a mild stimulant of bowel elimination and is especially indicated in constipation of the elderly.
Turmeric rhizome, the spice that gives mustard and curry powders their bright yellow color, is also an excellent liver alterative/depurative, which stimulates the production and flow of liver bile. However, Turmeric tends to act more strongly than Dandelion and therefore should be used in somewhat smaller doses. This herb/spice is indicated in congested liver and gallbladder. Also, new scientific research is justifying Turmeric’s uses in Traditional Ayurvedic Medicine in inflammation.
Remember that a true alterative/depurative herb is one that not only cleanses and detoxifies, but also facilitates proper nutrient assimilation and which has a normalizing action on overall physiology.
Originally Published Spring 2006