The urinary system plays an important role in the human body’s need to eliminate metabolic wastes from the blood, and therefore the greater body. Anatomically, the urinary system includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder and the urethra. The kidneys remove the water-soluble waste products of metabolism from the blood, as well as help regulate the body’s pH, blood pressure, water volume, red blood cell formation, and electrolyte balance outside of the cell. The bladder receives the mix of metabolic wastes and water from the kidneys via the ureters (as urine) and stores it until it is called on to relax and release the urine into the urethra and out of the body. This life-giving process of making and excreting urine is the primary function of the urinary system.
From a naturopathic perspective, correct nutrition and adequate elimination are keystones to promoting vitality and what is known as the vis medicatrix naturae or the healing power of Nature. If the body’s “toxic encumbrances” and “obstacles to cure” can be eliminated, then the vital force will heal. This is witnessed by the fact that many of the naturopathic and vitalist healing practices employed across the centuries have promoted elimination as a way to achieve wellness and vitality.
Given the hydrophilic or water-loving nature of many herbal compounds and/or their metabolites, and the knowledge their excretion will likely take place through the urinary system, medicinal herbs are naturally well-suited to influence the urinary tissues and support urinary system function. In addition to promoting the removal of fluid from the body when used correctly, diuretics can also work to shift the deeper metabolic environment toward a state of greater health. By promoting the removal of wastes they exert an alterative or depurative affect, which often goes underutilizied. A quick word to the wise before we look at a few common herbal diuretics, drink plenty of water! Water is Nature’s best diuretic. When there is adequate water in the blood, its filtration is enhanced, promoting the removal of its metabolic wastes.
Along with Yarrow, and Stinging Nettle, Cleavers (Galium aparine) is one of the more tonic urinary herbs, working to support overall function and nourishment of the urinary tissues. Native to Europe, it is a useful alterative and a cool, soothing diuretic, with a particular reputation for supporting skin and lymphatic tissue.* The Juniper berry (Juniperus communis) is a stimulating diuretic and also stimulates digestion.* However, the volatile oils in Juniper can sometimes be a little too stimulating to the kidneys for anything other than short-term use. Therefore, it is best used in small quantities or as a part of a well-balanced urinary formula. Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) is another good example of a soothing diuretic that is known to possess antiseptic activity. Combined with its respected soothing action, it is used for minor inflammation and irritation of the urinary system.* Corn Silk (Zea mays) is a tonic diuretic with cooling and soothing activity.* As such, it is used wherever there is urinary irritation.
Like any category of herbs, the diuretics are a diverse set of characters. Knowing how best to apply them often comes from looking at their overall therapeutic influence and making decisions based on what peripheral or secondary benefits they bring to the table. By their very nature, the diuretics are an interesting approach to alterative therapy and a traditionally established doorway to enhanced vitality.
*This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
Originally Published in Fall 2005