Body, Herbalism
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The Simplest Herbal Cleanse

Let’s say you are interested in doing some sort of cleanse and would like to add herbs for extra nourishment and support. Where should you start? Well, that is entirely up to you and your needs.

One thing I like to to is start general and easy. Simple means rather than specifically focusing on one body system (like the skin or urinary system) to base herbs around, start with alteratives, lymphatics or other herbal categories that are more supportive of the whole body. After a few weeks, perhaps the body systems that need more attention will present themselves (something I heard from Nicholas Schnell). By easy, I mean don’t overwhelm yourself with trying to keep up with taking a plethora of herbs! Why not choose some herbs that are local to your region? Depending on the season, harvest some tender tops of nettle or dandelion roots if you can to add the zest and vital nature of wild foods to your protocol. Easy also means it’s not too complicated to make, like good old-fashioned teas. Above all, herbs should be individualized. Here are my personal guidelines for a basic three-week herb-supported cleanse:

Week one:

  • Drink a quart (4 cups) of a decoction of one herb, an alterative, daily.
  • Drink a pint (2 cups) of an infusion on one herb, from an action category of your choosing that supports cleansing, daily.
  • Follow the dietary guidelines of your choosing.
  • Include any adjunct practices for body and mind, and make any other lifestyle changes.
  • Note: I often alternate a few different herbs for the infusion, but I keep them withing the same action category. For example, dandelion root on Mon., yellow dock on Tue., burdock on Wed., Oregon grape on Thu., dandelion on Fri. – Sun. I would not alternate red clover  (a lymphatic) and skullcap (a nervine), because I don’t see them as analogous remedies.

Week Two:

  • Continue the teas as in week one.
  • Step the diet, home spa practices and any other mental/emotional/spiritual work up a notch. For example, if you were doing a diet of whole foods, see if you can eat 10 servings of fruits and veggies a day rather than 5. Go for a walk every day instead of three times a week, meditate or journal for longer.
  • Take 30-40 drops of a personalized tincture, to support cleansing of the whole body, three times a day.

Week three:

  • Option one: continue as in week two.
  • Option two: change teas and tinctures to move from generally supporting the whole body to more specifically working with weak areas that have showed up.

Is that simple or what?! In truth I hardly want to call it a cleanse because there is nothing fancy to it. One more thing to add: simple can be effective! You don’t have to be taking 25 herbal capsules and drink 5 gallons of tea to feel better. Quality and intention are often more important than quantity.

How you feel at the end of a cleanse, whether physically, mentally or emotionally, will vary from person to person. The first time I did an intentional cleanse, I felt great during but was back to my lethargic self as soon as it ended because I didn’t make lasting dietary changes. The next time I cleansed was the opposite; I felt awful during the cleanse but wonderful afterward! A few years later, I tried it again with my husband and felt so depleted and weak I quite halfway through the cleanse to have a cheeseburger. No kidding. Yeah, it was bad timing for me; it was late fall and getting quite chilly, I was iron deficient and had just finished bleeding. Cleansing and restrictive diets when you are depleted in any way are not a good idea. Instead, I listened to my body and added nutrient-rich foods and blood-building herbs and took lots and lots of naps and felt better shortly thereafter.

A few weeks ago, I completed the herb-supported cleanse I outlined above. It is definitely the easiest and most basic cleanse I have ever done, yet still effective. I restricted my diet a little bit, mostly of things I consider “junk” food. Yes, even certified organic, locally grown with utmost love and care, gourmet food can be “junk” (like potato chips and chocolate truffles). My dietary goal was to avoid the aforementioned “junk”, wheat, fried foods, coffee and sweets, and add in more veggies, grains and legumes. Simple. Herbal teas included burdock, dandelion, yellow dock concoctions and red clover infusions. I also started a personalized tincture blend that included lympatics, alteratives, liver and endocrine support.

More important to me than the diet was actually a fast from particular behaviors that had been getting on my nerves. I also added in activities that my soul had been yearning for, like reading Rumi, watching spring begin, and getting in contact with family and friends. At the end of the cleanse, I felt much more grounded and healthy, as if I have replenished my supplies to prepare for the transitions to come.

Filed under: Body, Herbalism


Tea-drinking, nature-loving acupuncturist, East Asian Medicine practitioner, herbalism and birth doula living in the Pacific Northwest.

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