Learning Herbs 101: Herbs and the Organ Systems They Love, Part 1
Posted Aug 16 2011 12:12pm
Luckily for each of our eleven organ systems, there’s a group (and in some cases, more than one group) of herbs that “love” and support them. Today, I’m going to list the organ systems and their affined herb group, as well as provide some examples of those herbs. One note: I may not get through all of them today. My brother reads this blog and says I’m “verbose,” by which I think he means that I talk too much. So I’ll talk until I hit the 700-word count limit, and then I’ll just continue on tomorrow. Another note: I’m assuming that you have knowledge of what organs each system consists of and what they do. If you don’t, I suggest this site as a good beginner’s resource.
Urinary system. To function optimally, we need to be able to effectively eliminate urine from our body. For that, we rely on our urinary organs (kidneys, bladder, urethra, etc.). Diuretic herbs help by either stimulating kidney function or increasing blood flow to the kidneys. Examples of diuretic herbs include Buchu (Barosma betulina), Cleavers (Galium aparine), Juniper Berry (Juniperus communis), Parsley (Petroselinum crispum), and Uva Ursi (Arcstaphylos uva-ursi).
Digestive System. How fortunate our digestive system is to have 3 groups of herbs as fans. Cathartic,hepatic, and tonic herbs are all supportive of the digestive system (we’ll talk about the first two and leave tonic herbs until tomorrow). Cathartic herbs support our digestive system by helping our intestines “evacuate” solid wastes from our bodies – hey, if you don’t poop well, you don’t live well. A true, if gross, fact of life. Hepatic herbs, on the other hand, act specifically on the liver, the body’s main detoxification factory. They help strengthen, cleanse, and tone the liver, as well as assist in regulating bile secretion (and thus indirectly support the digestive system). Cathartic herbs include Flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum), Licorice Root (Glycyrrhiza glabra), Mandrake (Podophyllum peltatum), Senna (Senna alexandrina), and Turkey Rhubarb (Rheum palmatum), among others. Hepatic herbs include Celandine (Chelidonium majus), Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum), Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa), and more.
Respiratory system: Expectorant herbs are particularly affined with the respiratory system. They assist with helping our lungs eliminate waste in the form of excess mucus and phlegm (yes, they help us “hawk lungees” – ewww – why do I love regaling you with the gross stuff?). There are several expectorant herbs, among them Elecampane (Inula helenium), Horehound (Marrubium vulgare), Licorice Root (doing double-duty here!), Mouse Ear Hawkweed (Hieracium pilosella), and Pleurisy Root (Asclepias tuberosa).
Reproductive system: For the sake of today’s post on herbs, I’m only going to talk about the woman’s reproductive system because a) I’m a woman; b) I’m writing for fellow women; and c) women’s reproductive systems are much more complicated than men’s, and therefore, more susceptible to imbalance. So allow me to introduce you to emmenagogues (don’t ask me to pronounce it, please), aka our “PMS buddies.” When we’re not pregnant, emmengogic herbs can be a woman’s best friend (the word “emmenagogue” means “encouraging the flow of menstruation,” so stay away from these if you’re expecting). Emmenagogues are useful for menstrual cramps, painful menstruation, lack of menstruation, and other menstrual difficulties. They include the likes of Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides), Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis), Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca), Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens), Pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium), and Rue (Ruta graveolens).
Circulatory system: Alterative herbs help gradually cleanse the blood, and as such, have a particular affinity with the circulatory system. These herbs are extremely useful when you are wanting to help someone recover from a bout of illness or gradually improve the functions of all the eliminative organs over a 2-3 month period, and they include: Burdock (Arctium lappa), Garlic (Allium sativa), Plantain (Plantago major), Red Clover (Trifolium pratense), and Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus). There is another group of cardiac and hypotensive herbs that particularly support the heart and lower blood pressure, and can therefore also be said to be affined with the circulatory system. These herbs include Hawthorn (various species of Crataegus), European Mistletoe (Viscum album), and Olive (Olea europaea). A word on Mistletoe: its therapeutic margin is extremely low (the dividing line between a beneficial dose and a harmful dose), so its use requires extreme caution.