Detox diets perhaps don’t work the way we think they do. We can’t trick our bodies to do anything they aren’t already doing on their own. But what we can do is to help our bodies do what they do better! In an increasingly toxic world, our bodies need all the help they can get. And herbs are an effective way to help support and boost our body’s natural systems of detoxification. Here’s how our natural systems of detox work and 23 of the best herbs to support your body’s everyday detox.
HERE YOU’LL FIND:
Cleanse vs. Detox: What’s the Difference?
Sneak-Peak Into How Your Body Naturally Detoxes
Meet Your Built-In Detox Team
The Ultimate Lifestyle Detox
The Easiest Way to Detox Everyday
On Cleansing, Detoxing, & Diet Culture
23 of the Best Herbs for Daily Detox
Resources & Further Reading
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Cleanse vs Detox: What’s The Difference?
Believe it or not, the practice of detoxing and cleansing can be traced back to ancient times. But let’s be real, times are very different. We currently have over 80,000 chemicals approved for use in the United States, none of which were around for our ancestors and many of which haven’t been adequately tested for human health safety.
Because we’re exposed to so many toxins every day, these practices to help rid our bodies of these toxins remain incredibly beneficial in supporting whole-body health, and perhaps even more so!
Today, the words “cleanse” and “detox” are used interchangeably. However, much of the modern wellness community has drawn a subtle line between the two.
Both typically focus on eating a healthy diet rich in minimally processed, nutrient-dense whole foods. However, cleansing and detoxing may take on slightly different responsibilities.
Cleansing for Better Digestive Health
“Cleansing” is often used in reference to the digestive system and gut health. If you experience digestive problems such as gas and bloating, indigestion, or constipation, cleansing may be used as a way to help promote better digestive health.
This usually involves eliminating certain foods that can be hard on your digestive system. And while these foods may be different for everyone (because our bodies are unique), they typically include foods like dairy, eggs, gluten, grains, soy, refined sugars, and alcohol.
After your body has had time to heal and get back to functioning properly, sometimes some of these foods may be slowly reintroduced. In other cases, it may be best to replace these foods with healthier alternatives that are easier on your digestive system.
Detoxing for Deep, Cellular-Level Restoration
On the other hand, “detoxing” refers more to a systematic approach of removing toxins from the body. It essentially takes cleansing to the next level. This approach often shines a spotlight on liver and kidney health, two of the main organs responsible for getting rid of toxins in your body.
These toxins can come from our outside environments (eg. air pollution), homes (eg. wall paint, furniture off-gassing, chemical cleaners), beauty products, stress and anxiety, prescription medications, processed foods, and so many other places. In fact, our bodies naturally make their own toxins, referred to as metabolic waste, during routine body functions.
As opposed to specifically targeting digestive issues, detoxing is a way to offer yourself deep cellular-level restoration by focusing on nourishing and supporting your body’s natural detoxification systems.
Sneak-Peak Into How Your Body Naturally Detoxes
Our body’s natural detoxification abilities are incredibly complex! It’s a lot of complex physiology and chemistry heavily influenced by many external factors such as nutrition, lifestyle choices, exposure to environmental toxins, and more.
When it comes to natural detoxification, the liver steals the show. However, there are many supporting organs and systems.
Meet Your Built-In Detox Team
When you really dive deep into the science, you’ll quickly realize that your whole entire body is involved in your natural, everyday, behind-the-scenes detoxification.
Meet your built-in detox team:
- Skin – Your largest detoxification organ, the skin, helps to rid the body of toxins through sweat. Exercise is a way to promote self-cleansing.
- Lungs – The lungs help to rid the body of toxins through breathing.
- Liver – The liver helps to transform toxins into compounds that we can excrete through your kidneys (via urine) and digestive tract (via stool). The liver is often considered our main detox organ.
- Kidneys – The kidneys excrete toxins through urine.
- Digestive Tract – Having regular, healthy bowel movements is an important part of eliminating toxins.
- Lymphatic System – Your lymphatic system, which is technically part of your immune system, is a circulatory network that helps to cleanse nearly every cell in your body by helping to carry away toxins, metabolic waste (from normal body functions), and more.
The Phases of Detoxification, Simplified
With all those organs and biological system involved, there’s a lot happening to detox our bodies. However, to significantly simplify the incredibly complex miracle of natural detoxification, let’s look at how our main detox organ, the liver, works its magic. There are 3 primary phases.
- Activation – Phase 1: Enzymes (primarily cytochrome P450) in your liver chemically “activate” toxins so that Phase 2 enzymes can then neutralize them.
- Conjugation – Phase 2: Phase 2 liver enzymes then neutralize the activated toxins by making them water-soluble. In this form, they’re easily be excreted.
- Elimination – Phase 3: Proteins are then attached to help transport them out of the cell. Once outside of the cell, they’re excreted through urine, stool, or bile.
The Ultimate Lifestyle Detox
So what’s the best way to detox our bodies?
The answer is both simple and complex: The ultimate detox is a lifestyle commitment to changing unhealthy habits, eliminating exposures where we can, taking more time for relaxation and self-care, getting more and better sleep, and so much more.
And then there’s the herbs. Once we’ve maximized as many of our natural detoxification processes as best we can, we always have the support of the plants.
Detoxing is a Long Game & It’s All About Self-Care
Detoxing is an everyday sort of thing, a whole-body kind of effort. While there are nutritive herbs that we can use to help support our body’s natural ability to detox on its own, I have some news that may be disappointing: there’s no magic pill. And because we live on a planet that’s increasingly becoming more toxic, we have to work for it.
But, big bummer aside, the work can be incredibly easy! All we have to do is take care of ourselves and let the herbs help.
The Easiest Way to Detox Everyday
Before we get to the herbs, here’s a noninclusive list of simple things you can do every single day that will help support your body’s natural processes of detoxification.
- Drink Lots of Water: Without adequate hydration, many of your bodily functions, including those of our organs directly involved in detox will struggle to function. With adequate hydration, the kidneys are self-cleansing.
- Eat Lots of Cruciferous Veggies: Cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, and cabbage contain sulfur-rich compounds called glucosinolates that promote natural detoxification. They’re also known to help prevent cancer.
- Eat More Fiber-Rich Foods: Foods rich in fiber encourage healthy and regular bowel movements and the elimination of toxins through your feces. Otherwise, toxins can be reabsorbed into your bloodstream and sent right back to your liver, making it work harder!
- Add More Fresh Herbs & Spices to Your Meals: Fresh herbs and spices, like parsley, cilantro, and ginger, are high in antioxidants that help offset the damaging effects of toxins and support healthy digestion.
- Breathe Deeply: Healthy lungs are also self-cleansing. Deep, purposeful breathing can greatly enhance their ability to expel toxins through breath.
- Choose Organic When Possible: The chemicals that much of our food is exposed to through conventional growing practices only increase our toxic burden, putting a bigger strain on our detox organs.
- Drink More Herbal Teas: Drinking herbal teas is one of the easiest ways to gently help support your body’s natural detoxification abilities. You can purchase many pre-mixed teas for detox and cleansing or have some fun and make your own! Check out: How to Make Your Own Functional Herbal Tea Blends – A Step-By-Step Guide
- Enlist Other Herbal Support: And after that, enlist the support of the herbs that have scientifically proven to help support natural detox.
>> A Note on Cleansing, Detoxing, & Diet Culture
We absolutely cannot talk about cleansing and detoxing without acknowledging the role these often play in diet culture. These words have, in many ways, become brand representatives of an incredibly toxic diet culture that fuels unhealthy relationships with our bodies. They’ve become trendy marketing expressions tangled deep in a multi-billion dollar diet industry that has proven itself over and over again to be incredibly harmful to us as individuals and as a culture.
And while these practices are often used irresponsibly and sometimes dangerously to disguise weight-loss diets, that’s not what they were originally intended for. Cleanse and detox should not be used as code words for crash diet.
Diets don’t work; they’ve never worked.
But supporting your body’s ability to self-cleanse with healthy lifestyle habits and detox-savvy herbs is a safe way to support long-term, whole-body health. Plus, it may even result in healthy and sustainable weight loss.
For When You Need Extra Support:
23 of the Best Herbs for Natural Detoxing
Alfalfa | Artichoke Leaf | Burdock Root | Cleavers
Celery Seed | Coriander/Cilantro | Dandelion | Fenugreek
Garlic | Gentian | Ginger | Gotu Kola
Hibiscus | Marshmallow Root | Milk Thistle
Nettle Leaf | Parsley | Red Clover | Rose Hips
Schisandra | St. Johns Wort | Psyllium | Turmeric
And yet, while we have incredibly sophisticated natural detoxification processes, sometimes our bodies need a little help. When the toxic burden becomes too great to bear, the herbs are there to help support our organs and systems of natural detoxification.
Here are 23 of the best herbs to help support your body’s ability to self-cleanse or detox on its own. These herbs work by directly and indirectly supporting our organs and systems of detoxification.
Some may be potent anti-inflammatory antioxidants. Others may have a direct action on the liver. And still, others may work by stimulating the digestive process.
While many of these are considered to be fairly gentle herbs, always be sure to consult with a licensed health practitioner or practicing clinical herbalist before introducing new herbs into your life. Be especially careful if you’re pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription medications.
Another thing to note is that this list focuses on the medicinal properties specific to our organs and systems of detoxification. Many of these herbs act on more than one of these organs and systems, and also have other medicinal uses not directly related to detoxification as well.
1. Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)
Alfalfa is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant diuretic that can help flush toxins out through urine.
- HOW TO USE ALFALFA: A common way to consume alfalfa is to eat alfalfa sprouts! It’s so easy to grow your own! You can also find alfalfa in extract, tablet, capsule, or even powdered form for adding to food and smoothies. Or purchase dried alfalfa for use in your herbal tea blends.
2. Artichoke Leaf (Cynara scolymus)
Artichoke leaf is the same leaf from the delicious artichoke that ends up on your plate covered in butter! As a bitter antioxidant, artichoke leaf is beneficial to both liver and digestive health.
- HOW TO USE ARTICHOKE LEAF: It’s often used as an extract or made into an herbal tea.
3. Burdock (Arctium lappa)
The root of the burdock plant is a mild bitter that can help to support liver health and more efficient digestion of fats and proteins. It’s also great source of inulin, a type of soluble fiber beneficial for gut health.
- HOW TO USE BURDOCK ROOT: This root is often eaten as a food. You can typically find it in the produce section at ethnic groceries. Slice it and then braise it in some broth, fresh garlic, ginger, and a little tamari. Or you can also take it in capsules or as an extract. Better yet, purchase the dried root and use it to make herbal root beer!
4. Cleavers (Galium aparine)
Cleavers are a springtime soothing herb that can help to support the lymphatic system as well as the kidneys due to its mild diuretic effect. It can also provide anti-inflammatory and immune support.
- HOW TO USE CLEAVERS: In the springtime and through much of the summer, cleavers can be found growing wild in many places. Many like to just chop it up and add it to salads or green smoothies. Its high mineral content makes it a great herb for infused herbal vinegar. But in a pinch, you can find dried cleavers for tea or infused vinegar, as well as cleavers extracts for easy use.
5. Celery Seed (Apium graveolens)
This quintessential potato salad ingredient also happens to be anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, diuretic, and a digestive bitter! Traditionally, celery seed was used to treat liver diseases. Recent studies have confirmed this use and also shown that celery seed may even help to prevent liver cancers. A healthy liver is a self-cleansing liver!
- HOW TO USE CELERY SEED: Celery seed is most accessible and easily used as a food. You can find this herb in the regular herb and spice aisle at the grocery. Herbal salts are a great way to use this herb too! Celery salt is common, but you could get more creative and throw in some fenugreek, parley, and nettle leaf too!
6. Coriander/Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)
Coriander and cilantro are not only delicious, but they also provide phenomenal digestive support. As carminatives, coriander and cilantro can help ease painful stomach cramping, constipation, gas and bloating, and more. Optimal digestive function is key to being able to eliminate many toxins!
- HOW TO USE CORIANDER & CILANTRO: Ground coriander seed is delicious on everything! Sprinkle it on eggs, potatoes, roasted veggies, avocado toast, and more! Try a Thai curry spice blend with both coriander and cilantro. And throw fresh cilantro into salads, tacos, herbal vinegar, and more.
7. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
A ubiquitous weed with a hankering for liver and digestive health. Dandelion root is a gentle, but effective herb that helps to both increase the amount of bile flow to your liver (from your gallbladder) and the subsequent secretion of bile from your liver to your stomach. It’s also antioxidant and diuretic, and therefore, actually supports several of your detoxification organs and systems.
- HOW TO USE DANDELION: Try making a digestive bitter cordial with dandelion leaf. Sprinkle dandelion root powder into your oatmeal and smoothies. Roasted dandelion root also makes for a nice coffee substitute. Try this Roasted Dandelion Root Mocha.
8. Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum)
Fenugreek is a popular maple-scented spice in South and East Asia, as well as the Middle East that’s beneficial for both kidney and liver health. Studies have shown fenugreek to help prevent and/or reverse fatty liver disease that can often lead to liver cancer. And it’s also been found to decrease the occurrence of kidney stones.
- HOW TO USE FENUGREEK: Ground fenugreek makes a unique ingredient in baked goods like cookies or sweetbreads. Or lightly toast it, mix it with ground chilis and other herbs and spices to use as a dipping spice for bread. Chopped, toasted seeds also add a delightful crunch to salads.
9. Garlic (Allium sativum)
This one-clove-is-never-enough spice may be used as a diuretic (supporting elimination through the kidneys) and carminative (supporting healthy digestion).
- HOW TO USE GARLIC: This spice is especially easy to get into your food, as it goes with practically anything savory. Try this simple Saffron & Garlic Braised Fennel. It’s also a fantastic ingredient for herbal salts like this Garlic & Rosemary Sea Salt, immune-boosting cough and cold syrups, and more. Try this Classic Fire Cider… for natural detox and immune support! For the best results and biggest health benefits, always use garlic fresh.
10. Gentian (Gentiana lutea)
A bitter-tasting root that is anti-inflammatory, helps to stimulate digestion, and increases the flow of bile (important for the breakdown of fats). Gentian is considered to be a very potent herbal bitter and may not be appropriate for long term use or for those that have acute gastric inflammation or irritation.
- HOW TO USE GENTIAN: Gentian is easy to take as an extract or as part of a classic herbal bitters blend. Or better yet, get creative and customize your very own herbal bitters blend as part of your daily detox and self-care routine.
11. Ginger (Zingiber officinalis)
Like garlic, ginger is another great spice to support our natural detox. It’s spicy and aromatic and likes to get things moving! It’s an anti-inflammatory spice that supports healthy digestion, helps to increase the flow of bile (for the digestion of fats), and can also act as a diuretic. Plus, it’s also incredibly antioxidant.
- HOW TO USE GINGER: Eat this one fresh whenever you can. It’s delightful in both sweet and savory foods and beverages. Try this Ginger Turmeric Honey, make your own naturally fermented ginger sodas, or drizzle this Creamy Ginger & Turmeric Salad Dressing over everything. Ginger can also be taken as an extract, in capsules, in herbal syrups, or as a tea.
12. Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica)
Gotu kola is a wonderful digestive system tonic, helping to support health digestive functions. And one of its most well-known traditional uses is as a liver detoxifier. Gotu kola may help with symptoms of toxin overload such as brain fog, lack of concentration, and memory loss. It also has a diuretic action and can help to promote toxin excretion through the kidneys.
- HOW TO USE GOTU KOLA: If you’re lucky enough to be able to grow gotu kola, it’s lovely as a salad green or in green juices or smoothies. Otherwise, gotu kola is probably most commonly consumed as tea. You can also add the dried or fresh herb to your homemade medicinal veggie broths.
13. Hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa)
This beauty is a potent antioxidant that is known to support health liver and kidney function. It’s also been found to help improve fatty liver disease and stimulate kidney function.
- HOW TO USE HIBISCUS: The most common way to use hibiscus is as a tea. It makes a great herbal iced tea blend with mint and ginger. However, you can also use fresh or dried hibiscus to make herbal syrups for use in non-alcoholic spritzers or baked goods, hibiscus popsicles, and you can even add it to your homemade elderberry syrup or fire cider.
14. Marshmallow Root (Althea officinalis)
Marshmallow is a mucilaginous herb that can help to protect the lining of the digestive system, helping to prevent things such as gas, bloating, indigestion, and constipation. It’s also known to be beneficial to urinary health by helping to relieve irritation and inflammation.
- HOW TO USE MARSHMALLOW ROOT: Marshmallow root makes a great addition to a detox herbal tea blend. You can also use it as an extract or go real old fashioned and make actual marshmallows!
14. Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum)
A bitter herb with a specific affinity for the liver. Milk thistle can help to protect the liver by acting as an antioxidant, increasing glutathione synthesis (another potent antioxidant), and increasing the rate of repair for damaged liver tissue.
- HOW TO USE MILK THISTLE: Milk thistle is easy to find as an extract or in capsules. Or you can also use milk thistle seeds in liver-loving herbal tea blends with ginger or add the seeds to your favorite herbal chai mix.
16. Nettle Leaf (Urtica dioica)
This mineral-rich herb has a well-earned reputation for being Nature’s Vitamin. Like cleavers, nettle is a springtime tonic that helps to nourish the entire body. In regards to our natural detox systems, nettle is a powerful diuretic and urinary tract tonic that also helps to support digestive health.
- HOW TO USE NETTLE LEAF: Nettle leaf makes a great spinach substitute! Use it to make Potato Nettle Soup or even Stinging Nettle Cake. You can also use dried and powdered nettles in smoothies, oatmeal, or in baked goods like cookies and crackers. It also makes an incredibly lovely hot tea or cold herbal infusion. Otherwise, stinging nettle capsules are easily accessible too.
17. Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
This common herb is anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and nutrient-dense. It helps to support healthy digestion, as well as kidney function. Parsley is high in chlorophyll, a gentle diuretic that can help the kidneys excrete wastes from the body. And studies have also shown that parsley has a mild laxative action and may also help to prevent constipation.
- HOW TO USE PARSLEY: Fresh parsley is delicious chopped into salads, tossed into veggie stir-fries, blended into salad dressings, and more. Tabouleh salad is an easy way to get lots of parsley into your day. You can also purchase dried parsley, sprinkle it on everything, or use it to make dried herbal salt blends.
18. Red Clover Blossoms (Trifolium pratense)
Red clover blossoms were traditionally used as a lymphatic cleanser to help stimulate the lymph system so that it can better function to remove toxins and metabolic wastes. They are also antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and very mineral-rich.
- HOW TO USE RED CLOVER: Red clover blossoms are often enjoyed as a tea or extract/tincture. I really enjoy making overnight cold infusions of nettle leaf, red clover, and oatstraw. These mineral-rich herbs make a nice daily tonic.
19. Rosehips (Rosa spp.)
These fruits of the rose plant are incredibly high in vitamin C and powerful antioxidants! Rosehips are particularly nourishing to the digestive system and can help protect against inflammation that may be caused by eating chemical-laden, highly processed foods. In supporting healthy digestion, rose hips can help make it easier for us to get rid of toxins via the liver, kidneys, and bowels.
- HOW TO USE ROSE HIPS: Use dried rosehips to make herbal honey or herb-infused vinegar. Rosehip jam is a popular and delicious way to use hips. You can also find them in herbal tea blends like this Hibiscus High Tea. And powdered rosehips are such an easy add-in to smoothies or as a sprinkle on top of buttered toast.
20. Schisandra (Schisandra chinensis)
Schisandra is known as the 5-spice herb and includes all the tastes in one convenient little berry. It’s often used as a liver restorative and as immune system support. And as an adaptogen, schisandra may help your body to better handle various stressors, including toxins of all kinds.
- HOW TO USE SCHISANDRA: Schisandra berries make a lovely tea that’s sweet, tart, bitter, and a little pungent all in one! Some use schisandra tea as an alternative to coffee. It has all the pizazz, but none of the crash. You can find schisandra in many herbal tea blends and adaptogen blends (like this Adapt Chocolate Elixir). It’s also easily accessible in capsules or as an extract.
21. St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
Many know St. John’s wort for its use in treating depression, but it also does a fantastic job at supporting our detoxification organs and systems. St. John’s wort is antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and mildly sedative. It can help put our bodies in a more relaxed state so that things can function better. And it can also help with gastric inflammation and liver detoxification by helping to increase liver enzyme activity.
- HOW TO USE ST. JOHNS WORT: To support detoxification, St. John’s wort is most often taken in capsules or as an extract.
22. Psyllium (Plantago spp.)
This may seem like a strange addition to this list, but psyllium is an incredible source of fiber, an essential factor in healthy digestion and elimination. It’s useful in helping to prevent and alleviate both constipation and diarrhea. And its mucilaginous properties also make it very soothing to the entire digestive tract.
- HOW TO USE PSYLLIUM: You’ll see both psyllium seeds and husks on the market. Both the whole seed and the husk contain the mucilage beneficial to gut health, however the husks are a little easier to find. Many people will mix powdered psyllium with a little water or add it to juice or a smoothie and consume the fiber this way. The mucilage also acts a fantastic binder and can be used as a replacement for eggs in many baked good. You can also sprinkle psyllium over oatmeal, toast, cereal.
23. Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin that is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It has a long history of use in treating so many ills that sometimes it seems there is nothing that turmeric can’t help with. Numerous studies have shown turmeric and curcumin to help prevent or delay the onset of many types of cancer, reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, and also help keep the liver healthy by increasing the secretion of enzymes that help detoxify the liver and promote the flow of bile.
- HOW TO USE TURMERIC: Sprinkle dried, powdered turmeric on everything from eggs to potatoes, veggies, and chocolate cake! Mince fresh turmeric into any dish you’d add fresh ginger to like stir-fries, soups, and stews. Also, making herbal honey with turmeric is a delicious way to help offset the bitterness. And turmeric capsules are a great way to conveniently get more turmeric into your day.
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Resources & Further Reading
- Detoxification 101: Everything You Wanted To Know, Dr. Aviva Romm, MD
- 3 Phases of Detoxification, Metagenics
- Cleansing Nutrients: Supporting the 3 Phases of Detoxification, Emerson Ecologics
- Liver Detoxification Pathways, AskTheScientists.com
- The Extensive History & Modern Use of Detoxification & Cleansing, Dr. Sarah Bennett, NMD
- Herbal Medicine from the Heart of the Earth, Dr. Sharol Marie Tilgner
- Healing Spices: How to Use 50 Everyday & Exotic Spices to Boost Health & Beat Disease, Bharat B. Aggarwal, PhD
DISCLAIMER: The information given in this article is intended for educational purposes only. Always consult with your healthcare practitioner before consuming certain herbs & medicinal foods, especially if pregnant, nursing, or taking any prescription medications.
Great information thank you.
Thank you, Parvaneh! I’m glad you enjoyed.