What is an alterative? To answer this question, you must first ask another: what are herbal actions? These are terms created by traditional herbalists and adopted by allopathic physicians to describe how a substance, in this case plants and their unique phytochemistry, acts on the body. There are many herbal actions that you are probably familiar with, even if you have zero experience with herbs: anti-inflammatory, diuretic, analgesic, and antihistamine, to name a few.
Alterative herbs were defined by eclectic herbalists as blood cleansers or purifiers. A vague definition for a category of herbs that are foundational to all our formulas here at Dr Morse Herbal Health Club. What are alteratives, really, and why are they so important to include in your herbal remedies? In this article we will demystify alterative herbs so that they are simple to understand, and easy to love.
Myth: Alterative Herbs Purify the Blood
When researching alteratives, you will often see this category of herbs described to cleanse or purify the blood. What does this even mean? How exactly would one purify the blood with herbs? This definition is an antiquated remnant, recycled from the time of the eclectics (late 19th to early 20th century) when leeching and bloodletting were common medical practice and blood was described as distempered, impure, and corrupt in patterns of illness.1
“The human organism is designed with many wonderous checks and balances that, when functioning properly, clean and detoxify the body day and night.” We are miraculous beings that are constantly manufacturing fresh new cells, while cleansing and eliminating old ones. The average age of any cell in the body is only 7-10 years, with many cells replacing themselves weekly, even daily! Our bodies are masters of “out with the old, in with the new.”
Sure, blood filtration does exist today in the form of dialysis, and believe it or not, leeching is still practiced in modern medicine. But, before you end up leeching your ailments away, there are many alternative and preventative practices available to support and promote proper kidney function, with alterative herbs being paramount.
Oxygenating & Opening Blocked Channels
Having your eliminatory organs and pathways working optimally is the goal. As Roberts says:
“When you lose filtration, all these acids start building up everywhere. Every cell – trillions – eliminating acids?! What is the universal question? How does your body get rid of acids? The kidneys!”
In order to avoid this back up preventatively, or to restore system function in these channels we recommend eating a diet of mostly raw fruits and vegetables with the support of our cellular botanicals formulas to get things movin.’*
So, what exactly do alterative herbs do?
Dr Morse Q&A 636: “You're taking [alterative] herbs to enhance the function of cells, to clean the lymphatic system, purify the blood, to increase blood flow through the body and increase neurological flow. Basically, that's why you take herbs. You're not taking them to treat anything. You're taking them to increase body functions and to clean the body out more aggressively.”*
Q&A 199 “Get the body digesting, get the body absorbing, get the body utilizing the glands, and then get the elimination of those waste from cells out of there, and then you've got a body that starts working like a machine.”
We use these moving, purifying alterative herbs in all Dr Mores’ formulas because they are both tonic herbs that deliver oxygen and nutrients to their targeted body systems and they are movers: on the gentle side you’ve got your gentle lymphatics like red clover, chickweed, and mullein, all the way to the aggressive side with strong lymphatic and laxative herbs like poke root, blood root and cascara sagrada that practically force their way through the channels of the body, opening up waste removal systems.*
When we say alterative herbs “purify” the blood and body we mean they are enhancing metabolic waste removal from the individual systems so that the body can function optimally, with special emphasis on opening channels of elimination.*
Our Alterative Formulas
Dr Morse is a huge proponent of holistic formulation. The complex of herbs in a formula works on multiple organs and body systems to achieve the formula goals. You will also find alterative herbs in EVERYTHING we make. We are in the business of cellular detoxification and regeneration. The best way to promote our innate systems of detoxification is through using our alterative herbs to tonify and optimize our eliminatory channels – our channels of detoxification! *
A great example is our Blood Support formula. This formula contains alterative (sub-category hepatoprotective) herbs burdock, red clover, and yellow dock which nourish the liver and GI tract; yellow dock and burdock also happen to be rich in iron. Plantain is a mild lymphatic and has both astringent and demulcent properties so that, in tandem with white oak bark it helps to support the integrity of the vascular tissue. Finally, prickly ash is an envoy. It is a warming stimulant with an affinity for the blood, so it essentially helps to distribute the formula throughout the body.*
Before we discuss herbs, let's first explore all the eliminatory pathways in the body. Elimination is how the body maintains homeostasis. As the body takes in food, water, and other environmental particulates, the body breaks them down into their usable and unusable components, retaining what it needs, and eliminating the rest – visual, aromatic, and emotional sensorial experiences are processed, evaluated, stored and/or eliminated as well.
As one identifies the many eliminatory pathways of the body, it becomes clear that every organ and body system produces waste, and therefore has an eliminatory system in place:
The blood is filtered by the kidneys, whose job it is to read the blood’s nutrient and hydration levels to maintain balance, removing any excess in the form of urine.
The liver is our major organ of elimination. It receives oxygenated blood from the heart and venous blood from the GI tract which contains nutrients (and medications). Metabolic waste from the liver is excreted as bile into the intestines to be removed from the body as stool. There is a second eliminatory channel connecting the liver to the skin, although less is known about this pathway, it seems to manifest as common skin imbalances like acne and eczema.
The brain and central nervous system produce metabolic waste that becomes glymphatic fluid and is emptied into lymphatic circulation. The lymphatic system’s waste is then processed either by the liver or the kidneys.
The lungs excrete water waste and carbon dioxide, and unwanted particulates in the air we breathe are expectorated via the mucociliary escalator.
The uterus is flushed every lunar cycle. This blood is packed with nutrients and can be diluted with water and fed to house plants.
The testes produce semen, which is comprised of nutrients, water, salts, waste products of metabolism, and cellular debris and is eliminated via ejaculation.
Most hormones are destroyed by the liver and excreted in urine.
Alterative Herbs and their Traditional Use
Alterative herbs beautifully showcase the wonders of plants and their powerful phytochemistry. There are specific alterative herbs for each of the body’s major organs and eliminatory systems; you can think of the term ALTERATIVE as a catch-all term for any herb expressing tonifying or eliminative action on the body. Knowing this, you can organize the many alterative herbs available in traditional herbalism into their alterative sub-categories:
Hepatoprotective herbs nourish, protect, and fortify the liver so that it can efficiently remove toxins from the body.
- Burdock, yellow dock, dandelion, gentian & milk thistle, all of which are in our Liver/Skin tincture.
Circulatory tonic & stimulant herbs support a healthy heart, nourish the blood, and stimulate blood flow.
- Prickly ash, ginkgo, rosemary, schisandra, hawthorn, cayenne, ginger & dong quai
Diuretic herbs stimulate urination, which supports the kidneys to eliminate excess waste form the blood and tissues of the body.
- Hydrangea, juniper berry, he shou wu (fo-ti) & chickweed. All of which are found in our Kidney Bladder II capsules.
Diaphoretic herbs promote sweating, helping with metabolic waste removal from the liver to the skin.
- Yarrow, elderberry & flower, cayenne, ginger & boneset
Laxative herbs support the removal of waste from the digestive system.
- Mild: yellow dock, psyllium, marshmallow, slippery elm
- Strong: cascara sagrada, senna, poke, blood root
You can find all of these in GI Broom
Expectorant herbs stimulate the elimination of mucus from the respiratory tract
Lymphatic herbs promote lymphatic flow, which supports the removal of waste from this system.
- Mild: red clover, mullein, calendula, cleavers, chickweed, violet
- Strong: poke, bloodroot
Find most of these herbs in our Lymphatic Formulas 1-4.
So, What Have We Learned?
- Alterative herbs “purify the blood” by delivering oxygen and nutrients to our major organs of elimination. This allows for the optimal function of these organs so that they can efficiently detoxify the body, and the blood.*
- “Alterative” is a catch-all term that describes any herb that tones an organ system and enhances eliminatory processes. This herbal action can be broken down into its various subcategories by body system I.e., diuretics, laxatives, lymphatics, hepatoprotectives, etc.
- There are many alterative herbs out there, and most have an affinity for one or two body systems/eliminatory channels.
- Dr Morse’s Cellular Botanical formulas all use the power of alteratives and whole-body holistic formulation to make these some of the most targeted and potent herbal supplements on the market!