Alteratives: 5 personal favourites

Alteratives are herbs that restore or normalise proper functioning to an organ or system. They do this primarily by increasing metabolic or eliminative processes. Good efficient elimination of toxic waste is foundational to vitality and good health in the Herbal and Naturopathic tradition. The thinking is that if one organ of elimination isn’t working efficiently, the body’s response is to put pressure on other organs to take up the slack. If they become over-burdened, then naturally the body starts to become toxic, sick and eventually chronically ill. Many chronic conditions and auto-immune diseases are thought to be so because of impaired elimination and recuperation somewhere along the line.

Alteratives then are my first port of call for chronic conditions. Frankly, even just once a year with a simple diet of soups and vegetables for a week or two in winter does wonders to get the body a much-needed reset. Here then are my favourite alteratives for different organs. Of course, keep in mind that although a herb may have an affinity for a particular region, it will overlap and affect different parts simultaneously.

    Dried Burdock root

    Arctium lappa

    If there’s a granddaddy of alteratives, Burdock takes the crown. Its effects range from improving the liver and digestion; to the skin, urinary and rheumatic conditions. This is a long-term herb to be taken over months if its benefits are to be seen in rheumatic complaints and skin conditions particularly. A favourite among those with psoriasis or general poor skin health. It combines well with Dandelion, Red Clover or Yellow Dock.

    Being a cooling herb, it’s best suited for people with “hot” constitutions. Although it is fine for “colder” constitutions if taken for the short-term.

    Burdock root dosages range from 6,000 – 18,000 mg daily, with the higher dosages being more suitable as a decoction.

    Dried Nettle Leaf

    Urtica dioica

    Ask me what herb I would have as a tea for real nutritional value, and I would say Nettle Leaf without hesitation. It is simply one of the most versatile herbs, benefiting the whole body through its tonic and detoxifying properties. If you were to choose one herb that you could use consistently and safely with maximal general health properties, you wouldn’t go wrong with Nettle Leaf.

    Dosages range from 6,000 – 12,000 mg daily. I prefer and would recommend Nettle Leaf as a simple but strong infused tea. You can make enough to last you throughout the day, take it in your water bottle to work and drink it throughout the day. It tastes quite good, but you can always add a teaspoon of honey if required.

    Dried Echinacea Root

    Echinacea purpurea

    There are a few herbs that are universally known by the general public, and Echinacea is one of them. Often misused and misunderstood, Echinacea stands the test of time as one of the absolute immune and lymphatic alteratives. It helps the body rid of infections by activating the body’s macrophage-mediated defences.

    Herbalists classify Echinacea as cool and dry. They disagree, however, whether it should be taken long-term as it’s most suited pre and during active infections. For your purpose of a winter cleanse, a one to two-week stint will be beneficial nevertheless. Combines well with Uva Ursi for UTI’s; with Burdock root for skin infections and Andrographis for viral infections.

    Echinacea root dosages range from 3,000 – 6,000 mg daily.

    Dried Uva Ursi Leaf

    Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

    Uva Ursi Leaf is an absolute legend in Western Herbalism as a Urinary alterative. It’s a strong urinary antiseptic, astringent, tonic and anti-inflammatory herb which makes it appropriate for UTI’s and weak bladders. Make sure, however, that your urine is alkaline before taking Uva Ursi as an acidic environment makes it much less effective.

    Herbalists classify Uva Ursi as Cold and drying (as you might suspect since it’s a diuretic). However, it’s not recommended if you’re pregnant, lactating or under 12yo. Suitable for short-term use only (a week or two). Combine with Licorice or Marshmallow if longer than a week.

    Dosages range from 4,000 – 12,000 mg daily. I would recommend Uva Ursi Leaf as a simple but strong infused tea simply because its purpose is towards the urinary tract. Therefore, drinking it as a tea will increase its diuretic effect. You can make enough to last you throughout the day, take it in your water bottle to work and drink it throughout the day and you can always add a teaspoon of honey if required.

    Dried Yellow Dock Root

    Rumex crispus

    A deeply cleansing herb, Yellow Dock is an often underestimated and overlooked herb. It has a mild laxative effect which increases with dosage size. This, however, is a good thing with wide-ranging systemic effects on other eliminative organs like the skin. As you guessed, it combines well with Burdock for this purpose.

    It’s also effective in freeing up iron from the liver and cleansing the bile ducts, enhancing detoxification which again, can seriously influence the skin positively. This herb is the one I would choose for colonic cleansing without the side effects of other laxatives. It tonifies the colon. Indispensable.

    Try it for a week; you won’t regret it. Just make sure to start with a small dose – good for the liver – and keep increasing until you have a nice, easy, soft regular stool evacuation. You’ll feel the difference.

    Some cautions: it can potentially aggravate kidney stones, gout and arthritis. For this reason, take it short term and with an excellent diuretic such as Nettle Leaf, Celery Seed or Gravel Root.

    Yellow Dock root dosages range from 6,000 – 12,000 mg daily, with the higher dosages being more suitable as a decoction.

Do you have any other favourites that work for you?


British Herbal Medicine Association. Scientific Committee. British Herbal Pharmacopoeia. Consolidated ed. West Yorkshire: British Herbal Medicine Association, 1983.


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