Cleansing Herbs for Colon Health

Fresh chicory flowers in a wooden mortar & pestle.

The complex process of detoxifying your body from everyday metabolic waste and toxins involves an interplay of your liver, kidneys, lymphatic vessels, skin, and other organs. Yet your colon also plays an important role—it’s the main way out!

The Body's Natural Detox Process

Think of your liver, kidneys, and lymph as trash barrels around the house (and, more specifically, think of the act of putting trash into a trash bin).

Tossing things helps keep your body (the house) clean and clear, but in order to maintain a good flow, someone needs to actually collect that trash on trash pickup day and remove it from the house, or it will pile up and create a big mess.

How The Body Removes Waste and Toxins

Your colon handles trash pickup and removal for your liver and some of the lymph’s waste.

  • What Is Bile and What Does It Do?

    Much of the body's waste is excreted in the form of bile.

    1. The liver creates bile as it cleans the blood (blood that also contains excreted lymph fluid), then stores it in the gallbladder.
    2. Bile then spurts out of your gallbladder into the digestive tract as food exits the stomach. (If you don’t have a gallbladder, bile leaks out slowly throughout the day instead of in concentrated purges timed with food digestion.)
    3. Then, bile goes on its merry way down the digestive turnpike to ultimately be excreted in your feces.
  • Staying Regular for Digestion and Detox

    One to three bowel movements daily will remove most of the waste from the body, but if you get backed up or sluggish, a greater percentage of waste will reabsorb into your body system all over again via the intestinal lining. Therefore, steady bowel movements are a crucial part of your detoxification system and any detox plan.

    Surprisingly, many “cleanse kits” offer little more than a laxative and fiber source, perhaps with other detoxifying herbs mixed in. But you can turn to diet and herbs for gentler, more broad-spectrum benefits.

Natural Herbs for Colon Health and Detox

  • Bitters for Better Digestion

    Bitter-tasting herbs like dandelion root and leaf, burdock root, artichoke leaf, schisandra berry, and turmeric root help turn on the digestive system’s juices as well as peristalsis—the wave-like muscular motion that moves food through the digestive tract. Bonus: Bitters also act as cholagogues and choleretics, “liver movers” that improve detoxification by encouraging the liver’s production and excretion of bile. Indirectly, bitters act as mild laxatives because of these actions.

    Bitter Foods to Cleanse and Detox

    • Dandelion Greens
    • Endive and Radicchio
    • Lettuce
    • Arugula
    • Citrus Peel
    • Grapefruit
    • Tamarind
    • Coffee or Herbal “Coffee” (for example, chicory root)
    • Ginger
    • Artichokes
  • Remove Toxins with Fiber

    Insoluble fiber bulks up the stool to pull and remove toxins from the body, improving the speed and efficiency of the colon. Sources include psyllium seeds, flaxseeds, and bran from whole grains. In truth, most high-fiber foods contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, so a diet rich in whole plant foods will also be beneficial. If you’re new to fiber, introduce it slowly to avoid excess gas and bloating, and make sure to consume plenty of water and hydrating foods.

    Whole-Plant Foods for Fiber

    • Root Vegetables
    • Greens
    • Beans
    • Berries
    • Seeds
    • Nuts 
  • Extra Help from Laxatives

    You can usually keep your colon running smoothly with bitters and fiber, but sometimes it needs a little extra push. That’s where laxatives come in, but not all are created equal.

    • Strong Herbal Laxatives to Cleanse Your Colon

      Harsh, strong laxatives should be used only in extreme constipation, and short-term, as they are ultimately habit-forming and may eventually atrophy the colon’s muscles.

      Strong Herbal Laxatives
      • Senna
      • Cascara
      • Aloe Latex (present in whole aloe leaf)
      • Moderately Strong:
        • Turkey Rhubarb Root
        • Buckthorn Bark
    • Gentle Natural Laxatives to Aid Digestion

      Your safest laxatives include yellow dock root (usually a capsule or liquid extract) and the Ayurvedic blend triphala (preferably as a powder; also available in capsule), which have mild laxative properties alongside tightening, toning tannins that improve colon health. Magnesium also works well; it brings water into the colon. If these aren’t strong enough, consider low doses of the stronger laxatives, then introduce bitters and fiber and slowly wean down on the laxatives.

Keep Your Digestive System in Harmony

Together, bitters, fiber, and short-term laxatives as needed help your colon function smoothly, which makes your body a cleaner, happier place.


Maria Noël Groves, RH (AHG)

Maria Noël Groves, RH (AHG), is the best-selling, award-winning author of Body into Balance: An Herbal Guide to Holistic Self Care and Grow Your Own Herbal Remedies.

Maria’s a registered professional herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild and a graduate of the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine and Rosemary Gladstar’s Sage Mountain.

Learn more about Maria and herbs at Wintergreen Botanicals.