Spring symbolizes a time for renewal. Historically, as bitter greens emerged from the snowmelt and humans dug for earthy roots, our seasonal diets would include more naturally detoxifying herbs and foods.
Nowadays, social media provides constant reminders that bathing suit season is not far away, and many people may be curious about trying a cleanse. Cleansing kits are easy-grab options for internal spring cleaning, but what’s in them, really? And how do you choose which one is best for you?
First, it’s important to note that the best way to encourage your body’s natural detoxifying processes is to eat a clean, plant-rich, fiber-rich diet with plenty of water. Detoxifying foods include beets, dandelion greens, leafy greens, lemon, garlic, ginger, artichoke, burdock, green tea, and flaxseeds. Proper sleep also helps, as this is the time when your body does most of its detoxification.
The body is amazing in the cleansing it already does. While you don’t need to use a kit to detoxify, the herbs presented here can help enhance the body’s natural detoxification processes so you feel healthier and more vibrant. You can also make or buy tea blends that include several of these herbs.
Most cleanse kits—particularly those with “colon” in the title—will include laxative herbs and fiber. These ingredients allow waste to more effectively leave in the feces versus being reabsorbed in the intestines.
Strong, harsh laxatives include senna, aloe latex, cascara, buckthorn, and rhubarb root. While they’re safe, they are habit forming and usually unnecessary. Mid-range laxatives like magnesium, triphala, or yellow dock tend to support elimination more gently without overriding the body’s natural mechanisms.
Fiber can come from ground flax or psyllium seeds or high-mucilage herbs like slippery elm and marshmallow. Fiber’s an important part of a colon cleanse because it acts as a bulk laxative and also grabs hold of waste so it’s more effectively excreted through the feces.
Whether your cleanse kit includes laxatives, fiber, or both, it’s good to start with a low dose, and make sure you’re near a toilet for the first few days. Different people have varying responses to the laxative actions. Some people have zero uptick on bowel movements on the strongest laxatives while others need to run to the bathroom after just a smidge of fiber or triphala.
Your liver is a key detoxifying organ: It constantly filters the blood and excretes the waste in the form of bile via your digestive system and feces. Most whole body and liver cleanse kits will contain milk thistle, an important herb for protecting and regenerating the liver. Bitter and sour-tasting herbs—including artichoke, dandelion, and yellow dock—encourage the liver to detoxify more effectively, “moving” the liver to create and excrete more bile. Schisandra and turmeric both protect and “move” the liver. Fiber helps grab onto this bile to improve its elimination.
Your kidneys help maintain fluid balance and filter different types of toxins from the body, excreted through the urine. Kidney cleanses are not to be used during kidney disease, infection, or stones (which usually require immediate medical attention and may be worsened by some kidney-cleansing herbs). Cranberry, tart cherry, parsley, celery, dandelion leaves, corn silk, marshmallow, juniper, and nettle all encourage the kidneys to remove more waste and urine from the body via cleansing and diuretic actions. You’ll often find these herbs in kidney cleanse kits and in whole-body cleanse kits. Hydration is important to aid this process.
Your lymph system is very important for filtering the interstitial fluid that resides outside cells and the bloodstream. You’ll often find lymph-moving herbs such as burdock, calendula, red root, echinacea, and red clover in whole-body cleanse kits.
Parasite cleanses contain herbs that discourage yeast, worms, pathogenic bacteria, and other nasties. Herbs might include pau d’arco, black walnut hull, berberine-rich herbs, wormwood, quassia, garlic, neem, and cloves. A low-sugar diet is usually also recommended.
If you think you have parasites, contact a skilled practitioner for testing to confirm and identify which kinds are at play so you can better target your approach. While herbs might help with candida, dysbiosis, or parasites, the best herbs for the job can differ. Some antiparasitic herbs might be unhealthy for you to take if you don’t have parasites, or they might be ineffective.
Body into Balance: An Herbal Guide to Holistic Self Care by Maria Noël Groves ($24.95, Storey Publishing, 2016)
The Detox Diet by Elson M. Haas ($16.99, Ten Speed Press, 2012)
Herbal ABC’s: The Foundation of Herbal Medicine by Dr. Sharol Marie Tilgner ($29.95, Wise Acres, LLC, 2018)
Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine by David Hoffmann ($60, Healing Arts Press, 2003)
The Wild Medicine Solution: Healing with Aromatic, Bitter, and Tonic Plants by Guido Mase ($18.95, Healing Arts Press, 2013)