Detoxing may sound like a modern day fad, but it's actually an ancient health practice that was around long before the media and celebrities caught onto it.
Often done in the spring after the heavy food and inactivity of winter, detoxifying your body can help with everything from digestion and gut health to energy levels to rejuvenated, clearer skin.
While there are many health habits (like exercise) and foods that help with detox, herbs are also a great ally and can be used alone or alongside other cleansing routines.
Here's more about how herbs can help with the detoxifying process and the top ones you should consider trying.
What is Detox? + How Herbs Can Help
Detoxification is happening within your body all the time. Your liver, kidneys, colon, lymphatic system, and skin are the organs most heavily involved in the detox process, which basically consists of getting waste and toxins out of your body to keep it functioning at full power.
Using herbs, foods, and physical activities to help your body detox can assist the overall process and make it more effective, even though it's happening all the time, whether you do anything special or not.
That being said, the harsh detox protocols that have become increasingly popular usually do more harm than good by depleting your body rather than restoring it.
This is where herbs come in. They work with your body, rather than forcing a certain result, but are still very effective. Many are also nourishing rather than depleting.
Incorporating bitter herbs into your diet regularly helps to keep detox pathways open and flowing. During specific times when you feel sluggish or "slowed down", a stronger herbal protocol can kickstart the cleansing process and help you feel re-energized.
Most herbs have an affinity with a particular detox system: liver, kidneys, colon, lymphatic system, or skin. If you know which part of your body needs extra support, you can choose a corresponding herb. Or use a mix to support your whole body.
Top Detoxifying Herbs to Cleanse Your Body
Dandelion is one of the top overall herbs for detoxification. It's specifically helpful for stimulating your liver, helping it to remove waste and toxins from the blood. This in turn can help with digestion and skin health, since both are connected to the liver.
The root has the strongest action on the liver and is most typically used for detox. However, the leaves are mildly diuretic and can help your kidneys to flush out waste. Both contain nutrients that will replenish your body.
Burdock root is another powerful herb that is considered a blood purifier and liver cleanser, but it has the strongest affinity for the skin. Taking it internally helps your body to flush out toxins that are connected to skin problems like acne and eczema. (1)
Burdock will also stimulate lymphatic drainage, which is extremely important for the detoxification process as a whole. Use the root in a tea or tincture for a powerful detox (start slow!).
Red clover belongs to the legume family and, like burdock, has a special affinity for the skin. It works gently to encourage detox in a number of ways: improved blood circulation, liver stimulation, and lymphatic cleansing.
Red clover is also rich in nutrients and may improve hormone health. Use the blossoms in tea and other preparations.
Milk thistle is one of the most powerful herbs for detoxing your liver. It contains several antioxidants that help with the process, including a complex known as silymarin. Silymarin boosts the production of two other antioxidants in your body (glutathione and superoxide dismutase) that actually help to rebuild liver cells and remove toxins.
Use milk thistle to make a tea or take it in capsule form.
Blessed thistle is related to milk thistle and provides support for cleansing your liver and digestive system. It doesn't have as strong an effect on the liver as milk thistle but still has detoxifying power due to its bitter compounds known as glycosides.
The active compound in blessed thistle, cnicin, can also bind to certain types of bacteria, which means it may help your body get rid of more than just accumulated toxins. (2)
Use it as a tea or tincture (which will both be bitter) or take it in capsules.
Stinging nettle is a great all-around purifying herb and is one of the main herbs you'll see in spring tonics for cleansing. It has an affinity for the skin but can really help all the main organs involved in detox function better.
Nettle stimulates the lymphatic system and can help to clear stagnation. It also supports the liver and has a diuretic effect that helps your kidneys to flush out waste. You'll also get lots of nutrients from nettle and can use it dried or fresh (cook it first).
Calendula is not often associated with detoxing, but it's a great bitter herb that can stimulate your liver, digestion, and lymphatic system. Many herbalists also recommend calendula for repairing the gut, which will greatly improve your body's natural detox system.
Calendula flowers can be use fresh or dried, usually as a tea to support internal health. The tea will be very bitter but also very effective!
You've probably heard about the great anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric, but did you know it also supports liver health and detoxification?
It works in your liver and gallbladder to stimulate the production of bile, an important substance for digestion and eliminating toxins. Turmeric also contains powerful antioxidants that help neutralize free radicals and prevent them from accumulating. (3)
For liver health, turmeric may be most effective as a tincture because the alcohol takes it quickly to your liver.
Schisandra berries are a type of adaptogenic herb and long used in traditional Chinese medicine to support the liver. They aren't necessarily as strong as some of the other detox herbs, but they help to restore your body's energy while gently cleansing, which is a huge plus.
You can use schisandra berries to make a tea and also combine with other herbs for detoxifying.
Chlorella is a nutrient-rich green algae that can be very helpful for detoxification because it binds to toxins in your body and carries them out. It can specifically bind to heavy metals and pesticides but does not bind to essential minerals your body needs, so it won't impair nutrient absorption.
Much of chlorella's detox abilities come from the high amounts of chlorophyll present. Chlorella is actually so strong that it can cause detox symptoms, so start with a small amount and work up.
Spirulina is another algae- a blue-green type- and very rich in chlorophyll, just like chlorella. It's one of the most nutrient dense herbs/foods you'll find and binds to toxins when consumed, carrying them out of your body.
Spirulina also contains a powerful antioxidant known as phycocyanin that supports liver and kidney function, further promoting detoxification. Use it regularly as a powder to help your body cleanse.
Bentonite clay is another substance that can be very helpful while your body detoxes because it binds to positively charged toxins and heavy metals. This means that if you use other herbs to promote detoxification, clay will help to "mop them up" so that they don't get stuck somewhere on the way out.
Bentonite clay is also a good source of several essential minerals, so it won't deplete your body as it cleanses. Mix the clay powder with water to take it, and be sure to keep drinking plenty of fluids all day.
All of these herbs are generally safe to use, but you should consult an herbalist or health professional for specific situations. Even safe herbs may not be suitable for use during pregnancy and/or breastfeeding.
Some of these herbs are very powerful detoxifiers, and you may experience detox symptoms like headache, fatigue, and upset stomach. Start slow and work your way up to avoid these symptoms as much as possible. Always listen to your body!
Getting the Most Out of Detox Herbs
While any one of these herbs can be used on their own, they are often more powerful when combined. Try something like this Detox Tea or this Herbal Detox extract to benefit from multiple cleansing herbs at once.
Add in regular exercise for increased detox, and don't forget to drink plenty of water while the herbs do their work!
Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute medical advice and should not be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your health care provider, herbalist, midwife, or naturopathic physician before taking herbs, supplements, etc. Here's the link to our full disclaimer.