An alterative is an herb or compound that gradually acts to restore the proper functioning of the body, helping to increase health and vitality. It works by changing (“altering”) your body’s processes of metabolism, improving its ability to eliminate waste through the kidneys, lungs, liver, kidneys and skin. Alterative herbs have traditionally been referred to as a “blood cleansers.”

Each system in your body has herbs that that are particularly well-suited to it. Alterative herbs have a particular affinity toward the respiratory, circulatory, urinary, digestive, reproductive, nervous system, and musculoskeletal systems.

Alterative Herbs:

  • Aloe (Aloe vera)
  • Bayberry (Myrica cerifera)
  • Black Pepper (Piper nigrum)
  • Burdock (Arctium lappa)
  • Cinnamon (Cinnamomum Zeylanicum)
  • Echinacea (E. purpurea)
  • Ginseng (Panax ginseng
  • Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha)
  • Red clover (Trifolium pratense)
  • Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius L.)
  • Sarsaparilla (Smilax aspera L.)
  • Yellow Dock Root (Rumex crispus L.)

A main focus of traditional herbalism is to support and improve the body’s health through the elimination of wastes. This is done through a process called catabolism: breakdown and elimination of wastes from the body. Waste is eliminated through the skin, lungs, kidneys liver and the large intestine. Blocked or diminished elimination allows wastes to build up, weakening the fitness of the body and its defensive abilities. In fact, congestion is considered one of the most important enemies to your health. Faulty catabolism can also lead to deficient construction of healthy tissue. Alterative herbs are used to improve circulation and encourage the secretory and eliminative functions, thus supporting fitness and construction of healthy tissue. Alteratives are not forceful, but, rather, they gently nourish and support the body’s eliminative functions. Alterative herbs are selected based on their affinity to a particular tissue or organ system. The bitter taste of dandelion root, for example, stimulates the production of bile in the liver, which, in turn, supports digestion and the elimination of wastes (Source).

Herbalist Hoffman on Alterative Herbs

Adaptogenic, Alterative or Tonic?

Dr. Robyn Klein writes that, three herbal properties: alterative, adaptogenic and tonic – have no equivalent in modern medicine, most likely because the underlying strategies of conventional medicine are different from those in herbal medicine.

While modern medicine focuses on inhibition and suppression, herbal medicine emphasizes the body’s own natural processes.

Alterative herbs promote the body’s normal secretory and eliminative processes. Adaptogenic herbs support the body’s capacity to adapt to stress. And tonic herbs are used to strengthen (tone) the body.

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