The liver is a humble and hard working organ that filters much of the toxins of everyday life. Spring is the season that Chinese medicine attributes to this organ, in which it is thought that the liver works extra hard to support the processes of clearing out the excesses of Winter. The associated emotion of the liver is anger and frustration, and its positive expression is creativity. When the liver is functioning optimally, one will feel free and easy, open to new ideas, and experience the spark of creativity. When the liver is congested, one may experience emotional outbursts, feel irritated and edgy, and sigh frequently.
The liver acts as a filter for the blood, creates enzymes, cholesterol, and bile (which helps break down fats), stores some vitamins and minerals, including iron, and breaks down toxins, waste products, and excess hormones. If the liver is overburdened with the filtering process from a poor diet or excessive medications it will be unable to break down the excess hormones, which may result in excessive hormones where it is not necessarily needed. Conditions such as fibrocystic breasts (benign, but painful lumps) and fibroids are examples of built up hormones residing in tissues.
Women who suffer from painful breast lumps may be surprised to learn that so of the most effective herbs for easing this condition are growing right in their backyard. Dandelion root and violet leaf and flower are two herbs which have an affinity for clearing both the liver and breast tissue. Dandelion is such a powerful herb for the liver it has been utilized in cases of hepatitis, and violet leaf is a common ingredient in salves to soften and move hard deposits in the body. Both herbs as available in pill and tincture, ensuring the ones ingested aren’t further congesting the liver by consuming lawn sprays! Reducing caffeine, salt, and chocolate intake can also relieve symptoms, as well as upping the intake of dark, leafy green vegetables.
Mood disorders can also benefit from an optimally functioning liver. Pre-menstrual syndrome, or PMS, symptoms can be greatly relieved with select Chinese herbs and formulas, some of which have been in use for centuries. Some of the herbs used in these formulas include white peony root, dong quai, and ligusticum, as well as cyperus, and buplureum. Lifestyle recommendations to ease these symptoms may include regular exercise, journaling ones thoughts and dreams to encourage expression of emotions, and engagement in creative activities. Excessive caffeine and use of salt should be avoided, as well as fried and greasy foods, as these are known to further congest the liver.
Mild to moderate depression may be eased too with botanicals that work specifically on the liver. Herbs such as buplureum and dandelion, cyperus, and St. Johns Wort have demonstrated a favorable response in mild to moderate depression. Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly those derived from fatty fish are an important supplement as well, as these oils are crucial to proper brain function. Plant derived sources of Omega-3’s, such as flax, hemp, walnut, and most dark green, leafy vegetables are useful as well, however there conversion EPA/DHA (the acids utilized by the body) is slower. . It is important with these disorders to seek help in the form of counseling should the condition worsen, as these herbs are only found effective in more moderate cases. Other mood and behavioral conditions such as attention deficit disorder, may be improved with herbs and nutrition, however the fluctuating nature of these disorders requires guidance of health care professionals well trained in herbs and nutrition, as well as adjunct treatments, to be fully effective.
The conditions listed in this article can range from mild and annoying to potentially serious, and even be a sign of a more serious underlying disease. In reading this, I hope this serves to spark attention and enlighten one to the potential of herbs ability to clear the body of obstructions that cause less than perfect health. In Chinese medicine this is referred to as “unblocking the qi,” and is the basis of thought that explains how acupuncture can relieve a headache through a needle inserted near the thumb. Herbs that work on the remarkable organ that is the liver, serve to course and rectify, allowing this hard working organ to fully achieve all of its tasks.