From: "jim mcdonald"
Subject: Re: [herb] Herbal detox/Alteratives
Date: Tue, 18 Mar 2003 15:48:37 -0500

Open question to the list (particulary you lurkers who listen but don't say as much):

How many of you really feel like you know what an "alterative" is and does, and would know how to differentiate between them if you wanted to put together a personalized formula for yourself or someone else?

I just feel like most "new to the field" enthusiasts have no idea what alterative herbs really do, outside of being "blood purifiers" or "spring tonics". Elaborating on this might be useful...

From: "Sandra"

I would like to know more about choosing which alterative would be the most effective for your personal condition(s), and of family members.

What confuses me too is ,if you are trying to treat more than one condition at a time, how do you schedule all the tinctures and such x amount of times a day.

I know you would choose to address the acute situation first, and then work on the chronic ones, but how much time do you allow between each different tincture for a _separate_ condition? I usually take the same one three times a day for the one problem, but wait a half hour in between , to take a different one for a separate condition. Is that right?

And, do you work on all the chronic ailments at the same time, because some herbs work so slowly, you might not want to wait for one long-standing problem to clear up to start working on another.

How do you sort it all out and get it all together so that you're being the most effective and not overloading the system?

From: "Phosphor"

>How many of you really feel like you know what an "alterative" is and does

my two cents...

  • 1. alteratives restore enzymatic pathways knocked out by fevers and other debilitating illnesses. [purely my guess]
  • 2. they also kill off viruses lingering in the system.


From: "jim mcdonald"

What is an alterative anyway?

Although alteratives make up one of the most useful and widely used class of remedies in the western materia medica, the class itself is also perhaps the most poorly defined. What is an alterative? If you were to ask a dozen different herbalists, you'd likely get a dozen different answers. Beyond that, you'd probably get a bunch of vague suggestions rather than a concise definition. Let us consider some of the many definitions given by some of the most notable herbalists of the last few centuries:

  • ~John William Fyfe, MD: Alteratives produce gradually such a change in the functions of organs as to permit a healthy action to take the place of disease.
  • ~Rosemary Gladstar: Alteratives are blood cleansers and purifiers. This is the classic old fashioned term for herbs that, while very broad based in their modes of action, nourish and cleanse the blood of toxins by stimulating liver function
  • ~Matthew Wood: Alteratives... alter the body in some way... acting on the lymphatics and liver to remove metabolic waste products... The word 'alterative' is not very satisfying.
  • ~David Hoffman: Gradually restore proper body function, increasing health & vitality. Some alteratives support natural waste elimination via the liver, kidneys lungs and skin. Others stimulate digestive function and are antimicrobial, while others just work -- and we don't know why!
  • ~Donald Yance: Stimulates a change of a defensive or healing nature in metabolism or tissue function when there is chronic or acute disease
  • ~Harvey Wickes Felter: A drug which causes a favorable change or alteration in the process of nutrition and repair, probably through some unknown way improving metabolism
  • ~Michael Moore: a term applied in naturopathic, Eclectic, and Thomsonian medicine to those plants or procedures that stimulate changes of a defensive or healing nature in metabolism or tissue function when there is chronic or acute diseases. The whole concept of alteratives is based on the premise that in a normally healthy person, disease symptoms are the external signs of activated internal defenses and, as such, should be stimulated and not suppressed... The term alterative is sometimes inaccurately used as a synonym for "blood purifier," particularly by nature-cure neo-Thomsonians such as Jethro Kloss and John Christopher. "Blood purifier" is a term better applied to the liver, spleen, and kidneys, not to some dried plant.
  • ~Michael Tierra: These are agents that gradually and favorably alter the condition of the body. They are used for treating toxicity of the blood, infections, arthritis & skin eruptions. Alteratives also help the body to assimilate nutrients and eliminate waste products of metabolism. The choice of alterative depends on matching the accompanying properties of the herb with the specific nature of the condition being treated.

Clearly, all of these definitions, though differing, indicate alteratives to be nourishing, restorative tonics. Most will agree that alteratives tend to act upon the lymphatics, liver and kidneys, and that they strengthen the body through detoxification. However, the collective definitions also leave room for remedies that have a demonstative tonic effect on health, but seem to fit "outside the box" of any specific definition.

Often, alteratives will be refered to as "blood purifiers" (as noted with slight disdain by Mr. Moore...), however, these herbs do not generally affect the blood directly, rather, cleaner blood is the ~result~ of their effect upon metabolic organs and processes. The quality of the blood is of fundamental importance in the use of alteratives, as it is often via the blood that an imbalance of one organ or system will affect and disrupt the proper functioning of others.

Were I to offer my own vague definition to the lot (which I'm about to do), I would describe alteratives as herbs that "feed and nourish the body to promote ~systemic harmony~". What this means is that they get the individual organs and systems of the body working in tune with each other, which in turn improves the functioning of the whole. This rather ambiguous summation is inclusive enough to include all of the herbs I personally consider alteratives... Each individual alterative also has special affinities. If we learn about these herbs, we can discover what these are and use these specific indications to create blends to address individual circumstances. For example, nettles & oats nourish the adrenals, and can help to focus on that area if it is a significant factor in the imbalance.

Being a ~little~ more specific, though, I generally identify alteratives as herbs that strengthen health by nourishing the body and promoting both assimilation and detoxification by improving metabolism. They can be, then, desribed as "metabolic tonics". The notion here is based on clear reasoning and common sense:

If the use of alteratives somehow coordinates and improves metabolic processes, organs and systems, we are better able to utilize the nutrients available in the food and drink we consume, and better able to remove the waste products that result from using these processes. By keeping the metabolism working efficiently, we don't have to resort to drastic purges to "clean things out", things are kept clean as a part of a smoothly running process. Or, to give a more clear example, cleaning the house daily as things go along is easy... waiting every three months is a lot harder because things build up.

THIS is why using alteratives on a regular basis is better than "detoxing" every few months.

Someday I'll finish the book I'm trying to write on this topic... at the rate I'm going, I should be... 2,634 years old... good thing I'm using these herbs, eh?

From: "Alaena Diamon"

>Being a ~little~ more specific, ... They can be, then, described as "metabolic tonics".

Which herbs do you consider "metabolic tonics"?

From: "jim mcdonald"

>Which herbs do you consider "metabolic tonics"?

Burdock, Yellow Dock, Oregon Grape, Mullein Leaf & root, Celastrus, Sassafras, Sarsparilla, Nettle, Agrimony, Dandelion, Echinacea (in a formula - not in heroic doses), Cleavers, Red Root, Calendula, Chickweed, Plantain, Violet, Ground Ivy, Poke... and then there are herbs that more directly affect certain systems or conditions: Hawthorne, Milky Oats, Wild Indigo, 'cetera, 'cetera.

Again, the key is knowing how to differentiate them by the specific niches they fill, and using that knowledge to guide formula making. Just throwing X number of them together because they're "metabolic tonics" wouldn't necessarily create a useful formula.

Related entry: Herbal detox.