Your liver the inner alchemist

by Terry Willard

Photo: Burdock flowers

Your liver is one of the most exciting organs in your entire body. It is responsible for more functions than almost any other organ in your body and the fact that the root of the word “liver” is the word “live” in many languages should open our eyes to clues.

So why do we take it for granted? Well, for the most part, it simply carries along doing its job in its deeply hidden alchemical laboratory, turning raw bulk material into the golden nectars that run our body. It processes virtually everything we eat, drink, breathe in or rub on our skin and that’s only a few of its 500+ functions that are vital to life. Bottom line: we can’t live without a liver.

I like to consider the liver as a great alchemical factory with a very sophisticated shipping/receiving system. It is the centre of most of the body’s metabolic function, receiving the bulk of the ‘raw’ material we ingest. The liver detoxifies much of what comes into our body and ships off the many nutrients it tweaks for the requirements of the rest of our body. It helps provide us with energy, fights off infection, regulates hormones and helps our blood clot while continuously cleansing our body of toxins. As an alchemist, it likes to keep a clean laboratory.

I could go on and on citing the list of its daily functions, but suffice it to say it contributes much to the alchemy of the physical body. Energetically, it also reflects several emotions; anger, jealousy, envy and competition are the most prominent ones. This is a two-way street: a weakened liver increases the tendency towards these emotions and increased levels of these emotions weaken the liver, which creates a negative, downward spiral that feeds on itself.

How can you keep your inner alchemist happy? It comes down to the same basic tenets of natural healing: eat right, drink good, clean water, cleanse regularly, reduce negative emotions, breathe clean air and exercise moderately. Of course, in modern daily life – especially in large cities – this is not always possible to keep in balance so we often need help.

We can’t always maintain a perfect diet, but the good news is we don’t have to because what we eat on special occasions doesn’t matter as much as what we eat on a daily basis. Most of my patients eat a good diet on a regular basis and eat ‘festival’ foods only on special occasions like religious or ethnic holidays and birthdays. A patient once told me the hardest thing to do was to find 365 friends that had birthdays on different days, but that misses the point somewhat. The idea is to have a festival feast only once a month or so. Of course, you can always fall back on a cleanse after an extended festival period, but one should do two to four cleanses a year anyway.

Anytime is a good time to cleanse, but the best time is in the spring. From an Oriental energetic point of view, the spring rules the liver so you are assisting it a bit more in the spring than any other time of the year. There are many good cleanses on the market to help with both dietary suggestions and tried and true herbal formulas for cleansing the liver and the rest of the body. As an alternative, you can simply have a subtle, low acid-forming diet and drink a couple of cups of dandelion root tea two times a day for two to four weeks. A number of dietary restrictions will apply, including: no flour products (cakes, cookies, breads, pasta etc.); no dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt – butter is OK); no tropical fruits, dried fruits, sweets, processed foods or preservatives.

It is interesting to note that most of the great herbs for cleansing the liver are herbs that clean up the manure around the barn. Does this suggest anything to you? Some of our favourite herbs for this area are dandelion root, black radish root and burdock roots.

Dandelion is a slow, but excellent, liver cleanser. It is not used for fast dramatic liver action, but as a constant, slow cleanser. Drinking a cup of dandelion ‘coffee’ once or twice a day for one to 12 months can do wonders for the liver. It will also tone up the hepatic structure, remove liver ‘stagnation,’ improve digestion, decongest the portal system and remove problems resulting from ‘heat’ rising to the skin. In Chinese medicine, it is considered one of the best remedies for reducing ‘liver fire’ and ‘fire poison’ (abscesses, boils, sores, etc.).

Black radish reduces bilirubin in the body and thus relieves liver stress. It has been widely used for hepatic drainage and for liver related headaches.

Burdock root cleanses the liver and reduces the amount of toxins in the body.

Milk thistle: Most people immediately think of milk thistle when they want to cleanse the liver, but it is not really that effective. Don’t get me wrong; it is a great liver herb, but not the best one to use during a cleanse. Think of milk thistle as more of a liver protector and rejuvenator than a cleanser. It is best to use it during your festival eating times to protect the liver and after the cleansing phase to rejuvenate the liver.

Keeping the liver clean and rejuvenated can help you have a smoother and more energetic life. A little maintenance a couple of times a year – especially in the spring – can do wonders. Since you live a lot of your life through the alchemy of the liver, keep it running at a nice, calm metabolic purr.

Terry Willard, Cl.H., Ph.D. is recognized as one of North America’s leading clinical herbalists. For over 40 years, he has been an active practitioner and the teacher/director of the Wild Rose College of Natural Healing. and

burdock photo © Ksena2009

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