Alterative (raktashodhana)

See also bitter tonic or antipyretic herbs

Alteratives are herbs that cleanse and purify the blood. They produce the following general therapeutic effects:

  1. Purify the blood, removing toxins, and tend to have anti-infectious, anti-bacterial action.
  2. They help heal and resolve sores, boils, tumors, and many kinds of cancer.
  3. Typical alteratives work through cooling the blood and so also dispel fevers, reduce Pitta and detoxify the liver.
  4. They may be used externally on wounds, sores, ulcers, and have anti-inflammatory and vulnerary properties.
  5. With their detoxifying action they help kill worms and parasites, particularly those that invade the blood.
  6. They work well in infectious, contagious disease and epidemics.

Alteratives are herbs that gradually restore the proper function of the body and increase health and vitality. In broad terms, they alter the body’s processes of metabolism so that tissues can best deal with a range of functions from nutrition to elimination. Many herbs with this action improves the body’s ability to eliminate waste through the kidneys, liver, lungs, or skin. Some stimulate digestion or are anti-microbial. Alteratives move the body to a state of health, removing indicators of systemic disintegration. 

Many herbs have an alterative function and can commonly be their secondary or tertiary action. For example, diuretic & hepatic remedies could also be seen as alteratives. They can be used safely in many diverse conditions as supportive remedies, and should be considered when chronic inflammatory or degenerative disease exist.

Each system of the body has plants that are particularly suited to it. Alteratives have a particular affinity towards the circulatory, respiratory, digestive, urinary, reproductive, musculoskeletal, nervous system, and integumentary systems. Skin conditions, arthritis, and autoimmune diseases are especially improved.

Alteratives treat flues, especially those with high fever, sore throat, ear aches. In this regard they are a degree stronger than cooling diaphoretics. They treat acne, dermatitis, boils and inflammatory skin conditions. They can be used on herpes and venereal diseases, as well as cancer. They cleanse the lymphatics and strengthen white blood cell count. They attack toxic accumulations, but also have a reducing effect upon the bodily tissues. Some poses diuretic or laxative properties.

Most alteratives are cooling, bitter or sometimes astringent is taste. They decrease Pitta and Kapha, but increase Vata. They are mainly anti Pitta.

Typical cooling alteratives: Aloe Vera, Burdock, Dandelion, Echinacea, Manjistha, Neem, Red clover.

Many hot pungent herbs posses a cleansing action upon the blood, as well as promoting circulation and resolving blood clots. They are detoxifying, often antibacterial, and help reduce fevers by destroying the toxin that is the cause for the fever. They also have an antiparasitic or worm-killing action.

Typical heating alteratives include Black Pepper, Cayenne, Cinnamon, Garlic, Ginger

Hot pungent alteratives and cold bitter alteratives can be combined to strengthen the detoxifying power of each. They can be used together in conditions of Phlegm. This is true even in Vata and Pitta constitutions – until the Phlegm is reduced and cleared (as in a fever). Generally speaking, however, cooling alteratives are good for Pitta, heating alteratives are good for Vata, and both work well for Kapha.

Cooling alteratives that have a strong antibacterial or antibiotic effect, like Goldenseal and Wild Indigo, if used for too long or in excess, can have the same detrimental effect upon the body as antibiotic drugs, destroying the good as well as the bad bacteria in the body, thus weakening the immune system and causing further infections. They must be used with care, particularly when the patient is weak, deficient or emaciated, as in high Vata conditions.

Herbal Examples:

Galiumaparine (Cleavers)

Urticadiocia (Stinging Nettle) 

Arctiumlappa (Burdock)

Rumexcrispus (Yellow Dock) 

Iris versicolor (Blue Flag)

Taraxacum off.radix (Dandelion)

Trifoliumpratense (Red clover)


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