What is an Alterative?
An alterative is a herb that alters the path of an illness or state within the body. Sounds vague I know but bear with me.
Blood purifiers and blood cleansers are alternative terms for the same thing. They are not directly cleaning the blood – that sounds a little crazy, like we just make stuff up! And then we have a depurative to confuse things some more! It’s just another word for alterative.
I prefer to use alterative.
Alteratives tend to have an affinity with a particular eliminatory organ or system. That could be the skin, kidneys, liver, bowel, lungs or the lymphatic system. And alteratives are used in skin diseases and musculoskeletal conditions primarily but they are not limited to this. The exact definition will differ according to what book you read and the words ‘detox’ and ‘metabolic waste’ come up a lot but I think it’s simpler to use an example.
So let’s look at the skin.
Alteratives and Skin disease
Skin diseases can have many root causes and exacerbaters – stress and low biodiversity of gut bacteria are two. But traditionally, alteratives were and are the primary herbs used to help heal skin conditions. Now the skin is an organ of elimination. In herbalism, if the skin is suffering, the other organs and systems of elimination may be under performing and so a burden is being placed upon the skin. Alterative herbs that have an affinity with kidneys, liver, bowel, lung and/or lymph are chosen to improve their performance as eliminatory organs. In doing so, the skin is unburdened and can carry on with it’s day to day functioning without struggling under a back breaking load of work.
We use these alteratives to alter the course of the skin condition. Dandelion is an alterative that has an affinity to the kidneys and urinary system. It helps to improve the processes and functions of the urinary system, supporting the system by helping it to do it’s job better.
How? We really don’t know exactly how some alteratives work but we do know dandelion is a diuretic (possibly down to it’a potassium content) – on par with furosimide according to one scientific journal. And diuretics support kidney function. Dandelion also contains lutein and quercitin which have been shown to protect the kidney.
So to sum up, alteratives improve the functioning of eliminatory organs and in doing so, help restore homeostasis to the body as a whole. I hope my explanation of alteratives has helped you and not confused you more! If you have any questions feel free to put them in the comments below and I will endeavour to answer them.