Art by Bonnie Rose Weaver
Herbs to Support Liver Function
The liver is a big, hardworking organ with a lot of jobs! Liver function is one of the main ways our bodies sort out what is useful and what we need to eliminate, so it plays a crucial role in eliminating waste products created while fighting infection.
Arctium* (burdock root) Tea Tinc Food
Tonic to liver, intestinal tract, lymph, blood, and kidneys; reduces chronic inflammation due to eczema, psoriasis, and other autoimmune skin-related imbalances; neutral to cooling. Called gobo in Japanese, this vegetable root is delicious in food: pickle, steam, add to chai or soups or stir frys.
Taraxacum* (dandelion root) Tea Tinc
Stimulating and decongesting to the liver; bitter, stimulates production of bile, increases digestive enzymes; cold, stimulating.
Ceanothus* (red root) Tinc
Not as common an herb, but if you have the tincture on hand, red root is a fantastic cooling bitter support to the liver (if anger is a prominent component of your emotional landscape, it’s likely you have a hot liver); if your first cold symptom is a sore throat; cooling.
Herbs to Support Digestive Function
Our digestive system houses a huge component of our surface immunity, our frontline defenses that mobilize the most quickly when our bodies encounter pathogens, which includes our microbiome. Additionally, supporting our digestion is important for immunity because it ensures that we are able to absorb all of the good nutrients in our food, and because it can reduce dietary intolerances which lead to chronic inflammation and constant stress on our immune function.
Tasting the flavour bitter initiates a cascade of physiological reactions that optimize digestive function (including promoting bile flow, liver function, and secretion of digestive enzymes). A great place to start supporting your digestion is with what goes on your plate. For bitter foods, think olives, olive oil, bitter greens like arugula, radicchio, dandelion leaf, mustard leaf, and artichokes. If tinctures are accessible, you can try taking 5 drops of a bitter herb, 10 minutes before eating. If taking bitter herbs as tea, steep for at least 30 minutes, up to overnight, or simmer (covered) for 20 minutes, turn off heat, and allow to steep until cooled to a pleasant temperature.
Matricaria* (chamomile) Tea Tinc
Eases panic and anxiety that affect digestion, particularly tension, gas, and indigestion; relief of aches and pains with the flu. Excellent and safe for pregnant people and children.
Achillea** (yarrow) Tea Tinc
Astringent (tones tissues, aiding to balance fluid retention), diaphoretic (makes you sweat); warming.
Calendula* (calendula) Tea Tinc Food
Anti-inflammatory in the digestive system; gently cleans liver and gallbladder; heals mucous membranes of the digestive tract; warming.
Plantago* (plantain) Tea Tinc Food
Astringent and healing to tissues, for topical or internal use. The seeds, known as psyllium, are good fiber for folks who tend toward constipation; cooling. Found in most lawns; be sure to harvest from clean, unsprayed areas.
Verbena** (blue vervain) Tinc
Ideal for nervous tension associated with Type-A personalities; extremely bitter (this is why we recommend it only as tinc); cooling.
Leonurus** (motherwort) Tinc
Tonic to the heart and circulatory system; eases heaviness in the chest; heart palpitations; emotional holding; extremely bitter (this is why we recommend it only as tinc); neutral temp.
This category of herbs aid digestion without increasing digestive secretions like bitters do. Think chai spices, or anything you’d want to put in a ginger cookie 🙂 We recommend taking warming carminatives together with bitters, either in your food, as a tea, or as a tincture. You can combine one or two from the above list with one or two of the below into a formula.
Zingiber* (ginger) Tea Tinc Food
Warming circulatory tonic that boosts surface immunity; anti-inflammatory; antimicrobial; expectorant (softens and brings mucous up and out); excellent for nausea; warming.
Elettaria* (green cardamom) Tea Tinc Food
Mucilaginous, indicated for sore throat; helpful for indigestion and gas.
Foeniculum* (fennel) Tea Tinc Food
Mucilaginous; indicated for sore throat; helpful for indigestion and gas.
Alternately: Cinnamomum* (cinnamon) Tea Tinc Food; Szyzygum* (clove) Tea Tinc Food; Illicium* (star anise) Tea Tinc Food; Piper nigrum* (black pepper) Tea Food
Preventative Care Practices | Herbs to Support Immune Function & Lymph | Herbs to Support the Lungs | Herbs to Support the Liver & Digestion | Herbs to Support the Nervous System | Early Infection Phase | Resources | Clinical Herbalists | Sourcing Herbs
Key to Plant Entries
Tea infusion made with leaves, flowers, and other airy bits: steep in boiled water, covered, for 20 mins; standard therapeutic dose: about 5g/day, or 1 small palmful
Tea decoction made with stems, bark, berries, roots, and other dense bits: gently simmer, covered, for at least 30 mins, up to 24 hrs; standard therapeutic dose: 5g/day, or 1 heaping Tbsp
Tinc a tincture is an extraction in alcohol; for medicinal mushrooms, should be a double-extraction; preventive dose (staying at home): 8–10 drops 1x/day; preventative dose (leaving the house): 10–12 drops 2/day; acute doses range from 1 drop to 1 tsp per dose, up to 6x/day, depending on the plant, the preparation, and the person; consult a more experienced person if you need guidance
Succus fresh plant/leaf/flower juice preserved with alcohol
Elixir alcohol-free extraction, often made with honey and/or apple cider vinegar
Caps capsule of powdered herb
Steam pour boiled water over plant material in a large bowl, tent head with towel and inhale deeply for 3–5 minutes, 3–5x/day
Food eat me!
Oil plant material, fresh or dry, infused into carrier oil for topical use
* Safe for most people
** Avoid if pregnant or nursing; however, exceptions may be made depending on gestational phase and/or dose. For more questions, seek expert advice, as dosing or specifics on this topic is outside the scope of this guide
***Not safe for long-term internal use by anyone. Recommended for short-term use by generally healthy individuals
A Note on Sustainability and Choice of Herbs
In our clinical practices we prioritize the use of weedy, widely available herbs, the ones in our gardens and kitchens, and we have focused on those plants here. In an effort to respect Indigenous knowledge and resources, we avoid commercial use of sacred Indigenous plants as well as plants from traditions and geographies that we are unfamiliar with.
That said, because of the best information currently available on herbal protocols for coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, some herbs in this document are widely used in TCM and come from that tradition, and some come from Indigenous medicine traditions.
We have deliberately excluded some herbs that are Indigenous to Turtle Island (aka North America) and are at risk of becoming endangered due to overharvesting and habitat destruction, including Lomatium, Ligusticum (Osha), Anemopsis (Yerba Mansa). We do not believe these herbs should be widely used, even though they would likely be supportive for this illness, and you will see others recommend them. We urge you to never use these herbs unless you can verify that they have been organically grown (instead of harvested from the wild, or “wildcrafted”). For more information about endangered and at-risk plant species, please see United Plant Savers.
We believe the herbs we have included in this guide will do what we need clinically and can be used without threatening the long-term population health of herbs that are crucial to Indigenous healers and their communities.
Please use your best judgement in sourcing herbs with an eye to upholding traditional knowledge-keepers, prioritizing Indigenous access to traditional medicines, and safeguarding sustainability in the widest possible sense. While this is certainly an urgent situation, it is not the first and it will not be the last, so we must work collectively to uphold the highest ethical standards of practice.If we want the herbs to take care of us, we must in return take care of them.
To download a PDF of the full “Get Radical, Boil Roots” guide, sign up for the Long Spell email list:
It can also be viewed as a live google doc (copying and printing not enabled).
For more about my orientation to energetic herbalism, self and community care in these times, and my top herbs for the pandemic, check out my recent interview on the home|body podcast.