The liver is the largest organ in the body. It can weigh up to three pounds or more and is located in the right quadrant under the upper ribs. The primary function of the liver is detoxification of metabolic waste products, but it also does much more. In addition, it works with the gall bladder in bile production, stores nutrients and hormones, as well as manufactures and releases blood proteins. The best way to sum up the liver; it is our metabolism. It breaks down and builds up essential nutrients. As you can see the liver is a busy organ which makes it the hottest organ in the body. If the liver qi becomes off balance it can affect all of the body systems. That means many other symptoms that you may be facing else where can often be traced back to liver qi.
The liver and gall bladder are associated with the energy of the wood element which encompasses spring time. Spring represents yang as well as the ascending and expanding qualities of new growth. In Chinese medicine the liver is considered the house of the soul, it controls tendons, stores blood, and is responsible for keeping energy flowing. This energy manifests in the eyes, thus any eye problems are associated with the liver. If the energy is obstructed this can manifest as anger, frustration and depression. The gall bladder stores and excretes bile, protects the nervous system, and normalizes emotions. Weakness in the gall bladder manifests spiritually as difficulty making decisions.
Cold Depression Liver State
When the liver or gall bladder are not doing their job, they are not secreting bile. Thus creating issues with detoxification and our metabolism. This can lead to malnourishment which weakens the cells. Leading to symptoms such as constipation, dry skin, and a cold constitution. When the liver is cold you will also feel fatigue, depression, melancholy and low energy.
The tongue will be pale due to malnourishment, with a white coating; indicating dampness, if there are dark purple spots that means there is blood stagnation. The pulse will also be sluggish.
Herbs Used for Cold Depression
Pungent aromatic bitters help to warm and stimulate the production of bile in the liver. Plants like wormwood, mugwort, calamus root, greater celandine, fringe tree, blue flag, rosemary, oregano, thyme, and angelica.
Circulatory stimulants can also be used to warm the digestive fire. Herbs like turmeric, ginger, fennel, cayenne, prickly ash, angelica, and rosemary.
If there is blood stagnation herbs that are purple normally do the trick. Like echinacea, poke root, and elder. Combine bitter, carminative, circulatory stimulant and alternative herbs based on other pattern of symptoms to formulate a blend based on each individuals needs.
The dry atrophy symptom state is the pre-cursor to gallstones which is caused by bile retention and “over cooking” the gall bladder. Bile precipitates start to form and weaken the gall bladder reflex. This happens when the liver is consistently stagnant. Bile then accumulates and hardens. Emotional and spiritual states like low will power, tiredness, and low vitality stagnate the liver and it struggles to receive enough blood. This tends to happen to people who are up late during the liver hour. A crucial hour where the liver takes time to rest, replenish and rejuvenate. Physical symptoms look like systemic dryness, weakness, fatigue, withered skin, pale skin, tension in the shoulders, flatulence and constipation. The most chronic form of liver atrophy is psoriasis. Vata dosha constitutions tend to fall into this liver tissue state.
Herbs Used for Dry Atrophy
Burdock is a key herb for dry atrophy because it is sweet, nourishing, oily, salty, and bitter. The primary actions are alterative and diuretic. As a bitter tonic burdock is also good for purifying the blood and clearing the skin. It is also important to note that it helps the body metabolize and distribute oils. Burdock is the perfect base for any dry atrophy formula.
Paired with demulcent herbs like marshmallow, milk thistle, fenugreek, cinnamon and licorice. Licorice root then helps detox the liver. Beets are also a demulcent plant that works as a blood builder, liver tonic, and detoxifier.
When the liver qi is cold, dry, depressed and not functioning properly this means the tissues are lacking nutrition. Herbs that can help with that are alfalfa, dandelion root, nettle and oat straw. Dandelion root works deeper in the liver. While nettle works through the blood, urinary tract, and kidneys. Also, Osha, Angelica, and milk thistle can be used to rebuild and restore the function of tissues in the liver.
Damp Heat (Stagnation)
The liver has a very important job of maintaining free flowing qi. This is often thrown off by stress. Emotional stress can directly cause stagnation in the intestines and stomach, which backs up and causes liver qi congestion. Causing a heavy feeling after eating which is due to constipation, dampness, and inflammation. Damp stagnation is also known as water element accumulation in TCM. In this tradition they use bitter, stimulating alteratives.
Food sensitivities can begin to pop up due to damp stagnation. Especially with rich foods like nut butters, oils, breads and meat. When the liver is congested it becomes hot. Hot, spicy, acrid foods, stimulating herbs can then aggravate the liver. Difficulty waking up in the morning is also a sign of damp stagnation. Causing feelings that are cloudy, dull, drowsy, heavy, with lack of clarity and focus.
Dampness in the liver can be due to faulty spleen/stomach function. From diet, worry, and over fatigue. When the spleen fails to move and transform liquids this can manifest into symptoms with the liver, gallbladder, intestines, bladder, reproductive organs, as well as skin disorders. The person can then become prone to infections that spread outwards and manifest as colds and flus.
Herbs Used for Damp Heat
Those with chronic liver disease should always address the spleen according to TCM. By gently cooling the liver, gall bladder, and stomach. Also using alteratives like dandelion root and Oregon grape root help drain dampness. Alterative herbs have many sub actions that need to be considered for each individual based on their needs for their colon, blood, lymph, liver, skin and kidneys. Test and evaluate formulas and how they are performing.
Liver stimulants can help detoxify the system by opening channels of elimination if necessary. Raw foods, sprouts, and eating the last meal of the day in the late afternoon before the sun goes down can help the liver regenerate and get back to normal function.
However, the root to healing liver heat and stagnation starts with unraveling emotional stress and learning how to cope with it. Exercise, meditation, laughter, and a passion for life can be the best kind of medicine. Doing anything that will help the person not feel stuck and frustrated. It is also important to note that people who have chronic liver stagnation are often worriers. The type that like to have detailed guidelines to follow and strict dietary restrictions. Encourage them to loosen up and live more freely.
Damp relaxed liver state is closely associated with the circulatory system. Meaning there is a lack of tone to the veins so they become relaxed causing portal vein stagnation. Blood can’t flow because its lacking force and structure. This causes blood to pool, stagnate, and sit there.
This can be associated with abdominal distention due to water retention, phycological depression, dullness, headaches, and sallow complexion. Overall veinous relaxation/ stagnation also looks like varicose veins, hemorrhoids, edema, or prolapsed organs. Relaxation in the gall bladder can also cause bile secretion issues.
The tissues need to be toned with astringent herbs like red root, oak, horse chestnut, and sage. Sage is especially great because it is astringent, pungent, and warming.
Wind is a yang force associated with the liver and the Wood Element. External wind in the spring time can enter the body. But liver wind can stem from liver heat and stagnancy. Wind tension can affect the nervous system that controls arterial circulation and the hepatic artery that is connected to the liver. This is where fresh oxygenated blood is pumped through the liver. When the nervous system goes into sympathetic mode it can cause tension, leading to the hepatic artery contracting too much, cutting off circulation and blood flow to the liver.
Whenever our body struggles switching to parasympathetic mode that means there is most likely issues associated with the gall bladder. Symptoms can arise like colic, pain shooting down the leg, pain up the back and shoulders causing headaches(this is all along the gall bladder meridian), and spasms. This tissue state can be a precursor to gall stones.
Excess wind symptoms look like symptoms that change like the wind. Phycological tension, intermittent fever, colds, switching from tired then energetic, headaches, night sweats, convulsions, cramps, and tenderness in the liver area.
Herbs for Wind Tension
It is best to use liver qi relaxants here. Lavender, agrimony, Paulo mint, Rosemary, peony root, blue vervain, boneset and wood betony. Agrimony is indicted for those who claim they are good when in fact they are far from it. Agrimony is a astringent tonic for the digestive system. It is specifically indicated for leaky gut due to stress, hypo inflammatory state, and stagnant metabolic waste that gets backed up in liver. Blue vervain helps cool liver fire and relaxes tension. Boneset is associated with malaria, which is fever with tension, and moves stuck liver and gall bladder.
When the nervous system overly contracts the gall bladder with wind tension antispasmodics can be used like lobelia, wild yam, and cramp bark. These plants have a special affinity that will drive to the liver and gall bladder and will help with relaxing smooth muscle contraction. Rosemary is used specifically for headaches that are caused by liver fire rising and liver wind causing constrictions.
It is important to note that the core constitutional weakness determines which organs are weakened first and it depends on the constitution of each individual person.
Bonus: Other Herbs That Harmonize Liver Qi
Blessed thistle, gentian, fringe tree, celandine,…
Bitter nervine: Hops, blue vervain, mothrewort, wild lettuce, california poppy, jamaican dogwood, skullcap
Anti-inflammatory: Yarrow, chamomile, turmeric, licorice,
Echinacea, cleavers, figwort, blueflag, poke root, red root, kelp, red clover, calendula, cayenne…
Diuretic Alteratives: Cleavers, uva ursi, horsetail, nettle…
Liver Alteratives: dandelion, Oregon grape, burdock, calendula
Nutritive Alteratives: nettle, horsetail, kelp
Relaxant Anti Spasmodic
Tension, spasm, gall bladder attack: Wild yam, lobelia, crampbark,
Tension in Liver Chi: Lavender, peony root, rosmary, pollaomint, agrimony
Anti-lithic; Gall stone treatment: Fringe-tree,, chanka piedra
Lobelia and Cayenne
Carminitives: ginger and fennel
Hypato- troporestorative and Hypato-protective
Hawthorne, milky oats, milk thistle, shishandra, reishi, licorice.
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