What is an Alterative?

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What is an Alterative?

Alteratives are herbs that will restore the proper function of the body and increase health and vitality. Generally they act to alter the body’s processes of metabolism so that the body can heal. These work in a variety of ways from helping with nutrition to elimination. Many of these types of herbs improve the ability of the body to eliminate waste through the kidneys, liver, lungs or skin.

Alteratives can be used safely in many diverse conditions as supportive remedies, but should be thought of first where chronic inflammatory or degenerative conditions exist. These would include the skin diseases, various types of arthritis and the wide category of auto-immune problems.

Alteratives & their Secondary Actions

Anti-Catarrhal Action:

Echinacea, Garlic, Golden Seal, Nettles, Poke Root, Wild Indigo

Anti-Inflammatory Action:

Blue Flag, Bogbean, Cleavers, Golden Seal, Guaiacum, Sarsaparilla

Anti-Microbial Action:

Blood Root, Buchu, Chaparral, Echinacea, Garlic, Golden Seal, Pasque Flower, Poke Root, Wild Indigo

Anti-Spasmodic Action:
Black Cohosh, Blood Root, Garlic, Pasque Flower, Red Clover

Astringent Action:

Golden Seal, Nettles

Bitter Action:

Bogbean, Burdock, Golden Seal


Garlic, Queen’s Delight, Sarsaparilla, Guaiacum

Diuretic Action:

Blue Flag, Bogbean, Buchu, Burdock, Cleavers, Nettles, Sarsaparilla, Guaiacum

Emmenagogue Action:

False Unicorn Root, Black & Blue Cohosh

Expectorant Action:

Blood Root, Mullein, Red Clover

Hepatic Action:

Blue Flag, Bogbean, Burdock, Garlic, Golden Seal, Fringetree, Mountain Grape, Poke Root, Yellow Dock

Hypotensive Action:

Black Cohosh, Garlic, Nettles

Nervine Action:

Black Cohosh, Pasque Flower, Red Clover

Vulnerary Action:

Cleavers, Golden Seal

Alteratives for different parts of the body

There are certain herbs that are well suited to different body systems.

Circulatory system:

The actions of these herbs are not specifically for this system but they will aid in circulation which helps the body operate at its peak. The lymphatic aspect of this system is aided by Cleavers, Poke Root, Chaparral and Echinacea.

Respiratory system:

The main Alteratives for the lungs and Respiratory system as a whole are Mullein, Blood Root, Liquorice, Garlic and Golden Seal.

Digestive system:

The Alteratives that will work on the liver, pancreas and other digestive organs are of great importance in herbal medicine. A small selection would include Blue Flag, Burdock, Bogbean, Fringetree, Garlic, Golden Seal, Nettles, Sarsaparilla and Yellow Dock.

Urinary system:

Many herbalists that use these herbs for diuretics are also urinary alteratives. These possibly include Buchu, Cleavers, and Bearberry.

Reproductive system:

The general types of Alteratives are of value to this system but the specific Alteratives that aid this system are Black Cohosh, Blue Cohosh, False Unicorn Root, Golden Seal, Raspberry leaves, and Saw Palmetto.

Muscles and Skeleton:

Many Alteratives are important here including Black Cohosh, Bogbean, Bladderwrack, and Burdock.

Nervous system:

By helping the body to be whole, all Alteratives aid the strained nervous system, but Pasque Flower and Red Clover are especially helpful as Alteratives with a nervine action.


The skin system is where most Alteratives are used so the list of herbs is extensive. Alteratives often used for the skin are Burdock, Cleavers, Echinacea, Figwort, Fumitory, Mountain Grape, Red Clover, Sarsaparilla and Yellow Dock.

Alterative Herbs

Black Cohosh-Blood Root-Blue Flag-Bogbean-Burdock-Chaparral-Cleavers-Echinacea-Figwort-Fringetree-Fumitory-Garlic-Guaiacum-Golden Seal-Mountain Grape-Nettles-Pasque Flower-Poke Root-Queen’s Delight-Red Clover-Sarsaparilla-Sassafras-Wild Indigo-Yellow Dock