The liver is a fascinating organ and does much more than it is given credit for. It does so much work, day in and day out; sometimes it deserves a vacation!

Diagram of the Liver and surrounding organs and ducts. [image source]

The liver is a gland in charge of many things including producing biochemicals for digestion [it sends some of these biochemicals to the gallbladder to be dispersed into the stomach at the appropriate times], it regulates; glycogen storage, plasma protein synthesis, hormone production, detoxification and even the decomposition of red blood cells.

“Terminology related to the liver often starts in hepar- or hepat- from the Greek word for liver, hēpar (ἧπαρ, root hepat-, ἡπατ-)”[source]. [ie, a ‘hepatic disease’ is simply, a ‘liver disease’, etc.]

Those qualified to say so, can not agree on just how many functions the liver is responsible for. But most textbooks agree it it approximately 500!

The “liver vacation” is something that Victoria taught in class at Shawnee Moon School of Herbal Medicine. It is the idea that you are taking your supplements daily, or eating the same type of foods everyday; sometimes that can get taxing on the liver. Try taking a break one day. On 6, off 1.

There are other versions of a ‘liver vacation’ that can be found online. One was actually a study done by a group of medical writers from the staff of the “New Scientist”, [a British weekly magazine] who teamed up with researchers at the Institute for Liver and Digestive Health at the University College London Medical School. Their liver vacation was specifically a study in alcohol abstinence, not just for one day, but for 5 weeks. They had 14 individuals in the study who identified themselves as ‘average drinkers’ [or ‘social drinkers’]. They all had a pre-ultrasound done on their livers before that measured the fat content of the liver; then 10 of them abstained from alcohol for 5 weeks, while the remaining 4 did not change a thing in their drinking habits.

The results in those who abstained were staggering:

Liver fat fell by 15 percent on average, almost 20 percent in some. This is highly significant because fat accumulation on the liver is a known precursor to liver damage.

The blood glucose levels of the abstainers dropped by 16 percent on average, from 5.1 to 43. The normal range for blood glucose is between 3.9 and 5.6. The doctors said they had never seen that effect before. High glucose levels can cause the cells to stop responding to insulin, leading to high blood sugar and Type 2 diabetes.

Total blood cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease, dropped by almost 5 percent.

The benefits just weren’t physical. Ratings of sleep quality rose by 10 percent, their ability to concentrate soared 18 percent, representing a significant effect on quality of life and work performance.

The only negative was that people reported less social contact. [read the whole study here]

I enjoyed this post over at written by Andrea Nakayama all about what the liver does and why it is beneficial to consider a liver cleanse. Much more than a simple abstaining from a certain food/drink/supplement for a time, a liver cleanse is a proactive way to rejuvenate and replenish your liver while also allowing it a breather.

Lets take a look at a couple herbs that are known to support the liver and help it do all those amazing things it does.

Dandelion puff

Dandelion seed puff

DandelionTaraxacum officinale – The whole plant of this herb is used for many different issues but most commonly as a digestive tonic [Not only including the Liver but also other digestive organs like, the kidneys, spleen and pancreas]. It is used to purify the blood which is one of the liver’s big jobs. Helps to destroy acids in the blood. It is also a diuretic, mild laxative, cholagoug, galactagoug, anti-rheumatic, detoxifier, alterative, and antibacterial.

Dandelion leaf

Dandelion leaf

Dandelion flower

Dandelion flower

Milk Thistlesilybum marianum – most common part used is the seed of this plant. It is touted as a great hepatic tonic, anti-allergenic, anti-toxin, anti-aging, alterative, galactogogue, demulcent, cholagogue, anti-inflammatory and a stimulant. It renews and strengthens the liver, relives headaches and depression, can aid drug/alcohol withdrawal and recover from side effects of liver damaging medication [ie, chemo/radiation]. Stimulates the production of new liver cells, increases bile secretion from liver and gallbladder, promotes lactation, reduces acne, psoriasis, skin abscesses, eruptions and stabilizes blood sugar while regulating fats. Helpful in gallbladder attacks and hepatitis c.

Kelpascophyllum nodosum – yep, it’s seaweed! Helps with iodine deficiency. Kelp as a source of iodine assists in making thyroid hormones, which helps maintain a normal metabolism in all the cells of the body. It is particularly helpful in thyroid disorders [especially underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) and oversized thyroid gland (goiter)], also joint pain, hardening of the artieres [arteriosclerosis], digestive disorders, heart burn, blood cleansing, constipation, urinary tract disorders, anxiety, kidney functions, increases thyroid activity and absorbs water in intestines to produce bulk, and protects the body from radiation. It is an anti-parasiticide, antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, antiprotozoal, anthelmintic, antineoplastic, and immunostimulant.

Schizandra berries schinsandra chinensis – Originating in China, these berries possess all five basic flavor; salty, sweet, sour, spicy and bitter. Considered a great adaptogen, hepatoprotective, immunomodulating, antiviral, neuroprotective, cholagogue, there is no wonder it is included in a liver formula. Most commonly used in hepatitis, as the lignan constituents in the berries protect the liver and stimulate the antioxidant producing cells. It also sitmulates the central nervous system, increasing brain efficiency, improves reflexes and accelerates endurance. Suggested against cirrhosis of the liver and chemical damage/toxic poisoning of the liver. The enzyme glutathione peroxidase deactivates a few kinds of free radicals which attack the outer membrane of the liver cells. This can offset damage done by chronic viral hepatitis, alcohol and HIV/AIDS.

Be sure to check out our Liver Tonic, formulated by the late Victoria Fortner, that contains all these herbs!

Kerry Brock, Certified Herbalist and owner at Shawnee Moon, is a researcher of plants, an eater of herbs, a drinker of coffee and a formulator of remedies. She keeps busy trying out pinterest diy’s and often failing at cooking in her backwoods home in rural southeast Missouri with her fantastic husband, Davy, two dogs, an assortment of cats and a unbelievably supportive family near by.


The information contained in this post is for educational purposes only; it is not intended to treat, diagnose or cure disease. It is simply for use in the maintenance and promotion of good health in cooperation with a licensed medical practitioner. Kerry Brock and Shawnee Moon are not licensed to treat or diagnose disease. Consult with your physician for diagnosis or treatment. By using this information you agree that the decisions regarding your health are your own responsibility and understand that Kerry Brock and Shawnee Moon are not liable for your health decisions.

Sources and Continued reading:

Prescription for Nutritional Healing James & Phyllis Balch, Weiner’s Herbal Michael Weiner, The New Age Herbalist Richard Mabey The Way of Herbs Michael Tierra, The Scientific Validation of Herbal Medicine Daniel Mowery, Earl Mindell’s Herb Bible Earl Mindell, Victoria Fortner, The School of Natural Healing Dr. John Christopher, Back to Eden Jethro Kloss, The Complete Medicinal Herbal Penelope Ody, A Modern Herbal Mrs. M. Greieve, The Complete Illustrated Holistic HerbalDavid Hoffmann, The Green Pharmacy James A. Duke, Ph.D., 20,000 Secrets of Tea Victoria Zak, The Herb Book John Lust, Various informative websites containing herbal and health information, including Wikipedia.

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