The lymphatic system of the body removes waste from the cells and tissues and is an important part of the immune system. Lymph is responsible for removing toxins from infection and carrying lymphocytes and other immune cells to areas of the body under attack from outside invaders. If the lymph system is under-active, it can become backed up, causing swollen lymph nodes and a whole host of physical symptoms, including impaired immunity, cellulite, bloating, fatigue and puffy eyes. Herbal teas are a safe and effective natural way to support the lymphatic system.
Red root – also known as Ceanothus americanus or New Jersey tea – is the premiere lymphogogue, an herb that supports the function of the lymphatic system. According to master herbalist and naturopath Sharol Tilgner, red root is helpful in reducing swollen lymph nodes and is used to treat lymphatic congestion, reduce cysts, relieve the stagnation of fluids and send nutrition to the tissues. Red root has also been used to treat sinusitis, tonsilitis and pharyngitis due to its immune-supporting properties. This herb is considered safe for children and seniors, as well as the general population.
Cleavers is another great herbal tea for supporting the lymphatic system. Scientifically known as Gallium aparine, cleavers is a gentle lymphogogue that can reduce the swelling of lymph nodes and help dissolve cysts, according to Tilgner. As a diuretic, it helps the body pass wastes from the lymphatic system through urination, and has been used to dissolve kidney stones, according to the "Herbal Vade Mecum." Tilgner suggests that cleavers can also dissolve fibrocystic tissue, along with reducing the swelling of the prostate in benign prostatic hyperplasia.
While mostly regarded as an immune stimulant, echinacea also supports immunity by helping to cleanse the lymph fluid. According to Tilgner, along with activating macrophages against invading microorganisms and tumor cells, echinacea also increases T-lymphocyte production – cells are responsible for cleaning up the extra-cellular fluids during acute or chronic illness. This makes echinacea root an excellent addition to teas that support the lymphatic system, particularly after an acute illness, when the immune system is cleaning up the cells and tissues.
Poke Root and Wild Indigo
Poke and wild indigo are considered strong lymphogogues that should only be taken under the supervision of a trained professional. Poke – Phytolacca decandra – is specific for hard, swollen lymph nodes, which may be accompanied by a fever and a fast pulse. Poke has traditionally been used for red, swollen and inflamed tissues of the throat, mammary glands and testicles, according to Tilgner. Wild indigo – also called Baptisia tinctoria – is particularly indicated when there is sepsis in the tissues or severe ulceration, resulting in blood poisoning. This is obviously something that a medical doctor should treat, but in an emergency situation, wild indigo is a potent lymphogogue. Both herbs should be avoided in pregnancy and can cause overdose symptoms if taken in excess of for prolonged periods.
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Lymph System
- Kathleen Barnes: 12 Ways to Detoxify: Speed Up Your Lymph System
- Herbal Medicine From the Heart of the Earth; Sharol Tilgner, N.D.
- Herbal Vade Mecum; Gazmend Skenderi
Amy Myszko is a certified clinical herbalist and nutritional consultant who has been helping people find greater health and balance through diet, lifestyle and natural remedies since 2006. She received her certification from the North American Institute of Medical Herbalism in Boulder, Colo. Myszko also holds a BA in literature from the University of Colorado.