[1, 7, 13]
Like adaptogens, tonic alteratives work gradually to restore proper body functions [1, 7, 13]. They often have secondary actions like hepatic (supports liver function), lymphagogue (promotes the flow of lymph), diuretic (increases urine production), and cholagogue (stimulates the flow of bile) . Herbalists use alteratives to help with skin issues like acne, eczema, and psoriasis. They can also help with arthritis, auto-immune conditions, and poor immunity [1, 7, 13].
[1, 2, 7, 8, 13]
Definition: Alteratives support healthy cellular metabolism and the body’s natural detoxification, elimination, and cleansing processes 
Mechanism of action: Multitarget effects on liver, kidney, digestive, and lymphatic systems
Indications for use: Skin conditions, poor immune function, autoimmune disorders, rheumatic conditions
[2, 5, 6, 13]
Red clover is considered a sweet tonic, a term adopted from Traditional Chinese Medicine . Sweet tonic herbs contain sugars and starches that help nourish tissues by increasing cellular metabolism . It is part of the pea family (Fabaceae), and like other legumes, red clover is particularly useful in the garden as a nitrogen fixer. It is considered generally safe; however, consult your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Herbalists use red clover to treat skin conditions, swollen lymph nodes, chronic coughs, menopausal symptoms, and tumors [2, 5, 6].
Make a red clover infusion using 1-2 tsp. dried flower heads and 8 oz. boiling water. Let steep for at least 10 minutes, strain and serve. The infusion may be taken up to 3 times per day.
[3, 4, 12, 13]
Nettle is native to the northern hemisphere and is known for the stinging hairs on its leaves and stems. It also goes by stinging nettles and is a member of the Urticaceae family . Nettle has been used for centuries as food and medicine but also as clothing and rope [3, 12]. Nettles are rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals, so unsurprisingly, it is considered one of the most useful plants to many herbalists . We can use nettles to treat skin conditions, vitamin & mineral deficiencies, seasonal allergies, lung issues, prostate issues, insulin resistance, and poor elimination [3, 13].
Make a nettle infusion using 1 tsp. to 1 tbs. dried leaves and 8 oz. boiling water. Let steep for at least 10 minutes, strain and serve. The infusion may be taken up to 3 times per day. A long infusion (steep approx 2 hours) will allow more of the nutrients to be extracted.
[2, 5, 11]
Galium aparine is native to a wide range of areas around the world, including Europe, Asia, and North Africa. It is part of the coffee family (Rubiaceae) and is also called bedstraw, goose grass, or catchweed [2, 5]. The common names come from its ability to stick to fur or clothing . The plant is covered in tiny hooked hairs and has sticky seeds . Herbalists use cleavers to help with skin issues, swollen lymph glands, and promotes urination (diuretic) [2, 5].
Make a cleavers infusion using 1-2 tsp. dried aerial parts and 8 oz. boiling water. Let steep for at least 10 minutes, strain and serve. The infusion may be taken up to 3 times per day.
Arctium lappa, Arctium minus
Burdock is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and Western Folk Medicine for cleansing and skin disorders . It is part of the daisy family (Asteraceae), and its other common name is gobo . The leaves and stems can be cooked and used as food . Burdock’s distinct hairy seed latches onto passersby with its hooked bracts (burs) [3, 9]. An alcohol extraction from the seeds creates a very strong diuretic (increase urination) and diaphoretic (stimulates perspiration) to be used for acute issues . We can use the long taproot for chronic issues and it may be taken regularly for several weeks .
Make a burdock decoction by simmering 1 tsp. – 1 tbs. root slices per 8 oz water. Simmer for approximately 20 minutes then remove from heat and steep another 1 – 2 hours. My favorite way to use burdock is by adding fresh root slices to soups and stews. It can be treated just like a carrot.
[1, 2, 4]
Chickweed is native to Europe but it can be found just about everywhere. It is part of the carnation family (Caryophyllaceae), and sometimes called starweed . We’ve used chickweed for centuries as food and medicine because of its high vitamin and mineral content [1, 4]. It is especially helpful for iron deficiencies [1, 4]. Herbalists use chickweed remedies for nutrient deficiencies, swollen lymph glands, heartburn, sore throats, dry coughs, inflamed eyes, chronic skin issues, and acute skin issues [1, 2, 4]. It may not be safe to take during pregnancy and can cause digestive irritation in extremely high doses .
Make a chickweed infusion using 1-2 tsp. dried aerial parts and 8 oz. boiling water. Let steep for at least 10 minutes, strain and serve. The infusion may be taken up to 3 times per day.
Disclaimer: We consider alteratives to be generally safe, although there are circumstances when you should not take a particular herb. I am providing a brief and general overview of common alterative herbs for educational purposes only.
Hello and welcome! My name is Kate and I am an herbalist and backyard farmer. If you are a beginner herbalist or just looking for information on plants, I write about gardening, natural remedies, and herbalism.