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ALTERATIVE HERBS (Rakta Shodhana karma)

Alteratives are herbs that cleanse and purify the blood. They produce the
following general therapeutic effects:
1. They purify the blood, removing toxins, and tend to have anti-
infectious, antibacterial action.
2. They help heal and resolve sores, boils, tumors and many kinds of
3. Typical alteratives work through cooling the blood and so also dispel
fevers, reduce Pitta and detoxify the liver.
4. They may be used externally on wounds, sores, ulcers, etc. and have
anti-inflammatory and vulnerary properties.
5. With their detoxifying action they help kill worms and parasites,
particularly those that invade the blood.
6. They work well in infectious, contagious diseases and epidemics.
Alteratives treat flus, especially those with high fever, sore throat,
earache, etc.; in this regard they are a degree stronger than cooling
diaphoretics. They treat acne, dermatitis, boils and inflammatory skin
conditions. They can be used on herpes and venereal diseases, as well as
cancer. They cleanse the lymphatics and strengthen white blood cell
count. They attack toxic accumulations, but also have a reducing effect
upon the bodily tissues. Some possess diuretic or laxative properties.
Most alteratives are cooling, bitter or sometimes astringent in taste. They
decrease Pitta and Kapha, but increase Vata. They are mainly anti-Pitta
Typical alteratives (cooling): aloe vera, blue flag, burdock, chaparral,
dandelion, echinacea, indigo, manjishta, neem, plantain, pokeroot, red
clover, sandalwood and yellow dock.
Many hot, pungent herbs possess a cleansing action in the blood, as well
as promoting circulation and resolving blood clots. They are detoxifying,
often antibacterial, and help reduce fevers by destroying the toxin that
produces them. They also have an antiparasitical or worm-killing action.
Hot pungent alteratives and cold bitter alteratives can be combined to
strengthen the detoxifying power of each. They can be used together in
conditions of high Ama. This is true even in Vata or Pitta constitutions
until the Ama is reduced (as in periodic or malarial fevers). Generally
speaking, however, cooling alteratives are good for Pitta, heating
alteratives are good for Vata, and both work well on Kapha.
Cooling alteratives that have a strong antibacterial or antibiotic effect,
like golden seal and wild indigo, if used too long or in excess, can have
the same detrimental effect upon the body as antibiotic drugs, destroying
the good as well as the bad bacteria in the body, thus weakening the
immune system and causing further infections. They must be used
with care, particularly when the patient is weak, deficient or emaciated,
as in high Vata conditions.
Typical heating alteratives include bayberry blackpepper, cayenne,
cinnamon, garlic, myrrh, prickly ash, safflower and sassafras.
Alterative herbs are often taken in the spring as blood-purifiers. This is a
good practice, but should not be done in excess, since they may thin the
blood, and are not effective in anemic or low blood pressure conditions.