Diseases of the Blood and Lymph

Herbs For Diseases Of The Blood And Lymph: Anemia And Chylothorax

When herbalists think of chronic disease they often think of blood cleansers and blood purifiers; however, veterinarians and doctors immediately argue there is no such thing (apart from dialysis and chelation). Nevertheless, alteratives and depuratives are terms that were common in the early veterinary literature until the mid 1900s, and were defined as drugs that effected “gradual change and corrected the morbid condition of organs”. Herbalists still know them as blood cleansers and blood purifiers. These herbs improve metabolic processes and waste elimination, so they are often mild in action and may have laxative, cholagogue, or diuretic action. This is how they improve general health and it illustrates how these herbs may be thought of as cleansing or purifying.

Herbs that have traditionally been used as alteratives include Burdock, Neem, Oregon grape, Barberry, Gotu kola, Fumitory, Cleavers, Blue flag, Yellow dock, Sarsaparilla, Red clover, and Heartsease. Alteratives should be considered in a formula for any chronic condition as a means of improving overall health from a traditional perspective.

Blood tonics are another traditional category of herbs; they treat anemia or constitutional weakness. Traditional blood tonics include Codonopsis, Polygonum, Dandelion, Alfalfa, Parsley, Nettle, Yellow dock, and others. A number of herbs have demonstrated hematinic effects on erythrocytes and hemoglobin counts. Angelica sinensis is a Chinese herb that improves integrity and deformability of erythrocytes. Human volunteers given Withania (Witbania somnifera) (3 g / day) showed increases in hemoglobin and red blood cell counts. In a double-blind study of 60 healthy children, after 30 days the Withania-treated group had a significant increase in hemoglobin (Venkataraghaven 1980). A double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover trial in horses showed that Echinacea supplementation for 42 days increased the size and concentration of peripheral red blood cells, hemoglobin, and packed cell volume. Rehmannia glutinosa was shown in one study to improve symptoms and recovery of people with aplastic anemia.

“Lymphatic” herbs are also frequently used in chronic disease as well as for conditions affecting the lymphatic system. These include Wild Indigo, Poke root, Cleavers and Calendula. In lymphatic disorders, plants high in rutin may help improve capillary fragility and help prevent edema. These include St. John’s wort, Meadowsweet, Hawthorn, Buchu, Calendula, Cornsilk, Golden Rod, and Sheep sorrel. Edema can be treated with Bilberry, Cleavers, Cornsilk, Dandelion, Echinacea, Feverfew, Gotu kola, Grape seed, and Horsetail. A Bilberry (V. myrtillus) preparation (25% anthocyanidins) in rabbits demonstrated significant vasoprotective and anti-edema properties, and it was more active and longer lasting than preparations of rutin or mepiramine. Animal models suggest Echinacea may reduce inflammation and edema, possibly by inhibiting cyclo-oxygenase and lipoxygenase. Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) appears to improve microcirculation and reduce capillary fragility, and it helps prevent microangiopathy in people with hypertension or. Grape seed proanthocyanidins (PAs) have demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects on experimental studies in rats and mice and stabilized capillary walls and prevented the increase in capillary permeability caused by induced toxicity. They significantly increased the rate of disappearance of postoperative edema.

Prescription for anemia

The underlying pathophysiology of the anemia must be addressed. Anemia is caused by blood loss (external such as trauma; internal such as tumor, ruptured spleen, anticoagulant toxicity), reduced production of red blood cells (primary bone marrow disease, chronic renal failure, infectious disease, chronic disease), or hemolysis (blood-borne parasites, immune disease, drug-induced).

Therefore, herbal therapy is secondary to diagnosis and treatment of the underlying cause.


Blood tonics may be useful to stimulate hematopoesis and support the patient, particularly in patients with mild anemia secondary to chronic disease. The use of adaptogens (such as Withania) assists the patient in coping with physical stress. Mineral-rich herbs can enhance nutrition. Herbs that address the cause are important (for example, anticancer herbs or herbal support for renal disease).

Herbal anemia support formula

The following herbs provide the best results when used in alcohol or glycetract tinctures. Alternatively, teas can be used.

Withania: Tonic, adaptogen, nervine, sedative, anti-inflammatory; 2 parts.

Codonopsis: Adaptogen, immune enhancer, blood tonic, mild vasodilator; 1 part.

Nettle: Nutritive, hemostatic, circulatory stimulant; 1 part.

Dong guai, rehmannia, or parsley: Blood tonics; 1 part.

For tinctures, give 1 ml per 10 pounds twice daily in food. For teas, give one-fourth cup per 10 pounds twice daily in food.

Prescription for chylothorax

Chylothorax is a frustrating and potentially devastating condition. The clinician should attempt to determine the etiology. Often a cause cannot be found and the clinician is left with a diagnosis of idiopathic chylothorax. An herbal formula does not treat chylothorax per se; however, it can be very useful to treat the debility associated with loss of chyle following pleural drainage. Drainage often results in losses of protein, fat, fat-soluble vitamins, antibodies, and lymphocytes into the pleural cavity as well as dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. Along with aggressive nutritional support (low-fat diet and supplementation with fat-soluble vitamins) an herbal prescription might support the patient during treatment and recovery. Surgical management may also be necessary. Other appropriate herbs can be chosen if the underlying cause is known. Potential complications include plueritis.


Give Rutin (50 to 100 mg / kg, PO, TID) and consider herbs that contain Rutin. Add immune-supporting herbs and supply adaptogens to assist with physical stress. Consider nervines if the patient is hospitalized and stressed.

If the underlying etiology is known, give herbs that treat that condition. Herbs that are high in proanthocyanidins such as Hawthorn or Grapeseed should be given. Finally, anti-inflammatory herbs and those that support the respiratory system may help.

Herbal chylothorax support formula

The following herbs provide the best results when used in alcohol or glycetract tinctures. Alternatively, teas can be used.

Withania: Tonic, adaptogen, nervine, sedative, anti-inflammatory; 2 parts.

Hawthorn: Cardiotonic, antioxidant, vasodilator, hypotensive; 1 part.

Echinacea: Immunostimulant, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, vulnery, antibacterial; 1 part.

Bilberry: Vasoprotective, anti-edema, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, astringent; 1 part.

For tinctures, give 1 ml per 10 pounds twice daily in food. For teas, give one-fourth cup per 10 pounds twice daily in food.