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by Tom Billings

This is a brief overview of certain aspects of the Ayurvedic approach to detox. The Ayurvedic approach to detox is unusual in that 1) it breaks many raw food "taboos" - e.g., the liberal use of oil, 2) it is much more gentle than fasting, and 3) it works very well. Besides the below, people interested in the subject might want to investigate the subject of "Pancha Karma", and related topics. I hope you find the below of interest.

Michael Tierra, well known herbalist and author of "The Way of Herbs" and "Planetary Herbology", gave a 2 hour workshop titled "Cleansing and Detoxing with Herbs" at the San Francisco Whole Life Expo, Explorations in Natural Healing, on Sunday, 22 October, 1995. Below are my notes from the workshop. Contact addresses and my comments are given after the notes.

Readers are advised that the material below does not deal directly with raw or living foods. Instead, it is a general discussion of aspects of an herbal approach to detox, specifically certain Ayurvedic approaches. Thus some raw fooders might find it of interest, as detox is a major concern in raw foods.


Since we will talk of detoxing, need to first define toxin - something that impedes normal functions of the body; causes stagnation and congestion. What keeps things from being toxic? The circulatory, lymph system, colon, liver, urinary system, etc. Blockage of any of these systems can ultimately result in toxins. The traditional (herbalist) view of disease is that it is due to blockage. Individual susceptibility to toxins depends on the condition of the body.

For some toxic conditions, appropriate response is to use tonics to strengthen the body, rather than any detox. Ayurveda is based on an elemental (and energy) analysis of the system in terms of 3 doshas or humors: vata (air), pitta (fire), kapha (water). When the 3 doshas are in balance, one experiences good health; imbalance ultimately results in disease. Ayurvedic treatments aim to eliminate excess of doshas.

Pitta is the fire humor, which often produces (auto-)inflammatory conditions. The cure is to put out the fire via use of herbal purgatives. Bitter herbs are very useful also: dandelion, barberry, oregon grape root. These herbs make the liver release bile, which is the manifestation of pitta in the body; they "ventilate" the liver. Bile that pours into the intestines stimulates peristalsis in the bowels.

The traditional belief is that you need all 5/6 food flavors in your diet, else the liver will be sluggish. Additional bitter herbs for the liver include: thistle, chapparal, goldenseal, turmeric (can add to your food), eyebright, burdock root, sarsparilla.

Vata is the air humor and controls the nervous system. The nervous system controls the other systems of the body, and the colon is also controlled by vata. It is also involved in breathing and circulation. The major substance used to soothe the nervous system is: oil, especially oil massage. Oil nourishes the body, especially if applied to the scalp. Sesame oil has calcium, helps to rebuild the myelin nerve sheath. Oil can also be taken internally.

Constipation can have a vata origin. The treatment is any of castor oil, olive oil, or sesame oil - 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon, 2 times per day. Enemas can also be used to get rid of excess nervous energy - caution: enemas are not appropriate for all conditions.

Narayana oil (medicated oil: herbs in a sesame oil base) is very important for rheumatic and arthritic conditions. It is commonly used in India, especially by older people. Apply it 1/2 hour before a shower - all over the body or just on problem areas. Oil massage a couple of times a week will help your nervous system . It is very effective for insomnia, arthritis, and neurological conditions. The same principle applies to evening primrose, borage seed oils. However sesame oil is cheap and the supplement industry can't charge you a high price for sesame oil! You can add ginger juice to sesame oil - very penetrating, very effective.

The most anti-vata oil is castor oil. Another symptom of vata derangement is nervous itching. Castor oil packs are a very powerful detox tool. Castor oil is both anti-vata and anti-pitta. Put the castor oil pack over the liver, on the right side of the body. It will promote lymphatic and blood circulation. Apply it over the abdomen for colic.

Castor oil is effective for short periods, when taken internally. Castor oil, with triphala churna, for 1 week, is suggested as it activates and stimulates detox process.

You can massage castor oil on the temple for migraines. Castor oil was used by the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and so on. The leaf of the castor plant is effective for injuries, bruises, arthritis pains. Apply steamed leaves as a poultice - nearly miraculous in its ability to relieve pain. Castor leaf tea is a good anti-itch rinse for the skin, anus, vagina; it is also anti-fungal. Don't drink the tea - only use externally.

Michael told of a patient with Agent Orange disease - body covered with sores, boils, pimples. Conventional medicine can do nothing for the condition, but after the patient did daily castor oil massage for 2 weeks, there was a 70-80% improvement in his condition. This shows that we often overlook important herbs in favor of "new, exotic" herbs such as those from the Amazon.

Kapha is the water humor - mucus, cholesterol, excess body fat. Some of these things are necessary in the body, but an excess is very harmful. As we age, we lose our body substance - including fluids. But some other fluids collect in the blood as we age: cholesterol, lipids. Mucus originates in digestion - that portion of food not digested completely. The body uses it later, but when digestive fire is colder, you get more mucus than you need.

Expectorants help, but don't stop the production of mucus. Mucus, which stagnates in the body, actually helps at first. Later it hurts, as it is a good medium for bacteria growth. To eliminate kapha, use emesis - vomiting. Asthma is a case in point; vomiting at the *correct* time can cure asthma. Lobelia can be used to induce vomiting; it also promotes circulation and reduces spasms. (Lobelia is anti-cancer.) First drink 1-3 liters of peppermint tea, followed by 1 teaspoon of lobelia extract. Wait 10 minutes more, take another spoon of lobelia extract => you will vomit out the mucus, and asthma will be relieved. After removing the bad mucus, replace it with good mucus: marshmallow (the herb, not the junk food), licorice root, slippery elm.

Triphala churna is the best herbal formula in the world. It removes excesses of all 3 humors, but does not remove what is necessary. It improves digestion and circulation, removes cholesterol, improves liver function, is anti- inflammatory, and is good for the eyes. It contains amalaki, which is very high in stable vitamin C, and regulates pitta. It also contains haritaki, which regulates vata, controls the nervous system, and is a powerful laxative. It contains bibhitaki, which is anti-mucus and anti-cholesterol.

Guggulu is a tree resin, in the myrrh family. Taken with triphala, it is anti- cholesterol, removes lipids from the blood, and is anti-stiffness.


Two handouts were distributed at the talk: one page with instructions for the use of castor oil packs (taken from McGarey's "Edgar Cayce and the Palma Christi"), and a 13 page handout that appears to be lesson 12 from Tierra's correspondence course, "A Home Study Course in Herbal Medicine".

Contact addresses:

Correspondence courses in herbalism that cover all three of the major styles of herbalism (Western, Chinese, and Ayurvedic):

East West School of Herbalism P.O. Box 712 Santa Cruz, California 95061 Phone: 800-717-5010 Phone: 408-336-5010 Fax: 408-336-3227

Professional training in herbalism: American School of Herbalism 603 34th Avenue Santa Cruz, California 95062 Phone: 408-476-6377


1. Further information on Ayurveda can be found in the books by Vasant Lad, Robert Svoboda, David Frawley, Bhagwan Dash. The books by Deepak Chopra are interesting, but their information content is very low, and I suspect you will find that books by the other authors mentioned, are more useful.

2. Michael Tierra advocates a nearly macrobiotic diet. He made some negative remarks concerning mucusless and raw food diets. I excluded those remarks from the notes as there was no compelling, positive reason to include them.

3. Triphala churna is indeed wonderful (though it doesn't necessarily taste wonderful - you do get used to it). It consists of 3 *raw*, dried, powdered fruits - amalaki, haritaki, bibhitaki, as listed above. Soak a teaspoon of it in one cup of water overnight (no heating/cooking) to reconstitute, and drink in the morning. A good tonic, and rejuvenative. The fruits are acidic, astringent, with lots of tannins - hence the strong taste.

4. The handout from Michael Tierra's correspondence course mentioned the medicinal use of certain animal products (meat). I am only mentioning it to inform those who are super-sensitive about such matters.



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