The Kidneys – We have two of these important organs, sitting up just under the rib cage in the back. They filter the blood, inorganic salts, and toxic waste products of metabolism, maintain mineral and pH balance in the blood, and help control blood pressure by regulating the volume of water in the blood. They also release hormones to control blood pressure and control the production of red blood cells. Thus, these organs play an important role in detoxification of the body among other things. In addition, the important stress-response glands, our Adrenal Glands, sit atop the kidneys.
The Urinary Tract – this system consists of the kidneys, ureters (tubes that travel to the bladder), the bladder, and the urethra (tube that moves urine out of the bladder).
Tonic Herbs for this system, include herbs that over time support the health of the urinary tract, reducing inflammation, soothing, and even helping with regeneration of cells and healing tissue. Herbs such as Nettle (leaf and seed), Pellitory-of-the-Wall, Astragalus root, Milk thistle seed, Dan Shen (Red Sage or Salvia miltiorrhiza), Goldenrod, and Couchgrass are tonic, restorative herbs for the kidneys specifically, and the urinary tract generally.
Soothing herbs such as Corn silk, Couch grass, and Marshmallow root, can be used when there is any sort of irritation of the urinary system, and to help reduce inflammation in the case of urinary stones, infection, or chemical damage (certain pharmaceutical medications or heavy metals, for example). These herbs contain compounds that get excreted via the urinary tract, soothing and healing while passing through.
Herbs to help with water retention and flow through the kidneys and urinary system are known as diuretics. One of the strongest is Dandelion leaf, which is also naturally high in potassium, so can offset excess loss of potassium as some pharmaceutical diuretics can promote. Others include Goldenrod, Hibiscus, Cleavers, Buchu, Parsley leaf and root, Celery seed, and Uva ursi. These herbs can help with lowering pressure in the blood vessels so are often included in formulas for high blood pressure.
Other herbs can help treat and prevent kidney stones, such as Hydrangea root, Gravel root, and Chanca piedra (Phyllanthus spp.). The first step in preventing kidney stones is drinking enough water preventing dehydration, particularly in hot weather where there is increased sweating. The vast majority of kidney stones contain calcium – calcium oxalate and calcium phosphate, while sometimes uric acid stones can form. For calcium-based stones, people should avoid oxalate-rich foods such as spinach, rhubarb, beets, and chocolate. Magnesium can help keep calcium soluble in the urine so it doesn’t react with oxalic acids and form stones, so taking a Magnesium supplement can be helpful. For uric acid-based stones, alkalinizing water and foods such as green vegetables need to be increased and animal protein should be minimized since protein tends to increase levels of uric acid.
There are also some effective herbs to prevent infection by preventing bacteria from adhering to the mucosal lining, such as the well-known cranberry, uva ursi leaves (in the same family), and buchu. Other herbs are effective at inhibiting bacteria and fungus and can take care of an infection if caught early on. These herbs contains compounds that are highly antimicrobial that excrete through the urinary tract. Juniper berry is one of the best in this regard, as it is also diuretic and anti-inflammatory. Buchu, uva ursi, Echinacea, and Goldenseal are others that have antimicrobial properties specific to the urinary tract and support the immune system.
The Emotion: Fear & Element: Water associated with the kidneys and bladder from the Five Element Theory in Traditional Chinese Medicine. “The Kidney is the repository of energy for the body, supplying needed Qi to all the organs when necessary. Getting enough rest is essential for helping to maintain Kidney energy balance. The Five Element emotion associated with the Kidney is fear. Fear is a deep-seated emotion, central (realized or not) to much of existence as it is dictated through thought and action. Fear, when welcomed and addressed with discernment, can become a strength in the affairs of your daily life. Be aware. Be calm. Rest.” (from the Arizona School or Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine, ASAOM).
The Adrenal Glands and the Kidneys – How you care for yourself, and manage stress and fear, have an impact on both the kidneys (nourishment, water, rest) and your adrenal glands (the stress response, fight or flight). Some herbs and mushrooms support both, and the HPA Axis (Hypothalamus-Pituitary Gland-Adrenal Gland Axis), such as Astragalus root and Cordyceps mushroom. Other adaptogens (herbs that support the HPA Axis and adrenal glands) can be combined with kidney tonic herbs for helping the body respond differently to life and fear, including Codonopsis, American ginseng, and Eleuthero.