Cystitis is inflammation of the bladder. It is more common in women than men. (See related post: Cystitis)
Herbal medicine is rooted in mind/body medicine as taught by Hippocrates. As such diet and lifestyle considerations would also need to be addressed.
Herb classifications for cystitis
- Urinary tonics strengthen and tone the urinary system.
- Anti-microbial herbs combat bacterial infection. “Thus anti-microbials with terpene essential oils are indicated here as the oil is excreted from the body via the kidney, thus directing to the site of infection in the bladder.”[i]
- Solvents dissolve kidney stones in the urine.
- Demulcents coat and heal delicate tissue and facilitate the elimination of kidney stones.
- Anti-inflammatory herbs soothe irritated and inflamed tissue.
- Astringents can be included if there are signs of hematuria.
- Nervines to ease tensions and address underlying emotional and mental causes.
- Anti-spasmodics will ease irritation and help to reduce pain.
- Adaptagens where habitual or prolonged stress is a factor.
- Circulatory stimulants increase circulation and urine production, while taking the herbs in a formula where they need to go.
Some specific herbs for cystitis:
Petroselinum crispum: Parsley
Parsley is a cleansing diuretic tonic with anti-spasmodic effects. Both Dr. Christopher and Dr. Shook list it as a specific for cystitis. Parsley is high in Vitamin C which will help support the immune system.
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi: Uva ursi, Bearberry
“Uva ursi has a specific healing action upon the genito-urinary organs, especially in cases of gravel or ulceration of the kidneys or bladder. It is of great value in these kidney and bladder problems, where it soothes, strengthens and tones the mucous membranes of the urinary passages. It is a solvent to urinic calculi deposits.”[iii]
Solidago virgaurea: Golden Rod
Goldenrod is both astringent and antiseptic, it tightens and strengthens the tissues of the urinary system and protects against bacteria. It is anti-inflammatory and a gentle healer of bladder and urinary tract infections. “As an anti-inflammatory urinary antiseptic, Golden Rod may be used in cystitis, urethritis and the like.”[iv] “Goldenrod is one of the only bladder tonics in the western materia medica, and herbalists consider it useful for strengthening the male and female sexual organs and reducing irritation in the prostate gland in men.”[v]
Triticum repens: Couchgrass
Couchgrass is a mild diuretic that is anti-microbial and demulcent. “Couchgrass may be used in urinary infections such as cystitis, urethritis and prostatitis. Its demulcent properties soothe irritation and inflammation. It is of value in the treatment of enlarged prostate glands. It may also be used in kidney stones and gravel.”[vi] “It is quite harmless and may be taken freely in large quantities until the desired result is brought about. Thousands suffer from some form of renal catarrh and this herb is one of nature’s best remedies for all kidney and bladder affections.”[vii]
Hydrangea arborescens: Hydrangea
According to Hoffman: “Hydrangea’s greatest use is in the treatment of inflamed or enlarged prostate glands. It may also be used for urinary stones or gravel associated with infections such as cystitis.”[viii]
Althea officinalis: Marshmallow
Marshmallow is demulcent, diuretic and anti-inflammatory. Wherever there is internal irritation and inflammation of delicate tissue Marshmallow’s mucilaginous properties soothe and help to eliminate waste materials. “The leaves help in cystitis, urethritis and urinary gravel”[ix]
Borago officinalis: Borage
Borage is diuretic, demulcent, anti-inflammatory, nervine and a restorative tonic for the adrenals. “Borage contains potassium and calcium, combined with mineral acids. … Its demulcent qualities are due to the mucilage contained in the whole plant.”[x] “Borage may be used as a tonic for the adrenals over a period of time.”[xi] The kidneys and adrenals are inter-related, when we nourish and build-up one we benefit both.
Glycyrrhiza glabra: Liquorice
“Liquorice root has been used for thousands of years for upper respiratory, digestive, and urinary tract infections or irritation. It has anti-viral, anti-inflammatory, immune-activating, demulcent, and expectorant properties and is used for ulcers, bronchitis, gastritis, irritable bowel and bowel inflammation, and adrenal insufficiency.”[xii]
Zingiber officinalis: Ginger
Ginger is a warming and diffusive stimulant that increases peripheral circulation, which in turn also increases the glomerular action of the kidneys. It is also antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and anodyne. It brings companion herbs in a formula where they need to go.
Considerations for herbal remedies for cystitis
The kidneys are delicate organs and even more so when inflamed and/or infected. The focus for the tincture will be to relieve acute symptoms such as strangury and dysuria. It is important to start gently, to strengthen and tone the urinary system and to cleanse slowly being careful not to irritate already inflamed delicate tissue. The diuretic and cleansing actions could be incrementally increased on the second and subsequent bottles.
Lead with Nettle as a tonic with mild diuretic actions that will not over-stimulate the kidneys, while supporting overall system functioning. Where there is blood in the urine Cornsilk is a tonic diuretic and demulcent that soothes urinary irritation. Couchgrass with its demulcent and antiseptic actions is a specific for relieving acute symptoms of cystitis.
“Above all, it is most important to realise that bearberry leaves have no diuretic action, though this is generally assumed. … In acute cystitis flushing is in fact contra-indicated – it merely increases the tissue irritation when the need is to rest the bladder.”[xiii] Bearberry is particularly good if the body is overly acidic or for those who also have diabetes.
Where a supporting herb for the lymphatic system is needed: “Cleavers can be an effective herbal diuretic to clear bladder infections, cleanse the urinary tract, and help prevent small kidney stones from forming.”[xiv].
Goldenrod in a single part is a gentle diuretic and antiseptic that can effectively combat inflammation and irritation. Strong anti-microbial herbs such as Juniper can be irritating and can be introduced at a later stage in small amounts. Hoffman advises: “It is important to use plants that are specifically active in the urinary tract. Thus anti-microbials with terpene essential oils are indicated here as the oil is excreted from the body via the kidney, thus directing to the site of infection in the bladder.”[xv]
Generous amounts of demulcents such as Marshmallow and Mullein, at least double that of the anti-microbial herbs should be included to offset irritation. “Also, anti-spasmodic tinctures relieve the intense pain, which accompanies conditions requiring anti-septics.”[xvi] For men with prostate problems Hydrangea, Gravel root and Saw Palmetto would be considered along with male tonic herbs such as Sarsparilla.
Skullcap is a tonic sedative and anti-inflammatory, which along with relaxing nervines such as Oats can be included to relax tensions and start re-balancing emotional and mental energetics. Black Cohosh could be included where menopause is a factor, also adaptogens such as Panax and Siberian Ginseng to balance hormones and build immunity, especially where stress and adrenal exhaustion need to be addressed.
The kidneys are major organs of elimination, when their functioning is impaired we need to ensure that the bowels are moving freely so that as toxins are released from the urinary system they have a safe route out of the body.
For elderly and/or patients in a weakened condition, a nutritive powder would help to support the body’s healing ability. Often when the kidneys are struggling the liver needs support, which a nutritive gruel could address if needed.
- “When the infection is severe enough to affect the kidneys (which is rare), fever is usually present.”[xix]
- Do not use strong diuretics. Drinking 2-3 litres of distilled water daily will achieve a more gentle action. Avoid cold drinks; warm drinks are more beneficial to the kidneys.
- Uva ursi (Bearberry) is high in tannins and can irritate the stomach and so should not be taken for extended periods. It is also contra-indicated during pregnancy due to its oxytocic properties, which encourage the uterus to contract.[xx]
- Juniper berries are contraindicated in acute kidney infections and pregnancy due to volatile oils that stimulate uterine contractions. In general Juniper should not be used for prolonged periods of time.
- Goldenrod is contraindicated in chronic liver disorders.[xxi]
- Anti-inflammatories: “Avoid overemphasizing them in the prescription. The symptomatic relief they produce must be applied in the context of removing the infection that causes the inflammation.”[xxii]
- “Marshmallow may delay absorption of other drugs taken at the same time.”[xxiii]
- Avoid animal proteins that burden the kidneys, also mucus-forming foods such as white flour products and acidic beverages such as coffee and tea.
- Avoid wearing synthetic underwear that can trap moisture and heat and contribute to the spread of bacteria and increase discomfort.
- Do not use harsh antiseptic soaps or other chemical irritants and opt for simple natural hygiene products.
- Avoid sexual intercourse until the condition is cleared up, also do not use tampons.
The above information is not to be taken as medical advice. It is for informational purposes only. If you have cystitis or suspect you have kidney infection visit your doctor. Never self-prescribe with herbs, consult with a qualified herbalist who can prescribe herbs specifically to your current needs.
Related post: Cystitis
[i] Hoffmann D. Medical Herbalism. Rochester, Vermont. Healing Arts Press; 2003. P. 380.
[iii] Christopher J.R. School of Natural Healing. Centennial Edition, Springville, Utah, U.S.A. Christopher Publications, 2009. P. 259.
[iv] Hoffmann D. Medical Herbalism. Rochester, Vermont. Healing Arts Press; 2003. P. 585.
[v] Hobbs C. Information on Goldenrod. Online article. Available at: http://christopherhobbs.com/database/?details&type=herbs&name=Goldenrod (accessed 18 May 2014)
[vi] Hoffman, D. Holistic Herbal, A Safe Practical Guide to Making and Using Herbal Remedies. 3rd Edition. Great Britain. Thorsons, Harper Collins Publishers, 1990. P. 193.
[vii] Shook E.E. Dr. Elementary Course in Herbology. Health Research. 1948. P. 58.
[viii] Hoffman, D. Holistic Herbal, A Safe Practical Guide to Making and Using Herbal Remedies. 3rd Edition. Great Britain. Thorsons, Harper Collins Publishers, 1990. P. 207.
[ix] Hoffmann D. Medical Herbalism. Rochester, Vermont. Healing Arts Press; 2003. P. 526.
[x] Grieve M. A Modern Herbal. botanical.com. Borage. 1931. Online database. Available at: http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/b/borage66.html (accessed 18 May 2014)
[xi] Hoffman D. Borage. Online article. Available at: http://www.healthy.net/Materia_Medica/Borage_Herbal_Materia_Medica/170 (accessed 18 May 2014)
[xii] Hobbs C. Information on Licorice. Online article. Available at: http://christopherhobbs.com/database/?details&type=herbs&name=Licorice (accessed 19 May 2014)
[xiii] Weiss R.F. M.D. Weiss’s Herbal Medicine, Classic Edition. New York. Thieme, 2001. P. 245.
[xiv] Hobbs C. Information on Cleavers. Online article. Available at: http://christopherhobbs.com/database/?details&type=herbs&name=Cleavers (accessed 19 May 2014)
[xv] Hoffmann D. Medical Herbalism. Rochester, Vermont. Healing Arts Press; 2003. P. 380.
[xvi] Christopher J.R. School of Natural Healing. Centennial Edition, Springville, Utah, U.S.A. Christopher Publications, 2009. P. 502.
[xvii] Christopher J.R. School of Natural Healing. Centennial Edition, Springville, Utah, U.S.A. Christopher Publications, 2009. P. 53.
[xviii] Christopher J.R. School of Natural Healing. Centennial Edition, Springville, Utah, U.S.A. Christopher Publications, 2009. P. 111.
[xx] Weiss R.F. M.D. Weiss’s Herbal Medicine, Classic Edition. New York. Thieme, 2001. P. 244.
[xxi] Hobbs C. Information on Goldenrod. Online article. Available at: http://christopherhobbs.com/database/?details&type=herbs&name=Goldenrod (accessed 18 May 2014)
[xxii] Hoffmann D. Medical Herbalism. Rochester, Vermont. Healing Arts Press; 2003. P. 380.
[xxiii] Hoffmann D. Medical Herbalism. Rochester, Vermont. Healing Arts Press; 2003. P. 527.