The Kidneys

One of my best teachers used to say that he had never seen a healthy pair of kidneys, as observed in an indology test, which I don’t find surprising considering the amount of tea, coffee, cocoa, salt, alcohol and other harmful substances with which we assault our kidneys daily. Indeed I remember seeing coloured photo graphs of kidneys (from autopsies carried out in Germany) which had long been assaulted by huge amounts of salt and beer. The kidneys looked like the delicate shreds of coral and I wondered

how they managed to function at all. The work of the kidneys is to filter off impurities from the blood and balance the amount of salt and water retained by the body. They are located at the back wall of the abdomen right up near the ribs and, from the inner side of each kidney, a tube, the ureter, traces a path at the back of the abdominal cavity as it enters the bladder. Its exit, called the urethra, reaches an opening in the front of the vagina in women and at the tip of penis in men. In women it is shorter than in men, which is why we are more prone to cystitis – bacteria invade this short length more easily.

Most of our body is water. We eliminate about 1 gallon (4.5 litres) of water every day through the skin, the kidneys and other eliminative organs. We need an exact mechanism for controlling overall body water content, notably because even a tiny increase in the bloodstream will lead to a disproportionate increase in blood pressure. When your doctor prescribes chemical diureticsto reduce blood pressure it is because if the water content of the body can be made to reduce by as little as 2 per cent, the systolic reading can drop by anything between twenty to thirty points Diuretics are also used to get rid of waterlogging in the body.

It your ankles look like tree trunks and your feet spill over the edees of your shoes it is a sure sign that your kidneys aren’t working a they should. All chemical diuretics work by irritating the delicate tubules in the kidneys, forcing them to pass all water and in doing so they leach potassium from the body to such an extent that synthetic potassium has to be given. This begins the knock-on

effect of allopathic medicine, where further medication has to be prescribed to deal with the side-effects of the original drug Herbal diuretics all contain potassium and the various complex nutrients needed to maintain an efficient input and output. They raise both potassium and sodium levels so that the cellular pump-action improves both ways. Celery, for example, is high in sodium and has a touch of potassium while dandelion is high in potassium with a little sodium. Some herbs do irritate the kid neys, so I always advise the use of a demulcent — by which I mean herbs which are rich in mucilage and so have softening, protective and soothing actions when taken internally. Such herbs include

comfrey, marshmallow, slippery elm or fenugreek taken in pro portions of 20 percent demulcent to 80 per cent diuretic. Good diuretics include agrimony, almonds, ash, burdock, buchu, birch, broom, blackcurrant leaves, bramble, briar, cleavers, couch grass, dog’s-tooth, dandelion, hawthorn, heather, horsetail, juniper, maize tassels, marshmallow, meadow-sweet, nettle, parsley, plantain, pellitory of the wall, rose, summer savoury, sage, uva-ursi, strawberry, raspberry, and redcurrant leaves. Hay-fever sufferers should not take pellitory of the wall as it may lead to allergic rhinitis. Cleavers should not be used by diabetics. Juniper needs to be used with caution; it is particularly powerful and should be used only for initial emergency treatment for cystitis. Broom should not be used by those with heart problems.

If you have to get up to urinate several times in the night it means that your nervous system is still jangling rather than that your bladder is too full. During the day, when you are mainly upright, fluid wastes drain downhill, but at night the excretion rate of the kidneys is reduced because you are horizontal.

Try sleeping sitting up and you will get horrible puffy ankles for precisely this reason. After a fourteen-hour overnight coach journey in Turkey it took three days for my feet to shrink back to their normal size, and this in spite of my trying to prop them up a bit on the seat in front of me. You will need to be completely

horizontal to slow the drainage down. Never ignore a full bladder. I am continually surprised by how seldom many of my patients urinate. By holding on the lining of the bladder gets intensely irritable as its contents are subjected to chemical change if harboured too long. A full bladder will press down on all the pelvic organs, especially the lower bowel and reproductive organs, and aggravate the possibility of prolapse. It is unwise to treat yourself for urinary infection or kidney stones without first seeking the advice of a medical herbalist because clumsy self-help may aggravate the condition:


Kidneys need to be flushed out, so drink lots of purified water and potassium-rich broth made from the tough outer green leaves of vegetables. Also drink fruit and vegetable juices, but avoid tea, coffee, cocoa and salt absolutely, focusing on a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, low in animal products and free of all processed food. Strawberries are especially helpful as they help to dispel uric acid, and the only vegetables and fruit you have to avoid are spinach and rhubarb, which contain large quantities of oxalic acid. This can be neutralized by cooking the fruit in milk but really I don’t think it is worth the trouble. If the kidneys are weak, keep your intake of water moderate as it tends to overbur den them. Water-logged kidneys are evidenced by dark circles under the eyes or bagginess in this region. In this case take a herbal diuretic. A gentle and palatable one can be made by mixing I oz (30 g) of anise seed with 2 oz (60 g) each of dried melon seeds and dried cucumber seeds. Grind them all together in a meat mincer and mix to a paste with honey. Eat a teaspoon of the mixture with each meal.


I would prefer you to do this under the supervision of a medical herbalist initially, before you go on by yourself to repeat it twice a year for prevention or maintenance, as it is quite a vigorous

treatment. It cleans on the calcareous type of stone, which responds particularly well to certain herbs. The physical sie these stones are heaviness in the stomach, an inflated belly, yellowness or traces of red in the urine, and if a small stone m into the ureter and jams you’ll know about it – the pain i excruciating! Often X-rays fail to pinpoint kidney stones. You can help yourself by following the general advice of the diet for the kidneys and aim to drink about 3 litres (5 pints) of bortled water a day. Choose one low in mineral content Hydrangea root actually helps to prevent the formation of stones in excretory passages and will dissolve calcareous

stones. It is also diuretic, which is vital if the fluid ingested is to be efficiently flushed through the kidneys in order to flush out stones. Soak 2 oz (60 g) hydrangea root in apple juice (an organic one such as Aspall’s is best for three days at room temperature, shaking several times daily. On the fourth day bring the mixture to a slow simmer while covered, then set aside. One the fifth day begin a three-day apple-juice fast and having strained your decoction take 1 fl oz (30 ml) each waking hour

water until you have finished it. with your juice or Apply a poultice  of parsley with a tablespoon of glycerine added over the kidneys for at least an hour every day of the fast. This will relieve any painful congestion and accelerate healing.

Then take the following kidney formula for four months, drinking a breakfast-cupful of the decoction each morning and

evening. Equal parts of:




gravel root

juniper berries

marshmallow root

parsley root


Also take 100 mg vitamin B, and 300 mg magnesium daily. Repeat the cleanse again after six months.


Once a year in the spring or late summer it is a good idea to embark on a three-day kidney-cleansing fast. In the spring, May is the best time, as the asparagus tips are just coming through. Mince the raw green tips, catching the juice in a bowl. Take a tablespoon of juice every four hours diluted in water and drink nothing but purified water, and carrot juice mixed with equal parts of celery juice and cucumber juice. Apply a hot ginger fomentation (see Chapter 6) for one hour daily over the lower trunk so that it embraces the kidneys and the bladder. Do not be disturbed if your urine comes out smelling of motor oil. This is supposed to happen.

If you choose September, eat nothing but water-melon, include ing the seeds, which should be well chewed. If you can’t chew them liquidize them first, but you must get them down. Follow the instructions for the poultice above.

Barley water This is an ideal drink to soothe and cleanse the kidneys, maintain

ing them in peak condition. It has the added bonus of strengthen

ing the nails and improving the quality and quantity of milk in

lactating mothers, as well as helping to relieve asthma because of

the hordein it contains. Pour 12 pints (900 ml) water over 1 oz (30 g) wholegrain barley (pearl barley won’t do) and boil until the quantity is reduced by half. Add the zest rind i.e. not the white pith) of a lemon for flavour and sweeten with a little honey or apple juice if desired. Drink freely at room temperature.