The liver’s function in TCM
The liver regulates qi, the vital energy that sustains life, and stores blood, which carries qi around the body and supports the functioning of our organs, limbs and tissues. While you’re awake, the liver supplies blood to the muscles. During sleep, blood returns to the liver to be cleansed.
The liver also houses the hun, or soul, which gives us our consciousness and sense of purpose, and which leaves the body after death.
Signs of bad liver health include an ashen complexion, acne, eye problems (such as bloodshot eyes or blurry vision), muscular weakness and insomnia. The liver also helps to regulate emotions, so unexplained irritability and anger can also indicate a liver problem.
Foods that detoxify and strengthen the liver
Sour foods: According to TCM, sour foods tend to nourish the liver. A refreshing glass of lemon water has a diuretic effect, which can help you flush toxins from your body.
Ginger: This yang (warming food) nourishes blood, improves circulation, and has antibiotic and antibacterial effects that can help your body cleanse toxins and fight pathogens. You can easily add a few slivers of freshly sliced ginger to teas, porridges and soups.
Turmeric: This pungent spice decongests the liver, clears heat from the body, and improves the flow of qi and blood. Add a dash of turmeric to a bowl of soup or a rice dish, or brew it directly to drink. Turmeric powder is also present in many Indian curry recipes.
Dandelion root: A cleansing, detoxifying herb that cools the blood and nourishes the liver. Springtime is the ideal time to drink dandelion tea. Not only are dandelions in flower during this season, but spring is associated with wood, the element of the liver.
Artichokes: Consuming artichokes can help clear liver heat. The plant also contains a compound called cynarin, which promotes bile production and urination.
Magnolia berry (wu wei zi): The magnolia berry has anti-inflammatory properties and is known to nourish and protect the liver. Brew it as a tea and drink a cup per day.
Black beans: Black beans can help to expel excess damp and heat. (They are also said to be beautifying, and have been consumed by Chinese women for centuries for that reason!) To make black bean soup, bring some water to a boil and simmer a handful of black beans. If you like, you can add some goji berries for a bit of sweetness, and to nourish your liver’s yin. You can also roast black beans and eat them as a snack.
Other tips for liver health
Try acupressure: There’s a point on the foot called taichong, which is said to stimulate the liver and encourage digestion. To find it, place your finger on the spot where your big and second toes meet. Then, slide it back an inch or so, until you find the cavity just before where the two toe bones meet. To massage this point, use your thumbs to press the cavity with light to moderate pressure for about three to five minutes.
Cry: Our tears and sweat carry toxins, which means that shedding a few tears can help cleanse the body. A sad movie once in a while is both emotionally cathartic and physically detoxifying. In addition, TCM associates the liver with emotions like anger and frustration. When you repress these emotions instead of expressing them, it can lead to stagnant qi, causing your liver to function improperly.