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ASK THE NUTRITIONIST: What herbs help with kidney issues?

In the latest Ask the Nutritionist column, Nonie De Long looks into herbs to help kidney issues

Dear readers,

This week I got a call from a friend in Toronto with a family member in dire need of a live kidney donor due to a failing kidney.

This is the story, told in his words:

“Eight years ago, my son-in-law Jim was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. Now, like many others who battle this disease, his kidneys are failing and functioning at less than 15 per cent of what is considered normal. Jim describes living with this minimal level of kidney function as ‘being alive but not really living’ because he feels exhausted every day and like his body is slowly shutting down. He is often too tired by the end of the day to even spend time with his 16-month-old son Noah.

At this point, his options are to either go on dialysis while he waits on the kidney transplant list for what could be up to eight years or look for a living kidney donor. We are hoping to avoid dialysis, as it only maintains kidney function at less than 10 per cent while the kidneys continue to deteriorate over time and the five-year survival rate is less than 50 per cent. For these reasons, finding a living kidney donor is the best option and so I’m reaching out to everyone possible to see if someone can be found who might be willing to donate.

I am grateful to anyone who is taking the time to read this. Receiving a kidney transplant would literally save Jim’s life. Our Synagogue, Lodzer Centre Congregation, will be hosting an event on Oct.  23 at 7:30 p.m. to share information by Renewal Canada on becoming a living kidney donor. If you or someone you know might be willing to donate or have any questions about becoming a donor, please contact me (David Young) at”

I agreed to share the information to help Jim and his family this Thanksgiving season.

Today I’m going to share the top six herbs I use to help address problems in the kidneys and urinary tract. Herbal medicine shines in this area and should not be overlooked for acute care that never really addresses underlying weaknesses or imbalances in the body.


Goldenrod is very common here in late summer and autumn, growing wild in ditches and fields. You can see its bushy yellow spikes above many of the other wildflowers and plants if you do any country driving in August or September, but did you know it has potent antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that are specific to the urinary tract? No medicine I’ve found is as healing for UTIs and you can easily dry it to make a tea for yourself at home by hanging the stems upside down, then pulling the dried flowers and leaves off to store in an airtight container.

Goldenrod is rich in saponins and flavonoids. This means it’s beneficial both when there is an inflammatory component to UTIs, as well as when there is a fungal (Candida albicans) component to the UTI. It’s also good for urinary issues that come on after consuming foods we are sensitive to, owing to its quercetin content. It makes a great addition to a herbal tea or tincture for urinary tract issues like bladder or kidney infections and even interstitial cystitis. Again, the properties of the plant are most potent when combined with other plants to work synergistically.

Hydrangea root

Hydrangea root is used in both Western and Chinese medicine for urinary complaints. There are many plants in the species, and they all grow from rhizomes. Some studies have shown hydrangea root decreases BUN levels that are typically associated with kidney damage, owing to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. It’s also been shown to slow down diabetic kidney damage.

It’s thought that the benefit may be owing to the coumarins present in hydrangea root, known to have potent antioxidant effects. But other components in the rhizome are also beneficial. It’s naturally rich in several minerals, including calcium, magnesium, selenium, and zinc.

The root is both diuretic and antilithic, meaning it helps remove excess water from the body, increasing urine output, and can help break down calcification that causes kidney stones. It’s currently being studied for use in autoimmune disorders, as well. In traditional Chinese medicine the dried root is sliced or powdered and made into a tea in combination with other herbs. It can be included in a combination tincture, as well.


Horsetail grows wild in forests and meadows here and in Europe and is prized for its use in hair, skin, and nails due to its high silica content. You can find it in teas, tinctures, and capsules, but for urinary tract issues it’s commonly found in combination teas or tinctures. It’s used for building good bone health and as a diuretic with demulcent properties. This means it’s soothing to inflamed and irritated tissues. In herbal medicine we recognize horsetail has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antimicrobial, and antioxidant activity. This lends itself to addressing bacterial and inflammatory problems. It partners well with other herbs to help soothe and tone an inflamed urinary tract, while supporting increased urination. If horsetail isn’t used, an alternate demulcent herb should be included, like marshmallow root or plantain. What these uniquely do is soothe inflamed tissues and make them slippery to inhibit biofilms from attaching to them.


What list of herbal medicines would be complete without this little miracle plant? Dandelion is so widely useful, it really is an incredible addition to most tinctures and teas. Why? Well, first of all, the entire plant is edible. It’s also easy to identify and harvest. Moreover, it has a host of beneficial properties! It contains vitamins A, B complex, C, and D, and is rich in iron, potassium, and zinc.

Potassium is key here because many diuretics rob the body of potassium. When they encourage urine output, potassium is also excreted and the heart is put at risk because the heart muscle requires potassium to function properly, but dandelion - of all the diuretics - is potassium sparing and thus heart protective. This makes it a unique and particularly valuable diuretic.

Different parts of the plant work on different organs. It’s often used where toxicity is an issue, to cleanse the blood and lymph and support the liver, while also supporting the digestive system. It’s been found in herbal / medical formulas since the 10th century, in everything from cancer protocols to clearing bone infections. Studies have shown its value in treating pain, bone loss, hepatitis, influenza, inflammation, arterial disease, cancer, toxicity, HIV, herpes, colitis, leukemia, and more. Additionally, it’s a rich source of inulin, which is a prebiotic fibre that promotes the growth of good bacteria in the gut. However, it’s essential to source dandelion that has not been sprayed with glyphosate or other dangerous chemicals. You can clearly see why it’s of value in a tincture or tea to nourish and strengthen the urinary system.


Yarrow is a common perennial flowering plant that grows in gardens and meadows across Canada. It’s low maintenance and long blooming, so a great addition to your perennial garden. It’s well known for treating the urinary system, with diaphoretic, hypotensive, astringent, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, diuretic, antimicrobial, bitter, and hepatic properties. Say that five times fast!  What this means is it’s great at inducing a fever - which helps the body mount a quick response to viruses and infections. It also reduces blood pressure, tightens and tones soft tissues, reduces inflammation, reduces spasms, such as the painful spasms that happen in UTIs where you have to run to the bathroom only to void a few drops of scalding urine. If that weren’t enough, it removes excess fluid from the body, is a natural antibiotic, and tones and strengthens the liver to help the body detoxify itself. It’s an essential addition to a tincture or tea that works on the urinary system, preferably in combination with other herbals.

Uva ursi

Also known as bearberry, rockberry, and mountain cranberry, this evergreen shrub can be found growing in gardens and forests here and across Europe. We use the leaves in herbal practice to help neutralize acids in the urine and to increase urine output. Uva ursi has long been used to treat UTIs because it contains glycosides that combat bacterial infection in the bladder, lower urinary tract, and kidneys. It’s very cleansing and there are several studies to demonstrate its efficacy in supporting a healthy urinary tract. It can be taken in a tea or in capsule form, or as a tincture. In herbal medicine we often blend herbs with others to compliment and boost the activity. Herbs work best in synergy together.

If you’re able, please come out to learn about living kidney donation and to support Jim and his family. If you have your own health issue or question, just send me an email and if you’re looking for more specific health information check out my website.

Nonie Nutritionista