Dear Annie, do you have any ideas about using natural solutions for peripheral edema or swelling in the legs? I have edema in my left leg, with my ankle blowing up after sitting with my leg dangling. It also happens when I walk a lot. Although not painful, the ankle aches strongly when it’s swollen. Also, it is hard to stand or walk when its swollen. Nothing seems to help. Can you make any suggestions?
Thank you for reaching out. When water accumulates under the skin and swelling occurs, it is called edema. If the fluid retention or swelling happens in one or more of your legs, feet, or hands, it is termed peripheral edema. Interestingly, it is not uncommon for only one leg to be affected.
First, its important to understand that peripheral edema is a symptom. Whenever a part of your body swells on a regular basis, there is more going on.
Lets start by taking a closer look at edema and what causes swelling in the legs and ankles. Then we’ll go into some natural and herbal solutions that might help.
About Edema and Peripheral Edema:
Edema occurs when something disrupts the balance of fluid in the cells. As a result, an abnormal amount of fluid accumulates in the interstitial tissues or the space between the cells and structures in the body. A lot of things can cause edema. However, it is most often associated with venous circulation, lymphatic system or kidney problems.
Venous Insufficiency and Peripheral Edema
The most common cause of peripheral edema is venous insufficiency. The venous circulatory system is the network of veins that returns de-oxygenated blood back to the heart. When the valves inside the veins are weak or not working properly, blood backs up and collects in pools around your feet and ankles. Other symptoms of venous insufficiency include:
- Pain or the feeling of achiness after sitting or walking for a long time
- Changes in skin color
- Dry, cracked, and irritated skin
- Skin sores
- Aches in your legs.
The Lymphatic System and Peripheral Edema
The Lymph system is part of both your circulatory and immune system. It is made up of a vast network of vessels that pass through almost every tissue in the body. Important functions of the lymph system include:
- To help maintain a healthy fluid balance in the body
- Filter out, collect, and rid our bodies of potentially dangerous substances
- Lymph fluid absorbs and transports acids and fats
- Transports immune cells around the body.
When the lymphatic network is not working well or is “leaking,” fluids can build up. Lymph vessels can become damaged because of an accident, surgery, or cancer treatment. Lymph notes (the filters of the lymph system,) can also become damaged or “blogged down, not working properly. As a result, fluid builds up in the limbs, usually the arms and legs. This is called Lymphedema. A roundworm infection called filariasis can also cause Lymphedema.
Additional symptoms of lymphedema include:
- Swelling in all or part of the arm or leg
- A feeling of heaviness or tightness
- Restricted range of motion
- Aching or discomfort
- Recurring infections
- Hardening and thickening of the skin (called fibrosis).
The Kidneys are two bean-shaped organs about the size of large fists (4 to 5 inches long). They are located on either side of the spine, behind your stomach. The kidneys primary function is to maintain a constant and healthy internal environment. Similar to the filter in a fish tank, the kidneys control the body’s fluid balance, acidity, and the movement of fluid. Additionally, the kidneys remove waste products from the blood in the form of urine and keep your electrolyte balances at the right levels. All blood passes through your kidneys several times a day.
Additional symptoms associated with kidney insufficiency include:
- Shortness of breath
- Excessive thirst
- Bruising and bleeding easily
- Tiredness in your legs and feet
- Waking exhausted in the mornings, even after a good sleep.
Other factors that may cause peripheral edema
As discussed, there are a lot of conditions and/or issues that can cause, or contribute to, swelling in the legs. If you identify with a specific cause or set of symptoms, it gives you a good place to start. Remember when working with holistic healing, we work with the whole person and seek to find the root cause of any issue. A resolution is much more likely when the cause is addressed.
Below is a listing of possible causes for peripheral edema:
- Congestive heart failure – when the heart does not have sufficient strength to pump the blood up from the feet. And is usually accompanied by tiredness, a cough and shortness of breath.
- Blood clots, also called deep-vein thrombosis or DVT – with DVT, usually only one calf swells. Pain and tenderness or cramping is also likely. Often the skin feels warm. Additionally the skin may have a red or blue tinge. DVT is a serious, possibly life-threatening condition. If you think this is the cause of your edema, talk to your Doctor immediately.
- Cirrhosis of the liver or an enlarged liver
- Inactivity or a sedate lifestyle
- Hormone imbalance or hormonal changes
- Cancerous tumors, non-cancerous growths or injury to the pelvic area can put pressure on the veins in the legs.
Some drugs have side effects that support fluid buildup in the system. If you are taking over the counter or prescription medication and having trouble with edema, read up on the possible side effects. Common medications known to cause or add to symptoms of edema in the legs and feet include.
- Over the counter drugs like NSAIDs, Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen can cause edema.
- Diabetes medications including metformin
- Some anti-anxiety drugs
- Hormone replacement medications that contain estrogen and/or progesterone.
Inflammation is a complicated process of the immune system. In fact, the inflammatory process is one of the ways your body deals with injury, infection, and disease. When there is an injury, the inflammatory response signals the immune system to heal and repair damaged tissue. Inflammation can be caused by several things including:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Injuries such as strains, sprains, and broken bones
Natural Solutions for Peripheral Edema
When using herbal remedies as solutions for health concerns, a thorough history is always taken first. Why? Because if the cause is not readily apparent, your history will give clues as to where to start. For example, if you have a history of urinary tract infections (UTI), drink a lot of water and bruise easily, you may want to begin by trying more herbs to tone the kidneys. If you have always had hormonal difficulties, difficult or painful periods or unmentionable menopause, you may want to add herbs that stabilize hormonal function.
Take a moment to reflect on the possible causes for your peripheral edema. Do you identify with anything? Write down your health history. Include everything you can think of, even if it doesn’t seem relevant for this issue. Feel free to contact me here for an example of the one I use.
Look at your whole person. Symptoms that may not seem related, like frequent headaches or backaches, can be clues to what is causing the problem. Next, make a list of the main symptoms you want to address. Then decide which herbs or holistic therapies are the best match for your situation.
Herbal Solutions for Edema in Legs
In this situation, without having a full history, we will address the lymph system, the venous circulatory system, and gently support kidney function. Because swelling in your left foot happens when sitting and walking, we may want to consider herbs that increase the circulation to the feet and remove stagnation below the waist. We’ll use astringent herbs to help tighten or tone tissues and prevent fluid leakage or overflow. Finally, we’ll look at herbal diuretics, as they help remove excess water built up in the system by stimulating the kidneys to produce urine.
You will notice that many of the herbs appear in more than 1 category. That is good, those are the herbs we are most likely to add to our formula, depending of course what is going on for you individually.
Herbs that tone and support the lymph system
Herbs that tone, promote movement and support lymph function will assist with the removal of interstitial fluid from the tissues. These herbs may help increase peripheral circulation, assist in the removal of stagnant fluids, increase lymph mobility, and hopefully help reduce swelling. Lymphatic restorative herbs have a good history of success with edema that is caused by lymphatic insufficiency. Herbs in this category include: Red Root (Ceonothus spp), Cleavers (Galium aparine), Calendula flowers (Calendula officinalis), Burdock root (Arctium lappa), Dandelion root and leaf (Taraxacum officinale) and Chaparral (Larrea tridentata.)
Herbs that tone and support the veins of the circulatory system
Venous Insufficiency is the leading cause of peripheral edema, especially in women over 50. When tissues and valves in veins become weakened and lax, blood begins to stagnate causing fluid to buildup in the lower extremities. My favorite herbs to tone the walls and valves of the circulatory system include: Hawthorn berries (Cratagus spp.), Hibiscus Flowers (Hibiscus sabdariffa), Red Root (Ceanothus spp), Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum), Bilberry (Vaccinum myrillus), and Ginkgo Biloba.
Diuretic herbs that support kidney function
Diuretic herbs remove excess fluid by stimulating the kidneys to produce urine. Herbal diuretics are usually not as strong as their pharmaceutical counterparts. However, unlike pharmaceutical diuretics, plant medicines tend to stabilize potassium. Potassium is an electrolyte, a mineral usually washed out by synthetic diuretics.
Trophorestorative herbs are tonic, nutritive herbs that have a healing and restorative function to a specific organ or tissue. They work with the body’s innate intelligence to bring balance or harmonize the function of the tissues to which it has an affinity. Kidney trophorestoratives help restore homeostasis (healthy functioning) to the organ. As a result, we might see blood pressure stabilize (whether high or low), edema relieved and a correction of minerals and electrolytes in the system. Some of my favorite kidney trophorestoratives usually have some diuretic properties and include: Dandelion root and leaf (Taraxacum Officinale), Nettle seeds (Urtica dioica) (the leaves can also be used), Burdock (Arctium lappa), Cleavers (Galium aparine) and Hawthorn (Cratagus spp.).
Herbs specifically indicated for peripheral edema
Red Root (Ceanothes spp.)
Red Root is recommended any time fluids build up in peripheral tissues (like the arms and legs). Its astringency helps tighten the thin fibrous tissue that separates our organs the and other tissues inside of us. Also, Red root helps reduce swellings caused by kidney insufficiency, lymphedema, and congestive heart failure.
Nettles Seeds (Urtica dioica)
The seeds of the Nettle plant are considered a kidney trophorestorative. Although the seeds are most recommended to restore kidney balance, the leaves can also be used. Nettle leaves are highly nutritive with astringent, anti-allergenic and anti-rheumatic properties. Both the leaves and the seeds are used to reduce edema and treat varicose veins. Nettles is a handy herb. This plant does all the above, while supporting your circulatory, digestive, respiratory, digestive, AND endocrine systems.
Hibiscus Flowers (Hibiscus sabdariffa)
Another mineral rich superstar, Hibiscus has a positive effect on the blood vessels and the circulatory system. Hibiscus flowers act as a mild hypertensive to normalize blood pressure, promote proper circulation and decrease water retention. While its astringency tones blood vessels and surrounding boggy tissue.
Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinale)
The leaf and root of the Dandelion is a strong diuretic that works as well as most of its pharmaceutical counterparts. Plus Dandelion is a good source of potassium, where synthetic diuretics tend to decrease potassium levels. Low levels of potassium can aggravate cardiovascular problems. This, along with dandelion’s supporting effect on the liver, lymph system, spleen, and sugar metabolism make it a safe choice when dealing with water retention.
Ashwagandha (Withania sumnifera)
Ashwagandha root is an Ayurvedic herb from India. Primarily an adaptogen, this root helps our body, mind, and spirit deal with the daily stress of life. Ashwagandha acts as a cardiovascular protective and diuretic to aid us in decreasing edema while also helping to relieve depression, anxiety and insomnia. Additionally, Ashwagandha helps regulate thyroid issues and strengthens the spleen (the largest organ of the lymph system). Good Stuff. The suggested dose is 3-6 grams of the dried root or 6-15 mg of the root extract daily. Too large a dose can cause gastrointestinal upset.
Calendula (Calendula officinal)
Also called Pot Marigold, this lovely little flower is a powerful, yet very gentle healing agent. Calendula acts as a diffuse circulatory stimulant to increase peripheral circulation. It is a gentle, effective lymph mover and has a mild astringency to tone and heal circulatory tissue and mucus membranes.
Bromelain is a mixture of enzymes that come from the stem and core of pineapple fruit. It has a host of beneficial actions for our purposes. First, it acts to help disperse edema and encourage tissue draining. Bromelian may also be useful for preventing thrombus (or blood clot) formation, as well as helpful dissolving any blood clots that are already present. Bromelain has strong anti-inflammatory properties, helping to relieve the pain and inflammation in conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, joint pain, and trauma type injuries. As an alternative pineapple juice may be used for the same (or similar) benefit. Take Bromelain between meals for its anti-inflammatory actions.
1 Possible tincture formula to help relieve edema
Tincture Formula for Peripheral Edema: Red Root (Ceonothes spp.) 2 parts Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale) 1 part Ashwagandha (Withania sumnifera) 1 part Hawthorn berry (Cratagus spp.) 1 part Mix individual plant extracts of tinctures. Suggested dose is 30 to 60 drops 2 times per day.
Tea to Help Relieve Edema
Anti-edema tea: Mix equal parts of dried herbs Calendula flowers (Calendula officinalis) Hibiscus flowers (Hibiscus sabdariffa) Dandelion root or leaves (Taraxacum officinalis) Nettle leaves (Urtica dioica) Make an infusion using 1 oz herbs to 16 oz boiling water. Cover and let steep for a minimum of 20 minutes. Drink ¼ cup at a time, throughout the day.
When starting a new herbal protocol always listen to your body. Pay attention to what’s going on the day you start the new formula. Continue to watch yourself carefully for the next several days. If something feels off, then it is. All plants and supplements work differently with different people. That does not mean herbs don’t work; it means THAT herb isn’t working for you. If you begin to feel uncomfortable in any way after beginning a new herb or supplement STOP taking it. Give me or someone else a call, and chat about what’s going on. Contact me here if you have and questions or want to discuss your herbal plan.
Product Suggestions for Edema in Legs
Wonderment Gardens offers individual herbal tinctures, teas and standard herbal formulas online. We also offer personally formulated herbal remedies, health consultations and yoga therapy. Check us out at Wonderment Gardens.com.
Click here to check out our full line of herbal products. all made with the best quality ingredients. With an extra helping of love.
As a clinical herbalist, I am always happy to assess your personal needs and help you develop an individualized healing plan. Please click here to chat with Annie about your health concern or to schedule a consultation.
Affiliate Product Suggestions
The following are affiliate links. That means, if you purchase a product through one of the links, I make a commission at no additional cost to you. Rest assured I only suggest products I can support and feel confident about. Thank you for your support.
Veinomax, from our friends at Supersmart.
VeinoMax contains plant extracts known to strengthen capillary walls and improve vein health. It’s use has been know to have beneficial effects on the symptoms of venous insufficiency. Plus, it helps to relieve heavy, painful, swollen legs and night cramps. And has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Botanic Choice Bromelain
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Hudson, Tori ND; Botanical Strategies to support Metabolic Issues in mid life women. 2012 Southwest Conference for Botanical Medicine, Tempe AZ.
Cabrera, Chanchal AGH, Botanicals for the Lymph System. 2018 Southwest Conference on Botanical Medicine, Tempe AZ.
Hoffmann, David; New Holistic Herbal, 1990, Element Books Limited; Shaftesbury, Dorset SP7 8BP
The statements and ideas presented here are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition. They have not been evaluated by the FDA. All ideas presented are for the sole purpose of education. To help you take control of your own health. If you have a health concern or condition, consult a physician. We suggest that you always consult a medical doctor before modifying your diet, using any new product, drug, supplement, or doing any new exercises.
These statements and products have not been evaluated by the FDA. They are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition. If you have a health concern or condition, consult a physician. Always consult a medical doctor before modifying your diet, using any new product, drug, supplement, or doing any new exercises.
Herbs taken for health purposes should be treated with the same care as medicine. Herbal remedies are no substitute for a healthy diet and lifestyle. If you are serious about good health, you’ll want to combine diet, exercise, herbals, a good relationship with your doctor and a generally healthy lifestyle. No one of these will do it alone.
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