Urinary Herbs: Gravel Root for Kidney Health & Stone Relief
Gravel Root (Eupatorium purpureum)
Therapeutic Actions: anti-inflammatory, anti-lithic, anti-rheumatic, diuretic
Have you ever had a kidney stone? Or know somebody that did?
Chances are that is an experience that you won’t soon forget.
A couple years ago, early in my “official”, academic herbal studies, one of my daughters told me she wasn’t feeling very well. It seemed odd, as she had been fine just an hour before. Fifteen minutes later, she came back to me, tears streaming down her face, holding her right side. This display of emotion is remarkable as this one kid is my stone cold tough girl with a threshold for pain unlike that of anybody I have ever met. I packed her up and took her to the hospital right then and there. By the time we arrived at the emergency room minutes later, she was vomiting violently, unable to walk for the pain – literally writhing. A couple hours later (AND about $5k in diagnostic tests – hello deductible ceiling), my then 13-year-old daughter was diagnosed with kidney stones and renal edema.
Yeah, unusual to say the least. But then not so unusual, because I had endured a similar episode at about 11 years of age (that went mysteriously undiagnosed), and we have a strong family history of “unimpressive” kidney function. Sigh – heredity.
To make a long story short, I started throwing a kitchen sinks worth of diuretic and antilithic (stone “dissolving”) herbs in her direction while we waited over the ensuing weeks for the stone to “pass”. Only it never did (at least not noticeably, and certainly not painfully). Her pain level resolved within days, and her Rx pain meds went largely unused. A series of subsequent ultrasounds showed reducing edema and no traces of the stone after the first week. The specialist considered her case resolved, and essentially shrugged his shoulders when I referred to our use of herbs.
I would be hard pressed to tell you what I used in the infusions that I prepared for my daughter. It was a stressful and busy time – and I wasn’t documenting her “case”. However, I did use one herb specifically. And that herb was gravel root (Eupatorium purpureum).
Gravel Root Medicinal Benefits
As its common name implies – gravel root known for its action on kidney stones (i.e., gravel). Traditional herbalists would say that gravel root helps not only to dissolve existing kidney stones but also to prevent their formation. As a diuretic, it helps to relieve kidney edema and urinary retention, which, in turn, may resolve complaints of rheumatism and gout. Gravel root is also indicated for pitting edema and “dropsy” – essential the retention of fluids in soft tissues.
With its affinity for the abdominal organs and its anti-inflammatory properties, gravel root is also called for with complaints of the female reproductive organs. Endometriosis, painful periods, atonic uterus, vaginal discharge may all see improvement with use of this herb.
Gravel Root Identification:
Gravel Root is also known as Sweet Joe Pye weed in North America. Not to be confused with boneset (Eupatorium perforliatum), gravel root is a tall herbaceous perennial, with domed clusters of light pink to purple tubular flowers atop 5-7 foot stems. The tall stems are green, hairless, with dark purple areas at the leaf nodes – the stems are not, however, spotted. The vanilla scented flowers typically appear mid-summer into early fall and the plant prefers dappled shade and wooded meadows with damp soils. It is native to the midwest and eastern regions of North America. The root is the most medicinally valuable part of the plant.
Gravel Root Dosage & Safety
Gravel root is yet another herb largely considered safe except when allergy to the daisy (Asteraceae) family is a factor. Please consult a physician before taking this or any other herb if you are pregnant, nursing, have a chronic illness or are taking prescription medication. Please note that renal and urinary conditions such as kidney stones should be closely monitored by a medical professional to ensure that organ damage does not take place.
A tincture of gravel root can be taken in the amount of 2mls up to three times daily. A decoction can be prepared by simmering a teaspoon of the herb in 8-10 ounces of water for 15-20 minutes; this decoction should be drunk three times daily.
Gravel Root Kidney Stone Formula
First and foremost, it is important to understand that prevention is really the key to dealing with kidney stones. By the time the pain hits from a stone, you are clearly at a disadvantage. Water intake should be maximized to help kidneys “flush” properly. Stones form for a variety of reasons and may be composed of different minerals. Only inspection of a captured stone by a specialist can really tell what a stone is made of. Three of the most common kidney stones are:
- Calcium oxalate: avoid high oxalate foods such as spinach, sorrel and other dark leafy greens, rhubarb, chocolate, beets, and parsley; restrict dairy products. Increase consumption of magnesium, B6, and folic acid.
- Uric acid: In this case, the urine is acidic and an alkalizing diet of vegetables, roots, and fruits is preferable, with reduced intake of protein, including organ meats like liver, as well as fish. Avoid citrus.
- Calcium phosphate: In this instance, the urine tends to be alkaline, often related to infection. A protein-rich diet may be helpful here.
As previously stated, when my daughter was ill, I threw the proverbial kitchen sink at her – to good ends, but these days I have a much more measured and thoughtful approach to formulation. I am particularly fond of a formula featured in Medical Herbalism by David Hoffman, with a couple small substitutions. This formula includes:
- Gravel Root (Eupatorium purpureum): See above therapeutic uses
- Cornsilk (Zea mays): anti-inflammatory, demulcent, diuretic, tonic
- Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa): anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic
- Cramp Bark (Viburnum opulus): anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic
- Hydrangea Root (Hydrangea arborscens): antilithic, diuretic
Prepared as a tincture, 5mls of this formula can be used 2-3 times a day as a possible preventative and up to 5 times a day for acute complaints.
Gravel Root Kidney Stone Formula
- 1 part gravel root
- 1 part cornsilk
- 1 part wild yam
- 1 part cramp bark
- 1 part hydrangea root
- 100 proof spirits such as vodka
Combine all dry ingredients. Place in a jar with a tight fighting lid and cover with 5 parts alcohol. Ex: if the total weight of your dried herbs is equal to 5 ounces, combine with 25 ounces alcohol.
Infuse the herbs into the alcohol for at least 6 weeks, shaking daily. When done, strain through layers of cheesecloth or muslin, into amber dropper bottles.
Standard adult dose: 5mls, up to 3x daily for preventative actions or 5mls up to 3x daily for acute complaints.
Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism the science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.
Wood, M. (2016). Earthwise herbal repertory: traditional western herbalism. North Atlantic Books.