Gallstones and the attacks of 'biliary colic' they cause can be truly horrible as has been attested to in vivid detail by a number of patients over the years. I am sorry to have to say that there are instances when things have just gone too far and surgery to remove the gallbladder is the only sensible option but it is also been seen to be true that, in many cases that I have worked with personally that a) it is entirely possible to prevent future attacks and b) it may be possible to help dissolve and pass small stones which we have been able to confirm with before-and-after ultrasounds. The following describes what I have found to help the most.

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Finding a good herbalist

Much of what's written in this article is entirely suitable for a person to work through themselves but, especially if things are quite bad, or you just know that you need further help, then there may be a great deal of benefit to you to go to whatever lengths necessary to find a good herbalist or truly holistic practitioner to guide you on to a safe and strong treatment program. There's a short write-up to suggest how you might go about finding such a person here

Herbs for Gallstones

What we are trying to do with herbal medicines for Gallstones is a twofold approach to both increase the amount of bile created by the liver and also to assist with the easy passage of that bile through the liver, the gall-bladder, and the passageway (the duct) from the gall-bladder into the intestine.

An average adult produces a rather incredible amount of bile - up to 800mls in a typical day! It is an important fluid that is constantly being made in the liver after which it is stored in the gall-bladder for such times as we eat foods containing fats when the bile is then released in significant quantities to help break the fat down; rather like a detergent is needed to break down hardened fats when we wash the dishes.


Gall stones are largely caused by the bile becoming too concentrated and not liquid enough which, if it happens often enough, eventually causes 'salts' within the bile to come out of solution and to start forming the nucleus of stones. So you can see why it makes perfect sense to a) make sure that we produce plenty of bile and then b) make sure that the bile keeps flowing well rather than getting stuck, stagnant and concentrated.

These two steps should certainly prevent gallstones from developing. They may also be enough to help break down down existing ones enough for them to be safely passed. Perhaps, so long as the stones are small enough, increasing the flow of bile can carry the debris safely down the duct and away into the bowel, just as increasing the flow of a river may be enough to wash away a dam.

The following list does not by by any means include all the possible allies in this area but for myself and many other herbalists practicing around the world these are the herbs that we principally rely on to increase both the production and the flow of bile.

close-up of Chelidonium majus (Celandine)


Top of the list is Celandine. I consider it the strongest of all the liver cleansing herbs and have tremendous respect for its potency (it must be used with care as too-high doses can make people very sick indeed!) I have a detailed write up on it here. I really do encourage people to find a good herbalist if they can but, especially where that is just not possible, I can recommend a safe and sure method to use Celandine that combines it with the greatest of Kidney cleansing herbs; Juniper. The method is described in detail here.

Barberry & Golden Seal
These two herbs are both tremendously helpful for increasing bile flow as well as stimulating the liver to produce more bile. If I have Golden Seal that I know has been organically cultivated then it will be my preference as it is just so good (more info on it here) but as it is an endangered herb it is often hard to get cultivated stock at any price and then Barberry is a close second in terms of its strength, potency and similarity of effect (more on it here)

Dandelion root
This is one of those herbs that is so commonplace as to be completely underestimated. In fact it is a hugely reliable friend to the liver and there are many cases both historically and currently of people curing their gall bladder colic with the regular use of Dandelion root alone; more here

Globe artichoke
This is a gentle herb that is well suited for long-term use if needed. As I say in its monograph in my personal experiences section 'I love this herb in how it can be confidently used to stimulate better liver function without the same worry that you will cause a temporary worsening of their symptoms that come with many of the other potent liver herbs' more on it here.

Yellow Dock
I will often use this herb for a person who has liver and gall-bladder congestion and does not have an very healthy and active bowel! Even just going to the toilet once instead of twice a day could be enough of a reason for me to put at least a little bit of Yellow dock in the formula because you cannot overestimate how powerful a therapeutic action it is to stimulate a person's liver function and if their bowel is not fully 'open for business' then you run a real risk of putting them through a considerably uncomfortable healing crisis and Yellow dock can help to avoid that; more here.

Plantago Husks or Life Greens
If a person eats enough fruit and vegetables to get all the fibre they need then they may not be necessary but, if I don't use Yellow Dock for the reasons described above then I may use a course of either Plantago husks (more here) or the product we make in our clinic called Life Greens (more here) to help ensure the bowel is moving regularly and keeping healthy whilst we use the potent liver-cleansing herbs.

Diet & Detoxification

People in cultures, who eat a lot of fruit and vegetables hardly ever get this painful health problem. Gallstones are very much an increasing phenomena of modern living and a refined diet. If you don’t have enough good fibre from fruit and vegetables in your diet then your chances of getting gallstones are very much higher. If you do already have some stones developing (and apparently this is true for 1 in 5 of us!) then having plenty of plant fibre in the diet can help small stones to be safely excreted.

Detoxification is a big subject that has a lot of myths and misconceptions; if you want to read some more about it look here. I would say it is fairly essential to keep the diet light and clean whilst working with the liver cleansing herbs and I have a simple and do-able program showing how to do that written up in detail here.


Constitutional Health Note:

You might benefit from learning about your constitution to know what kind of foods, herbs, exercises etc. will work especially well for your health in general as well as that of your liver and gall-bladder. Constitutional health is an old and fascinating way of understanding our differences and, to demonstrate how it works in this area, if you are one of the dryer constitutions then you are much more likely to develop gallstones from your bile becoming too scanty and concentrated therefore the herbs that make your 'juicier' (i.e. help you make more bile) will be especially helpful whereas if you are a damper constitution you may already make plenty of fluids in your body, including bile & cholesterol, and it is congestion and blockages which will be the core issue behind the problem. There is a brief introduction to this subject here and a more detailed section on working out which constitution you are here.


Sun-Burn & Olive oil flushes

Gallstones contain a centre that is noticeably dark and this obviously led one to very much ‘thinking outside the box’ scientist to wonder whether the same kind of cells that responded to sunlight by getting darker might somehow relate to gallstones. The results of his study were startling to say the least.

Two hundred and six white-skinned individuals were involved in the study and it was found that those who liked to sunbathe had on average twice the risk of getting gallstones than those who didn’t. In the people who frequently got sunburnt after long periods of sunbathing, the risk of developing gallstones was a remarkable 25.6 times greater than those who did not like to lie in the sun!

This is simple conjecture but it may be something to do with how sunlight relates to the secretion of melatonin from the pineal gland. In any case it is certainly thought that a lack of melatonin might contribute to gallbladder stones, as melatonin is known to increase the conversion of saturated cholesterols to liquid bile...

Olive oil flushes
A popular remedy and much promoted ‘cure’ for a gallstone is the ‘olive oil liver flush’. There are several variations of this with epsom salts and cider vinegar but they generally revolve around drinking a great deal (i.e. a cupful or more) of olive oil and chasing this up with large amounts of lemon juice.

People tell of passing huge stones and huge numbers of stones (upwards of a hundred is a common report) whilst doing this olive oil flush and oh if only it were true! Sadly the truth does get in the way of a good story here. This will come as disturbing news to people that have diligently collected their ‘stones’ and proudly shown them to anyone that took an interest but with few exceptions* those are not gallstones but rather a direct result of the treatment itself. The Olive oil and lemon juice become 'saponified' along with material in the bowel and form little pellets which eventually pass out.

The consumption of such large quantity of any kind of oil by its nature can cause a major contraction of the gallbladder. That can be a serious problem if there really is a stone in there which is just big enough to get in and block the duct. In that case we are back to the agonies of biliary colic and you may have to think about getting in touch with the emergency medicine services.  

The following from an online discussiion between professional herbalists on the olive oil flush

~ From: JM
I am suspicious of gallstones that dissolve or that liquefy when passing. I have done several gall bladder flushes myself using a formula from a book titled "Encyclopaedia of Digestive Disorders" by F. Roberts, of Roberts’s formula fame. The flush involved taking divided doses of olive oil and lemon juice every fifteen minutes over a two hour period to stimulate the gall bladder to contract and release stones. The effects were very dramatic - one time causing drastic elimination out both ends simultaneously. It also made me lose my taste for olive oil for many years.

I also worked as a massage therapist in a clinic where a similar flush was used for detox and cleansing. The "stones" people would pass needed to be kept in the freezer or they would melt. I then read in a book the suggestion that these "stones" were a product of saponification, the olive oil mixing with the alkaline bile salts creating a soap (similar to mixing lye and fat).

At naturopathic college I obtained a real gallstone from the gall bladder of the cadaver we worked on in anatomy lab. It was as hard as a rock and it would not dissolve in olive oil and lemon juice, even after several months. I didn't try dissolving it in coke or ortho-phosphoric acid.

I believe it's possible that a gall bladder flush may cause stones to be eliminated, but these stones will sink to the bottom of the toilet. The "stones" that float and that are easily squashed are most likely soap. I have heard of people passing hundreds of such "stones" which would imply that they must have a huge gall bladder.

~ From: MM
In the early 1980s, after recommending and teaching Robert's protocol, a PhD physiologist STRONGLY suggested that these "stones" were probably artifacts of the therapy. The next time someone passed some, I took them in a cooler to a local Santa Fe medical lab I had a working relationship with. They showed only traces of chenic and cholic bile salts, and had no discernable cholesterol content. Their educated guess was that they were saponified fatty acids...probably linoleic or oleic acid salts. They were DEFINITELY not "gallstones". I have not recommended this grim regimen since.

One of the great scams amongst 19th century medicine shows was this HUGE capsule, made out of a colored and sealed gelatin capsule. It cost $1, and was GUARANTEED to pass a tapeworm. Indeed, everyone who took one raved about this long "worm" they passed.
The capsule contained a long coiled spiral of a thin strand of gutta percha (crude rubber), dusted in Lycopodium. This was the "worm".

Robert's protocol, similarly, seems to result in the consistant passing of "stones" consisting of saponified olive oil, acted on as well as possible by the stressed digestive apparatus.

That doesn't mean that the shocked pancreas and gall bladder don't, on occasion, vomit out a small cholesterol stone. But, as anyone who has worked with cholelithiasis will vouch, this is risky stuff, since an obstruction by a REAL stone of the biliary duct or common duct from the gall bladder spasms may be just as likely. Most gallstones exist WITHOUT symptoms. Most obstructions require surgery.

Hydrastis canadensis (Golden Seal)

I can't treat you unless I see you in person and, as you can see, there's nothing here for sale,
this living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd