Swelling of the hands, ankles, feet, face, abdomen, or other areas of the body. Edema is often a secondary symptom associated with normal changes in one’s physical condition, such as pregnancy or the menstrual cycle, as well as with a wide array of more serious disorders, such as injury or kidney, liver, and heart disease. It can also be a side effect of any one of several drugs.


What Is Edema?

From Modern Western Medicine

Edema is an abnormal accumulation of fluid in the body tissues. The swelling can be local (at the site of an injury, for example) or general (such as from kidney or heart disease). The kidney maintains the balance of liquid in the tissues. Illnesses affecting the kidneys, such as nephritic syndrome (in which the kidneys excrete an abnormal amount of protein from the blood) or renal failure (in which all salt is prevented from being excreted from the body) can upset the liquid balance of the body. Disorders involving other organs, such as the liver (in the case of cirrhosis) and heart (such as heart failure) can also give rise to edema. Finally, corticosteroids and androgen drugs, high-estrogen contraceptives, and anti-diuretic hormones can all throw off the fluid balance of the body and cause edema.

Usually, edema does not result in weight gain until after the fluid in the tissues increases by more than 15%. Then the ankles usually begin to swell, but in some severe cases, body cavities fill with fluid. Edema usually causes the swollen area to respond slowly to pressure from our finger. If you press the swollen area with your finger and the tissue remains indented, you have edema.

Treatment is directed at the primary disorder that may be causing the edema, but if underlying the cause is intractable, excess fluid may be removed from the body by restricting sodium intake and taking diuretic drugs.


From Traditional Medicine

Edema can be a sign of a serious underlying disease—such as congestive heart failure, kidney disease, or cirrhosis—and warrants a physician’s examination before you engage in self treatment. Once possible serious disorders have been ruled out, the milder issues, such as menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and diet can be dealt with. Excessive consumption of salt or sodium-containing foods is one of the most common causes of edema. Weak kidneys are also a common cause of excess fluid retention.


General Recommendations

  • Have serious illnesses ruled out by a physician before self-treating.
  • Strengthen kidneys and bladder (see Part IV).
  • Eat moderate amounts of low-fat protein foods, such as fish and beans, which stimulate the kidney function (a healthful guideline: fish once or twice a week; beans daily).
  • Avoid excess protein. If you are eating a relatively high-protein diet, significantly reduce protein. (Guideline: A daily consumption of an animal food, such as fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, and meat can be considered a high-protein diet.) Excess protein weakens the kidneys and will lead to a reduction in their overall strength and efficiency. High protein consumption also contributes to bone loss such as osteoporosis, kidney disorders, and is associated with numerous types of cancer.


Foods to Eat

The following foods help reduce swelling:

  • Fish
  • Adzuki beans
  • Barley
  • Grapes
  • Kidney beans
  • Kombu/kelp seaweed
  • Lettuce
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Peas
  • Pineapples
  • Pumpkin
  • Soybeans
  • Zucchini
  • Watermelon


Foods to Avoid

  • Processed foods
  • Animal products
  • Salty foods


Herbs to Treat Edema

  • Blue cohosh: tincture, ½ – 1 tsp., three to four times daily; fluid extract, 10 -30 drops (1/6 to ½ tsp.), three to four times daily
  • Cleavers: fluid extract, ½ – 1 tsp., three to four times daily; infusion, 3 oz. – 2 pints cold water, let stand three to four hours, drink 3 oz. (cold), three to four times daily, or 1½ oz. – 1 pint of warm water, steep two hours, take 1 cup three or four times daily
  • Corn silk (good when weak heart is the cause): infusion, steep 5 – 15 minutes, take 3 oz. as needed
  • Gravel root or queen of the meadow: tincture, 30 – 60 drops (1/2 – 1 tsp.), 3 times daily; fluid extract, ½ – 1 tsp., three times per day
  • Hawthorne berries (for edema of heart origin): tincture, 10 – 20 drops
  • Watermelon seed: use infusion of dried seeds



  • Hot and cold sitz baths



  • Beta-carotene: 15 – 30 mg per day
  • Vitamin B complex: 25 – 50 mg, once a day
  • Vitamin C: 100 – 500 mg
  • Vitamin E: 100 – 400 IU, one to two times per day
  • Potassium: 500 mg per day (No RDA for potassium exists. It is widely available in fruits and vegetables. Experts recommend 3,000 mg per day, which is easily obtained from food alone.)