Blood-Building Herbs for Iron Deficiency

6 Blood-Building Herbs for Iron Deficiency

Anemia is a medical condition which impairs our blood’s ability to deliver oxygen to every cell in the body.  This condition impacts billions of people worldwide each year, and iron deficiency is found to be the most common underlying cause of anemia (1). While nutrition is a commonly explored option for supporting healthier iron levels in the blood, as a clinical herbalist I’ve found that most people underestimate the power of blood-building herbs for iron optimization in the body!

That being said, in this article, we’ll go down the rabbit hole into a behind-the-scenes scoop on how iron works in the body, plus we’ll talk about my top five favorite herbs for holistically supporting iron-deficiency anemia (alongside other interventions, as needed).

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Table of Contents

What does “blood-building” mean?

Since blood is our primary means of transporting oxygen and nutrition to every cell in the body, blood is considered a main source of vitality or “life-force energy.”  Having an optimal (healthy and balanced) number and size of red blood cells is essential in order for us to feel strong, nourished, and energized!

The phrase “blood-building” is referring to the ability of nutrieints, foods, and/or herbs to nourish, strengthen, support, and enhance the quality and overall production of blood cells in the body.

In this article, the herbs I’ll be discusing are all considred blood-building herbs because they all provide an abundance of iron, which is a top blood-building nutrient required for making and sustaining healthy red blood cells.

What is iron?

Aside from being a common metal, iron is also a type of mineral found in food and herbs. Iron plays vital roles in the human body.

We need to consume, digest, and absorb a certain amount of usable (“bioavailable”) iron from food and/or herbs each day in order to live and function optimally!

Minerals and micronutrients

Nutritionally speaking, minerals are elemental substances from food and herbs which get utilized by the body.

Like vitamins and antioxidants, minerals are also categorized as a type of  “micronutrient” which is a subcategory of nutrients we need in small amounts, from food and/or supplements.

Iron and other micronutrients don’t provide us with energy in the form of calories like macronutrients do, but they’re still necessary and vital for the body in smaller amounts, and we will often experience low energy as a common symptom or side effect of not getting enough micronutrients (like iron) over time.

What does iron do?

Iron wears many hats, to say the least!

Depending on your line of work, you may have your own top-of-mind preconceptions about what iron is used for.  From lawn fertilizer to steel manufacturing and heavy machinery, to rusty nails, cast-iron skillets and clad iron products… iron is pretty darn versatile.

But there’s one thing we all have in common when it comes to iron – our health.

Iron in the body

Our bodies rely on iron to make hemoglobin, a type of red blood cell which delivers oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.

We also use iron to make myoglobin, which is a specialized type of red blood cell which delivers oxygen specifically to muscles.

We rely on iron for vital processes such as making deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) – a type of genetic material – and for electron transport, which is happening 24/7 in every cell in the body, helping to keep us alive moment to moment! (2)

Bottom line: iron is kind of a big deal. 😉

Types of iron

There are two types of iron which are found in foods and/or herbs: (1) heme iron, and (2) non-heme iron.

Heme iron

This is our body’s preferred form of iron.  It’s is easily absorbed into the bloodstream, directly through the gut, without much effort.

  • It’s called “heme” because it comes from hemoglobin in animals. We can only get heme iron from animal-based food sources such as red meat, poultry, or fish.

The most potent food sources of heme iron are red meat and organ meat, which can be a bit controversial due to their very high saturated fat content and because of animal welfare concerns.

For those who prefer not to eat meat for one reason or another, this is where non-heme iron comes into play!

Non-heme iron

Unlike heme iron, non-heme iron is a type of iron which doesn’t come from hemoglobin.

Non-heme iron is the only form of iron we can get from herbs and plant-based food sources of iron – since plants don’t contain hemoglobin, which comes from blood.

(Technically non-heme iron is also present in animal food sources, but that isn’t relevant for those who are reducing their red meat intake or following a vegan or vegetarian diet/lifestyle.)

Whether non-heme iron comes from animal or plant sources, it must first be combined (paired) with vitamin C in a meal or snack in order to become “bioavailable” (well absorbed and easily used by the body).

  • While it may seem strange, the ascorbic acid from vitamin C helps to exponentially increase our ability to absorb and use non-heme iron from food, herbs, or even non-heme iron from pills and supplements. (3)

Recommended reading: 

A quick note on ferritin

There’s a protein in the blood called ferritin which is technically not a type of iron, but it is a relevant protein in the blood which holds onto dormant iron in case of emergency.  (Our bodies are so smart!)

Ferritin is considered our “storage” form of iron. Ferritin keeps our iron reserves locked up, releasing it into the bloodstream only as-needed when iron levels drop.

  • For the purposes of this article, it’s also important to note that dormant ferritin proteins are also stored in our liver.

What is anemia?

Anemia is a common medical condition in which the size and/or total number of red blood cells are, for one reason or another, lower than what is considered healthy and sustainable.

The size and total count of red blood cells are critically important for our state of health and wellbeing, because the blood is responsible for delivering oxygen and nutrition to every cell in the body.

If we don’t have enough red blood cells and this issue is left unchecked, a cascade of other problems will arise…

Types of anemia

When we aren’t getting enough of any of these key blood-building nutrients, it can lead to a decrease in the size and/or total count of red blood cells in the body.

The size and number of red blood cells in the body are directly impacted by three primary micronutrients (vitamins and minerals):

  1. Iron
  2. Vitamin B12
  3. Folate (aka vitamin B9)

That being said, the three different types of anemia are iron deficiency anemia, vitamin B12 deficiency anemia, and folate deficiency anemia.

In this article, before diving into iron-rich herbs, let’s take a closer look at iron deficiency!

What is iron-deficiency anemia?

Iron deficiency anemia is a type of anemia caused by not having enough iron in the body, which compromises the size, count, and overall function of red blood cells such as hemoglobin and hematocrit over time.

Symptoms of iron-deficiency

The most common signs and symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia include:

  • Fatigue
  • Needing naps in the middle of the day
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pale skin
  • Dizziness
  • Light-headedness
  • Reduced exercise endurance (i.e. getting winded from brisk walking)
  • Hair loss
  • Breaking/brittle nails
  • Sore tongue
  • Pica: aka unusual cravings for ice, clay, or other inedible substances (i.e. laundry detergent)
  • Cold hands and feet (poor circulation)
  • Intolerance to cold temperatures

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of low iron are important, but in order to properly manage iron levels with food and herbs, it’s also very important to understand why you’re iron deficient in the first place!  (This is an example of what I often refer to as a “root-case” method of cracking your code.)

The underlying reason(s) for your iron deficiency can help you and your treatment team to determine the next best steps to take, as well as which iron-rich foods, herbs, and/or supplements might be the best fit for you.

What causes low iron levels in the body? (Root-cause considerations)

Throughout my 10+ years of practicing both clinical and functional nutrition at this point in time, the most common underlying factors I’ve found seem to play a contributing role in iron deficiency are the following:

  • Leaky gut
  • Low stomach acid
  • Chronic disease (Inflammatory bowel disease, kidney disease, cancer)
  • Blood loss
  • Low iron intake in the diet
  • Pregnancy
  • Medication side-effects
  • Zinc / calcium interference
  • Anti-nutrients

Leaky gut

Your gut is the “gatekeeper” in charge of what gets INTO your body versus what stays out.

So it’s no surprise that the state of your gut will make-or-break your ability to absorb nutrients such as iron from food, herbs, or supplements!

When the gut lining is inflamed or compromised, such as in cases of leaky gut and/or inflammatory bowel disease / “IBD” (celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, colitis, diverticulitis), it can make it more difficult for iron and other nutrients to get into your bloodstream.

Low stomach acid

We need a certain amount of stomach acidity to help break down food, absorb certain nutrients (such as iron), and to maintain a healthy balance of gut microbes. Low stomach acid, aka “hypochloridia”, has been suspected and confirmed to be a culprit of iron-deficiency anemia (4).

  • Low stomach acid most often occurs as a side effect of acid-reducing medications like proton pump inhibitors and acid-blockers, which I’ll discuss more in-depth in the medications section below.

Chronic disease

Many different types of conditions such as cancer (5), kidney disease, and/or inflammatory bowel diseases, often interfere with the way iron is processed and utilized in the body.

If any chronic disease is present, it’s critically important to work with a team of specialists who can help you to manage your iron levels medically.

Blood loss

Since the majority of the iron in our body is located in our bloodstream, it makes sense that when we lose a substantial amount of blood. While there are infinite causes of blood loss, a few of the most common examples of underlying causes of iron deficiency include:

  • Injury
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding (such as in cases of inflammatory bowel disease, fissures, and/or ulcers)
  • Heavy periods
    • Heavy periods can often be caused by hormonal imbalance such as estrogen dominanace, endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), or fibroids to name a few examples.
  • Blood in the urine (caused by damage to kidneys/bladder)

Low iron intake in the diet

It can be difficult for anyone to meet their daily iron requirements in the diet, never mind those with dietary restrictions!

The following groups of people are at increased risk of developing iron deficiency anemia due to not getting enough iron from food:

  • People following a vegan or vegetarian diet
  • People with reduced appetite (for any reason)
  • People with eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia
  • People struggling with food insecurity
  • Picky eaters

Pregnancy

Iron deficiency is very normal and common among pregnant women, because the blood volume must expand as your little one grows!

How it works: as blood volume increases, the more diluted iron levels become, since the body can’t naturally keep up with the increased demand for more iron production at the rate needed.

Medication side-effects

Please note this isn’t medical advice, so don’t change or discontinue any medication or supplement without your doctor’s consultation!  Sometimes medications are necessary for managing clinical conditions, and the benefit can still outweigh the side effects.

As I mentioned earlier, some medications, like the proton pump inhibitors and acid blockers listed below, can alter our gut pH (acidity level), which makes it more difficult for iron and other nutrients to get into the blood through digestion:

  • Nexium / Esomeprazole
  • Prilosec / Omeprazole
  • Protonix / Pantoprazole
  • Pepcid / Famotidine
  • Zantac/ Ranitidine
  • TUMS

Other types of medications (such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs / “NSAIDs”) can cause ulcers and subsequent blood loss, aka GI bleeding, when taken in excess or in some cases just from a regular dose.

The most commonly well known pain-relieving NSAIDs include but are definitely not limited to:

  • Tylenol
  • Advil
  • Ibuprofen
  • Aspirin
  • Aleve
  • Motrin

There are hundreds of other medications which could be playing a role in iron deficiency, and to go over each possible culprit is beyond the scope of this article.

That said, if you take any medications at all, it may be worth reading through all the listed possible side effects with your doctor, in case anything feels relevant or applicable!

Zinc / calcium interference

Did you know that calcium and zinc (two other types of minerals) when over-supplemented or taken in combination with iron, compete with iron for absorption into your bloodstream?

Or that zinc supplementation isn’t recommended for more than 30 days, since it’s known to increase people’s risk of iron deficiency?

These are just a few examples of why it’s important to work alongside a registered dietitian.  We can look at your bloodwork and help you to determine which vitamins and minerals will be the best fit for your unique needs, as well as how to design your food, herb and supplement protocols in a way that is holistic and synergistic.

Anti-nutrients

Have you heard of “anti-nutrients” before? These are compounds such as tannins and phytic acid which are naturally found in most grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and even beverages such as coffee, tea, and wine.

Tannins are bitter and astringent, while phytic acid doesn’t have a noticeable taste.

Oxalic acid/ “oxalates” in foods can also bind minerals like iron and calcium, making them less bioavailable.

Managing anemia with herbs high in iron

Incorporating iron-rich herbs as part of a balanced diet and holistic lifestyle can be a safe, gentle and fun way to boost your iron levels naturally, without getting sick or experiencing nausea or constipation.

6 blood-building herbs for iron deficiency

Let’s take a deep-dive into my top five recommended herbs for optimizing iron levels naturally, plus some tips on how you can work with each of these iron-rich herbs:

  1. Yellow dock (Rumex crispus)
  2. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
  3. Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)
  4. Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)
  5. Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
  6. Moringa (Moringa oleifera)

Yellow dock / “curly dock” (Rumex crispus)

Yellow dock, aka “curly dock” (Rumex crispus) is a common weed which grows in both Northern and South America, as well as Australia, New Zealand, and many other parts of the world.

This unique herbal ally for iron deficiency anemia can be found in a wide variety of habits, not limited to: fields, meadows, disturbed soils, roadsides, forest edges, next to lakes, and in pastures; it also seems to have an affinity for boggy, swamp-like conditions.

Potential yellow dock benefits

Yellow dock is considered a nutritive (micronutrient–rich) herb, as well as “alternative” herb, which is a class of herbs that tend to speed up metabolic processes and detoxification in the body.  While some alternatives focus on detoxification via the kidneys, lungs, or skin (three of our detoxification organs), yellow dock stimulates detoxification pathways in the liver and colon. (6)

What makes yellow dock special and relevant as an herb for iron deficiency anemia is not just its high iron content (in both the leaves and the roots), but also that yellow dock stimulates the liver to release additional ferritin proteins from storage into the bloodstream, to boost iron levels.

  • This is a prime example of how yellow dock has been said to demonstrate an indigenous, ancestral philosophy referred to as “plant wisdom” in which the colors and behaviors of a plant often leave people with clues demonstrating how that plant can work in the body.  
    • In the case of yellow dock, healers from indigenous tribes observed the bright yellow color of the roots, which they noted correspond with the color of the liver.  (For example, ancestral tribes knew that yellow is the color of bile which is made in the liver and released in the gallbladder, and that when people have an imbalance in the liver, they turn yellow in the skin and eyes.)
    • On the other hand, the tops of the yellow dock plant turn from green to the color of rust, a color which our ancestors knew corresponded to iron!
  • The above is also an example tied to ancient Hermetic teachings by the famous philosopher and alchemist, Paracelsus: “As within, so without; As above, so below.” In other words, we are not separate from nature, plants, or even the solar system.  Everything in nature is a mirror, microcosm or a macrocosm of something else.  (Conversations for another time, perhaps!)

Whether you believe the roles of yellow dock and its color correspondences to organs and minerals in the body are an example of ancestral plant wisdom or a coincidence, either way I encourage you to consider yellow dock as a plant ally on your journey to optimizing your iron levels naturally!

How to boost iron with yellow dock

In herbal medicine, it’s important to note that hot water is generally the best way to directly extract iron and other micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) from plants.

So why not yellow dock tea?

Alcohol (such as in tinctures, which are alcohol extracts of herbs), doesn’t extract vitamins or minerals, but alcohol-based tinctures can still extract important medicinal constituents from herbs.

Either way, I personally wouldn’t recommend drinking yellow dock tea, only because it wouldn’t be a very pleasant or enjoyable experience!  Yellow dock has an incredibly earthy and bitter taste.

Herbal tincture

While taking yellow dock as a tincture (fresh or dried) won’t provide you with a direct source of herbal iron, yellow dock tinctures CAN potentially (anecdotally) be a very effective way to increase your blood levels of iron, by stimulating the release of ferritin from your liver into the bloodstream. (6)

Iron syrup

I prefer to incorporate dried yellow dock root into an herbal iron syrup because (a) it’s pretty tasty, (b) it’s a good source of iron, and (c) yellow dock root helps stimulate the release of ferritin from the liver into the bloodstream!

  • Please take my word for it: herbal iron syrup is WAY more palatable than yellow dock tea! Mary Poppins was right: a spoonful of sugar (or in this case, honey) really does help the medicine go down. 😉
Capsules

For those who don’t want to take yellow dock as a syrup or tincture for one reason or another, it could also be beneficial to try out yellow dock root capsules as a source of herbal iron for anemia.

Yellow dock side effects, interactions, and contraindications

Yellow dock is a rockstar herb for iron deficiency; however, it’s still not for everyone!

Both the root and the leaves of yellow dock are found to be somewhat high in oxalates, which could be contraindicated (not recommended) for people with a history of oxalate-based kidney stones.

People with hemochromatosis, a genetic predisposition to iron overload (excessively high amounts of iron in the blood) should avoid taking yellow dock in any form.

People who are pregnant and/or people with endometriosis should avoid taking yellow dock, since it stimulates the colon and could indirectly impact uterus contractions.

Since yellow dock has a mild laxative effect on the body, people with diarrhea or people taking laxatives should proceed with caution and consider other methods of boosting iron with herbs.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Dandelion is similar to yellow dock in a few very important ways!

Like yellow dock, dandelion is a common weed that grows pretty profusely throughout the U.S.

It’s also a bitter herb and an alterative which happens to stimulate and enhance our natural processes of digestion and liver detoxification.

And both the roots and leaves of dandelion are also a wonderful herbal source of iron!

Dandelion has less of a laxative effect compared to yellow dock; however, the root and especially the leaves of dandelion are known to have a “diuretic” effect on the kidneys.  (In other words, taking dandelion in any form will likely make you pee a lot more!)

(This may explain why the French word for dandelion, “pissenlit”, translates in English to “piss the bed”!  I kid you not.)

How to boost iron with dandelion

Dandelion tea is delicious and effective as a source of plant-based iron.

Dandelion tea

When making dandelion root, it’s important to make it as a tea decoction (simmer the roots in water over the stovetop on low heat for at least 20 minutes).

Dried dandelion leaves, on the other hand, should be steeped in hot water for ~15 to 20 minutes to make a dandelion tea infusion.

Iron syrup

I also often include dandelion root and leaf in my herbal iron syrup recipe (here), because this plant is very iron-rich.

Capsules

You can get some iron from dandelion root or dandelion leaf capsules.

However, keep in mind that since the amount of dandelion herb in capsules is powdered in very small quantities, dandelion capsules won’t give you as much iron compared to drinking dandelion tea or adding it into a syrup.

What about dandelion tinctures?

Unlike yellow dock, you won’t get any benefit from an iron standpoint if you try to take this herb as a tincture since it doesn’t do anything for our ferritin levels.

Dandelion side effects, interactions, and contraindications

People with hemochromatosis should avoid taking dandelion root as their herb of choice for digestion and/or liver detoxification, to avoid the risk of iron overload as a side-effect.

Dandelion leaves and roots have the tendency to reduce blood pressure by acting as a pretty potent diuretic to the kidneys. That said, if you’re taking heart medication of any kind (especially blood pressure meds), you should avoid taking dandelion since it will make your blood pressure drop!

Dandelion is high in electrolytes such as potassium.  People with kidney problems who are prescribed a low-potassium diet should not lean on dandelion root or leaves as a source of herbal iron.

People who are pregnant are encouraged to consult their doctor and work individually with a clinical herbalist to determine whether or not dandelion could be a safe herb for supporting healthy iron levels during pregnancy.

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica)

Stinging nettle leaf is a nutritional powerhouse, to say the least! This salty-tasting herb has been a food and tea staple among cultures worldwide for hundreds of years, for good reason.

Aside from being a naturally rich source of iron, this green, edible herb is loaded with bone-building magnesium, calcium, as well as immune-supporting carotenoids (precursors to vitamin A).

The multitude of benefits stinging nettle leaf and root have to offer in herbal medicine go far beyond the scope of this article. For the purposes of optimizing iron with herbs, it’s important to keep in mind stinging nettle leaf is the iron-rich part of this plant. (Nettle root is used for very different medicinal purposes!)

How to boost iron with stinging nettle leaf

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), just one cup of cooked nettle leaves contains 1.6 milligrams of iron – which equates to almost 20% of the recommended daily intake for most healthy people who don’t menstruate.

Whether you’d like to add some cooked nettle leaves to enjoy on the side with your dinner or you prefer to sip on stinging nettle leaf tea infusions a few times a day, your body will thank you!

I also often add nettle leaves into my herbal iron syrup recipe, if I have some nettle on hand.

A tablespoonful of powdered nettle leaf is an easy add-on to a smoothie for a nice mineral boost to rev up your morning!

Stinging nettle side effects, interactions, and contraindications

Generally speaking, nettle is extremely safe.  A main side effect of nettle (similar to dandelion) is that it will make you pee… a lot! This can make blood pressure drop pretty quickly in some cases.

Nettle’s high potassium content may be contraindicated for people with kidney disease who are on potassium restrictions.

  • That said, if you’re navigating any kind of condition related to the kidneys, your urinary tract, and/or blood pressure, you should ask your doctor before trying out nettle!

When it comes to pregnancy, it remains controversial whether or not nettle is safe for pregnant women.  Herbalists and most studies will likely tell you that nettle is safe to take during pregnancy (8), while some medical providers will disagree since there are some discussions of nettle stimulating uterus contractions.

Lastly, (for better or worse, depending on your goals), take note that nettle will promote and increase lactation among people who are nursing that take nettle! Proceed at your own discretion. 😉

Alfalfa (Medicago sativa)

Alfalfa, aka the “King of Herbs” (7), grows abundantly worldwide but originates in the U.S. as well as Egypt.  It’s a nutrient-dense edible plant which has been highly valued for hundreds if not thousands of years due to its natural abundance in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Alfalfa in all forms is moistening and nourishing to the tissues of the body.  It has a blood-thinning effect, and it’s also slightly bitter which can help support better digestion for many people.

This “mineralizing” herb is most famous for its high levels of iron, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus as well as fat-soluble vitamins A & K, and antioxidants such as carotenoids and chlorophyll, making alfalfa ideal for blood-building and bone-strengthening, along with many other potential benefits!

How to boost iron with alfalfa

Food

Fresh alfalfa sprouts can often be found in the fresh produce section of most supermarkets; they can be easily added to salads, sandwiches, burgers, or blended into smoothies.

Tea infusions

Dried alfalfa leaf is pretty versatile and easy to work with in that it can be made into a tea infusion (steep 1 tablespoon of dried alfalfa leaf per ~12 to 16 oz. hot water for at least 20 to 30 minutes).

Powder

Seamlessly add a few spoonful’s of powdered alfalfa into to soups/smoothies.

Capsules

It’s also possible to get iron from alfalfa capsules, which are essentially encapsulated ways to consume powdered alfalfa in pill form – for those who are busy and want a very simple, easy option.

Iron syrup

My herbalism teacher and mentor Ginger Webb includes alfalfa in her own herbal iron syrup via Texas Medicinals, to add an extra level of vibrancy and nutritional value.

What about herbal tinctures?

To reiterate, as a reminder, I don’t recommend bothering with alfalfa tinctures if you’re looking to boost iron levels as alcohol doesn’t extract iron from herbs.

Alfalfa side effects, interactions, and contraindications

While this food-grade herb is incredibly safe, it’s contraindicated in people with lupus since it contains a nonprotein amino acid, “canavanine”, which has sadly been found to induce lupus-like symptoms in monkeys in the past. (7)

Being a blood thinner and vitamin K-rich herb, I advise people with a history of blood clots or people on blood-thinning medication of any kind to avoid taking alfalfa. (Don’t worry, you’ve got plenty of other options!)

Since alfalfa is in the legume family, some people with oral allergy syndrome may have an adverse reaction to alfalfa, especially when consuming it raw versus cooked/dried.

Lastly, much like stinging nettle, alfalfa is also a “galactagogue” meaning it naturally promotes and amplifies lactation and milk flow (for better or worse) among those who are breastfeeding, so please keep this in mind!

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)

Of all the iron rich herbs discussed in this article, parsley is by far the most commonly used and well known!  This popular green leafy culinary herb shares a very similar nutritional profile to its leafy green vegetable counterparts such as spinach, kale, and mustard greens to name a few.

From a micronutrient standpoint, parsley is loaded with vitamins A, K, and C as well as minerals like iron, magnesium, and potassium.

  • An added bonus of parsley containing both vitamin C and iron in abundance is that it increases the bioavailability of iron absorption into the body (since vitamin C is what makes that happen in plant-based iron food sources). 😎

Energetically, parsley has a drying, warming and nourishing effect on the tissues of the body.  It is a natural diuretic (similar to dandelion and stinging nettle leaf) so it has the tendency to increase water loss via urination and to reduce blood pressure naturally.

Unlike nettle and alfalfa, parsley tends to reduce/dry up the flow of breast milk among those who are lactating.

How to boost iron with parsley

Adding fresh parsley to salads, sandwiches, burgers, or even throwing a handful into smoothies or green juice are just a few top-of-mind examples of simple and easy ways to incorporate fresh parsley as a “functional food” or “food as medicine” into your routine!

  • I find doing this is most enjoyable during the spring and summer months, when our bodies are craving more vitality from fresh foods.

Dried parsley can also be made into tea infusions which are best enjoyed 1 to 4 times daily for this type of tea.

  • Steep 1 to 2 tablespoons of dried parsley in ~12 to 16 oz. hot water, for at least 20 to 30 minutes or longer.

Powered or encapsulated variations of dried parsley can be consumed in levels of 1,000 to 2,000 milligrams, up to three times daily.

Parsley side effects, interactions, and contraindications

Since one size never fits all, it needs to be said – even parsley isn’t for everyone!

Large quantities of parsley taken for therapeutic purposes can be a double-edged sword.  It’s actually possible to have a food sensitivity or oral allergy to parsley.

Clinically speaking, parsley is known to naturally reduce blood pressure and since it’s high in vitamin K, it will also alter blood clotting in the body.  That being said, parsley could negatively impact people who are taking heart medications of any kind – especially those on a blood thinning or blood pressure-lowering medication.

Being an “anti-galactagogue”, parsley will most definitely reduce or stop the flow of breast milk in lactating women, so if your goal is to breastfeed, parsley is not your ally!

Bottom line: please consult your doctor before taking parsley outside of culinary enjoyment. 😉

Moringa (Moringa oleifera)

Native to India, moringa (aka the “tree of life” or “wonder tree”) is renowned for many health benefits – one of them being its iron-rich leaves!

You may encounter moringa leaves in powdered form, in the superfood aisle at your local Whole Food health food store.

In fact, a 2014 study found that the natural iron in moringa leaves was superior to the iron supplement ferric citrate in terms of helping rats to recover from iron deficiency. (8)

A 2023 study concluded that moringa leaves are safe and effective as a way to help prevent and reduce iron deficiency anemia in pregnant women and lactating moms. (9)

  • This is promising, since moringa is widely available and accessible even in third-world countries where iron deficiency anemia runs rampant.

How much iron in moringa leaves?

According to a 2021 Food chemistry publication, moringa leaves contain about 9.9 milligrams of iron per 100 grams of moringa leaf powder. (10)

  • That translates to over 50% daily value for menstruating women, and more than 100% daily value for non-menstruating people.

How to take moringa powder for iron deficiency

I love adding a tablespoon of moringa powder to smoothies!

(Check out this moringa powder smoothie recipe if you’re feeling ambitious and culinary.)

Just keep in mind:  if you’re going for the iron-rich benefit of moringa leaves, make sure you aren’t using a calcium-rich milk or milk substitute fortified with calcium – since that would negate the iron benefit.

Moringa side effects, interactions, and contraindications

Despite being a “superfood”, this plant is not for everyone.

Avoid moringa if you’ve got an underactive thyroid, since this herb contains goitrogens which could potentially worsen hypothyroidism. (11)

6 Blood-Building Herbs High in Iron - for Iron Deficiency Anemia - Infographic

Nutrition and herbs for iron deficiency: more resources

If you’d like to learn more about managing your iron levels naturally with nutrition and herbs, I invite you to check out the following articles and recipes:

Herbs for iron deficiency: final thoughts

Yellow dock, dandelion leaf, dandelion root, stinging nettle leaf, alfalfa, and moringa leaves are all very high in iron.  These herbs may help you significantly boost your iron intake without relying on synthetic supplements, which often cause unwanted gastrointestinal side effects (like nausea and constipation).

Since one size never fits all, no two people will have the exact same experience with herbal iron “plant allies” (aka “herbal allies”) on their journey!

  • The best type of herb(s), herbal preparations, and dosing of herbs for iron deficiency will vary greatly depending on factors such as your age, gender, hormonal state, blood labs, micronutrient levels, gut health, medication interactions, and more.

Working alongside a doctor, registered dietitian, and clinical herbalist is the best way to determine which herbal combinations will be the best fit for you.

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Cheers to your health!
-Jenna

2 thoughts on “6 Blood-Building Herbs for Iron Deficiency”

  1. Good article but not for people with iron overload.
    My question is why does everyone write about low iron anemia.
    Myself and many other people with anemia have Iron overload, I have never been able to find anything to help with that.
    All products formulated for anemia contain iron and the herbs you mentioned also contain iron as well as supplements others recommend

    1. Jenna Volpe, RDN, LD, CLT

      Hi Bob, thank you for this feedback. Iron deficiency is a big problem which impacts hundreds of millions of people worldwide. But you’re right, there aren’t as many resources out there for managing iron overload. I will take your feedback into consideration for future articles!
      -Jenna

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