Herbal Remedies for Digestive Problems

By: Editors of Consumer Guide

©2007 Publications International, Ltd. Ginger has been used for centuries to cure digestive ailments.

Digestive problems can be helped enormously by herbal remedies. There are plants to stimulate digestion or relax it, to help expel gas, and to soothe inflammation and pain. Most culinary herbs were used because of their ability to facilitate digestion.


Herbal Remedies for Digestive Problems

Although people shy away from bitter foods, bitters perform a valuable function. Bitter greens, for instance, typically stimulate digestion. This means they prompt the body into making more digestive juices such as hydrochloric acid in the stomach and digestive enzymes in the intestine. Bitter foods also stimulate the gallbladder to contract and release bile, which helps break fatty foods into small enough particles that enzymes can easily finish breaking them apart for absorption. This is important because fats carry essential fatty acids, such as heart-healthy omega-3s, along with fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K and carotenoids such as beta-carotene. Bitter herbs can also stimulate the appetite.

Bitter digestive stimulants include angelica, black cohosh, dandelion, skullcap, and yarrow. One cup of herbal tea per day of one or several of these herbs should enhance digestion sufficiently; use much smaller quantities of wormwood. Dandelion is perhaps the most popular digestive aid in this lineup. Its bitter substance has been identified as taraxacin. Juniper is not considered a bitter herb, but it increases hydrochloric acid secretion in the stomach.

Carminatives dispel gas in the intestines. Herbs that lend a hand in this category include fennel, lavender, mint, rosemary, and juniper. Rosemary does double duty -- it also increases digestive juices and bile like its bitter cousins. Include rosemary and fennel in your cooking to add flavor to meals. These two herbs may be especially helpful for digesting fat -- include them in high-fat dishes. Make infusions of any of these herbs, and drink when you have trouble with excessive gas and need to soothe an upset stomach. Fennel is even mild enough for children and is especially helpful to them when combined with chamomile.

Antispasmodic herbs are those that relax muscle spasms. Herbs with this property put an end to stomach and intestinal cramps. A cup of tea of one or more of these will do the trick: black cohosh, chamomile, lavender, lemon balm, mint, skullcap, valerian, wild yam, wormwood, and yarrow. See individual profiles for recommended dosages.

Other helpful herbs include those with demulcent properties. This means they soothe, coat, and lubricate. Marshmallow, mullein, and oats are good demulcents. Several cups of marshmallow or mullein tea can be enjoyed per day. Oats can be used in their traditional form as oatmeal.

Ginger, a tropical herb not easily grown in the average garden, is also a good digestive aid and is number one when it comes to thwarting nausea. Numerous clinical trials support this use of ginger. European angelica is also a digestive stimulant similar to ginger.

If you have excessive stomach acid, do not use digestive stimulants, including bitters and ginger. Wormwood should be used internally only in small amounts and generally only when you are under the care of a health care professional trained in its use.


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Eric Yarnell, N.D., R.H. (A.H.G.) is a naturopathic physician and registered herbalist in private practice specializing in men's health and urology.  He is an assistant professor in the botanical medicine department at Bastyr University in Seattle and is president or the Botanical Medicine Academy.  He is the author of several textbooks including Naturopathic Gastroenterology, Naturopathic Urology and Men's Health, and Clinical Botanical Medicine; He writes a regular column on herbal medicine for Alternative and Complementary Therapies. This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.Before engaging in any complementary medical technique, including the use of natural or herbal remedies, you should be aware that many of these techniques have not been evaluated in scientific studies.   Use of these remedies in connection with over the counter or prescription medications can cause severe adverse reactions. Often, only limited information is available about their safety and effectiveness. Each state and each discipline has its own rules about whether practitioners are required to be professionally licensed. If you plan to visit a practitioner, it is recommended that you choose one who is licensed by a recognized national organization and who abides by the organization's standards. It is always best to speak with your primary health care provider before starting any new therapeutic technique.