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Digestion is so critically important to how to we break down and assimilate nutrients. There are a variety of things that can happen to disrupt digestive balance, including stress, inflammatory or allergenic foods, toxins we knowingly or unknowingly ingest, acidic foods or drinks, and much more. There are many herbs that can help offset digestive symptoms that arise, as well to help heal damaged tissue, reduce inflammation, increase production or release of important digestive compounds (such as digestive enzymes and bile), help feed the beneficial flora, and reduce pathogens (such as excess yeast growth and parasites).
Herbs such as Slippery elm bark and Marshmallow root are useful for coating and soothing the digestive tract starting with the throat and esophagus, the lining of the stomach, and on into the intestinal tract.  Therefore, they are useful for acid reflux and any kind of gastritis. They both absorb excess fluid, and provide a mucilaginous moistening property as well, so therefore can be useful for chronic diarrhea and for constipation.  They are also both useful for cooling and healing the mucosal lining after food poisoning, food allergies, or other inflamed digestive issues.
Other herbs are what herbalists call “carminatives,” helping to relax the nerves of the digestive tract, act as local antispasmodics for intestinal muscle spasms and pain, and help relieve gas and bloating. Herbs like Fennel seed and Peppermint are two of the most commonly known in this category.  Catnip as a tea or tincture is another good herb to use, but most people will be surprised by this one! Catnip also is helpful if the indigestion is stress-related, as it helps relax the nervous system as well. These herbs are also great for consuming post-meals to promote better digestion.
Herbal anti-inflammatories for the digestive tract include YarrowMeadowsweet, and Ginger. These herbs can be employed when there is known inflammation and for generally supporting the health of the digestive tract when there is inherent weakness present and food intolerance or sensitivities. Meadowsweet is also beneficial for acid reflux and inflammation of the stomach lining in general.
In addition, a category called herbal “bitters” includes herbs that contain principles that taste bitter on the tongue and, as a result, stimulate the Vagus Nerve which in part activates digestive function including the release of gastric fluids, bile, enzymatic release by the pancreas, and generally stimulates movement of the digestive tract.  Taken 10-15 minutes before eating, these herbs, such as Gentian rootArtichoke leaf, Wormwood, and Oregon grape root, can overall improve digestive function and therefore the assimilation of food, especially when taken on a consistent basis.  These herbs can also be used when you have occasional digestive stagnation, such as a feeling that food is not moving well out of the stomach. These herbs are also useful for stimulating bile production and flow from the liver and bile release from the gallbladder, therefore helping with fat digestion and assimilation. Interestingly, these are the herbs to be employed also if someone no longer has a gallbladder, as they can help stimulate the liver to produce more bile, now that its holding vessel (the gallbladder) is no longer there to store bile.
Finally, there are herbs that contains antibacterial, anti yeast/fungal, and anti-parasitic compounds, helping to prevent and treat these infections. These herbs include Goldenseal rootYarrowBlack Walnut hulls, and Wormwood, to name a few. Wormwood, as its name implies, is very specific for intestinal worms, but can help with dispelling other parasites as well. Black walnut hulls are a broad-spectrum anti-parasitic herb, as well as helping reduce yeast and fungus. Goldenseal and Yarrow are more specific for fungus and bacteria imbalance. Oregano leaf extract and the essential oil diluted in oil in capsule can also be very effective against a wide range of intestinal pathogens.

A classic and familiar herb in many culinary and medicinal traditions, ginger is a good example of the confluence of medicine and food.  The benefits of ginger have long been known in Indian and Chinese systems of medicine.  In India, it was even known as a “universal medicine”.  A digestive aid that calms nausea, warms, and promotes digestion, ginger is also known for its overall anti-inflammatory effects.  Ginger root acts as an anti-inflammatory (or, more appropriately, an inflammation regulator) partly by to normalizing prostaglandin action, and therefore helping to regulate the inflammatory cascades of the body.  It also acts to inhibit the enzyme COX-2 (cycloxygenase-2) which when overactive/overstimulated in people can lead to multiple inflammatory issues including arthritis.  Ginger root also has compounds that inhibit the formation of thromboxanes and therefore can reduce platelet formation helping to keep a healthy blood viscosity.  Ginger can also reduce pain by reducing prostaglandins that sensitize pain receptors.
Therefore, ginger root taken in therapeutic doses, can be a useful alternative to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin and acetaminophen, without the side effects such as gastritis/ulcers.  In fact, ginger root contains at least 17 compounds that have an anti-ulcer action.
Of the 477 compounds that have so far been identified in ginger root, many have varied desirable effects on inflammation.  It is the whole root that seems to work, as much as some would like to find the “active compounds”.
Primary actions of ginger: anti-inflammatory, anti-nausea, circulatory stimulant, warming, digestive, blood thinner (inhibits platelet aggregation), diaphoretic
Primary uses: sluggish or weak digestion, nausea, motion sickness, joint inflammation, arthritis, head aches, gastritis (inflammation of the stomach), high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, colds & flu to help break a fever and induce sweating

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is a member of the legume family and the seed Trigonella foenum-graecumand leaves have long been used in food and medicine.  Fenugreek seed powder is a component of curry powder and is used to flavor marinades, chutney, and pickles.  The sprouted seeds are a nourishing food and a good way to get some of the therapeutic actions from this herb as well.  Fenugreek has also been used in agriculture as a feed for animals, to increase egg & milk production, and to help animals gain weight.
Medicinally, fenugreek has been used throughout history by various cultures for many things, including as an anti-inflammatory for the digestive tract, for helping heal peptic ulcers and colitis for example, and the skin, for helping heal abscesses for example, due to its healing mucilaginous components.  It is also helpful for thinning mucus in the lungs and helping to clear congestion and can be useful for sore throats, bronchitis, and allergies.  Fenugreek is also considered a digestive aid, helping to increase appetite, better digest fats, and generally help purify stagnant digestion with bloating and gas, bad breath, etc.
Fenugreek may be best known by customers coming into my shop, Herban Wellness, as a galactagogue.  It is known to promote milk production in lactating women and is known for its maple syrup-like odor which when taken in adequate amounts can produce that odor in those taking it in large enough quantities.
Fenugreek has been studied mostly for its ability to help better regulate blood sugar levels in those with insulin and non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus.  It appears to help increase insulin sensitivity of the cells, therefore decreasing glucose levels in the blood.  The fiber content of the seed, when consumed as a powder or extracted in water for the mucilaginous/carbohydrate components, may be responsible for the improved glucose tolerance in those taking Fenugreek seed.
Fenugreek also has been shown to decrease cholesterol levels and to help prevent atherosclerosis (plaque formation and hardening in the arteries).  This hypocholesterolemic activity has been primarily attributed to saponins and the mucilage (gum fiber/carbohydrates) in the fenugreek seed, and is mainly attributed to a reduction in the reabsorption of cholesterol and bile acids in the intestines.
Fenugreek is known as a nutritive and anabolic food, promoting hair growth, semen production, and milk production.
Primary therapeutic actions: hypoglycemic, galactagogue, anti-inflammatory, hypocholesterolemic, demulcent, appetite stimulant, digestive aid, and diaphoretic.
Check out this link for information on sprouting and eating the Fenugreek seeds:
http://www.herbsarespecial.com.au/free-sprout-information/fenugreek.html

Enjoy this uplifting and aromatic blend of herbs in the morning as you get ready for a new day or sip on a cup in the afternoon for a caffeine-free pick-me-up.  Inspired by the returning light and longer days, this blend reminds me of spring in a glass, as I relish and search for its return.  It is a blend of citrus, floral, and slightly camphor notes and can provide a gentle lift without stimulants because of the enticing aroma, antioxidants, and circulatory stimulation of rosemary.  Rosemary and lavender dance together beautifully in this blend, tempered by the smoothness of marshmallow root and the tart of rose hips and orange peel.  This blend of herbs is also soothing to the nerves and stomach, and and helpful for promoting healthy digestion.  Rooibos is a lovely, honey-tinged herb from South Africa that has all the antioxidants of green tea but no caffeine.  It also has some mild stress-relieving and protective effects.
Contains: orange peel, marshmallow root, rosemary, lavender, rose hips, rooibos, and rose petals.

Cinnamon is a very familiar spice/herb to most people.  Often, I find that people are surprised to see it in cut bark form for use in a tea, however, as it is most familiar in powder form.  It has a long history of medicinal use and was shipped from the Spice Islands to Europe, the Middle East, Africa, India, and China in earlier times as part of the spice trade.  The inner bark of the Cinnamomum spp. is used and is transported in rolls.
A sweet, spicy, warming herb, I often use the bark in tea blends for its flavor and also because of its beneficial effect on blood sugar.  It increases insulin sensitivity of cells and can help decrease blood sugar spikes after a meal.  It is also a drying herb, so it can help decrease diarrhea and the associated fluid loss, as well as helping to slow or stop bleeding, and to help lessen mucus congestion of the lungs and sinuses.  A tincture (liquid extract) can be used to slow or stop postpartum hemorrhage.  It can also help with sluggish or weak digestion, especially when the stomach is cold.  One way to tell if someone has more of a “cold” digestive system is if they have a harder time digesting cold foods, such as raw vegetables and yogurt.  The tincture and oil are both very antimicrobial and antiparasitic.

This tea is a blend of flavors many people associate with the holidays, or this time of year anyway…  Cinnamon, orange, clove… and a hint of sweet with stevia leaves mixed in there.  Inspired by a wonderful customer of mine at Herban Wellness, she wanted to gift a small amount of this blend to her clients this month.  Everyone knows I can’t simply write about a tea for taste, can I?  So, what can one expect to feel from this tea?  Or what are some of the potential benefits from the herbs in this blend?
Orange peel, clove, cinnamon, and cardamom all have a beneficial effect on digestion, but helping to relax, promote the flow of digestive juices in the gastrointestinal tract, and to dispel gas.  They all, but particularly clove, also have antibacterial effects.  Orange peel and cardamom also have an effect on the nervous system, helping to both uplift and invigorate, while promoting calm.  Hibiscus flowers, another addition to this tea blend, not only adds its signature rich pink color, but it has a very beneficial effect on the cardiovascular system, helping to lower blood pressure and strengthen arteries and veins.  Also, interestingly enough, hibiscus is sometimes referred to as a refrigerant, meaning it has a cooling effect on the body, which is in contrast to the spices in this blend which tend to warm.
See my write-up on Cinnamon bark to understand its beneficial medicinal effects.
Stevia, other than being a hundred times sweeter than sugar without any sugars, also has been studied for its medicinal effects and seems to have a beneficial effect on blood sugar balance.  I love to blend a few stevia leaves into my teas for a subtle, completely natural, no-calorie sweetness.
Contains: orange peel, cinnamon, clove, cardamom, hibiscus, and stevia
A perfect blend for the holidays, no?  Sip while baking cookies or serve warm or cold at your holiday party in a glass pitcher.  Serve to family members when things start to get a bit snarly to soothe and brighten.

Cardamom – this herb is possibly a familiar flavor, due to its use as a spice in Indian chai as well as pastries, particularly from Sweden where this herb is used a lot.  This herb grows well in tropical regions, and it is grown most intensively in southern Indian and Guatamala.  A member of the Zingiberacea family that turmeric and ginger both also belong to, its Latin name is Elettaria cardamomum and the part that is used is the seed, either in the pod or removed from the pod.  This herb is a warming, digestive aid with aromatic properties.

Primary properties: carminative, expectorant, lung tonic, circulatory stimulant, diaphoretic, antispasmodic, aphrodisiac, antimicrobial (particularly the essential oil).
Cardamom is indicated for the digestive, respiratory, circulatory, and nervous systems.  For the digestive tract, this herb can help promote healthy digestion, help ease the discomfort of indigestion, and help dispel gas and bloating.  It is also useful if someone has a cool/damp digestive tract and excess mucus for its warming, drying effects.  If you don’t do well digesting raw vegetables or cold foods, chances are you have a cool/damp digestive system that thrives better on warm, soft foods.
For the lungs, cardamom can be useful for helping to relax coughs, to thin mucus, and for bronchitis for its drying, antispasmodic, and anti-inflammatory effects.  The essential oils has antimicrobial effects and is a strong antispasmodic.  It is also useful as a diaphoretic to help break fevers/chills during a cold/flu.
As an aphrodisiac, it may be because of its warming, circulatory stimulating effects, and the euphoric effect some people (including myself) get just by inhaling its aromatic scent.
Recipe idea: poach or back a pear, sliced in half and cored, with cardamom seeds stuck in the pear skin throughout.  Pears are a lung tonic, and can help soothe a cough and break up mucus in the lungs, so paired with cardamom, they enhance each other’s actions.  Or just eat this for dessert – yummy!
I sell cardamom only in the seed form in bulk.  I use it in my Herbal Chai Immuni-Tea blend.  Traditionally, cardamom is one of the spices used in Indian chai, simmered in milk.

Meadowsweet – a meadow plant that prefers moist areas, this plant is native to Europe and Asia, but is naturalized in the Northeastern U.S. and Canada.  Meadowsweet belongs to the Rosacea (Rose) family and its Latin name is Filipendula ulmaria. Its previous Latin genus name of Spirea is where the word aspirin was thought to originate, since this plant contains salicylates that were the basis for the drug aspirin.  From this history, one can deduce that this plant can help with inflammation and with pain.  The leaf & flower (upper part of the plant in flower) are used medicinally.
Primary properties: anti-inflammatory, antirheumatic, antacid, antiemetic, carminative, astringent, analgesic, antiulcer, diuretic, antimicrobial, immune modulator, diaphoretic, anticoagulant, mild bitter.
Based on its primary properties, meadowsweet is indicated in hyperacidic conditions of the stomach, such as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), often experienced as “heartburn” because of the stomach acid entering the unprotected esophagus, and for helping heal ulcers and the associated pain.  It is also useful for helping to calm an upset stomach, relieve nausea and indigestion, and dispel gas and bloating.
Meadowsweet is a good anti-inflammatory, helping with inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract as well as joint and muscle inflammation and pain, including arthritis and other rheumatic pains.
As a member of the Rose family, the meadowsweet leaf has the characteristic astringent properties, toning and strengthening tissues, especially of the gastrointestinal tract.
The anti-inflammatory effect of meadowsweet is combined with its supportive, healing effect on the stomach and the anticoagulant (blood thinning) properties, therefore making this herb a potential great alternative to the “baby aspirin” a day some people choose.
The tea and tincture are most often used.  The tea is a pleasant-tasting one that can be mixed with other herbs, such as marshmallow root or slippery elm for their antacid and anti-inflammatory properties or with elder berries and Echinacea to help break a fever and boost the immune system, or taken alone.

Lemon balm – a member of the mint family, this plant grows well in the cool, temperate climate of the Pacific Northwest. Its Latin name is Melissa officinalis, and its leaves are used medicinally and are full of volatile/essential oils with a lemony scent.  As is the case with most plants that are a member of the Lamiaceae (Mint) family, this herb has an affinity for the nervous system and the digestive tract.  Because our stomach and intestines are highly innervated (surrounded with nerves), this herb can help relax the nerves and smooth muscle around the intestines, calming a nervous/anxious or tense stomach and helping to dispel gas and bloating.
Lemon balm’s primary actions in the body are: nervine, antispasmodic, carminative, antidepressant, anti-anxiety (calming), antimicrobial (including antiviral), diaphoretic, and hypotensive.
Based on these primary actions, lemon balm is indicated for both anxiety and depression and for nervous heart palpitations and digestive upset.  It is a fabulous calming herb, considered cooling and sedative, gentle enough for children to help promote restful sleep.  It is used during colds & flu for its diaphoretic action, helping to break fevers and promote rest.  Its antimicrobial properties also make it a beneficial herb or use during viral or bacterial infections, particularly as a hot tea where it can promote perspiration.
Lemon balm is also one of the few herbs that is indicated for use in hyperthyroidism.  One herbalist, Sharol Tilgner, found that the fresh juice was most helpful for this (she would press and freeze the juice in ice cube trays to be used when needed).
As a carminative, antispasmodic, and nervine, lemon balm is indicated when someone has gas, bloating, or general indigestion.  The volatile oils act locally on the smooth muscle surround the intestines to relax and promote passage of gas so there is not as much gripping and pain.
The essential oil has all of these properties, as well as being used in salves topically for its antiviral and anti-inflammatory effect for herpes/cold sores.
The fresh herb is the most flavorful, and if you have access to it in your yard or garden, use this to make a tea.  However, the dried herb will certainly suffice, using about 1 Tablespoon herb/cup of hot water and steeping approximately 10 minutes, and has a grassy, mild lemon-y flavor.  The tincture or glycerite (extract in vegetable glycerine) are also great, because they are extracts of the fresh plant.