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Herbal Remedies for Proper Digestive Support

(carminative herbs in tea)

We all have experienced some level of digestive distress over our lifetimes. Everything we are ingesting (or not) is producing a chemical reaction and imparting an influence upon all of the systems throughout. The GI tract is the origin for gaining sustenance and nourishment so that the entire body can produce energy. With a holistic approach to disease, we must recognize these functions as vital and ensure there is proper nourishment, assimilation, and eliminate any irritating factors to improve health. 

Herbal medicine boasts a wide variety of plants for the GI tract. There is an herb to support anything you are experiencing, from mild tummy upsets from a night of indulgences to more severe situations like Inflammatory Bowel Diseases. With such a vast system, it is easy to get lost in the fascinating world of herbal medicine. By breaking it down into classes and actions of herbs, you may select the proper remedy for your situation. 

Bitters- These are herbs that are bitter in flavor and impart a stimulating ‘wake up call’ to the functions of the entire system. They increase saliva, stomach acid, bile flow, pancreatic enzyme release, and encourage movement of the intestines. With our busy American lifestyles, we don’t often get into that rest & digest mode of our nervous system that naturally encourages these. So if you have any digestive struggles, bitters are always apart of the recommendation as they strengthen the vagus nerve actions upon the digestive system.

Examples of bitter herbs: gentian, yarrow, chamomile, dandelion root, burdock root 

Astringents- Tonifying in nature, these are imperative pieces to repair any weakened tissue especially in cases like leaky gut, where the lining of the intestine is permeable. It allows the tissue to heal together smoothly, creating a protective layer, so other layers of the mucosa may heal. They are often used to stop bleeding, internally or externally.

Examples of astringent herbs: white oak bark, agrimony, raspberry leaf, yarrow, rose, green/black tea

Demulcents- Bringing a moistening and protective quality, demulcents will coat and soothe the mucosal linings of the body. For example, this protects the stomach lining and esophagus from eroding due to stomach acid. It is also imperative in constipation and inflammatory conditions in general. 

Examples of demulcent herbs: marshmallow root, slippery elm bark, licorice root

Carminatives- Carminatives are aromatic herbs, aka the ones that contain all the delicious smelling volatile oils. These penetrate the tissues to open and relax, settling any cramping, food stagnation, upset tummies, or griping pains. Generally warming, they rekindle digestive fire needed to digest food. They will also relax the nervous system, assisting proper gut-brain axis functioning via the vagus nerve.

Examples of carminative herbs: ginger, cardamom, anise, fennel, chamomile, peppermint, lemonbalm

Stimulants/bowel tonics- This is a wide category of herbs that stimulate bowel movements due to the intensity of action. They range from mild to stimulating laxatives and cathartics. A widely misused category of herbs that can cause harm if used improperly, so it is important to know what level of intensity you need and taken at a properly guided dosage. I often find that the stronger stimulants are not indicated until other recommendations have failed to improve the condition. 

Examples of bowel tonic & stimulant herbs: yellow dock root, burdock root, senna leaf, turkery rhubarb root, cascara sagrada 

Many of these herbs will cross over into other classes as all herbs are complex and have a wide variety of medicinal compounds. This is of great advantage to us despite the overwhelming nature at first glance. You may find that you have indigestion, generally run cold, and have some mild cramping pains around meals- and ginger may take care of all of that for you. However, sometimes our situations require a formula to take care of all that is going on. Situations like constipation may require both a stimulating laxative, bulking laxative, and carminative to help with the cramping pains that come with the bowel movements once they are provoked. 

Generally, the herbs listed above are very safe, but please do your research and ensure there are no contraindications with medications and that it is the right herb for you. And if in doubt, talk to your local herbalist. At Lionhearted Herbals, we frequently see cases centered around digestive disorders, and highly urge those with complex or chronic conditions to request an appointment for proper recommendations to be made.

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