HERBAL ALLIES FOR DIGESTION
When it comes to cultivating healthy digestion we can all agree that our daily nutrition lays the foundation. What we choose to put into our bodies on a daily basis is vital to our overall health. It is the integrity of the digestive system that allows us to receive the energy we need from foods. Additionally, the digestive system is in constant communication with our nervous and immune systems. If our digestive system gets out of whack, these systems are often the first to start showing signs of imbalance as well.
A WHOLESOME DIET
There is a whole world of conflicting nutritional advice out there, so take these basics and make them your own. Bioindividuality means that every person is a biochemically unique individual with different genetics, experiences, and overall lifestyle. There’s a reason why people can eat such drastically different diets and all experience superb health! Intuitive eating is a great way to discover which foods are best for you. Stay open minded and curious, and you might be surprised!
Consuming plenty of wholesome, fresh, unprocessed foods is the first step towards greater health. Include a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, sustainably sourced fish, and pasture-raised animal products. Prioritizing local and organic wherever possible is also highly beneficial. Basically, just stick to the outside aisles of the grocery store and shop the farmers market if there’s one nearby.
PREBIOTICS + PROBIOTICS
In addition to eating a wholesome diet, taking a high quality probiotic can greatly improve digestive function. Try looking for a multistrain probiotic with at least 10 billion CFUs per capsule. Ensuring a healthy gut microbiome is essential to our digestive health, and heavily impacts our nervous and immune systems as well. Prebiotics provide food in the gut, particularly in the colon, for these beneficial flora. Prebiotic herbs include Marshmallow root, Chicory root, Burdock root, and Dandelion root. These roots are often made into an herbal tea or powdered and added to smoothies or oatmeal. Burdock root can also be sliced and added into homemade soups or kimchi.
Bitters are essential in every home apothecary as they promote optimal digestion and assimilation of our food. When our taste buds sense bitter compounds, they immediately send a message to the central nervous system, which then sends a message to the digestive system saying food is on the way! The stomach, liver, pancreas, and duodenum all begin working to release digestive enzymes and juices that will adequately break down food and transport nutrients throughout the body. Bitters especially aid the liver to detoxify and eliminate excess hormones, toxins, and metabolic byproducts through the bile.
Bitter herbs that are widely available to grow, forage, or purchase include: Angelica, Burdock, Cardamom, Chamomile, Chicory, Dandelion, Fennel, Turmeric, Yarrow, and Yellow Dock. There are many ways to begin incorporating bitters into your diet and daily routine. Try making a salad with bitter greens such as Dandelion, Arugula, and Radicchio. Oftentimes, bitters are taken as a tincture before a meal. Ideally a bitters tincture would be taken 15-20 minutes prior to eating, to give the digestive system time to prime itself, but it’s okay to take it right before or during the meal too. PS. we have some delicious bitters unstuck right now - pop in!
In addition to bitters, there are a few other groups of medicinal herbs that work closely with the digestive system. These include Astringents, Antimicrobials, Carminatives, and Demulcents. Astringents contain compounds called tannins that tighten and tone tissues of the body, particularly mucous membranes and the skin. They are often applied to reduce gastrointestinal inflammation, irritable bowel syndrome, stomach ulcers, leaky gut syndrome, and diarrhea. Common astringent herbs include: Cinnamon, Meadowsweet, Nettles, Raspberry, Rose, Sage, and Yarrow.
Herbal antimicrobials are highly aromatic herbs that were traditionally utilized in cooking to eliminate contaminants and pathogens in food. They contain volatile oils that elicit therapeutic effects in the gut while also killing unwanted microbes. These common culinary spices also all happen to be carminatives that aid in digestion as well. Carminative herbs are anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic, meaning they reduce uncomfortable and sometimes painful muscle spasms in the gut caused by gas. Herbs in the antimicrobial and carminative category include: Basil, Bee Balm, Cardamom, Catnip, Chamomile, Cinnamon, Fennel, Ginger, Lemon Balm, Mint, and Tulsi.
The last group of herbs that play a key role in maintaining and supportive digestive health are demulcents. Demulcents are herbs that contain a mucilaginous substance that is somewhat gelatinous and thick. This mucilage is prebiotic and is also highly soothing and inflammation reducing to bodily tissues. These demulcents are often employed to help relieve heartburn, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and leaky gut syndrome, as they travel along the digestive tract to soothe, heal, and seal the gut lining. Demulcent herbs include: Cornsilk, Flaxseed, Licorice, Marshmallow, Mullein, and Slippery Elm.
As modern research indicates, there is an intimate connection between the brain and the gut. Oftentimes herbs that are used to calm and soothe the nervous or digestive system are effective at doing both. A few examples include: Chamomile, Tulsi, and Lemon Balm. If you notice that your moods correlate with your digestive function, then try some of these herbs out!
All of these digestive herbs can be incorporated into your daily routine pretty easily. Try brewing an herbal tea by choosing an herb or two from each category and making an infusion. Alternatively many of these herbs can also be cooked into dishes as food. Tulsi, Nettles, Dandelion greens make a fabulous and decadent pesto, while many of these herbs can simply be sprinkled into dishes as a kitchen spice. Get imaginative and have fun creating new healing recipes!