7 herbs to support digestive concerns

Written by Lucinda Burgess | 17 June, 2021

wooden spoons with different herbs

I am so grateful to be a herbalist and naturopath because when presented with any number of digestive health concerns, I have a wide range of herbs to work with.

As with any herbal tincture prescription, these herbs are chosen and tailored to suit each client’s presenting concern. There are both similarities and differences in the herbs used, and each one has its own unique way of working within the body. Here are just some of the most commonly used herbs for digestive health and wellbeing.

Gentiana lutea

Common name: Gentian

This is a primary herb to think about in supporting low hydrochloric acid and consequently optimising nutrient absorption and assimilation. As a bitter tonic, it helps to activate the digestive system by stimulating the digestive juices needed to help break down and absorb consumed food: hydrochloric acid from the stomach, and bile from the liver and gallbladder. When hypochloridria occurs, the normal functioning of the stomach is inhibited, which affects the breakdown of food. This can lead to malabsorption and nutrient deficiencies. Without being properly broken down, food can also ferment in the stomach and slow gastrointestinal tract transit time, causing bloating, gastro-oesophageal reflux and constipation. By optimising stomach acid secretion, gentian can thereby be used in the management of worms, bacteria and parasites to reduce their reinfestation. As well as gastric juices, it also helps the body secrete salvia, which stimulates appetite and can assist with those suffering from anorexia and low appetite.

Commonly used for: digestive weakness, low stomach acid, low appetite, constipation, abdominal bloating

Caution: peptic ulceration and digestive hyperacidity

Zingiber officinalis

Common name: Ginger

This herb is best known for its warmness. Optimal digestion needs heat and increased blood flow to the digestive tract. As an aromatic digestive, ginger warms the stomach entirely and allows food to move through the digestive tract resulting in better digestion, as well as food and nutrient absorption.

Commonly uses for: nausea, digestive weakness, abdominal bloating

Caution: peptic ulceration, high doses in pregnancy, concurrent use with blood thinning medication

Matricia chamomilla

Common name: Chamomile

Thanks to its anti-spasmodic and mild sedative action, this is a primary herb to think about in the treatment of digestive symptoms and the concurrent presentation of anxiety including nervous dyspepsia. It also works to down-regulate inflammation and optimise healing, and is suitably used to aid gastrointestinal tract colic, inflammation and diarrhoea.

Commonly used for: anxiety, colic, flatulence, gastrointestinal inflammation, diarrhoea, gastritis, peptic ulcers

Curcuma longa

Common name: Turmeric

Best known for its potent anti-inflammatory properties, this herb is can be used when there is gastrointestinal inflammation. As a choleretic, turmeric also helps secrete bile from the liver, assisting with digestive weakness and assimilation. Curcumin, a polyphenolic chemical constituent derived from this herb, has shown to inhibit the growth of Helicobacter pylori – a pathogenic bacteria that can be found in the stomach that causes peptic ulceration by damaging the mucous lining of the stomach.

Commonly used for: peptic ulcer, digestive weakness and associate liver function, gastrointestinal inflammation, Helicobacter pylori infestation

Caution: High doses with concurrent blood thinning medication

Foeniculum vulgare

Common name: Fennel

As a relaxing and nourishing herb to the stomach and intestinal walls, fennel is particularly beneficial to use when there is excessive gas and associated pain of the intestinal tract. As an antispasmodic, it helps to relax contracted intestinal muscles and allows trapped gas to disperse. It reduces involuntary spasms and restores the normal contractility of the smooth muscles within the gut. Due to its antimicrobial constituents, fennel can also be helpful in maintaining a healthy bacterial balance of the gastrointestinal tract.

Commonly used for: flatulence, colic, spasms, cramping, digestive weakness

Caution: gastro-oesophageal reflux, hormone sensitive condition

Cynara scolymus

Common name: Globe artichoke

This beautiful herb is also classified as a mild bitter and works on stomach acid secretion to support digestion and nutrient absorption. As a choleretic and cholagogue herb, it also works to simulate digestion by promoting both the secretion and flow of bile from the liver. The role of bile is vital in digestion and assimilation whilst also improving the detoxification capabilities of tissues and cells. Targeting the liver, globe artichoke also helps to protect and restore liver function.

Commonly used for: Chronic constipation, digestive liver insufficiency, abdominal bloating, chronic skin conditions

Caution: those with gallbladder obstructions

Althaea officinalis

Common name: Marshmallow root

This herb is known for treating digestive hyperacidity, or leakage of the stomach acid. Due to its demulcent action, it effectively coats the oesophagus and stomach lining to prevent contact between the inflamed mucosa and gastric acid, which is commonly seen in conditions such as gastro-oesophageal reflux, gastritis and peptic ulceration. Marshmallow root is a soothing herb to help reduce inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract prominent in ulceration and inflammatory conditions.

Commonly used for: Gastritis, peptic ulcer, gastro-oesophageal reflux

Caution: best taken away from prescribed drugs

References

  1. Bone, K. (2007). The Ultimate Herbal Compendium. Warick: Phytotherapy Press.
  2. Bone, K. & Mills, S. (2013). Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy, Modern Herbal Medicine. USA: Elsevier
  3. Hechtman, L. (2019). Clinical Naturopathic Medicine. USA: Elsevier

Lucinda Burgess

Lucinda (Lucy) is an Endeavour College of Natural Health Alumni, a recent graduate in 2021, who is now a qualified naturopath.

A lover of nature, surfing and animals, she is passionate about all things natural health and wellness, and believes education is a huge part of this. She believes everyone deserves to be healthy, happy and feel amazing and she is so excited to be able to be a part of this. Lucy’s special interests include writing and research, and as she holds a previous degree of Economics and Finance, she hopes to combine these skills with her naturopathic knowledge to help as many people as possible.

Read more by Lucinda Burgess

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