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Herbs and Digestive Health
Digestive health is not only important for preventing discomfort due to common problems such as gas, nausea, and indigestion, it is important for overall well-being. Healthy digestion is necessary for a strong immune system, for optimal nutrient absorption, and for adequate removal of toxins and waste from the body. Herbs for digestion can be used to treat minor digestive issues, but also to tone the system, prevent problems, and to contribute to overall health.
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Bitter herbs all have in common a bitter principle. When the taste buds are exposed to the bitterness a reflex is triggered, leading to an increase in appetite and general stimulation of the digestive system. Plants with this property are only beneficial as bitter herbs when they are tasted, therefore they will not work when taken in pill form. While there are myriad herbs with bitter properties that are more well known for their other medicinal benefits, the following are bitters that are well-suited for promoting digestive well-being:
- Barberry is a bitter tonic, but also a hepatic, meaning that it benefits the functioning of the liver. This herb is good for promoting intestinal movement and is ideal in promoting a healthy gall bladder. This herb should not be used during pregnancy.
- White Horehound stimulates the flow of bile from the gallbladder.
- Centaury contains glycosidal bitter principles, is a general stimulant for the digestive tract, and also acts as a hepatic. It is good for slow digestion and appetite loss.
- Wormwood is an all-around potent bitter tonic and beneficial herb for the digestive tract. Aside from stimulating digestion it also is helpful for treating worm infestations and bacterial infections.
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Carminative herbs are often used to settle the stomach. They are great for gas, nausea, and in general for soothing an upset stomach. While the bitter principle must be present for an herb to have bitter properties, it is the volatile oils of carminative herbs that relax the stomach muscles, thereby allowing matter to more freely move through the system. The following are good carminatives:
- Cardamon relieves gas and stimulates appetite. The seeds can be crushed and made into a tea, but as with several of the carminative herbs it is also beneficial to cook with cardamon to support healthy digestion.
- Fennel is good for gas and stomach pains.
- Aniseed is also calming for the stomach.
- Peppermint soothes digestive problems, and is particularly useful for nausea. As it also acts on the nervous system peppermint is great for improving digestion and relaxing the stomach when digestive trouble is due to nervousness.
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Hepatic herbs are liver tonics. They increase the flow of bile and strengthen the liver. This organ not only assists digestion, but also acts as an organ of elimination, helping to remove waste from the body. Plants that support the liver indirectly support the well-being of the entire body. The following are great hepatics:
- Dandelion is perhaps most well-known as a diuretic, but it also acts to cleanse the liver and stimulate the flow of bile. Rich in nutrients, dandelion is a wonderful tonic for the entire body.
- Wild yam supports the liver, but it also acts to relieve upset stomach by relieving muscle spasms. While a digestive herb, wild yam is also an important herb for balancing hormones.
- Vervain is a hepatic, as well as an anti-spasmodic, calming any tension in the stomach. As a nervine tonic, like peppermint vervain is well-suited for addressing digestive issues that are related to stress and tension.
- Yellow dock promotes the flow of bile, but aside from supporting this organ of elimination, yellow dock acts as a mild laxative and helps to purify the blood of impurities.
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How to Use
Most of these herbs for digestion can be used safely and regularly to simply improve digestive health or to address common problems, from upset stomach to gas. To make an herbal infusion, steep one to two teaspoons of dried herbs in one cup of boiling water for ten minutes. The carminatives can be taken as teas, but many are also ideal for simply adding to the food that you cook as aromatic spices.
These plants are so beneficial, toning and supporting the digestive tract without any negative side effects. It is important however to use herbs as they are intended, not to exceed doses, and to talk to your doctor about your health care choices.
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