Welcome to Day 24 of the 40 Day Herbalist Challenge! When it’s working well chances are you barely notice your digestive system, but digestion can be a big deal if things get even a little unbalanced! Although there are too many different topics associated with digestion to be able to cover them all in today’s challenge, my goal is to help you understand the different categories of herbs that can be particularly helpful for the stomach and intestines. I’ve also pulled together some articles and resources about a very important digestive balancing herb for today’s mission.
Herbs + Digestion
Healthy digestion can be a broad topic, and there are several different categories of herbs that can be applicable. These include astringents, carminatives, bitters, and demulcents.
Astringent herbs tighten and tone tissues. Astringents like blackberry root, white oak bark, and witch hazel were traditionally used as a home remedy for diarrhea, and modern herbalists also turn to them when there are imbalances in the digestive tract like leaky gut, diarrhea, and gastritis where the whole system can benefit from their tightening and toning action.
These are spicy or aromatic herbs that are traditionally used to soothe spasms and eliminate wind from the digestive tract. Peppermint is a well known carminative, and many culinary herbs and cooking spices have this quality. Carminatives were traditionally utilized either in food as spices or used after a meal as needed in the form of teas.
We talked more about bitters earlier in the Challenge. Gentian, elecampane, dandelion, and burdock are all well known bitters. The bitter taste of these herbs helps jumpstart the digestive process and prime the body to receive, process, and assimilate food. Most bitters work, at least partly, by having an influence over the liver and gallbladder.
Herbs that have a moistening, gel like quality are known as demulcents. Slippery elm, licorice, violet leaf, and marshmallow are prime examples. Demulcents are soothing and cooling to inflamed tissues, and act as bulking agents for bowel movements.
Herbal Resources for Digestion
If you are interested in working with herbs to support your digestive system, it can be a good idea to either seek out an experienced herbalist or gather a wide variety of herbal resources that can help you tease out the finer points of the imbalances you are experiencing.
I don’t know of any online resources on herbal support for digestive health that go into enough depth to be really useful beyond suggesting a few common simples that may or may not be the right herb for you - again, you have to remember that there is no one herb that will be ideal for everyone and it’s important to take your personal imbalances into account rather than search for an herb to “treat” a disease or common problem.
The Earthwise Herbal Repertory by Matthew Wood is an excellent resource for understanding the specifics for favoring one herb over another in any given situation. Body Into Balance by Maria Noel Groves has a wonderful chapter devoted to digestion and elimination.
Meadowsweet is an important herb to know for digestive balance, so I’ve collected several articles and videos to help you become more acquainted! Meadowsweet has a reputation for being a normalizer of the stomach in many cases, and as an astringent it can be helpful for intestinal health. This versatility makes it a great place to start for learning about herbs that help support the digestive system.
- The meadowsweet entry from A Modern Herbal.
- How to make a meadowsweet elixir from Learning Herbs.
- More about meadowsweet in an article for Mother Earth News.
- A video by Napier’s Herbals that discusses meadowsweet in depth.
All the best,