Have you ever felt like your digestion is sluggish? Maybe your stomach has felt cold after eating, or that the meal just sits in your stomach causing discomfort??
Yes - increasing fibre MIGHT help with digestion. However, maybe your gut needs a little extra help from nature… Maybe you should consider the role that digestive herbs, also known as “bitters”, could play in the restoration of your digestive system!
Bitter herbs have a special role in herbal and preventative medicine. The taste triggers a sensory response in the central nervous system. A message is sent to the gut, that releases digestive hormones and ultimately gives rise to bile flow. Bile is crucial for optimal:
digestion (particularly of fats), and
elimination of waste products, toxins and excess hormones from the bloodstream
Bitters can also aid in liver detoxification and stimulation of the gut’s self-repair mechanisms. The general toning effect of bitters may alleviate a “sick” digestive system where bloating, burping, flatulence and constipation are symptoms. Three of the most common Bitter herbs include Dandelion, Wormwood and Gentian. Each herb varies in strength and accompanying actions and choosing the right one for you is very important.
Dandelion is primarily used as a medicinal digestive tonic to treat constipation, liver and gallbladder disease. Constitutes of the root are believed to be responsible for increasing bile production and flow, as well as contributing to the root’s mild laxative effect. It is a fast acting herb and stimulation of digestion is thought to occur quickly after one use. With this, it is not recommended to be used by people with obstruction of bile ducts or other serious diseases of the gallbladder. For the general population, dandelion is safe and non-toxic and can be used on a regular basis for prolonged periods. Dandelion can be enjoyed as a coffee or tea substitute, as part of a salad, or in a capsule or tincture.
Like dandelion, small doses of wormwood stimulate the appetite and give tone to the gastric membranes, favouring digestion. It is considered one of the most bitter plants and is also used for the expulsion of the intestinal parasites - Ascaris vermicularis and Ascaris lumbricoides. It is the leaves that are used for their medicinal properties and care must be taken to avoid prolonged use. The optimal dose of wormwood is between 1 to 4 grams (dried) per day for a maximum of three weeks. Wormwood has been significantly investigated under clinical trial conditions. However, evidence is mainly from traditional, in vitro and animal studies. It is highly recommended that you only use this herb under the supervision of a qualified Naturopath.
Gentian preparations are made from the root. These stimulate the taste buds and increase gastric juice secretion, again improving digestion within several minutes of ingestions. A tincture of gentian may be prepared with tonic and particularly useful for elderly people or convalescing patients with weak digestion. By increasing digestive juices, it can also lead to a healthier appetite (increasing the desire to eat nourishing foods). Gentian preparations should not be used by people with gastric or duodenal ulcers, or with gastric hyperacidity. Gentian can be taken over a prolonged period and does not pose a risk of poisoning.
Dandelion, wormwood and gentian are effective medicinal herbs to support and fire up a sluggish digestive system, or to heal an overworked one. If you think your gut needs some attention, consider incorporating dandelion tea or gentian into your daily routine. However, if you think your condition might be more complicated and feel as if you would benefit from individualised support, contact a qualified naturopath. Herbal medicines might just be the missing piece in your health and well-being puzzle!
The information in this article was sourced from the Bachelor of Naturopathy course material (lecture series: Materia medica) at the Australasian College of Natural Therapies (ACNT). If specific references are of interest to you, please use the contact form in "Our Bloggers" to make a request for further information.