by Debbie Leigh, Naturopath
The digestive system is a long passage designed to break down food, process food, absorb nutrients and reject waste. Herbal medicine has a traditional emphasis on normalizing digestive functions. This is because the stomach is the first significant point of contact with most herbal medicines. Gut herbals can increase secretions of acid, pepsin and mucus with the use of herbal Bitters, calm activity using astrigent, antispasmodic and aromatic remedies or stimulate motility with emetics.
Bitters such as Gentiana, Wormwood and Dandelion Root act by a immediate reflex action to the brain via the bitter response in the mouth which means an increase in stomach acids to improve poor appetite and digestion. Traditionally bitters are seen as having a “cooling” effect by promotion of digestive activity which can reduce the symptoms of excesive heat in conditions such as headaches, inflammatory diseases, allergy or hypersensitivity.
Bitter herbs at low doses can increase oesophageal sphincter tone and improve gastric emptying. As they can increase gastric acidity they should be used cautiously under the recommedation of your Practitioner. As we age gastric secretions decline and people over 65 years can have low gastric acidity.
Aromatics such as Cardamon, Caraway, Aniseed, Fennel, Dill, and Cinnamon are used for sluggish digestion and inflammatory conditions. They are used to reduce symptoms such as colic, flatulence, dyspepsia, bronchial congestion and irritable bowel disease.
This group of plant remedies such as Chamomile, Peppermint, Yarrow and Thyme are used for conditions such as colic, gastritis, nervous dyspepsia, general nervous, anxiety digestive symptoms.
Traditional plant remedies such as Aloe, Senna, Cascara, Yellow Dock are used for constipation to improve normal peristalsis.
A very important group of plants such as Marshmallow, Slippery Elm and Plantain are used for dyspeptic conditions especially with hyperacidity and inflammatory diseases of the digestive tract. Herbal treatment can accelerate the healing of the digestive system and correct any underlying imbalances.
Nervous System Herbal Support
Herbs such as Passionflower, Valarian and Chamomile can help sooth and relax the nervous system which in turn will improve digestive function.
Plant constituents have a unique range of actions to improve, regulate and support healthy digestive function which is important for maintaining health and preventing disease. Your Practitioner will be best to advise you on ways to improve your digestive function.