All of us can relate to experiencing some kind of discomfort after eating something that did not agree with our stomach. To varying degrees we all deal with indigestion. For some it’s occasional, for others its on a more regular basis. Many people are able to find relief through the use of herbs, and this can even be fun!
There is good reason why certain spices have been used for cooking, for as long as they have been, in many cultures. You can look at Ayurvedic cooking and see that herbs which are used for spicing are chosen carefully due to the fact that they each have different effects on the body. For example, curry (which is a combination of various herbs) helps stimulate digestion and circulation. When added to rice it also makes it a warming golden color and it tastes great. See what I mean when I say experimenting with herbs to help digestion can be fun. If you are having digestive upset than you can use this as an opportunity to learn more about herbs and spices and become a better cook.
There is a handful of other herbs which are known to be helpful with digestion. Some of them are likely to be found on your spice rack…
There are several herbs that can be used as a digestive aid and may offer relief from indigestion. The great thing about herbs is that you can be very creative in how you use them. For example, some herbs are good as teas and can be used as spices, depending on your preference and what is most effective for you.
1. Peppermint – is an herb that is good at helping to eliminate stomach upset before it even starts, or it can soothe it once it begins. Try peppermint and chamomile together as a tea at least a half an hour before a meal. A delicious dessert drink can be made by steeping mint in milk (dairy or soy)and adding honey. Try to wait at least an hour after eating before having this beverage, in order to insure proper digestion.
2. Angelica – regulates poor digestion; so if you tend to have chronic indigestion this herb may be able to help. It also has anti-spasmatic properties, which may ease stomach cramping caused by indigestion. The root, seed and leaf of this plant are all reported to aid digestion, although the roots and seeds are said to be more potent.
3. Cayenne – is an herb we all know about. Most people have had the experience of biting into something spiced with a bit too much cayenne. The first response tends to be that your eyes get real big in surprise. Then soon, your eyes, nose and mouth are all running and soon your sinuses are clear. Actually, this action is exactly what is special about cayenne’s medicinal properties. It stimulates digestion in the mouth by promoting the production of saliva. True, we all have a certain level of tolerance for this herb, but used in the right proportion it can greatly aid digestion.
4. Fennel – is effective in dealing with gas in adults and colic in children. A tea infusion can be prepared from these seeds and taken daily. Nursing mothers can pass on its’ soothing effects through their milk or by spoon feeding her baby lukewarm fennel tea as a remedy or a preventative measure for colic. I was also told chewing on a small handful of these seeds a few times a day can bring relief from gas and aid digestion. In India (or many Indian restaurants) the fennel seed is candied then roasted and eaten following a meal.
5. Chamomile – has a long list of uses and digestive aid is among them. It helps to relax the stomach muscles, thereby reducing gas. This herb has a naturally sweet flavor that can often be a good conclusion to a satisfying meal. Again, wait at least a half an hour after eating to have this beverage. Chamomile is very easy to grow. The flower, which is the part used for tea, looks like a miniature daisy. If you don’t have some in the garden, it might be a nice addition.
6. Gentian Root – is a bitter herb that stimulates digestion, reduces gas and improves appetite. Like many other bitter herbs people often have trouble with the flavor, which is practically impossibe to disguise. Sometimes it is suggested to place a powdered form of these herbs in veggie caps to avoid tasting them. On the other hand I have also heard that the bitter taste is a very important cue to the digestive system and is necessary in order to trigger the proper physiological response. This is something you may want to look into further or see what works best for you.
7. Slippery Elm Bark – soothes inflamed or irritated digestive tract lining. If such abdominal irritation is occurring you may benefit from placing the powdered form of this herb into a veggie capsule. The idea is that the capsule protects the herb until it reaches the stomach, then releases it into the area where the inflammation is. You can also add a few drops of peppermint oil into the capsules with the slippery elm bark to enhance the soothing properties.
8. Marshmallow Root – serves much the same purpose as the slippery elm bark; it is soothing to inflamed tissues of the digestive tract. For those of you who have access to it, the root can be gathered (unearthed) in late fall.
9. Ginger Root – is a very versatile herb. Although ginger root has a strong, spicy flavor is actually very soothing to the stomach. It can be used fresh as a tea or sliced in small pieces as an addition to food dishes (like stir-fries and soups). The powdered form is great for seasoning food and baking (great in oatmeal or muffins). The easiest and quickest way to use ginger to soothe an upset stomach is by making a tea out of the fresh root and adding honey and/or lemon, if you like. It is especially helpful in cases where stomach problems are associated with motion sickness.
10. Goldenseal – is one of the herbs I hesitate to mention in this column, for one simple reason; it is being over harvested to the point of near extinction. It is known to improve appetite and aid digestion. If these herbal properties are something you are seeking, then gentian root is something that is also effective. I would encourage you to look into what other herbs may also serve a similar function.
There is a handful of other herbs which are known to be helpful with digestion. Some of them are likely to be found on your spice rack: caraway seed, thyme, coriander, aniseed, calamus and cardamon (great with warm milk and honey) are other herbs to add to your cooking or warm drinks.