Wow, we are up to week 5 of the gut health series!
So far we have covered a few elements to healing the gut, for probiotics and bone broth, click HERE
For glutamine and fermented foods, click HERE
Today we look at herbs that help heal the gut. I'm a naturopath so of course I absolutely love my herbs and there are some great ones for gut health. So today I want to expand a little on each of my favourite gut health herbs, how to take them, what they do and their medicinal properties. I am outlining the ways you can use herbs without seeing a practitioner and all the forms I mention are available to buy in grocery stores and healthfood stores. If dealing with severe symptoms, I suggest you see a naturopath or herbalist in consultation as all herbs are available in herbal tincture form which can be dispensed by a herbalist or naturopath and are the strongest way to take herbs.
1. Aloe Vera
What would I do without my Aloe? Apart from the fact that if we get sunburnt and I need my aloe gel or I want to yell out in a loud cockney accent "ALLO VERA!" whilst looking at the door and make my kids look around for someone entering the room (I'm really going to hate the day they stop finding me hilarious!), it is such a wondrous plant to heal that gut mucosa of ours.
The phytochemical (plant chemicals) content of this herb is very beneficial for indigestion, leaky gut syndrome and ulcerative colitis. Because of its anti-inflammatory property, aloe is also a very effective remedy for Crohn's disease. You can take Aloe Vera internally via juice or powder. If you have ever cracked open an aloe leaf and spread that lovely gooey stuff on your skin, you will know what I mean by saying this plant is 'mucilaginous'. Anything described a mucilaginous (say it out loud, it's one of my favourite words) is going to have this lovely sticky gooey property that sticks to and heals your gut wall.
The Aloe Vera plant also has seven essential amino acids including Lysine, Threonine, Valine, Leucine, Isoleucine, Phenylalanine and Methionine while eight non-essential amino acids like Histidine, Arginine, Hydroxy Proline, Aspartic acid, Glutamic acid, Proline, Glycine and Alanine. These, along with the mucilaginous properties (yes, I wanted to say it again), make Aloe top gut healing herb.
2. Slippery Elm (Ulmus fulva) Speaking of mucilaginous!.....The name of this herb gives it away a bit doesn't it? Slippery Elm. Taken from inside the bark of The Elm tree, this wonderful powder has been used for centuries for calming down gut symptoms and using it on an ongoing basis can help heal the gut mucosa.
It has a soothing and healing action on all parts of the body it comes in contact with so it can even be made into a poultice and applied topically (same as the Aloe gel). It helps with diarrhea, constipation (as it is a very gentle acting fibre), heartburn, and all inflammation of the gut lining.
It can be taken in capsule form but you need to take a few for it to be effective so my preferred form is taking the straight powder 1 tspn in a glass of warm water morning and night to soothe an upset stomach. I love taking this after I've had any stomach bug or eaten something that didn't agree with me and I will often mix my probiotic powder in with it. Because it has such soothing qualities for any inflamed surface, you will often find it as an ingredient in natural throat lozenges to soothe a sore throat. It is very safe for babies and children so mixing up a bit of the powder into a rice cereal or yoghurt is an excellent idea for those with sensitive tummies or intolerances.
You have probably all had ginger at sometime in your life and I'm sorry to tell you that drinking ginger beer or eating a ginger snap biscuit won't heal your gut! But in the fresh root form and dried powder form will! So add it to your stir-fries, grate into your salad dressings, whack a nob into your fresh juices, or drink the tea! Of course it's also available as a capsule and when wanting to help with nausea, which it is fantastic with, this is a great form to take it in as well as sipping ginger tea.
Ginger has a demulcent action on the gut lining and is also known as a carminative - fancy herbal words for saying that this herb also helps to calm things down! It's another anti-inflammatory so that helps with inflammatory gut issues as well. Fabulous for gut cramps, flatulence and colicy type pains and interestingly another use for this herb is for warding off of harmful parasites and their eggs. This is why sushi is commonly served with ginger. There are so many other health conditions that ginger can help with but in the sake of getting through my top 6 gut herbs, I will leave it there!
This is another herb that needs it's own blog as it's pytochemicals have been shown to help with everything from alzheimers disease to cancer but again, I will stick with how it helps our gut. The main phytochemical or plant compound of this herb that has shown these amazing health benefits is curcumin which is a powerful anti-inflammatory.
This anti-inflammatory action is directly seen on the mucous membrane lining so any inflammatory bowel disease like ulcerative colitis, Irritable bowel or Chron's disease, will benefit greatly from the regular consumption of this herb (as well as keep you from ageing but I digress, I get a bit excited about turmeric).
Curcumin has also been used to assist with weight control and digestion as it stimulates the gallbladder and produces bile. Because bile helps digest fat, experts believe this improves digestion and may help control weight. Studies have found it helps with indigestion and reducing symptoms of bloating and gas.
It is a vivid, absolutely gorgeous yellow colour in it's powdered form (even used as a yellow dye) and wonderfully aromatic so use it liberally in your curries and stir fries. The root looks like a thin piece of ginger or galangal and using it fresh to brew tea or shaved into cooking and dressings is another great way of taking it.
The humble fennel seed is a very overlooked gut herb! Mostly used just for culinary purposes, it is also a preventative against gas and indigestion. You will also find this herb in throat lozenges and cough syrups for it's demulcent and carminative properties.
The smooth muscles that line the digestive tract are relaxed when they come in contact with this herb. Babies and children show improvements from the symptoms of colic when given fennel tea. Use it in your curries, as a tea and again this is available in capsule form as well (most herbs are).
Not the fluffy white sugary puffs that are roasted over camp fires and popped into hot chocolates! This herb is another one of our amazing mucilaginous herbs.
Marshmallow root has the ability to reduce irritation and inflammation of mucous membranes, it is an excellent remedy to strengthen the digestive system. Teas made from this herb have powerful polysaccharides (long carbohydrate molecules), which can help in the formation of the protective lining around the stomach.
So again this herb is especially beneficial for those suffering from Crohn's disease or Ulcerative Colitis.
Marshmallow can also help to reduce acid levels in the stomach, so people with peptic ulcers may find relief when using this herb.
So next week we look at healing the gut with DHA and the bush flower essences! This is particularly interesting as we cover the emotions that are affected by our gut and how you may be feeling if you are suffering from poor gut health. Read about that HERE
Yours in Health,