by Christa Sinadinos, Clinical Herbalist
The digestive system is considered the foundation of health by many natural health practitioners. Digestion consists of two fundamental processes, assimilation and elimination, which generate energy for the physical body and provide the nutrients which maintain the body processes and systems.
Eating high quality, unprocessed, whole foods provides fuel for the body, but the digestive system has to function properly in order to assimilate the nutrients. A number of factors can reduce the digestive capacity including stress, eating quickly, consuming cold foods, and drinking iced beverages. Additionally, the use of alcohol, recreational drugs, antibiotics, and other medications can also hinder digestion. Some of these factors can be remedied by eating foods which are served warm or at room temperature, and by relaxing while consuming a meal.
Another way to improve digestion is by utilizing flavorful, carminative herbs. Herbs with carminative properties help to reduce flatulence and bloating. They are beneficial for treating colic, as well as for decreasing smooth muscle cramping and griping pains (intestinal cramping). Some carminative herbs increase bile flow, which improves the digestion of fats. Examples of carminative herbs which improve assimilation include the following: anise, cardamom, coriander, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, ginger, orange peel and peppermint.
There are numerous ways to incorporate carminative herbs into the diet, for instance, most of the herbs covered in this article can be included into food recipes. Anise, cardamom, coriander, fennel, and ginger enhance the flavor of soup, bread, grain, bean, and meat dishes. Drinking herbal tea, consuming an herbal extract or a digestive chew are other methods of ingesting carminative herbs. The following herbs have been used to improve digestive functions
Anise Seed (Pimpinella anisum)
Anise seed has carminative properties which enhance digestion; it can also be used as a breath freshening agent. Anise prevents and expels gas, and allays nausea and indigestion, which can be beneficial in relieving morning sickness. It is helpful for treating infant colic; it also increases the flow of breast milk. Anise is commonly used as a flavoring agent in black licorice candy, toothpaste, and confections. The seeds have a sweet, black licorice-like taste and they are used to flavor digestive liqueurs including anisette, ouzo, raki, aguardiente, ojen, and kummel. These beverages are often consumed as an aperitif.
Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum)
Cardamom has carminative actions which help to relieve gas and bloating. It acts as an antispasmodic and can slow the rate of stomach muscle cramping, as well as numb the nerves in the stomach. Cardamom is often added to digestive bitters formulas. It is safe for children, although catnip and chamomile are generally more effective for treating infant colic. Cardamom can be used in combination with other warming herbs such as ginger and cinnamon to enhance circulation. Cardamom seeds have a pungent, sweet flavor.
Coriander Seed (Coriandrum sativum)
Coriander has anti-spasmodic, carminative, and stomachic properties. This spice enhances the flavor of both Mexican and Indian dishes. It also enhances the digestion of beans. Coriander seeds come from the plant known as cilantro and have a similar flavor.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
Ginger has a broad range of beneficial medicinal and culinary uses. It is a digestive stimulant which increases salivary and gastric secretions. It can be used to reduce flatulence and to quell nausea. Ginger also reduces cramping of the stomach and bowels, as well as menstrual cramping. It can be used in the treatment of motion sickness, and can also help to reduce morning sickness. The fresh root contains enzymes which enhance digestion.
*Contraindications: ginger has blood-thinning actions and should be used with caution by individuals taking blood-thinning medications or who have blood clotting disorders. Avoid consuming ginger for two weeks prior to surgery and for one week following surgery.*
Orange Peel (Citrus sinensis)
Orange peel has a bitter, aromatic flavor and is considered a digestive tonic. It stimulates bile flow, increases digestive enzymes, and helps to reduce stagnation of the liver. It contains high amounts of pectin, which binds with and removes radioactive compounds, heavy metals, and environmental toxins, that are stored in the body. Orange peel has carminative actions which reduce the cramping that may potentially result from taking potent bitter, cholagogue herbs such as gentian and Oregon grape. It also contains flavonoids that help to strengthen connective tissues, improve the integrity of the blood vessels, and enhance free radical scavenging (i.e. antioxidant) properties. It is a tasty addition to most tea blends when used in small quantities.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
Peppermint is an age-old remedy which can be used in the treatment of nausea, dyspepsia, and stomach cramps. The tea of peppermint is a safe remedy for morning sickness. Peppermint also anesthetizes the nerves in the intestinal tract, making it an herb of choice for stomach pain or an upset stomach. The tea is helpful to reduce gas pain and hiatal hernia pain. Peppermint can decrease heartburn and esophageal acidity from hiatal hernia. However, for some individuals peppermint may aggravate the latter two conditions.
*Contraindications: discontinue use of peppermint if it aggravates acid indigestion or gastric reflux disease.*
Christa’s Delicious Digestive Chew Recipe
Two parts of candied ginger (chop into small pieces ¼ to ½ inch size)
One part each of anise, cardamom, fennel, and orange peel
Combine the above ingredients and consume one teaspoon of the mixture before or after meals.
Christa’s Carminative Tea Blend
Add one part each of allspice, anise, cardamom, coriander, fennel, orange peel, and marshmallow root; add one half parts of licorice root and dry ginger
First, combine the previously listed herbs. Next, place four tablespoons of the tea blend in 48 ounces of water, in a vessel with a lid. Simmer on low for a minimum of thirty minutes. This will yield approximately one quart of tea. Strain the tea and add cream or milk (optional).
Carminative Chai Tea Blend (caffeine free)
Two parts of fresh grated ginger root (or one part dry ginger root)
One part each of allspice, anise, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, and fennel seed
One half part of licorice root
First, combine the previously listed dry herbs. Next, place two tablespoons of fresh grated ginger and two tablespoons of the herbal blend in 48 ounces of water, in a vessel with a lid. Simmer on low for a minimum of thirty minutes. If fresh ginger is not available, use four tablespoons of the dry herbal blend. Strain the tea and add cream or milk (optional).
Don't forget to check out our other great newsletter features: