Eliminating food allergens from the diet can bring substantial relief from inflammatory gastrointestinal disorders such as IBS, Crohn’s disease, and celiac. These ill-tolerated foods – the gluten in wheat and other grains, the casein and lactose in dairy, and others – can initiate destructive processes that irritate the stomach lining, compromise the intestinal wall, and disrupt the balance of the microorganism ecology in the colon. Removing them is an essential step in recovering healthy digestion.
Sometimes, though, the elimination of these foods isn’t enough to completely resolve serious health problems. Leaky gut syndrome, for instance, can persist long after all known food allergens have been removed from the diet, and prevent the sufferer from returning to full vitality. Fortunately, there are a number of readily available herbs that can speed the process of recovery. These plants can help to soothe inflammation, repair damaged tissues, and improve digestive function.
Here is a simple formula for a gut-healing tea:
- calendula (Calendula officinale) flower
- plantain (Plantago major) leaf
- peppermint (Mentha piperita) leaf
- chamomile (Matricaria recutita) flower
- licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) root
- ginger (Zingiber officinale) rhizome
- fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) seed
Blend equal parts of each herb in their “cut and sifted” preparation – as they are normally dispensed in bulk – and store the mixture in an airtight container. For each mug of tea, use two tablespoons of the blend. (This is quite a lot more herb than is contained in a normal tea bag!) Put the blended herbs in a strainer, and pour boiling water over them. Steep covered for ten to fifteen minutes, and drink in quantity throughout the day. You can’t have too much!
This formula blends wound-healing, warming digestive, liver protective, and gas-dispersing actions, and is very open to personalization – everyone can feel free to use more, or less, of each herb as suits their taste. As it stands, this formula is fairly neutral, but its energetic qualities can easily manipulated. If you tend to run cold, emphasize the ginger and fennel; if hot, reduce those and use more peppermint; if you’re often dry, put in more licorice and plantain; if moist, up the calendula.
Other herbs can also be added or substituted for one of the ingredients. For example, someone with hypertension (high blood pressure) should substitute marshmallow (Althaea officinale) root for the licorice. For those who are not taking any pharmaceutical medications, St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) can be added for its beneficial effects on the liver. Other worthy additions may include centaury (Centaurium erythraea), a bitter stomachic; catnip (Nepeta cataria), often useful if heartburn is a component; self-heal (Prunella vulgaris), another vulnerary; and sage (Salvia off.), particularly good if there’s difficulty digesting fats. A clinical herbalist can provide more information on the actions of these herbs, and how best to personalize a formula for an individual’s constitution and condition.
Ingredients for this blend can be found at health food stores that sell dried herbs in bulk, and occasionally at farmer’s markets. The herbs can also be ordered online from a high-quality supplier such as Mountain Rose Herbs.
This is one of the most important and oft-used formulas in my practice, and I’ve seen it work quickly and to substantial effect in even very advanced cases of gastrointestinal tract damage. While nothing can substitute for the removal of offending foods from the diet in cases of food intolerance, an herbal formula like this one can make healing the gut go more easily, more quickly, and more completely than dietary change alone. For those struggling with dietary changes, a tea that is both delicious and medicinal can make all the difference.
A previous version of this article was published in Natural Awakenings Boston, October 2012.