Podcast 136: Accessible Herbalism for Digestive Discomforts
Digestive issues are extremely common, and are one of the leading causes of missed work and reduced quality of life. The good news is, herbs can help! There’s much relief to be found in the study of herbalism for digestive discomforts.
For each individual person, digestive issues can manifest a little differently, even if the causes are the same. Very many folks have indigestion or IBS due to stress on the one hand, and incompatible foods on the other. But regardless of cause, we can work on heartburn, nausea, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and all the other discomforts of digestion with herbalism.
Herbs discussed in this episode include: chamomile, plantain, seaweeds, okra, sage, dandelion, ginger, turmeric, thyme, oregano, garlic, onion, cayenne, peppermint, fennel, cumin, calendula, red clover, violet, self-heal, carpet bugle, and coffee.
This is part 8 in our Accessible Herbalism series! We’re sharing strategies for safely improving some of the most common health concerns, especially for marginalized communities. We want to empower people to take action in support of their own health and the health of their neighbors. The safe, accessible tools of holistic herbalism can fill in the gaps left by uneven access and affordability of conventional care. Working with easy-to-find, inexpensive herbs, with low risk of adverse effects and drug interactions, is something anyone can do.
We’re building a community health collective organizing tool out of this material as we go through the series. You can learn more about the project and find all the collected resources here:
As always, please subscribe, rate, & review our podcast wherever you listen, so others can find it more easily. Thank you!!
Our theme music is “Wings” by Nicolai Heidlas.
Hi. I’m Katja.
And I’m Ryn.
And we’re here at the Commonwealth Center for Holistic Herbalism in Boston, Massachusetts.
And on the internet everywhere, thanks to the power of the podcast. Well HI!. Nice to see you again. We’re continuing this week with our accessible herbalism series. This is part eight in a series of strategies for safely improving some of the most common health concerns, especially for people who are medically underserved.
The purpose of this series is to offer community herbal information in accessible and inclusive terms so that people can take action to support their own health
In a lot of parts of our country, there simply isn’t accessible medical care. And in other cases, the medical care that is available is understaffed and it’s really difficult to get good quality care. So we want to provide some tools and some skills that can help to fill in that gap. This isn’t medical advice, but it’s safe, accessible self-care strategies that will help to improve your healthcare outcomes. And we believe that all people have a right to accessible and high quality health care. And we want all people to have the tools to care for themselves as well.
Our plan throughout this series has been to work with a relatively small number of easy to get, inexpensive herbs. So you will notice the same herbs turning up in different places, which is kind of cool because it helps you to also learn the different ways that we can work with herbs in different contexts. There are certainly other plants that can work in all of these situations, but the ones that we’ve chosen are cost effective, they’re accessible. And we’ve chosen herbs that are generally safe for all people and generally don’t have interactions with medications unless we specifically noted it. And we try really hard, we’ve been trying throughout the series any time that there is an interaction to note it every time. So you don’t have to worry about flipping back and forth and you know, Oh, did they mention a problem in some earlier segment. We’re trying to mention it in every single segment.
Yeah. So a printable version of all this work is going to be available at the end of the series, along with some information about how to start a community health collective. And we’re making this available free to everybody because we want everybody to have these skills. So if you’d like to support this work, or if you want to learn more about it, then just go and check out Commonwealthherbs.com/mutualaid for more information.
I’m really excited about the document that’s going to go along with this. I’m excited about all parts of it. And we are coming to the conclusion of this series. After today, we just have two more topics left to cover. So yes, the printable version of this will be coming soon.
So before we jump into a discussion about digestive discomforts and how we can resolve them with herbs, first we want to remind you that we are not doctors. We are herbalists and holistic health educators.
The ideas discussed in this podcast do not constitute medical advice. No state or federal authority licenses herbalists in the United States. So these discussions are for educational purposes only. Everybody’s body is different. So the things that we’re talking about may or may not apply directly to you, but we hope that they’ll give you some good information and some ideas that you can think about and research further.
Yeah. And we want to remind you that good health is your right, and it’s your own personal responsibility. And this means that the final decision when you’re considering any course of therapy, whether it’s been discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, that choice is always yours. Alright. So let’s talk about some digestive issues.
Yes. It is really common in our culture to have digestive discomfort and to have it like every day, all day, forever. Whether that is heartburn or ulcers or nausea or constipation or diarrhea, it’s super, super common. In fact, until I was like 30, every single time I ate I felt sick. And I just thought that was normal. I was just like, Oh, I don’t know. This is what happens when I eat food, you know?
Yeah. I had basically the same experience.
Right. So just because this is common does not mean it’s normal, right? It happens, but that’s not okay is what we’re saying here. So, ideally you shouldn’t have to deal with these kinds of symptoms at all.
Yeah. So we want to talk about some things that can cause these problems and then what you can do to get some relief. So when we say digestive issues, first of all, that’s going to look different for different people, even though the causes might actually be the same. And mostly this is just because bodies are different. If we introduce something that will cause a problem in the digestive system, for one person they might feel that problem as heartburn and somebody else might feel that instead as constipation, even though it’s actually originating from the same cause.
Yeah. So an example here, two of the most common causes of digestive issues are stress and eating foods that are irritating to the digestive tract. So in Ryn’s body, if he eats a bunch of greasy, fried, fast food he may feel some nausea or heartburn afterwards. Because when there’s trouble in his digestive system, that’s the direction his body tends to go in.
There’s my helpful sound effects, just so that you remember what it feels like.
So for me, if I eat that same meal, like we went out together and we ate this really, gross, delicious, greasy, fried meal, whatever.
Somehow it happened.
Whatever it might be. For me that would show up as constipation and gut cramping. Even though we had the same cause it just shows up a little differently in our two bodies and that’s okay. As long as we know that different bodies will respond to these issues in somewhat different ways, we can just choose the herbs that will be helpful for the particular symptoms that you’re feeling right now. So even though we both eat the same dinner, I’m going to work with the herbs that are going to help me with the slow down and stagnation in digestion, the constipation, and also the crampiness. And he’s going to work with the herbs that are going to help with the nausea, help to calm and soothe the heartburn. And so on one hand, we do want to look at the root cause. But on the other hand, we want to fix what we see.
How Stress Affects Digestion
Right. Yeah. So identifying that root cause is how we’re going to solve the problem long term. Right? How we are going to prevent this from happening next time. But we still have the heartburn right now. We still have constipation right now. So we want to get some solutions for it, you know? All right. So we’ll come to those in a moment. But first, just to get a little more detailed about how stress and how food can affect your digestive system, let’s start with stress for a second here. So when you experience stress, your body’s going to make adrenaline. That’s part of your fight or flight response. Adrenaline isn’t bad on its own. In fact, our species would not have survived if we didn’t have this this essential signal.
You need it sometimes. Yeah.
You know, it prepares your body to run faster, to respond quickly to threats and so on. But in order to do that, it does redirect resources in your body taking energy away from things like digestion and immune function, and using that energy so that you’re going to have what you need to run or to fight or to flee or whatever it is.
Today we live lives that are really, really stressful. Which means you could be making adrenaline basically all day long.
And especially in 2020.
Oh my God, yes. Right? So if we were allowed to just be out in the garden all day and be growing our food and listening to the birds, it wouldn’t be stress free. There would still be problems. And then we would still have stress sometimes, but it wouldn’t be like 2020 is being. So, if you kind of use that as comparison, you can see in the lives that we’re living today, literally you’re probably in that fight or flight place almost every day.
Or multiple times in the day.
Yeah. So what that means is that every day, multiple times through the day, all day long maybe if you’re stressed out all day long, your body is taking energy away from your ability to digest food. And the result of that for some people will be that uncomfortable feeling of a brick in the stomach. For others that’ll be cramping and constipation. For others it’ll be nausea or vomiting or heartburn. All of these are a reflection of a slow down in the digestive process. The food is getting stuck there. For some people, if we’re talking about that vomiting or nausea or diarrhea also, that is also a factor of a slowdown in digestion. But it’s a slow down so slow that the body has said, I’m not even going to hold onto this to start later. I’m throwing it out right now. Like I’m just not going to process this.
Yeah. The image coming to mind right now is like a poor dog who just had dinner and then the fireworks start going off. And then they throw up and maybe have some diarrhea or something, because their body is like: can’t handle processing right now. Have to respond to threats.
Yeah. Just get it out of me. I will deal. I’ll get food later. Right now I have to deal with this stress. So even if the symptom you’re experiencing isn’t slow, right? Because vomiting is like, and diarrhea too. Like we wouldn’t necessarily think of those as a slow down. The reason that’s happening in a stressful situation is because your body is saying, I’m not going to be able to deal with this. I’m going to remove it from the situation.
Yeah. So the answer to stress derived digestive problems is actually going to have two parts. Right? You do want to improve the digestive process and soothe the discomforts there. And then of course, we also want to see if there’s anything we can do about the stressors, about the stress situations. So we’re going to cover dealing with stress in the next segment of this series, next week in a bit more detail. So stay tuned for that. But for right now, we’re going to focus on improving the digestive process and soothing those discomforts.
How Food Affects Digestion
Yes. Before we dig into that, I also want to talk about how food itself can cause digestive problems. Because ultimately the problems can look very similar and the actions we’re going to take are determined by the problems themselves. So we get this little part out of the way and then we can get right to each of the types of problems and their solutions. Alright. So food, digestive problems caused by food. There are lots of foods that are really irritating and honestly you probably know some of them for your own body already. If you think about how you feel after you eat fast food, even if it’s delicious, and sometimes it’s really delicious, it doesn’t feel very good once it’s inside you. So that it doesn’t feel very good. That is a reflection of food that is causing irritation inside your body. And food can cause irritation in a lot of different ways, but all of them are ultimately going to play out the same in your body. Just like stress, depending on what your body is like you could feel diarrhea or constipation or heartburn. Even, like we were saying earlier, if Ryn and I sit down to the same junky meal, we will have different symptoms even though the damage is being done in basically the same way in both of our bodies. So we’re going fix those things up the same way that we would have if stress were the cause. And that’s really good because for most people, the cause is both food and stress, especially in 2020.
Yeah. Right together. Yeah. So it’s nice that we can work on these problems concurrently, you know? So in terms of food, when you’re not feeling good, well it can help to eat really simple food. So think about like some plain rice, some simply steamed veggies, plain meat especially if it’s been cooked for a long time. Stew is a really good option when you’re feeling this way. Because the longer you cook something, the more it gets tender. That’s like pre digestion, right? You let your crockpot do some of the work for you and then your body has an easier time of it. So it’s easier for your body to digest something that you’ve cooked for a long time, like a stew, because the cooking is already starting to break the food down. And if your guts feel bad, well, when you go and eat simple food, that’s been cooked a long time, you’ve let your crockpot, you’ve let your stove do the work for your body. So it’s not so much work and your guts have an easier time of it. Yeah. Really key.
It’s also really good during the time that you are feeling bad to remove irritating things from your diet. So this is going to start with sugary foods, processed foods like chips and snack foods. Even if you’re having a really busy day and you have to rely on fast food, try to opt for some kind of a fresher option, like a sandwich instead of a burger and fries or a pizza, right? At least if we can make the fast food less bad. You know, maybe it’s less greasy or less fried or less sugary.
Has more veggies in it.
Right. Exactly. Then any less amount bad that the fast food is less irritating, that’s going to be less painful to your digestive discomfort.
Yeah. There are some foods you can prepare at home in batches and that are pretty portable. Right? So like tuna salad is something that you kind of live on.
I do, I do. It’s a very cost effective option. It’s fast to make it home. You can take it with you. And I can make a big batch of it and just have it in the fridge.
And it’s also amenable to putting a lot of herbs into it, you know? So we’ve talked a lot about parsley and cilantro in our series so far. So certainly just chopped herbs, dandelion greens, that kind of thing you can put in to kind of bump up the nutrient value of it. Right? And then putting spice blends on there. You don’t have to have plain tuna. You can have it hot and spicy if you want to.
Yeah. I really like tuna with like parsley or dandelion greens. And the key here is chop them up really small. If you put big pieces of leaf in there and then you might be like, ah, there’s leaves in my tuna. But if you chop it up really small, you kind of won’t even notice it. And then I like to chop up an apple into it, which again, that’s all kinds of fiber in there. It tastes really good. And it’s comforting to have just a little bit of sweetness. And there’s a lot of food for your probiotics in an apple too. So that can be a cost effective thing you can do on the run. A big batch of rice with eggs and frozen vegetables at the beginning of the week can be lunch for the whole week. It’s much cheaper to do than fast food. It’s better for you. And if you have the space to cook just like one day a week, you can actually make this stuff ahead and just put it in little containers, like take out containers or leftover jars or whatever so that you can take it with you easily. And that way it’s just as fast, but it’s a little easier on your digestive system.
Heartburn: Soothing, Healing, & Improving Digestion
So of course there’s lots of other things we could do food wise. But let’s move on to the herbs, right? So whether the cause is stress or food or both, let’s go through some of the most common digestive symptoms people get and then some things that can help. And let’s start out with heartburn, right? So with heartburn, the biggest cause of what’s driving this here is that your body’s having trouble digesting your food thoroughly. And as a result, some of your stomach acid is ending up in places where it’s not supposed to be. So there’s lots of details about how that happens, but in terms of feeling better, you don’t necessarily need all of that today. But we’ve got two jobs that we’re trying to do. One is to help the burn go away and to recover from those burning periods, those acid exposures. And then the second job is to help you digest the food thoroughly. Right? So that we don’t get another round of heartburn later on.
So here there’s a couple of different strategies. One is to go with tea that is made with chamomile or plantain or even seaweed. And I know it sounds crazy to put seaweed in tea. But when you are feeling a lot of heartburn, you might be like, that’s fine. Actually it’ll make me feel better. I don’t care if it’s a weird flavor of tea.
Yeah. My tea here today actually has some catnip and some sage and some other good friends. But I also threw a handful of dulse into it. That’s a kind of a seaweed and you don’t even hardly taste it. It gives like a, I don’t know, a vegetal flavor note and a salty flavor note. But it’s fairly mild. If you put enough other herbs in there with good flavor to them you won’t even know.
Also, you don’t have to drink it as tea. If you want to work with seaweed, you can put it in broth and that’ll be helpful too. But let’s talk about why these three plants can be really helpful. Seaweed is kind of a group of plants, but that’s okay. So all of these can reduce inflammation, reduce that feeling of burning. And most importantly, they can encourage healing in the tissues. That mucus membrane that lines your esophagus, the only way for it to heal is to grow new cells over the damaged area. And all three of these: chamomile, plantain — not the banana, we mean the little green leafy plant that grows next to sidewalks– and seaweeds, they all have an action that encourages that growth to happen in that mucus membrane. To regrow the lining over the damaged areas.
Yeah, really excellent. Another thing to consider here to really get a lot of relief, this is a place where plants like okra and seaweeds again, can really help out a lot. So if you’ve ever cooked up okra, you know, that it can get slimy. And that sliminess when you drink it, when you let that contact your throat, your esophagus, your stomach lining, that sliminess is soothing and coating. It’s like when you put lotion onto a sunburn, right? This is like putting lotion on your heartburn. I don’t know. Yeah. So to really get the best relief out of this, you want to, with okra, you want to boil it or stew it just plain, just by itself. You know, don’t use vinegar or other tricks that you might normally do with okra when you cook it to reduce that slime factor, because we actually want it for this purpose.
Yeah. We want it good and slimy, just the slimiest slime that you can imagine. Which again, is not going to be delicious. But as you start to swallow it, you’re going to be like, actually I love this because it feels really good.
Yeah. And you know, when you’ve got it, you can mix it half and half with plain water to make it a little easier to swallow. But you know, do what you need to do. So seaweed, again, is also going to have that soothing, coating, protecting, wound healing set of effects to it. And with that, you can just put it right into broth, right into chicken broth, veggie broth, whatever you’ve got. Let it simmer in there for at least half an hour. And then go ahead and drink that broth. And you know, if you don’t really love the super slimaciousness, then this might be more appealing for you than okra. I definitely am in that group. The broth is actually going to help reduce the burning feeling. And also at the same time it’s going to help to reduce that damage that was caused there.
So that’s, what’s up.
So, you know, the interesting thing about heartburn is, again, most people get heartburn because they don’t have enough stomach acid, even though that sounds crazy. And the way that you know that that’s what’s happening for you is if you are experiencing heartburn after a meal. Then that is the situation where there’s not enough stomach acid to fully digest the food. If you experience heartburn before a meal and eating food makes it feel better, then that’s a different situation. That really is a situation with too much acid. But for most people, the heartburn comes after eating. So if we can improve your digestion overall, then we can reduce heartburn in the long term. And this is where bitter herbs are going to come in. So this could be chamomile tea that you steeped for a really long time, so that it got really bitter, or sage either as tea or just eating the sage leaves or dandelion leaves.
Yeah. I really…if you can grow some plants around or maybe even have some already, then having a sage plant around just to eat a leaf or two, you know, 5, 10 minutes before you have a meal. That serves the purpose of your digestive bitter. Yeah. It’s really excellent.
And, you know, sorry, we’ll go with dandelion. Dandelion again, that could be tea, that could be dandelion tincture. It could also be if you had a little salad before your main meal with a bunch of chopped up dandelion leaves in it. That’s getting that bitter into you.
Do you know that’s where the tradition of having salad before a meal comes from. Like in my parents’ generation, they always had a little salad before they ate. And it was of course, iceberg lettuce, right? Because even by the time we got to the fifties, Americans weren’t eating bitter foods anymore. But that tradition originated from bitter salads to stimulate digestion.
Yeah. So the key is any way that you actually taste bitterness is going to do the job. But you do have to taste it for it to work.
And the thing here is that the bitter flavor stimulates your digestive system to be able to digest food better. Because it starts the process of getting all the digestive juices in all the different parts of the system, in your mouth, in your stomach, throughout your intestines, even the fluids that your liver needs to help with digestion. It kicks off that process so that when the food gets to each of those places, they’re all ready to do the job that needs to be done.
Yeah. And that in turn helps the acids stay where it belongs. You know, so yeah. So those bitters are key. And then we also look at warming herbs. So warming herbs, like ginger, turmeric, thyme and oregano, cayenne, garlic and onions, you know. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It doesn’t have to be far away foreign herbs.
Yeah. Even black pepper actually would totally help here.
Yeah. So all of these herbs, they add heat and they help you to digest your food more easily, because your body needs heat to break food down. It’s a hot process. So when you bring in that heat, you can help the digestive process be more effective. If you’re feeling some pain right now, then the more gentle warming herbs or maybe the bitter herbs might be a little more appropriate for you. You know, chamomile made strong with a little bit of extra ginger for added warmth.
Just a smidge.
That’s a really, really nice feeling when…or a nice feeling tea to drink when you’ve got some upset already present.
Right. If you are in the process of feeling pain and discomfort, that might not be the time that you want to have a bunch of cayenne or a lot of strong ginger.
Not a good option for garlic tea then.
Right, right, right.
If you’ve recently had a heartburn event and there’s some irritation present and everything, then we would go with those gentler herbs first. But if it’s been a while, or if you only get your heartburn every few days, then you can hold it back or prevent it from happening by incorporating these warming herbs and those bitter herbs into your life. Yeah. One quick note on a couple of them. So, it’s true that large doses of garlic and ginger and turmeric and cayenne, those would all be contraindicated for people taking blood thinning, pharmaceutical drugs. So that’s true, but consuming these in what we call food amounts, like using them as spices in your food, even spicing it pretty strongly, that is safe. And that’s also good for us to know in this case. Because I’m using it that way, working with these herbs that way, is generally sufficient for these kinds of digestive improvement purposes.
Right. If you were taking blood thinners, it wouldn’t be really safe to have high doses of garlic. Because garlic can also, in high doses, have a thinning action. So with your blood thinners plus that action from the garlic together, then the blood might get too thinned out. So that’s why we wouldn’t want to have high doses of these plants combined with that kind of a medication. But just your regular food seasoning amount should be no problem. You can check with your doctor to be sure if it’s okay and safe for you to have garlic in your food or ginger in your food along with the medication that you’re taking.
All right. And again, you can take those bitter herbs and the warming herbs before you eat, especially if you repeatedly get heartburn after eating. This is the best time to take them. It’s going to be most effective. And that will help you prevent the problem from happening in the first place. All right.
Alright, well let’s talk a little bit about nausea. There is a whole herbal action category for herbs that help with nausea, and they are called the antiemetics. And emetic means to vomit. And so an antiemetic means that you won’t vomit. And of these, there’s a handful here, but oh, my favorite is ginger. I just, I love ginger. Some other ones that are really, really helpful, fennel, chamomile. For some people, peppermint can be very helpful also.
Yeah, yeah. I like peppermint when I feel nauseous. It’s particularly good if your nausea is driven with a lot of tension in the guts or in the bowels. That can be one of the things that’s like, well we can’t move down. So I guess we better go up, right? It’s too tight to move downward. Peppermint has a strong, relaxant quality to it that can release that tension. And so then that can help to relieve the nausea. But all of these, ginger, fennel, chamomile, peppermint, all of them, they’ve got some warming qualities for digestion. They have some relaxant or releasing effects on digestion as well. So they can often help you to avoid vomiting entirely. But if you do throw up, they can also help you to feel better afterwards.
Yes. Especially, you know, very gentle versions of these teas. Like a very weak fennel tea or a very light chamomile tea so that the flavor isn’t too strong. And it isn’t super hot. It’s just kind of warm. That can be the most soothing after that experience.
Yeah, yeah. Really nice, really gentle. That’s also good if somebody is having trouble keeping fluids down because of nausea, right? Just like a nice light tea, and it’s often a lot easier to drink than plain water. Yeah. If you really can’t get anything down at all though, try just a single drop of ginger tincture just right on the tongue. You’re not really even swallowing anything. Just getting enough of the ginger influence into your body to start a cascade that can relieve nausea in a while. That, or even if you make a strong ginger tea and just smell it. Just hold it next to you and breathe in the vapors coming off of that. And then honestly, candied ginger might be appealing when other things aren’t too. For me sometimes when I’ve got a bunch of nausea, I don’t really want to put anything in. But I’ll nibble on some candy ginger real slow.
Or there are some ginger tablets that kind of just dissolve. So you didn’t really eat anything, but you were just sort of sucking on the ginger tablet. Yeah. If you have a lot of nausea and you need to eat, but it feels very difficult, then just try broth first or like a really, really simple soup. If you have seaweed or okra, you can add that into the broth or to the soup to help soothe the stomach after vomiting. Because, you know, it feels raw and agitated. Or you can add fennel or ginger or turmeric right to the soup. And that’s going to help the soup to stay down because you’re getting that antiemetic action of the herb, right along with the easy to digest, very thin nutritional thing that soup is at the same time. So that can be helpful.
Indigestion: Bitters & Warming Herbs
Yeah. Really good. Okay. So, you know, connected there is going to be indigestion. And indigestion is just when you feel uncomfortable after eating, you know, maybe there’s some stomach cramping, everybody’s experienced this at some point. It’s a normal response to eating a large, greasy, junk foodie kind of a meal, you know? So basically what’s happening here is that your stomach is telling you it doesn’t appreciate what you fed it. This is not a good food for this kind of a body. Thank you very much. Or equally likely that it doesn’t have the capacity to do the work that you’re asking it to do right now, Maybe right now you’re really, really stressed out. And even though the food you ate wasn’t junkie, and normally it would have felt fine, currently, right now it’s giving you indigestion. Your stomach is saying, I just can’t do this right now. There’s too much other stuff going on in here, you know. You’re not in the right state of mind, the state of body. You know, those are two sides of the same coin to, to be doing digestion right now.
Either way. What we want to do here is to give your stomach a helping hand, right? There’s two ways that we can do that: bitter things and warm things. Because both of those are going to make it easier for your stomach to do the work it needs to do.
You may already be seeing a pattern emerge in the herbs that we’re highlighting this week.
Yes. So again, bitter herbs are going to stimulate the digestive secretions, the saliva, the stomach acid, the bile, the pancreatic enzymes, all of those juices in your digestive system that do the work of breaking the food down. If you don’t have enough of them, you can’t break your food down. So it’s just going to get stuck. It’s going to feel heavy and crampy. And it’s just going to sit there, like it is literally not going to digest. And that’s what indigestion means. So bitter things are going to send a signal through the whole digestive tract to make more of these digestive juices, which will help to get that job done. And again, anything that’s bitter will help. So whether that is a strong chamomile tea, whether that is dandelion leaves, or sage leaves, or raddichio, or bitter melon fruit, even orange peels, you know, with a lot of that white stuff that normally you’d pick off if you’re eating an orange, because you want the sweetness. This is when we want that white stuff, because it’s going to have that bitter action that’s going to help you to digest your food better.
Yeah, yeah. Especially if you ever buy organic oranges, definitely save those peels, dry them and make tea with them. They’re excellent. Yeah. When you want the action here to come on quickly, a tincture can really be a fast acting preparation. So that can work really well. That or just make a cup of a strong bitter tea and drink it down relatively quickly.
Yeah. It won’t be necessarily delicious.
It doesn’t have to be, right?
But that’s the whole point actually, is that that bitter flavor itself is the trigger that’s going to start this process. So even though it isn’t tasty, the stronger the bitterness, the better.
Yeah. So, you know, again, if you have tinctures, it’s like a concentrated alcoholic extraction of the herb, chamomile or sage is really great there. Dandelion root is really excellent as a tincture for these kinds of problems. So those are all options, but again, don’t worry about that. You can make tea and just take it that way. That’ll work out just great.
Now herbs and foods that warm you up can also help. And the reason here is because digestion requires a lot of heat to work properly. Literally it’s like you have a furnace that is helping you to break down the food. And in fact, just holding a hot water bottle against your belly can actually be really soothing in cases of indigestion. Any of the herbs that are hot or spicy are going to help here. So that could be cinnamon, ginger, even cayenne. I think ginger is a great choice because it’s going to relax the body to help allow digestion to happen. It’s going to bring heat to the stomach to help improve the digestion process. And also, if you were feeling a little bit of nausea, it’s going to bring that down too. So I think that’s a really good option.
Yeah. Fennel is a really good choice here as well. Particularly if you’re getting a lot of gas along with your indigestion, fennel really helps to disperse that.
Yes. And again, these are all fine as tea. I think that hot tea is best, because if you’re trying to bring heat to the stomach, then we might as well bring heat with something that’s already hot. So we get the heat from the ginger, and the hot water of the tea is going to combine to bring a lot of actual heat. But it’s also fine to just nibble on some fresh ginger or candied ginger and chew up some fennel seeds. Those will work too.
Ulcers: Demulcents & Healing
Yeah. Okay. So next, we’re going to talk about ulcers, and an ulcer is a wound. And an ulcer, it can be in the stomach. Those are probably the more common. But you can have ulcers in other parts of your digestive tract as well. But let’s talk about stomach ulcers for a moment. So your stomach itself, it has got a mucus lining to protect it from the acid that’s in there to break down and digest your food. So you need that acid. It’s super important for lots of reasons. It’s for digestion. It’s also part of your immune defenses, believe it or not. There’s really a lot going on with that. But it can hurt the wall of your stomach if it was directly exposed to it. So we have a slime layer that we make to protect ourselves, right? So that mucus lining, it can become damaged or not be produced adequately to protect. And when that happens, it’s like having an abrasion that’s like raw and painful right on your skin. And then on top of it, there’s some acid getting splashed on it regularly, right? So, yeah, that’s going to be irritating. That’s going to be painful. And it’s not going to be the easiest thing to heal unless we correct those conditions. Yeah.
So there are various actions we want to take here. You’re still going to have to eat. You might not want to, but at some point you’re going to be hungry. You’re going to have to eat something. So we want to feed your belly gently. Plain soup and stew, rice, potatoes. Foods that have been cooked for a long time and really easy to digest foods. This is another place where stewed or boiled okra is going to be perfect. Again, don’t put the vinegar in there, because you want it to be slimy. It’s literally going to add to that slime layer in your stomach. So it’s almost like putting a bandaid over the ulcer while that tissue has a chance to heal. Good.
Yeah, again, like we said before, if you usually make your okra with techniques to make it less slimy, then that’s cool for dinnertime. But for this purpose, you actually want it to have that slimaciousness on it. The technical word, or the herbal word we use for that is demulcency. So a demulcent herbs is one that has that viscosity, that thickness when you get it into the water. And those demulcent herbs help to heal and to restore that mucus layer, that slime lining in your stomach that protects you. So they’re really exactly what we need in that kind of situation.
Yeah. And then here also seaweeds. And if you’re seeing these parallels between a stomach ulcer and heartburn, it’s because we’re doing the same work, just in a different location. So all of the things that we said about seaweed are still going to be true here. And again, you can just put it right into the broth. I find that it loses its seaweedy kind of flavor, its sort of weird, fishy ocean flavor. If you’re not into that, then putting it in broth is a really great way to work with seaweed. Because it will have that smell for just a minute, but very quickly it boils off and all you’re left with is sort of a savory salty kind of flavor.
Yeah. Seaweeds definitely bring the umami. They’ve got that.
Yes. All right. And then here also to drink tea with herbs that can help the healing in between meals. And these are going to be the same types of herbs that we worked with for heartburn. Especially chamomile and turmeric are going to help encourage that slime layer to rebuild itself, that mucus membrane to rebuild, regrow over the damaged area. And those are both very gentle. Both chamomille and turmeric are gentle. They will feel soothing. They will reduce inflammation and just cool everything down. And it is fine to have turmeric mixed in. You know, people like to make that golden milk like with coconut milk and turmeric in, or to put the turmeric into soup or rice. It doesn’t only have to be as tea. And that can be helpful as well.
Bloating: Relieving Gas & Lymphatic Swelling
Yeah, absolutely. All right. Next, let’s talk about bloating. So bloating may be extremely common. In fact it is, but it’s not insignificant, right? So it’s like, Oh, it’s just some bloating and it’s easy to write it off or to dismiss it. But bloating is relevant, right? Bloating comes from two main causes and they often show up together. One of them is that you’ve got a build up of gas in the bowels. And you’ll know this is the case if you pass some gas and then the bloating goes away. And the feeling of tension or sharp pain or whatever goes away. So if gas is what’s going on here, then fennel is really excellent for that. Cumin seed is really great there. Ginger is really fantastic. These are some of our best herbs for helping you to pass some gas. So it’s not like the gas in your belly is going to just disappear magically. You will have to plan to fart. But, it’s a relief, right? So let’s just do that and then feel better.
Yeah. Now the other factor in bloating, and this, I think it’s the more important factor, because it has some more serious implications, is lymphatic swelling. And so if you’ve ever had a meal and then you talk about food baby after a meal, that is when I really think about this lymphatic swelling. So what’s going on here is that in your guts all throughout the intestines, you have thousands of lymph nodes. And they’re just like the ones that are in your neck that swell up when you get sick. And maybe you remember ever being a kid and feeling sick before school. And your parents or your grandparents, somebody would check your lymph nodes. And if they were swollen, that meant you had an infection and that you got to stay home from school because you were actually sick. So the lymph nodes in your intestines are exactly the same thing. When they swell up, that is your body saying I think I have an infection. I need to start my immune process. Now you might not have actually had an infection, right? Sometimes you eat things that your body doesn’t recognize as food. And this happens a lot with junk foods or foods that have a lot of artificial colors or foods that you might have an allergy or a sensitivity to, and maybe you just don’t realize it. So, in any of those cases, the swelling that you feel when you’re bloated is actually those lymph nodes swelling up, because your immune system thinks that there is something to fight. It says, Hey, red dye number five. I don’t know what you are. And so I’m going to play it safe. And I’m going to assume that you can hurt me. And so I’m going to activate the immune system to fight you and get rid of you. That’s what your body thinks is going on. Even though you think you just ate some Skittles, that’s not what your body thinks is happening.
Yeah. So in that way, the bloating is a signal to tell you that this is a food that your body regards as a threat of some kind, and that you should really avoid as much as possible. You know? So if you experience bloating really frequently, then it’s a great idea to spend a few days or a week or so eating really simple foods: rice, vegetables, simple soups and stews, fish, you know. But specifically trying to avoid things like dairy products, foods made with wheat, eggs, things with a lot of extra sugar, processed foods. This is a way to take a kind of a reset and to give your body a chance to let some of that irritation or that reactivity fade away.
Yeah. And then once you’ve done that, if you then have a sandwich and you feel all bloated again, then you can recognize, Oh, okay, this is my body saying that sandwich is not food for me. Which is, you know, okay, sad. But it’s good to have that information.
Sure. And if you’re really motivated, you know, then you can do some experiments and sort it through and try to figure out. Am I reacting to the gluten in the bread? Am I reacting to the cheese that I put on it? Am I reacting to eggs or other things? And to figure out what your own sensitivities are so that you can make better choices in the future. But in any case we’re going to work with herbs here too, right? So swollen lymph nodes means that there’s fluid that needs to move. And we have a bunch of really good fluid moving herbs or lymph moving herbs here. So calendula, red clover, violet, self-heal and an herb called carpet bugle, all of these might be growing in your yard or somewhere in your neighborhood. These are really common in yards all across the, let’s call them the not desert parts of the United States. And especially red clover is really, really abundant. And it’s also one of the less expensive herbs that you can purchase. Yeah.
For all of these, if they’re growing around you, you can eat them fresh as if they are salad. You can dry them and make them into tea. Or if you buy them, then you can just brew them up as tea. They’re all going to help your body process the fluids that are causing the bloating. Even if you’ve already established like, Oh, okay, pizza makes me bloated. I get it. My body is saying that pizza is not food and it’s having an immune response. But, well it’s Friday and I went to a bachelorette party and we ate pizza. Okay, that’s going to happen sometimes, but you still need to move all that. So even if you know what’s going on, you still have to move that fluid out to get back to a place of comfort. So any of these can be really helpful. You know, calendula is very easy to grow. And the rest of them, they grow all over. So you might be able to even just find them.
Yeah. One little caution here. If you’re taking blood thinners — yes, it’s them again — then this may not be the right strategy for you. Because these herbs can also thin the blood. And if you take the herb that thins the blood and the drug that thins the blood at the same time, the effect can be too strong. So, I’d say that one herb, though, that you could still work with would be violet. Violet doesn’t have the blood thinning effect that the other lymphatic herbs we mentioned do. So that one, at least, you could still work with,
And, you know, violet, the leaves are fine. The flowers only come for a short period of time and you can work with the flowers. But the leaves are great, and they’re there for the majority of the year. They are early in the spring until late in the fall. So just the leaves are fine there.
So, all right. So working with those lymphatic moving herbs can be one part of our work. And then the other strategy is to work with herbs that are warming once again. Because in addition to their digestive activation, they can also stimulate other forms of movement and circulation in the body. So, yeah, we’ve got our ginger, fennel, cumin, cayenne coming back in again to get the blood moving. Get your blood moving, get your lymph moving, get all your fluids moving. Yeah.
And you know, while we’re talking about moving if you’re feeling bloated, a good, long walk is actually really helpful. You might not feel like doing it at first because everything feels full and tight. But once you get walking, you are actively getting the stuff in the trunk of your body moving. And that is going to almost like manually pump those fluids out. And it’s going to feel better.
Absolutely. You know, if you’re prone to digestive issues, and especially if they often come in the time after you’ve eaten rather than like when you’re just on an empty stomach. Then it’s a really great idea to build a habit of we have a meal, and then we go for a walk. Five minutes, 10 minutes out the door, turn around and come back. That can really, really improve your digestion.
And my grandparents used to call that a constitutional.
Constipation: Hydration, Fiber, & Bitters
That’s what it is. Yeah. Really good. Hey, all right, so let’s talk about constipation, because that’s exciting. This is what herbalists end up chatting about just hanging out in an afternoon.
I mean, any new constipation strategies?
Listen, people get constipated and it’s very uncomfortable.
It is. And nobody wants to talk about it, but they’re always really grateful if you help fix it. So this is a good one in your herbal back pocket there. So look, sometimes constipation is just a sign of dehydration, you know. So drink more water or hey, more tea, even better, even better. But, and look, it’s easy to say a sentence like that and pass right over it. But in the moment when you’re suffering, it’s easy to forget. Ugh. Why do I feel like this? I don’t know. Have you had any liquid in your body in the last three days?
Yeah. Like it’s really easy for for us to go through a day these days and never really have a chance to stop and take a drink. So, if that is you then get yourself a water bottle and carry it around with you. And just tell yourself you have to drink the whole thing twice in the day or whatever.
Put some alerts on your phone, you know. I love to put alerts on the phone just because like, we have them with us. We’re really attentive to what they’re up to. And you can like make sure things happen in your day. Just like set up a bunch of things like drink water at two o’clock, you know, drink tea at four o’clock, whatever. But anyway, so sometimes it’s just dehydration. But if constipation is a chronic issue, it could also be an indication of a food allergy, because they can cause any of these issues. Or it could simply be that you’re not getting sufficient fiber into your diet. Fiber is really necessary for forming up the poop and helping it to move through the tube. So leafy greens, fibrous foods, and fermented foods in particular are what you’re going to need more of in that case.
And listen, this is another thing that it’s easy to skip over. But in our culture right now, it’s actually not easy to eat vegetables. It is so easy to get through an entire day on basically carbs and a little bit of meat, like pizza or a steak sandwich or a hamburger.
Carbs, cheese and meat.
Yes. Carbs, cheese and meat, that’s it. Yeah. And it’s really hard. If you go to a fast food place, it’s hard to get a vegetable. If you go to takeout places it’s hard to get a vegetable. So if you’re dealing with constipation really frequently, take this part seriously. Like even if you just get coleslaw and make sure you eat some coleslaw every day, or some sauerkraut or kimchi would be fantastic. Or an apple.
Yeah. Kimchi is great, because you’ve got all the benefits of your warming herbs and spices that we’ve been talking about so far. Then you’ve got the benefits of the fibrous veggies that’s making up the kimchi. And all of the microbes that are living on it and supporting your gut health. So, yeah. Really good stuff.
And I want to go back to apples, because apples are like kimchi that grows on trees.
Yeah. Because of all that fiery spice that they get.
Yeah, okay they don’t have that part, but they have the fiber in there and they also feed your probiotics. And you might be thinking well, but they’re not fermented. No, but they have a lot of pectin and pectin is the food that your probiotic bacteria really want to eat. And in fact, right now, I suddenly am overcome with desire for an apple. So that must be my body telling me something. But another great thing about apples is that they’re super portable. So maybe you don’t have a lifestyle where you can just eat kimchi in the middle of the day. But maybe you can carry an Aaple in your bag with you, and at some point in the day you can eat it. You know, and even lately I’ve seen that corner stores, like 7-11 or convenience stores that you wouldn’t normally think of as places to find apples, recently I’ve seen that they are starting to have like a basket of apples.
Yeah. Some of them will have that there. So don’t skip by. Yeah. Alright. So yeah, all of that will help a lot with constipation to make you have nice well-formed stool that you can pass easily.
That goes through, yeah, at the right speed.
So in addition to that, our old friends okra and the seaweeds, they can both help with rehydrating your body and providing fiber. So both that dehydration issue and that lack of fiber in the diet, these foods and herbs can help to solve that. And then again for fiber, right, any veggies that you like, they will help. Collards, kale any kind of salad food, carrots and beets. Like that all has got a bunch of fiber in it. So that’s all going to be good for your guts. Keep them moving along. Another aspect here is that constipation, especially when it’s been ongoing, it can often be traced back to sluggish liver function. So your liver does a lot for you. And one of its jobs is to produce bile, which helps your body to break down fats and to absorb them. But also it’s like a kind of a lubricant for your intestines to keep things moving along smoothly. So when production of bile is low, things can get stuck and you can get backed up. So bitters help out here, bitter herbs like dandelion and also turmeric. They’re going to help to get those juices flowing. Remember, you can make that long, strong steeped chamomile to get a bitter effect as well. And taking bitters, and you really do need to get them into you, right? Not just like a little sip of a tea, but really taste it. Get it into you. A whole squirt of that tincture and like let it be there on your tongue, right? Take that and then go for a walk. And that should do a lot to get your guts moving again.
Now I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but if you need a quick fix, this is a place where coffee can really be your friend. Coffee, both the bitterness of coffee, but actually even the caffeine in coffee, both really do help to stimulate a bowel movement. So if you drink coffee every day then your system is adapted to it and this won’t be quite the same emergency relief that you maybe are looking for. But if you don’t drink coffee regularly, or if you don’t drink caffeinated coffee regularly, and you’re really constipated and you’re just like, I just really need to poop. Then a good strong cup of coffee can actually really get things moving.
Yeah. One way to see this is that a lot of people don’t really realize how reliant they are on coffee for their morning bowel movement until they try to cut back. And then suddenly they’re like, okay, I’m annoyed. And I have constipation. This is terrible.
This is terrible. Yeah.
So yeah. Be aware of that. All right. So then the flip side.
Diarrhea: Astringents, Hydration, & Healing
Yeah. So the opposite here is diarrhea. And diarrhea is stuff moving through too fast, right? So when it only happens once in a while, that’s probably due to a stressful event or a food that irritated your bowels in that one moment. But when it happens regularly, diarrhea can cause a lot of damage. It’s very dehydrating and it is abrasive to the bowel lining. It’s just like sandblasting the inside of your intestines.
Yeah. And I mean, sometimes your body is doing that intentionally, right? Like if you got some food poisoning or if you got a bowel infection, then your body will say, all right, flush everything out. You know, we’ll repopulate, we’ll start over. And so yeah, sometimes that’s like part of what your body’s trying to do. But understanding that that’s happened, it helps us to know what we need to do to resolve the problem. How are we going to wind back and repair the damage and make it so this doesn’t happen again.
Yeah. In this case, we really need to not just stop the diarrhea, but repair the whole bowel lining. So in terms of stopping the diarrhea, you know, sage can be really helpful here. And again, this can be sage from tea or sage, like just eating the leaves themselves. Sage has a nice warmth to it, and that will keep the guts moving. We don’t want to like go the total opposite direction and tighten everything down too much. It will keep things moving. But it has enough astringency that it can tighten the bowels up just a little to prevent the water loss, and like slow down the process a little bit so that instead of coming out as diarrhea, it can come out as actual poop instead.
Yeah. Remember that the action of astringent herbs is to tighten, right? So here we’re tightening up the bowel lining and preventing all of that water from flowing straight out through it and out of you. And getting it set up to heal itself.
You know, I was going to talk about how astringency is like an unripe banana, right? If you’ve ever had a banana that wasn’t really ready yet, and you take a bite, and your whole mouth kind of goes “ssslurp”. Or like a persimmon that isn’t ripe yet, and it tightens everything up. And I was going to give that analogy to talk about what astringency is, but also a not quite ripe banana is helpful for diarrhea. And so if you happen to have some unripe bananas around, you’d have to just happen to have one in that moment. But if you’re a person who’s prone to this and you know it, then you can maybe have some around to help.
Yeah. A long steeped tea of a number of different herbs can be really helpful here. Because the longer you steep the tea, and even including allowing it to get cool, the more the astringency is going to come out of the herbs. So that would apply to the sage that you’d mentioned previously. It would also apply to raspberry and blackberry leaf. And these again are quite common herbs. So you may be able to find them growing wild or have another way.
If you’re lucky you might have some in your backyard on purpose.
I know, right?
Yeah. That would be awesome.
Yeah. So, I mean, you’ve probably been enjoying those berries if you do have one around, but don’t sleep on the leaves. They’re really quite wonderful. So, you know, as the end of the season approaches, last berry harvest has taken place, then it could be a good idea to go ahead and harvest some leaves. Dry them up and keep them around. And then yeah, if you’re dealing with diarrhea, brew it up. Make it strong and then steep it extra long and consider drinking it cool instead of hot when we’re trying to resolve diarrhea.
Just leave it in there while it cools down. Yeah. Cinnamon is quite helpful for diarrhea too. And in this case, what we want to do is take us spoonful of cinnamon powder and stir it into a small glass of water. And then, you know, that’s not going to be super fun to drink because it’ll be powdery and kind of gritty. But if you just drink it back quick, then you won’t notice. And the key here is that the cinnamon is going to provide hydration,, because one part of the problem with diarrhea is that you are sucking through so much water so quickly that you’re going to get dehydrated. So having the cinnamon powder in the water allows it to really soak in the water and kind of hold that in your intestines a little bit longer than it normally would stay in there. That can just help to soothe everything.
Yeah. And then continuing on that, to help to heal up the damage to the bowels after a round of diarrhea, then we’re going to look at herbs like turmeric and chamomile and plantain. And again, we’re talking about the green leafy ground plant, not the banana thing, right? But these herbs, they’re going to help to stimulate the cells of the bowel lining to heal and to grow fresh where they’re needed. That’s that vulnerary activity that we associate with those plants. Goldenrod is another good choice there if you have that growing wild in your area. So those are all quite helpful for the, for the wound healing activity. And then once again, seaweeds and okra. They can provide that moisture. They can help to rehydrate. They can soothe the mucus membranes that have been damaged and irritated. And so in that way they can be really helpful in doing that resolution work and resolving some of that pain.
You know, these herbs are coming up again and again, because in terms of that mucus membrane, that lining, it’s the same type of tissue throughout the whole digestive tract. It’s what is on the inside of your mouth, like on your cheeks. If you kind of feel your cheeks and they’re just kind of a little slimy, all the way through the whole digestive system, you have that same kind of a mucus membrane. And that’s why these same herbs are helping at different points in the system, because we’re trying to work with the same type of tissue throughout the whole area.
All right. And you know also think back over all the different things that we just discussed and about the places where those same herbs occurred over and over again, and you can see patterns, right? When things are moving slowly or like digestion isn’t complete or thorough, then we need to warm and activate. When things are really dry and that’s leading to sticking or leading to tensions, then we need to moisten. So that’s that idea about herbal energetics that we are always coming back to in our teaching and in our practice.
All right. Well that might’ve been a lot to digest all at once.
Come for the herbal education, stay for the really bad puns.
Thank you for that. We needed that one. We absolutely did. Yeah. Excellent, good. But we hope that this can be a helpful starting point when you’re feeling some digestive discomforts. And if you have more than one symptom at a time, don’t worry. We’ve chosen herbs here that work well together. So you can work with more than one issue at the same time. Feel free to mix and match the herbs that we mentioned. If they seemed relevant to you in the moment we were talking about it, go ahead and put them in there. Experiment with your proportions until you make a blend that tastes good to you. But everybody can make their own gut heal tea.
Yes. And that’s key, actually. When you find the things that work really well for your body and that soothe and just make you feel better, don’t wait for the problem to happen. Just start making a habit out of it. And whatever your version of gut heal tea is, the thing that makes your body feel good. You know, of all these different herbs in here, the blend that works for you, just drink it every day or multiple times a week, at least. Because that is like preventative medicine. I mean, there’s never a time that you can’t improve the quality of your digestive tract. Because even if none of these things are happening — you don’t have heartburn, you don’t have constipation, none of that stuff is going on — there’s just still daily wear and tear on your digestive system. And if you’re keeping right up with it, keeping everything cleaned up and healed up all the time, then that’s going to make you more resilient on the day that you do stop and have a piece of pizza. Because once in a while that happens.
That’s what’s up. All right. So we hope that was helpful. Thanks for listening today and sticking with us to the end. You are the real heroes.
And we will be working on stress management and emotional support next week. So that’s when we’ll be talking a lot about how to deal with stressful things, whether they hit you in the guts or anywhere else in your body.
Yeah. All right. So we’ll talk to you then. And until then, take care of yourselves, take care of each other.
Drink some tea.
Drink some tea. And that’s it. Bye.
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