Favorite Herbs for Digestion-Part I
If you had just a couple of bitter herbs to help with digestion, what would they be and why?
One of my favorite bitter herbs is the common weed Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) a member of the asteraceae family. This plant is a great example of how food really is medicine because the root, leaf and flower are all edible! Dandelion is cooling, bitter in taste and is great for people with a fiery pitta constitution like myself. Dandelion is very easy to identify and can be found in lawns, fields, and even deep in the woods making it a great option if you don’t want to buy it!
Dandelion is great a great go-to herb for mild digestive issues. It’s commonly used to treat nausea, constipation, to stimulate appetite and improve overall digestive processes. Dandelion root contains up to 40% inulin, a prebiotic dietary fiber also present in onions, leeks, bananas, artichoke, asparagus, and a host of other fruits and vegetables. Inulin supports digestive health, and may have anti-tumor, antimicrobial, hypo-lipidemic, and hypoglycemic properties. Dandelion is rich in potassium, magnesium & iron and vitamins A, C, D and B complex vitamins making it a key contributor to your overall health. This plant has so many nutritional bases covered placing it on the top of my list of digestive herbs!
There are many ways to use dandelion in herbal medicine and in life. In my practice, I use this plant as a bitter, liver tonic, in formulation with other herbs, to support nutrient deficient clients with inflammatory patterns associated with digestive problems, skin diseases, cardiovascular health deficiencies, and/or to support healthy weight loss. Dandelion can be administered in the form of a tincture, tea, powder or capsule to suit your lifestyle, budget and taste.
Maybe you are familiar with, Dandy Blend a coffee substitute made of dandelion root, chicory root, beet root, barley and rye. I pinky swear that it really tastes like coffee and it’s packed with nutrients. Calm down, I’m not asking you to quit coffee but if you were considering decreasing your coffee intake or if you just wanted to add a nutritious boost to your daily cup of joe this is something to consider. I happen to use Dandy Blend but there are many others available online and at your local health food stores. You can easily make your own dandelion root coffee at home if you are feeling inspired with dandelion root, chicory root, cinnamon, and coconut milk. Delicious dandelion recipes are available online offering fun ways to eat your greens and to enjoy your medicine so give it a try and let us know what you think!
While dandelion is generally considered safe when consumed in amounts available in food, it should not be ingested by people with obstructed bile ducts or other serious diseases of the gall bladder. The plant may cause an allergic reaction when applied topically to people who are allergic to plants from the asteraceae family such as ragweed and daisies.
Hops (Humulus lupulus)
Hops is a member of the cannabaceae family of plants and is native to Europe and parts of Western Asia where it grows in the wild. A bitter tonic with antispasmodic properties makes it useful for people with digestive issues like dyspepsia, indigestion and loss of appetite, menstrual cramps, and anxiety but has many uses. As a night owl, I enjoy the hypnotic and sedative properties and use it in combination with other herbs and sometimes alone as a natural sleep remedy. Phytoestrogens found in in the plant have been shown to relieve hot flashes in menopausal women. Personally, I use hops with a little chamomile, wild yam, and cinnamon in a tincture during my menses when my digestion is out of whack, and I’m anxious and crampy. So much goodness in one plant!
Hops is a fantastic bitter tonic if you like the taste of bitters. Then again, I’m convinced enjoying bitter flavors is an acquired taste, kind of like yogurt, weird at first but super tasty in the end, especially since the benefits far outweigh the initial taste. If hops sounds familiar, it may be because it’s a key ingredient in beer and has been for centuries. The resin in the hops contains chemically unstable polyphenolic principles: humulone and lupulone and is responsible for the distinct taste and aroma.
Other ways to enjoy the calming benefits of hops minus the bitter taste is by adding it to an herbal bath to promote restful sleep or putting hops under your pillow with lavender. You can make your own bath salts with 1 teaspoon of dried lavender, 1 teaspoon of hops, (½ teaspoon if using essential oils) mixed in 1 cup of epsom salts and store in a glass jar. Add the ingredients to a bath pouch or stocking and enjoy a warm 20 minute calming bath before bed. Give it a try, let us know what you think!
Herbs are powerful but everything is not for everybody all the time. Hops is contraindicated and should not be used by people suffering from depression. Hops should be used with caution during pregnancy and/or if you have estrogen dependent tumors.