Stomach and digestive ailments, from nausea to bloating, are some of the most common discomforts that the human body goes through. Millions are affected every year by stomach upset, which has a wide range of causes, from mild indigestion to severe illness. Amazingly, nature provides many herbs that are perfect for soothing and healing the stomach. These herbal remedies have stood up to the test of time, as many have been in use for thousands of years. For the millions of people who suffer from common stomach ailments, these herbs not only work, they often work better than prescription and over-the-counter drugs. The best part? They come with very few, if any, side effects.
Many dozens of herbs and spices can be effective treatments for digestive problems, but five of the most popular are below:
- Ginger: Native to India, ginger has been used for thousands of years. Whether taken raw, pickled, candied, in a tincture, or as a tea, ginger is effective for nausea and good for the digestive system. It also affects the circulatory system, and should be avoided by people with gallbladder conditions or those taking blood thinners.
- Peppermint: Peppermint and its close relative spearmint are used to calm both the stomach and a stressful mind. It also helps ease common cold symptoms. People with heartburn or acid reflux should avoid it, however, due to its volatile oils.
- Chamomile: Another calming herb, chamomile is a member of the daisy family
- Slippery Elm: Native to North America, slippery elm bark is an effective soothing tonic. Although not as well known as ginger or mint, slippery elm has been used to aid in digestion and even help with minor pain and inflammation.
- Cinnamon: Native to China, cinnamon is a popular and coveted spice that can help with stomach ailments and stimulate digestion. It’s often taken as a tea or with warm honey. Make sure to get true cinnamon.
There are many other herbs from all over the world that can help relieve an upset stomach, including catnip, rosehips, yellowroot, lemon, cloves, basil, and milkthistle.
Note that some medicinal herbs do have mild side effects that could be problematic for some. Other herbs may interact with medications. It’s recommended that you consult with your healthcare provider before using herbal remedies, especially if you suffer from any health issues or are currently taking medication.
How to Prepare
From ginger to cinnamon, most of these medicinal herbs are very tasty! They are also widely available. For added effectiveness, some of these herbs can be mixed together as well. Some herbs work best when prepared a certain way for specific ailments, while others are effective no matter how you take them. To prepare your own herbal remedies, visit an herb store, attend a lecture, or take a look at this herbal preparation guide. You can buy medicinal herbs dried, fresh (in some cases) or already prepared in a tincture, oil, lozenge or capsule. You can also grow many of these herbs yourself!
Both nausea and vomiting are very uncomfortable and very vague symptoms that can occur for many different reasons. Nausea can be caused by a stomach virus, food poisoning, motion sickness, nervousness, pain, and many other reasons. It’s best to identify the cause of the nausea and vomiting first, and to monitor the situation carefully as this could be a symptom of a serious problem. In addition, vomiting will put you on the fast track to dehydration, so it’s important to treat it right away.
Often associated with nausea, but often occurring on its own, diarrhea is perhaps the most common digestive ailment suffered by people of all ages all over the world. Diarrhea can be a symptom of just about anything, from food poisoning to parasites. It is also a common side effect of many medications. While this ailment usually passes on its own after a day or two, it can very quickly cause dehydration. It’s best to drink plenty of fluids and electrolytes, and to treat the condition right away. If diarrhea persists for more than a couple days, or if other worrisome signs such as blood or mucous are present, seek medical attention right away. There are plenty of foods that can help, and many herbal remedies as well. Cinnamon, with its astringent qualities, is very useful and popular to use on babies and young children, as is slippery elm. Many also swear by combining flour, water and lemon. It tastes strange, but it works.
It happens all the time, but dealing with bloating and gas can be both very uncomfortable and very embarrassing. Bloating is usually caused by indigestion, poor diet, or exposure to certain foods like dairy, corn, cabbage and the infamous bean. Because many people are especially prone to indigestion, or know which foods cause problems, they can use several herbs to prevent gas, in addition to treating it. Both ginger and cinnamon are effective treatments, as is fennel, anise, dill and parsley. Dandelion tea also works wonders.
Both heartburn and acid reflux are caused by the overproduction of stomach acid, which can rise up into the unprotected membranes of the esophagus or even damage the stomach lining, causing a very uncomfortable burning sensation. Sometimes, acid reflux can be a sign of an underlying issue, but can also occur from stress, eating too much, or eating certain foods. Fortunately there are a few natural herbs that can help. Slippery elm, with its soothing qualities and tendency to coat the lining of the gut, is especially fast and effective for that burning, uncomfortable feeling. Ginger and peppermint, however, might make the feeling worse and should be avoided.
It may include symptoms already discussed, but morning sickness still deserves a category on its own. Often including chronic nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to smell and food aversion, morning sickness affects about 80% of pregnant women during their first trimester and often persists from several weeks to several months or more in severe cases. Common herbal remedies for nausea can be helpful for morning sickness, including mint and ginger. Red raspberry leaf is also sometimes recommended. Because many pregnant women also suffer heartburn and strong smell aversions, some remedies may not work or will make the situation worse. Ginger, for example, may be too strong. Pregnant women should be very cautious when taking different herbs, as some may be harmful or disruptive.
When it comes down to it, choosing the best herbal remedy for stomach ailments may be down to a matter of taste or preference. When fighting nausea especially, taste and smell can be important. If the smell or taste of an herbal tea is too much to keep down, you can also try another method, such as a small capsule or a tincture mixed into juice. For more information, and for a more exhaustive list of herbal remedies for the stomach, consider borrowing or purchasing Medicinal Plants of the World or similar medicinal plant guide.