PROTECTING THE LIVER
The liver is a major organ of digestion and assimilation. When digestive difficulties arise, it's important to ensure that the liver is in good working order. The following herbs are used to protect and strengthen the liver.
1. Milk Thistle seeds have protective and regenerative effects on the liver, and have long been used in curing liver disorders. I had hepatitis twice in the early 60s, and have been able to greatly restore my digestive power with the help of this herb. Milk thistle is commonly available in health food stores in standardized extract or tincture form.
2. Schisandra is an herb commonly used in Chinese medicine for promoting digestion. Because of the balanced flavor of this fruit (it is said to contain all five flavors), it is recommended for mild digestive disorders, especially when caused by stress or overwork. Schisandra is available in many formulas or may be made into a decoction.
3. Oregon Grape Root has a long history of use for painful digestion accompanied by loss of appetite. Its bitter flavor helps stimulate the production of hydrochloric acid in the stomach. It is traditionally used for low stomach acid (poor protein assimilation) and may be taken before or after fatty or protein-rich meals to aid digestion. Oregon Grape may be taken in tincture, capsule, or decoction form.
STRENGTHENING THE STOMACH
When long-term stress weakens the stomach, it is unable to perform its digestive functions well. When the stomach is bombarded with heavy, poorly-chewed foods, as well as alcohol, coffee, and other irritating substances, it reacts by secreting too much acid and other enzymes. Indigestion results and can eventually lead to more serious problems such as ulcers.
Stomach weakness can also be hereditary. In this case, the stomach is the first place emotional or external stress generally manifests itself. Symptoms include nausea, an uneasy feeling in the stomach, and the inability to keep food down. To strengthen the stomach, try some of these herbs:
4. Marshmallow Root comes from a relative of the hollyhock. It has effective soothing properties that lower inflammation and reduce irritation from stomach acid.
5. Licorice Root can be added to almost any digestive tea. It has excellent soothing and anti-inflammatory properties, and adds a sweet flavor to therapeutic teas. The sweet principal has no calories and is fifty times stronger than sucrose. Avoid excessive use of licorice if you are prone to high blood pressure.
6. Ginger is excellent as a tea, powder, or liquid extract to treat stagnation in the digestive tract, digestive upsets, and gas pains. Ginger has a protective effect on the stomach and liver, and is the best spice to use for people with liver and digestive problems. It is possible to find "natural" ginger ales in some natural food stores. Lightly sparkling, spicy with ginger, and free of refined sugar, they can help soothe a jumpy or irritated stomach quickly.
7. Painful digestion (or dyspepsia) is often caused by overeating, eating while stressed, poor food combining, or eating food that is not fresh. In general, it is advisable to eat less food, watch food combining, and give the digestive tract ample time to rest after the evening meal (don't eat past 6 or 7 pm and not before 9 am, preferably after exercising).
To soothe the digestive tract, try drinking 1 cup 2 to 3 times daily of one of the following herbs: Chamomile, Lemon Balm, or Ginger or try...
CALMING STOMACH TEA
- Marshmallow Root (45%)
- Ginger (20%)
- Peppermint (20%)
- Licorice Root (15%)
Simmer 1 part by weight of the dried herbs (except the peppermint) to 10 parts by volume of water for 20 minutes. Turn the heat off, add the peppermint, and let the tea steep for another 15 minutes. Store the excess in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, then make a new batch. Sipping this tea for ten days is the recommended therapeutic course, but it can be used on an as needed basis as well.
CONGESTED OR OVERWORKED LIVER
9. When the liver is congested, common symptoms that arise include soreness in the liver area, painful digestion, gas, constipation, a marked distaste for oily foods, as well as headaches and irritability. In addition to eating lightly and keeping oil intake to a minimum, the following herbal combination may be used to decongest the liver and increase blood flow.
This formula can be made with powdered or encapsulated herbs. The dose is 2 capsules 3 times per day. Additionally, 1 capsule of milk thistle extract should be taken each day.
- dandelion root (1 part)
- burdock root (1 part)
- fennel (1/2 part)
- ginger (1/2 part)
- mugwort or wormwood leaf (1/4 part)
BITTERS FOR INDIGESTION
10. Tonic formulas for the digestion, often called "bitters", usually combine bitter-tasting herbs like gentian, artichoke, angelica, or blessed thistle, which activate the secretion of digestive juices, with herbs such as ginger, fennel, or cardamom, that help modify or reduce the formula's tendency to contract the digestive tract. Bitter formulas, which are readily available in health food stores, are specifically indicated for digestive weakness and pain that comes during or after an infectious disease.
Conditions for which bitters are used include: poor fat digestion, poor protein digestion, weakness due to chronic illness, low vital energy, painful digestion, intestinal cramps, excessive gas, and poor appetite.
Bitters need to be taken over a period of a few months before their full effect is achieved and should be taken in 1/2 to 1 teaspoon doses 1/2 hour before meals.
11. Gas, or flatulence can be caused by improper food combinations, weak digestion, overeating, or eating poorly cooked beans. It may also be helpful to avoid cold drinks, as well as coffee and tea, especially during a meal.
One simple remedy to help relieve gas is peppermint oil. Place 2 or 3 drops of this oil in a cup of hot tea or water; stir well and drink. Although not as strong as the oil, peppermint tea is also helpful. Enteric coated peppermint oil capsules are also available in health food stores. The following blend of traditional carminative, or gas-relieving, herbs is helpful as a tea. Simmer the herbs for 20 minutes, and drink as needed.
- peppermint (1 part)
- ginger (1/2 part)
- fennel (1/2 part)
- cardamom (1/4 part)
- licorice (1/4 part)
The feeling of nausea is a symptom that can accompany a wide range of organic or metabolic disorders and emotional trauma.
The following herbs can provide symptomatic relief:
12. Lavender Flowers (Lavandula officinalis) affect the nervous and digestive system, allay nausea, and have a slight sedative quality. Lavender is taken as an infusion, 1 cup 2 to 3 times daily. Inhaling essential oil of lavender may also be helpful.
13. Ginger (Zingiber officinalis) is used for all types of nausea, including morning sickness and motion sickness. It has a warming effect and is supportive to the digestion while stimulating circulation. Ginger has a long history of use for colic and painful digestion. It is used as a powder in capsules for alleviating nausea (2 caps 3 times daily), as a tea by simmering dried or fresh ginger slices, or as a tincture (2 droppersful 2 to 3 times daily).
14. Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) is an effective nausea and indigestion remedy. It warms the interior of the body, activating blood and improving digestion. Cinnamon may be taken in capsule form, 2-3 capsules per day, or a decoction can be made by simmering the bark and drinking 2-3 cups daily.
15. Curing Pills a Chinese patent remedy available in many herb stores, are used for nausea, vomiting, motion-sickness, and all gastrointestinal diseases. Curing pills contain Chinese herbs including gastrodia, atractylodes, chrysanthemum, pueraria, trichosanthes, saussureae, poria, and magnolia.
Constipation, or the failure of the bowels to move regularly and completely, may be due to stress, overeating, lack of exercise, or insufficient fiber in the diet. Treatment for this condition involves a high-fiber diet, massaging the abdomen, increased exercise, not eating too late at night or too early in the morning, and the use of the following bowel toning and laxative herbs.
16. Psyllium Seeds and husks (Plantago ovata) are primarily thought of as laxatives, although they have been found beneficial for diarrhea as well. They contain a large amount of soluble fiber, and are used for chronic constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, and hemorrhoids. Psyllium seeds and husks are found in many bowel-cleansing formulas, sometimes with flax seed, burdock, fenugreek, and other cleansing herbs. A teaspoon of the husk is taken 1-2 times daily with water, and it is important to drink plenty of water throughout the day. A teaspoon of the seed may be simmered in a cup of water and taken as a tea or ground up and sprinkled on food.
17. Flax Seed (Linum utissimum) is a soothing laxative which is also suitable for irritable bowel syndrome, gastritis, and diverticulitis. One teaspoon of the seeds is simmered in 1 cup of water, or simply steeped in cool water for 30 minutes to release the mucilage. The dose is 1 cup 2 to 3 times daily.
18. Yellow Dock (Rumex crispus) is a bowel tonic with mild laxative properties. It has an overall normalizing effect on bowel movements. It is taken as a decoction or tincture 2 to 3 times daily.
19. Cascara Sagrada (Rhamnus purshiana) is an excellent laxative which helps reeducate weak bowels. Using 1 teaspoon per cup of the herb, the dose is 1 cup at bedtime; 3-4 capsules of the powder may be used if preferred.
20. Buckthorn Bark (Rhamnus catharticus) is a popular European herb widely used as a laxative. This herb was one of the ingredients in the famous Hoxsey formula for cancer. It can be taken as a decoction, 1 cup 2 to 3 times daily, or as a tincture, 1 to 3 droppersful.
21. Senna (Senna alexandrina) is a safe, stimulating laxative. It acts as a stool softener, which makes it beneficial for hemorrhoids or anal fissures. It is taken as an infusion, 1 cup before bedtime.
Common causes of diarrhea include intestinal infections, parasites, food allergies, bacterial toxins, drugs, and chemical irritants. Commonly prescribed herbs for diarrhea include the following:
22. Blackberry Root (Rubus villosus) is an anti-diarrheal herb which can be made by simmering 1 teaspoon of the root in 1 cup of water. The dose is 1 cup 3 times daily.
23. Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) is an astringent and cooling herb commonly used for diarrhea and gastrointestinal irritation. This herb is useful to take in tincture form while traveling in areas where food and water may contain bacteria or parasites which can cause nausea, abdominal pains, and diarrhea. The dose is 10-30 drops of the tincture 3 times daily.
24. Walking is an excellent form of exercise for the digestion. While walking, try letting go of all the tensions created in the mind. This will free up tremendous amounts of energy for the digestive process. When energy is released from mental work or attachments, it automatically flows to where it is needed most. If your digestion has been chronically weak, energy will go to the digestive organs and help restore and regulate their functions. Uneasy Combinations
25. Food combinations to avoid are fruit (or any sugary food) with protein, especially meat. Avoid desserts, though a piece of fresh fruit in season can be eaten at least an hour after a meal. Keep the diet simple-only one kind of protein at one meal (for instance, avoid eating beans and nuts together), and be aware of excessively coating mixtures of foods with oil-it slows down digestion and absorption.
- Exercise in the morning before breakfast
- Chew food slowly and well
- Eat whole, unrefined foods as much as possible
- Think happy, positive thoughts while eating
- Avoid eating late at night in order to give your digestive system a good rest
- Never overeat
- Take a walk after dinner
- Take your bitters!