Herbs for the Happy Tummy

February 22, 2012

I keep encountering moments with friends and colleagues when someone is struck suddenly with a very unhappy tummy, and is in need of quick digestive aid, for a little help when — oops! someone ate wheat bread and shouldn’t have, to help with gas troubles, some weird food combination that left a tummy churning, you name it. The digestive system is of course extremely important to our overall health and well-being, and when there is imbalance, one can even develop depression or anxiety troubles. But right now I am just going to address a group of herbs called carminatives. Essentially, a carminative is an herb that helps expel gas. So using a carminative is more of an acute treatment, though it can be part a long-term strategy to help with chronic digestive woes of any kind. Maybe that sounds icky, the thought that – gasp – your body might in fact have moments when gas is produced, but let’s face it, we all have “moments” and certainly our children too.  At those times, carminatives can be of great assistance, and should always be in your herbal arsenal. I will list some wonderful carminatives to have on hand in the space below, but I also want to point out two ready-made tinctures (alcohol or glycerite extracts) that are fabulous for kids and/or adults.

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1. Chamomile. Yes! it’s also a nervine, and therefore great for calming your nervous system, but this delicate apple-spiced tisane (water infusion) has a time-honored tradition of soothing the digestive system. It is especially frequently used for children with its mild, sweet taste, gentle action, and comforting aroma. Chamomile is easily incorporated into a regular routine for adults and children alike and one can include other tasty nervine-carminatives to this blend such as lavender.

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2. Lemon Balm. Like many other mints, lemon balm contains a high quantity of volatile oils that work to ease digestive woes. Lemon Balm, with its bright, lemony fragrance, also helps lift the spirits, so if Seasonal Affective Disorder AND tummy complaints are your bane, this is a great herb for you. It is worth noting that fresh lemon balm works best for the nervous system support but dried will help with digestive woes just as well as the fresh herb.

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3. Fennel. Known for its mild anise or licorice flavor, all parts of the fennel plant are edible and provide digestive relief. I often keep the seeds on hand with this purpose in mind, and as it is also a great galactagogue (helps promote milk flow in breast feeding women), this is a wonderful herb of choice for women who are pregnant, post-partum, or nursing and experiencing both tummy trouble and the desire to support their milk flow. IT also soothes colic (because of the digestive connection) and so it is great to impart to baby via breast milk or as a water-infusion via spoon or eye dropper.

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4. Cinnamon / Cassia. Usually what we think of as cinnamon is actually cassia, a close cousin. True cinnamon is sweeter than cassia, which can have a notably hot taste. The volatile oils are what usually give carminatives their power and both cinnamon and cassia have them in spades, so both are useful for digestion. Cinnamon & cassia are also energetically warming and can work as a ‘catalyst’ to enable other herbs to work better, and to stimulate digestion when food choices have been energetically damp or someone is convalescing. It is worth noting that cinnamon has also shown quite a bit of promise for people with diabetes, as it appears to stimulate insulin activity, helping the body to process sugar more efficiently.

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5. Peppermint. I can’t neglect the power of menthol, the source of peppermint’s unmistakeable flavor. Spearmint is a milder mint that can be used almost interchangeably with peppermint, but if you source  good quality dried peppermint, you will be astounded by how intense the flavor is. Mint is very easy to grow and root. I actually picked some from my garden this January, as there was still some (amazingly!) hanging on, and rooted it in my kitchen where it is now happily growing in a sunny window. Peppermint is stimulating and can perk up the mind and the senses, making this a good herb to use to start your day, get your brain in gear, and forge on to new adventures.

Naturally I have many other carminative loves, but for now, I’ll just leave you with those top choices. I would also be remiss in not pointing out Herbalist & Alchemist’s Kid’s Tummy Relief, an absolutely wonderful glycerite formula that tastes delicious and can really help out a kid’s tummy in a pinch. Okay, I keep some in strategic places for myself too, but grown-ups deserve tasty too, right? Another must? Ginger extract (alcohol): I always always always keep a bottle of this in my office, my car, and my home, as it is essentially herbal first aid for myriad complaints.

Feel free to share some of your carminative loves and natural digestive aids!


A little autumn magic…

October 5, 2009

Ishtar-320piWith the arrival of October, I welcome Autumn, the end of the summer harvest, the real advent of cooler, crisp breezes and sparkling fall days. While springtime seems to be my most productive and invigorating time of year, full of creative new projects, products, and inspiring concoctions, I also find this time of year poignant in many ways. Though it is more a time of retreat and reflection for me, it is also a time of gentle, creative magic and quiet meditation. I often think about the Sumerian goddess, Ishtar, and her decent to the underworld for renewal. She is seen by some scholars as the ‘sacred whore’ but for me, her story is more about our need for retreat, our need for reflection, and perhaps even a need to descend into a time of darkness so that we may find healing and strength. Carl Jung writes of Ishtar as signifying “earth, nature, fertility, everything that flourishes under the damp light of the moon and also the natural life-urge”. (“Adam and Eve”, Mysterium Coniunctionis). Thus, Ishtar might stand, for us, as a return to the earth, and that like the roots of the forest that place their energy now in the roots rather than blossoms and berries, we must now ground ourselves and soak up the nutrients that in decay now cover the forest floor…leaves, nuts, fruits, and other organic matter.

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Ishtar Root Tea Decoction

Back in 2005 or 2006, I created my Ishtar Root Blend with this myth in mind, and still find this blend ideal for autumn reflection and healing. Ashwaghanda, an ancient Ayurvedic tonic herb, is an adaptogen that brings balance, immune-building, and calming harmony to our nervous system. Shatavari, the ancient Ayurvedic fertility tonic for women brings fertile ground for our bodies, spirits, and reproductive system; it is indeed but another adaptogen with moistening energetics, soothing vata and providing an ideal tonic following childbirth, sickness, or as a vitality tonic for any time of year. Dandelion and Burdock roots attend to the needs of the liver, providing nourishment and nutrients to this oft’ overworked organ, the very organ responsible for processing hormones, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, environmental toxins, and fats & sugars from the food we eat. Cinnamon provides a warming energetic and catalyst to spark the other herbs into action, soothe one’s belly, and provide that delicious taste craved by many this time of year. In sum, I find it a lovely, nourishing accompaniment to autumn’s necessary moments of reflection and building of inner strength and peace. Namaste.

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Directions for preparing a root decoction:
1. Measure 2 Tbsp of root blend and place in a pot with 1 quart of water to simmer.
2. Simmer roots for at least 15-20 minutes. Add milk and simmer a little longer if desired.
(*in Ayurveda, a Shatavari root tea is often simmered with milk and cinnamon and then honey and ghee, or clarified butter, would be added before drinking)
3. Steep 10-15 min longer with the pot covered.
4. Strain and drink as much as desired, or, in 1 cup increments 2-3x a day
5. Decoction will keep, refrigerated, for up to 3 days.
6. Drink with honey and/or ghee if desired!

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@ ciderandfaun.blogspot.com

By the way, for other magical connections to the earth around us, you might check out these additional delights:
Lady Lavona’s Cabinet of Curiosities
Cider and Faun
Violet Folklore
For Strange Women
Swan Bones Theatre
Totus Mel’s Wunderkammer


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