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!


Chamomile (matricaria recutita) ~ gentle giant

January 29, 2009

Soothing Skin Bath Soak

Soothing Skin Bath Soak

Chamomile is a common name for an herb that usual includes both the Roman and German varieties. Once called ‘maythe’ or ‘mayweed’, the name is based on an old English word for ‘maide’ or ‘woman’ and is probably due to the plant’s calming, relaxant effects which have been used to soothe menstrual pains (Pollington2000). While both varieties have similar action, German chamomile is purported to be better tasting and milder in action that Roman Chamomile, which makes the former a better choice for pregnant women and children.

Chamomile is a commonly known herb that has amazingly wonderful, diverse qualities. It is traditionally used as a remedy for teething or cranky babies, to relieve and upset stomach, to ease menstrual cramps, and to reduce tension and induce sleep (K&W2001). Though individuals who have ragweed allergies may find that they are allergic to topical application of chamomile poulstices or salves, an allergic reaction is fairly unusual. In addition, in treating eczema, chamomile has been found to be as effective as hydrocortisone (steroidal cream) and superior to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (Aertgeertsetal1985). My own daughter has had eczema since she was an infant, and I have been delighted to find that a lotion created with chamomile & calendula infusions in both distilled water and natural vegetable oils has provided wonderful eczema relief. I now offer this lotion in my shop, primarily targeted for use for individuals with eczema, for children & infants, and for those with sensitive skin, though this lotion is fine for anyone and has a light scent of chamomile tea without the use of any fragrance or essential oils.

Chamomile

Chamomile

Chamomile is a wonderfully calming herb, both calming to the skin (as above) and calming to the tummy, the mind, the body, and the spirit. It gently brings someone into a state of restful sleep, and soothes even an irritated baby or newborn struggling with colic. German Chamomile has a long history of use during pregnancy and breast-feeding and is a common tea in Europe, Central America, & South America. (That said, it is important to note that Roman Chamomile has been found to have aborficent effects in studies on animals, and so it is important to choose German Chamomile over the Roman variety.) Part of chamomile’s calming effect on the nervous system is the large amount of easily assimilable calcium, making it a great herb to treat insomnia, nervousness, irritability, restlessness, and nighmares, along with connected conditions such as hypertension and cramps, spasms, and stomach distress. Menstrual cramps can be eased with the combination of chamomile & ginger (Tierra2003).

Conditions for which chamomile is beneficial are myriad, and include irritable bowl syndrome, indigestion, infant colic, gastric reflux disease, dysmenorrhea (cessation of menstrual cycle), gastritis, stress-related insomnia, peptic ulcer disease, spastic colon, cramping w/ diarrhea, oral ulcers, topical wound healing, eczema, and anogenital irritation. Chamomile can be taken in many forms: dried flowers, capsules, cream, salve, tea, tincture, bath tea or salt blend, but in this case we are fortunate because chamomile both smells and tastes lovely! I use chamomile in several different bath tea blends, including my Dream Journey bath tea

Chamomile & Calendula body lotion

Chamomile & Calendula body lotion

Dried flowers can be added to the tub or in a muslin bag and in combination with epsom salts, this remedy can be very beneficial for hemorrohoids or irritated skin. Add a handful of oatmeal to the bag and you have a soothing emollient, combined with chamomile’s anti-inflammatory powers to aid allergic skin rashes, eczema, or just as a wonderfully soothing bath for baby. Topical poulstices made from the dried flower (clean cloth dipped into a water infusion) is useful for treating mastitis or other inflammatory issues

I find that the smell of the essential oil is a bit cloying and not always reflective, in my mind, of the light sweetness of the dried flowers, but the essential oil also has therapeutic action and is a welcome (though sometimes expensive!) addition to facial creams that require some ‘calming’ action to facial tissue. It is also good to use in balms and salves for children, as it is both therapeutic and very safe for all ages. For insect bites, the essential oil can be mixed with some aloe vera gel and applied directly to the bite.

Contraindications are few, though it may potentiate anticoagulants such as warfarin so use should be cautious and monitored if an individual is taking such a pharmaceutical. Again, though chamomile has a long, empirical track record of use for pregnant & breast-feeding mothers, it’s probably a good idea that Roman Chamomile be avoided throughout pregnancy (breastfeeding would be okay) and perhaps even in the first trimester because of chamomile’s mild emmenogogic effect (brings on menstruation). Chamomile overall represents one of the safest possible herbs for use with infants, childrens, and nursing mothers, who deliver the benefit of the tea through their breastmilk, and therefore is one of my herbs of choice in bath teas and products for babies, though it’s light, sweet fragrance and flavor certainly add to the strengths of this gentle giant. I say ‘giant’ because its gifts to us are so great.

REFS:
Aertgeerts, P. et al (1985) Z Hautkr. 60(3):270-277
Kuhn, Merrily and David Winston (2001) Herbal Therapy & Supplements: A Scientific and Traditional Approach
Pollington, Stephen (2000) Leechcraft: Early English Charms, Plantlore, and Healing
Tierra, Leslie (2003) Healing with the Herbs of Life


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