A healthy digestive system is something that we tend to take for granted – till it decides to act up. Indigestion and its symptoms – whether it’s bloating, queasiness, or that dull bellyache – can be caused by eating too fast, indulging in a fatty meal, smoking, and drinking excessively. Sometimes, problems in your digestive tract such as gastroesophageal reflux disease or an ulcer may lie at the root of your indigestion. So may infection by a bacteria known as Helicobacter pylori which could also lead to stomach ulcers.
Some simple steps can help ward off indigestion. For instance, avoiding spicy or fatty foods which may worsen indigestion and cutting down on alcohol and caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea or cola may help. Your doctor may also advise you to use medicines such as antacids or alginates to treat indigestion. However, there’s already a remedy sitting on your kitchen shelf that can help you deal with your turbulent tummy – herbs!
Herbs For Indigestion: How They Help
Aside from their aroma and flavor, herbs’ health benefits, including their tummy soothing properties, have earned them a place in cooking across cultures. Herbs help with digestion as they:
- Fight bacteria that can cause indigestion and stomach ulcers (antimicrobial).
- Ease flatulence (carminative).
- Relax smooth muscle lining the intestinal tract (antispasmodic)
- Increase the production of bile, which helps you digest and absorb fats.
- Increase gastric mucus which protects your stomach lining against irritation.
By adding a handful of herbs to your cooking or as a garnish, you can fend off a bloated belly. If you’re already suffering from indigestion, chewing on some herbs or having a few spoons of freshly squeezed juice after your meals may just do the trick. This works well with softer, leafy herbs. Herbal teas are the most popular and effective way of using herbs to tackle indigestion after a meal as a warm tea easily comes into contact with your stomach as well as intestinal walls and is also readily digested.1 2 3
Here are some herbs you can call on for help when indigestion is making you miserable.
Rosemary has traditionally been used to tackle gastrointestinal problems. It can help relax the smooth muscle lining of your digestive tract and works as an antispasmodic.4 Studies also show that it acts against Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria implicated in peptic ulcers and gastritis.5
How to use: Add rosemary to your cooking, whether it’s in soups, salads, heavy-duty bakes, or meat dishes to help with digestion. You can also make a rosemary tea by steeping a couple of sprigs of fried or fresh rosemary in a cup of boiling water. Drink this up to ease gas.
2. Lemon Balm
Lemon balm belongs to the mint family and can work wonders to ease gas, bloating, and pain due to indigestion. It has been found to relieve spasms in the intestinal tract and also acts against the Helicobacter pylori bacteria.6 7
How to use: This herb is typically taken as a tea which is prepared by steeping around 2 to 3 teaspoons of the leaves in a cup of hot water.8
Peppermint improves the flow of bile, thereby helping digestion. Studies also show that it has antibacterial properties against Helicobacter pylori.9
However, if gastroesophageal reflux disease is responsible for your indigestion, peppermint can do more harm than good. This is because this herb can relax muscles which close off the food pipe from the stomach, allowing acid from the stomach to pass into your food pipe. It’s also best to avoid using peppermint for children.10
How to use: A cup of peppermint tea, prepared by steeping a teaspoon of this herb in a cup of hot water, can work wonders at soothing an upset stomach.
4. Holy Basil
Holy basil or tulsi has been used in the ancient medicinal science of ayurveda for centuries to treat a range of illnesses including digestive problems. This fragrant herb has antiulcer properties as well as an antispasmodic effect, make it useful for relieving spasms, gas, and bloat. It also increases the production of protective stomach mucus which can help prevent irritation of your stomach lining.11
How to use: You can make a tea from dried tulsi leaves or have fresh tulsi leaf juice to ease your tummy troubles. You can also combine 1 teaspoon of tulsi leaf juice with half a teaspoon of ginger juice and 3 grains of black pepper and have that to tackle indigestion.12
Parsley is another herb with antibacterial properties and drinking parsley tea after meals can help protect against indigestion. Research has found that extracts of this herb can prevent Helicobacter pylori from sticking to your stomach.13
How to use: Aside from adding parsley to your stews and sauces, and bakes, you can also have wilted leaves directly. Or steep a few sprigs of parsley in freshly boiled water to make a healing tea.14
This ancient symbol of peace can certainly keep your tummy happy! It is effective against the Helicobacter pylori and has traditionally be used to treat digestive disorders.15
How to use: Fresh marjoram is rich in vitamins and minerals and works well in soups, salad dressings, marinades, as well as vegetable and egg dishes. You can prepare a diluted tea with this herb or take a cue from the Brits and munch on a marjoram sandwich to ease indigestion. To make a sandwich, place a few springs of this herb between a couple of slices of whole-grain bread. But avoid using this remedy if you’re pregnant or if you have ulcers or gastrointestinal blockage.16 17
Sage is an aromatic bitter or carminative that can help calm an upset stomach. It eases gas and relieves intestinal spasms. And like many other herbs we saw, it exhibits bactericidal activity against Helicobacter pylori.18
How to use: Chop up around 3 grams of sage leaves and add steep it in a cup of boiling water for about 10 minutes to make a tummy-soothing tea.19 Sage can also be used in your cooking.
How to use: This popular herb can be used in marinades, stuffings, and omelets. You could also steep 2 teaspoons of thyme in a cup of hot water to prepare a bloat-busting tea.
Oregano is related closely to marjoram, and like marjoram, it can also help tackle indigestion. This herb improves digestion by increasing the flow of bile which helps us digest and absorb fat. It also helps by fighting against certain bacteria, intestinal worms, and viruses.22
How to use: Chop up some oregano and use it as a garnish, especially in heavy-on-the-gut dishes like pizza. It’ll help you digest that extra portion of cheese more easily. Steep a couple of teaspoons of the herb in hot water for about ten minutes to prepare a tea which can be consumed thrice daily. Do keep in mind though that this herb might not be suitable for use during pregnancy.
|↑1||Indigestion. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑2||Indigestion. National Health Service.|
|↑3||Stomach Soothers. Reader’s Digest.|
|↑4||Castleman, Michael. The New Healing Herbs: The Essential Guide to More Than 125 of Nature’s Most Potent Herbal Remedies. Rodale, 2010.|
|↑5, ↑7, ↑9, ↑15||Mahady, Gail B., Susan L. Pendland, Adenia Stoia, Frank A. Hamill, Daniel Fabricant, Birgit M. Dietz, and Lucas R. Chadwick. “In vitro susceptibility of Helicobacter pylori to botanical extracts used traditionally for the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders.” Phytotherapy research 19, no. 11 (2005): 988-991.|
|↑6||Sadraei, H., A. Ghannadi, and K. Malekshahi. “Relaxant effect of essential oil of Melissa officinalis and citral on rat ileum contractions.” Fitoterapia 74, no. 5 (2003): 445-452.|
|↑8||Lemon balm. University of Michigan.|
|↑10||Peppermint. University of Maryland.|
|↑11, ↑12||McIntyre, Anne. Herbal treatment of children: Western and Ayurvedic perspectives. Elsevier Health Sciences, 2005.|
|↑13, ↑18||O’Mahony, Rachel, Huda Al-Khtheeri, Deepaka Weerasekera, Neluka Fernando, Dino Vaira, John Holton, and Christelle Basset. “Bactericidal and anti-adhesive properties of culinary and medicinal plants against Helicobacter pylori.” World journal of gastroenterology 11, no. 47 (2005): 7499.|
|↑14||Antol, Marie Nadine. Healing Teas: how to prepare and use teas to maximize your health. Penguin, 1996.|
|↑16||Duke, James A. The green pharmacy: New discoveries in herbal remedies for common diseases and conditions from the world’s foremost authority on healing herbs. Rodale, 1997.|
|↑17||Marjoram. Department of Health & Human Services.|
|↑19||Sage. University of Michigan.|
|↑20||Thyme. University of Michigan.|
|↑21||Tabak, M., R. Armon, I. Potasman, and I. Neeman. “In vitro inhibition of Helicobacter pylori by extracts of thyme.” Journal of Applied Microbiology 80, no. 6 (1996): 667-672.|
|↑22||Oregano. National Institutes of Health.|