Wednesday, November 06, 2013


Sandy Michelsen, The Frugal Herbalist   Kalispell, MT
Nov/Dec '12 issue,  Essential Herbal Magazine


It all starts around the end of November, it can sneak up on you if you are not careful.  It can happen at home, at a neighbor’s, at a friend's or even with close relatives.  It starts like this: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole and other vegetables, home made dinner rolls, butter, jelly, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie, mincemeat pie, apple pie, cherry pie, ice cream, cookies, candy and last put not least, fruitcake. Then add the toddies, eggnogs, grogs and hot wassail punch along with other favorite holiday drinks.  You have now entered the “Eating Season” which usually continues until after the first of January.

But there is help  …you can find relief and comfort during this time by including some friendly herbs.

Bitters.  In some European countries they drink a bitter aperitif – bitter herbal beverage – before the first bite of a meal to stimulate digestion and keep food moving through the system.  Bitters reduce gas and bloating.
Gentian is the most powerful digestive bitter in Western herbalism.  Its bitter taste stimulates the secretion of saliva, stomach enzymes, and gastric juices and helps relieve symptoms of indigestion.  It is the gentian roots that are used in very small quantities to stimulate the appetite and act as a tonic for digestion.

You can buy bitters at the store or make your own.   Maybe you have an old family recipe.  Here is a recipe I found (by Amy Wisniewski of
Orange Bitters Recipe
1 750 ml bottle grain alcohol (such as Everclear)
1/2 lb. orange peel pieces (no pith)
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1/2 teaspoon coriander seed
4 cardamom pods
20 drops gentian extract
Combine all ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Close and store at room temperature. Let steep 14 days, shaking jar every other day.  Then strain the spices from the alcohol and keep the liquid stored in a dark place.

Barberry Root Bark has been called one of the best medicinal plants in North America.  The flavor is a light bitterness mixed with sweet and spicy notes. The bark of the trunk and root is known for its medicinal uses as it contains alkaloids that assist in a number of bodily functions, especially of the digestive tract. Barberry is noted in folk medicine as a cure for nearly every gastrointestinal ailment.

Anise is one of the most effective remedies in combating indigestion. The seeds - and seed oil - of the anise plant are used in herbal preparations. Anise has been used for hundreds of years by European herbalists to treat coughs and indigestion.

Peppermint relaxes the stomach walls.  Peppermint has an eons-old reputation for relieving indigestion and gas.  You can make a tea from the leaves or ingest a few drops of peppermint oil in water.  It is good for digestive distress such as gas, pain and bloating.   Drink peppermint tea, which is an excellent stomach soother, if you've eaten too much.  Warning: pregnant women should not use Peppermint oil.

Ginger relieves that over stuffed uncomfortable-ness.  Ginger contains components that soothe the gut by reducing spasms and increasing secretion of digestive juices.  Ginger is also an aid for motion sickness and nausea.  Drink ginger tea, eat candied ginger or take a capsule of ginger root extract.

Black Licorice is used as an alternative herbal treatment for acid reflux. Acid reflux is a condition in which the esophageal sphincter (the flap that separates the stomach from the esophagus) does not remain closed and acid from the stomach splashes into the esophagus. This disorder causes heartburn and discomfort.

Slippery Elm is good for both diarrhea and constipation.  It contains antioxidants that help relieve inflammatory bowel conditions.  Slippery elm contains mucilage which gently coats the lining of the intestinal system. The increased mucus production protects the gastrointestinal tract against heartburn and acid reflux.

Papaya and Pineapple.  Though not herbs, both of these fruits contain enzymes that break down protein and are good for relieving indigestion.

Red Pepper (Capsicum, various species). Americans often believe that hot spices upset the stomach. But, much of the rest of the world knows better—that hot spices like red pepper help soothe it. Red pepper also stimulates digestion.

Carminative Herbs prevent the formation of gas in the digestive tract which is the musculomembranous digestive tube extending from the mouth all the way through the body.

Here is a list of assorted carminative herbs:  agrimony, allspice, apples, basil, bay, bee balm, buckwheat, burdock, caraway, calendula, cardamom, catnip, celery, chervil, chives, cloves, coriander, cumin, dandlion root, dill, fennel, garlic, horehound, hyssop, lemon balm, lemon-grass, lovage, nutmeg, onions, oregano, parsley, parsnips, rosemary, sage, savory, St.John’s Wort, tarragon, thyme, turmeric, vanilla and yarrow.

You can use any of these herbs or a mixture of them to relieve indigestion. They can all easily be made into tea.

Turmeric root helps keep digestive inflammation under control. Turmeric contains curcumin which has an anti-inflammatory effect. It is used for dyspepsia, which is that “Oh, I ate way too much Thanksgiving dinner feeling”.  Turmeric is best taken in capsule form because it will stain anything it touches.

Cinnamon.   Cinnamon is also a carminative   Some studies have shown that Cinnamon helps people with diabetes metabolize sugar better. It is used for flatulence, nausea and to soothe an upset stomach.  In addition, did you know that if you chew cinnamon or cinnamon gum, it curbs your appetite!

Chamomile is for Digestive Problems. Over the centuries, chamomile has proven it works time and again.  As an antispasmodic, it soothes inflammation in the digestive system.  Chamomile is also a carminative, that is, a stomach soother, and it's especially good for indigestion.

So with this information at hand, pick a remedy, sit back, have a cup of herbal tea…..and enjoy the Eating Season.

                               Happy holidays !!

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