Herbs can be used in a variety of ways including as infusions (teas) and tinctures. Many herbal teas can be bought in supermarkets, health food shops and convenience shops but if you prefer they can be prepared easily at home using simple ingredients and equipment that can be found in most kitchens. If you chose to make your own herbal teas using dried herbs, empty tea bags can be purchased and not only make the teas easy to prepare but mean that you can make up a batch once a week/month etc rather than each time you wish to drink the tea. The bags are simply sealed using a drawstring. A tea strainer can be used with fresh or dried herbs if you wish to prepare each cup of tea individually and removed the need to strain the infused liquid.
Many traditional herbalists agree that herbs with a bitter taste are ideal for increasing the secretion of digestive fluids and therefore speed up digestion. Bitter herbs are also thought to ease bloating, gas, indigestion and digestive upset caused by food allergies. Carminative herbs such as fennel, caraway and cumin warm up the digestive system, reduce gas and help to increase the speed and thoroughness of digestion.
How to Make an Infusion (Tea)
Place 1-2 heaped tsp of the required dried herb into a mug and cover with boiling water. Allow to seep for 5 minutes then strain saving the liquid. For children the infused water should be diluted as follows:
For children aged 1-2 years dilute 10ml (2 tsp) of infusion with 100ml (3 1/2fl oz) of warm water.
For children aged 3 - 5 dilute 20ml (4 tsp) of infusion with 100ml (3 1/2fl oz) of warm water.
The infused tea can be sweetened with a little honey or agave syrup if desired and drunk hot or cold.
If using tea bags or a tea strainer, place 1 tsp of herbs inside and seep as normal before removing and discarding the herbs.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
This hardy, perennial herb has yellow flowers and feathery leaves. The bulb is used as a vegetable and has an anise like flavour and crisp texture. Fennel bulb can be sautéed, stewed, grilled or eaten raw and is often featured in fish and potato dishes or salads. The young leaves can also be added to salads and sauces or used as a garnish. Fennel seeds are edible and are similar in taste and looks to anise. These seeds can be used to make fennel tea that is an excellent way to benefit from its medicinal benefits.
Fennel tea can be made using 1 tsp of seeds per cup, using the instructions above. The seeds should be allowed to infuse for 10 minutes, preferably in a covered mug or teapot. The tea can be drunk hot to combat wind and indigestion. When taken by breastfeeding mothers, fennel tea can also help to relieve the symptoms of wind and colic in babies and also has the added benefit of being known to increase breast milk production.
Fennel seeds can also be used to help relieve and prevent bloating and gas. The tea can be taken before or after meals or a small amount of seeds can be chewed instead.
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)
Peppermint is the flavouring used in the oldest and most popular type of mint confectionery and is also often found in ice cream, chewing gum and toothpaste. The narrow tapering leaves can be used to create a pleasant tasting tea that generally has a gentler action than peppermint oil when taken medicinally. Peppermint has many benefits as a medicine including relaxant, antispasmodic, carminative, analgesic and antiseptic properties.
Peppermints antispasmodic and relaxant properties make it an excellent aid to digestion and in relieving digestive upsets and disorders. It can be used to relieve cramps in the digestive tract and can improve the passage of food and any swallowed air through the body. The tea is particularly beneficial when drunk before, during or after meals. Care should be taken when using peppermint as if it is used at the same time as some medications it may have any effect on how well they are absorbed by the body. Consuming large amounts of peppermint tea can also interfere with the body’s absorption of non-heme iron. This is the type of iron found in plants and so is of particular significance to vegetarians and vegans.
Drink an infusion of peppermint leaves as needed to relieve bloating, trapped wind, stomach cramps and stomach aches. Some people find that peppermint tea can be effective in relieving symptoms of IBS and digestive upsets that are related to food intolerances.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
Chamomile is a gentle herb that is well known for its ability to calm and soothe anxiety and other nerve related issues or aid restful sleep. It is also a useful herb in easing digestive issues and may be preferred over other herbal teas due to its more subtle flavour. Chamomile also possesses anti-inflammatory properties and so can be beneficial to sufferers of IBS.
Chamomile has antispasmodic, carminative, and mild sedative effects on the digestive system and so is a good choice in useful in cases of indigestion and gas. It can also ease stomach aches often experienced alongside feelings of nervousness and when used in this situation it will also help to calm these feelings. Chamomile can also relieve nausea and is gentle enough to be used with even very young children. When making a chamomile infusion it is best to keep it covered to avoid evaporation of the volatile oils.
Chamomile tea is generally a very safe remedy but can cause allergy symptoms in people who have ragweed related allergies. Care should also be taken by anyone who is taking other medications as the coumarin in chamomile can interact with these.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
This strong but pleasantly scented plant can be used to treat intestinal problems such as sluggish digestion, bloating, belching and flatulence. Lemon balm relaxes smooth muscle and it is this that gives it the ability to soothe cramps and spasms in the gastrointestinal tract. It is also a useful herb in relieving the symptoms of colic, flatulence, irritable bowel disease and gastritis. Lemon balms carminative properties can help to avoid the build-up of gas within the digestive system or to help gas to be released if it is already present. Aromatic hydrocarbons contained within the plant, known as terpenes work on relieving indigestion, bloating and acid reflux. Consuming lemon balm can also be beneficial to the liver, helping it to produce bile. This then aids the digestion of fatty foods in the small intestine and assists liver detoxification enzymes.
For many people digestive upsets can be experienced or become more pronounced during periods of stress, anxiety or tension. In common with several other herbs that are used to benefit the digestive system, lemon balm has the ability to calm the nervous system and so prevent and ease any associated disruption to the digestive system.
Lemon balm can have a sedative effect and so this should be taken into consideration when using this herb. Care should especially be taken when taking lemon balm alongside any other sedative medications or any medication that lists possible side effects of drowsiness or sleepiness.
Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)
This herb is also known by the names queen of the meadow, dropwort, bridewort and lady of the meadow. Meadowsweet may not be as well-known as many other herbs but is highly effective in treating digestion based issues. It is a natural antacid so is a particularly good choice for when suffering from indigestion caused by excess acid production as well as in cases of heartburn, gastritis and peptic ulcers. Tannins present in meadowsweet help to protect and heal the mucous membranes and can alleviate diarrhoea. They also have the ability to relax muscles and so can be useful in easing stomach cramps and spasms or pain caused by colic. Drink meadowsweet infusion to treat the symptoms of trapped wind, ulcers, reflux, mild diarrhoea and gastritis.
Due to the fact that meadowsweet contains salicylates, it may increase the risk of bleeding if it is taken at the same time as antiplatelet or anticoagulant drugs, alongside non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or with any other herbal, prescription or over the counter medicines that have anti-platelet properties. It should be avoid during pregnancy and breastfeeding and by anyone who suffers with asthma as they may be sensitive to the salicylates.