Edible Flowers and Herbs for Digestion

Nasturtium blossoms, fennel and more make great additions to the garden, as well as the kitchen, for their digestive healing abilities.

| May/June 2017

  • Add nasturtium blossoms to salads to add flavor and also as a digestion aid.
    Photo by iStock/Geo-grafika
  • Perennial herb fennel, which is grown for seed, is a different plant than annual bulb fennel, grown for its edible bulbs.
    Photo by Fotolia/anjelagr
  • Rosemary's antioxidants reduce inflammation.
    Photo by iStock/dlerick
  • Chamomile's essential oils reduce anxiety, including the digestive system's response to stress.
    Photo by iStock/eli_asenova
  • Peppery nasturtium flowers help produce digestive acids and release enzymes.
    Photo by iStock/_Vilor
  • Chicory is often considered a weed, but it's also full of nutrition.
    Photo by ValentynVolkov

Digestive issues affect most of us from time to time. When we eat too many rich, fatty, sugary and starchy foods, and sometimes excessively complex fibers, we can overwhelm our digestive systems’ ability to break them down. When our gut flora and digestive enzymes have difficulty breaking down complex molecules, our bodies react with various forms of “indigestion:” gas, bloating and sometimes constipation.

Although the symptoms of indigestion are unpleasant, they are also indicators telling us something bigger is going on. Symptoms such as heartburn and gas pains often indicate that we have inflammation in the digestive system. Indigestion causes inflammation because the immune system kicks in to try to help prevent damage to the digestive tissues. Indigestion can even trigger inflammatory immune compounds, resulting in inflamed tissues, similar to when we have an injury on our outer skin.

We can also experience indigestion when we are overwhelmed by stress or anxiety. The vagus nerve, the main nerve involved in digestion, affects the release of enzymes and digestive molecules, and it also responds to feelings of stress and anxiety. This is why we sometimes get stomachaches when we are upset or nervous. When triggered by anxieties or by inflammation, this nerve can affect digestive processes and cause nausea, gas, bloating or poor assimilation of food. This process is often an underlying aspect of irritable bowel syndrome.

Over-the-counter indigestion relievers only treat symptoms, not the underlying digestive issue, and sometimes do more harm than good. For example, heartburn medications often backfire by decreasing our ability to digest rather than just decreasing inflammation, thereby compounding the issue.



Fortunately, some plants easily grown in our gardens can remedy symptoms and help heal the overall digestive system. The following five plants can be incorporated into foods or used as teas, and don’t need to be consumed in concentrated doses (such as in tinctures or capsules) to be effective at improving digestion.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

Fennel is a Mediterranean perennial with essential oils that act as “carminatives,” reducing inflammation and relaxing muscles in our digestive system to help dispel gas.



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