Herbs for Digestion

Use these herbs for digestion to help with common digestive problems.

  • Bowl of Fresh Peppermint
    Peppermint possesses antispasmodic, carminative, antinausea, and analgesic effects that resolve many digestive complaints.
    Photo by iStock

  • Bowl of Fresh Peppermint

To find other prevention tips for digestion problems, see Natural Ways to Improve Digestive Health.

For centuries, chefs and traditional healers alike have recommended digestive bitters to pique the appetite and spark digestive juices. Aperitifs—alcoholic drinks taken before a meal—include “bitters,” which contain herbs such as gentian, cascarilla, orange peel, cardamom, coriander and juniper.

Another tradition for jump-starting digestion is eating a salad of bitter greens—such as endive, arugula, dandelion leaves and radicchio—or an appetizer of artichoke leaves. Artichoke, and even more so its botanical cousin milk thistle, also supports liver health. Artichoke leaf extract and milk thistle extract both reduce symptoms of dyspepsia (a vague term for digestive difficulties with symptoms such as nausea, heartburn, bloating and discomfort) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Fennel provides a host of digestive benefits. It acts as a carminative (helps expel gas), antispasmodic (to relieve painful cramping), anti-inflammatory, digestive bitter and antinausea herb. After a meal, try chewing a few fennel seeds to improve digestion. You might create a tasty digestive-enhancing herbal blend of dried fennel seeds, anise seeds and caraway seeds. To counter indigestion, chew 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon of the seed blend.

Peppermint possesses antispasmodic, carminative, antinausea and analgesic effects that resolve many digestive complaints. If tension has caused a headache and intestinal distress, peppermint may remedy both issues. Peppermint oil capsules have been shown safe and effective in children and adults with IBS. A combination of peppermint and caraway oil also relieves dyspepsia. Look for peppermint products that are enteric-coated, which can survive the acidic stomach then break down in the small intestine. Other mint-family herbs such as spearmint, lemon balm, catnip and basil may also reduce painful cramping and gas.

German chamomile is a traditional digestive remedy, readily available as a tea. Slightly bitter and anti-inflammatory, this herb has been successfully combined with herbs such as peppermint and milk thistle for managing dyspepsia and IBS.

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