Over-Indulgence & Herbs to Assist Digestion

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Posted: February 2021
Author: Phil Rasmussen |  M.Pharm., M.P.S., Dip. Herb. Med.; M.N.I.M.H.(UK),  F.N.Z.A.M.H. 

The beginning of the year is a great time to check in with our clients to see how they are going with their treatment plans, and helping them to get back on track for the upcoming year.  Many of us will have decided to go easy on ourselves over the summer, or given in to the temptation of over-indulging as we stepped out of our day-to-day routines and enjoyed a well-deserved break.  Indeed, overeating is often associated with stress and the holidays can be a stressful time for some, especially after the cumulative pressures of the past year. 

You may be thinking of herbs to assist digestion and relieve bloating and gas.  Here we outline some of our favourites.

Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) Liver support is of course, a key component of a digestive formula, supporting the elimination pathways.  The hepatotrophorestorative, hepatoprotective, choleretic and antioxidant actions of Milk Thistle make it one of our top choices.  However, depending on your client, other liver herbs may be more fitting, such as Dandelion root, Globe Artichoke, Ginkgo, Bupleurum or Turmeric.

Kawakawa (Macropiper excelsum), commonly known as the New Zealand Peppertree, is one of the most distinctive New Zealand native plants. Botanically related to Kava (Piper methysticum), it is one of the most important healing herbs in Rongoa Māori (Traditional Māori medicine).

Traditionally, decoctions or infusions of Kawakawa leaf (or simply chewing the fresh leaves) were widely used for stomach pains and indigestion, particularly where due to over-eating.  Here at Phytomed we attribute anti-dyspeptic, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and/or carminative actions to Kawakawa leaves.

Kawakawa leaves can also be used as a substitute for tea, with early settlers considering it to have refreshing and sustaining properties. Preparations made from Kawakawa leaves have also been used as a tonic for those suffering general debility.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) has a long history of use in many different cultures, particularly to enhance digestive processes and relieve digestive problems such as nausea, flatulence and gastrointestinal cramping.

Numerous pharmacological and clinical trials now provide scientific evidence in support of the many traditional uses of this herb and its actions. A number of clinical trials have demonstrated significant antiemetic (antinausea) effects of ginger. Pharmacological studies have also demonstrated the ability of Ginger preparations to stimulate digestive secretions and assist the whole digestive process, as well as protect against drug-induced adverse events on the gastrointestinal tract or liver.

Peppermint (Mentha piperita), an anti-emetic, spasmolytic and carminative herb, is well known for relieving digestive discomfort, and of course to improve the taste and compliance, of some of our herbal concoctions.

Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) Currently, the only human studies on Lemon Balm for gastrointestinal (GI) complaints have used preparations containing combinations of herbs1,2.  However, a 2018 rat study found that Lemon Balm can ameliorate IBS by modulating visceral hypersensitivity and defecation patterns3. Potential protective effects against colon cancer, have also been reported4,5.

German Chamomile (Chamomilla recutita) Chamomile is a well-known digestive relaxant, used to treat many gastrointestinal disturbances including flatulence, indigestion, diarrhoea, anorexia, motion sickness, nausea and vomiting 6,7. Chamomile is particularly helpful to dispel excess gas, soothe the stomach, and relax the smooth intestinal muscles to ease many functions of the digestive tract.

Codonopsis (Codonopsis pilosula) Historically used by Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners to tonify the spleen and restore Qi, Codonopsis is a sweet tasting, nourishing herb used to detoxify and restore blood flow.   Gastrointestinal symptoms such as poor digestion, bloating, loose stools, low appetite and anaemia can also relate to weak Qi – or vital force, as we know it in Western herbalism. 


    1. Saller R et al, [IBEROGAST®: a modern phytotherapeutic combined herbal drug for the treatment of functional disorders of the gastrointestinal tract (dyspepsia, irritable bowel syndrome)—from phytomedicine to “evidence based phytotherapy.” A systematic review] Forsch Komp Klass Natur Dec; 9(1): 1-20, 2002
    2. Ammon HPT et al, “Spasmolytic and tonic effect of IBEROGAST® (STW 5) in intestinal smooth muscle.” Phytomedicine Nov; 13(1): 67-74, 2006
    3. Dolatabadi F et al, “The Protective Effect of Melissa officinalis L. in Visceral Hypersensitivity in Rat Using 2 Models of Acid-induced Colitis and Stress-induced Irritable Bowel Syndrome: A Possible Role of Nitric Oxide Pathway.” Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility 2018; 24(3): 490-501
    4. Weidner C et al, Phytomedicine 2015; 15:22(2):262-270.
    5. Kuo T-T et al, ACS Omega, 2020 Dec 3;5(49):31792-31800
    6. Crotteau C, et al: “Clinical inquiries; what is the best treatment for infants with colic?” J Fam Pract 55: 634-636, 2006.
    7. Sakai H and Misawa M: Effect of sodium azulene sulfonate on capsaicin-induced pharyngitis in rats. Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol 96: 54-55, 2005.
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