August is a time of frantic activity in the hedgerow. As the month progresses grasses, flowers, and bushes go into flower ready to develop their fruit and or seeds for dispersion into mid September.
The theme this month is digestion and common complaints in the digestive system. The hedgerow is full of plants that are effective for common digestive and gastrointestinal problems that some of us suffer from, such as acid reflux, bloating and flatulence.
Digestion takes place inside the digestive system – a muscular tube beginning at the mouth and ending in the anus. In this tube there are many glands and glandular organs producing digestive enzymes used to breakdown the complex chemical structures of food, reducing it to more simple structures that are easily absorbed at a cellular level. This readily available “food” is used to renew cells and produce energy needed for all bodily functions. Hydrochloric acid is essential in the entire gastric digestive process. It is essential to maintain the pH balance of gastric juice whilst also having antiseptic properties preventing pathogens from orally invading the body.
A low level of acid in the stomach inhibits digestion of food, causing food to ferment resulting in indigestion, bloating and burping. On the other hand excess production of stomach acid can lead to an upset stomach, acid indigestion, abdominal pain, bloating, acid reflux or heartburn. Changing diet and/or lifestyle can help reduce or eliminate excess stomach acid.
How can we ensure the correct level of stomach acid?
- Avoid over-eating as this can lead to excess stomach acid production
- Avoid eating too quickly and ensure food is chewed thoroughly before swallowing.
- Give digestive enzymes time to do their work, therefore two hours before lying down is advisable.
- Common foods that cause excess acid production include fatty and or fried foods, processed foods, wheat and dairy products. Limit or remove these foods in your daily diet if you have digestion or gastrointestinal problems.
Which herbs can help with aiding and improving digestion?
One of the smallest flowering annuals found in our fields and hedgerows is Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis). This little plant has been used for centuries to improve and preserve eyesight, however it is also a bitter astringent. The bitter principles can improve digestion and absorption by enhancing bile flow and aiding the liver to detoxify the body. The astringent qualities help to tighten and dry out mucous membranes. Drink as an infusion the aerial parts of Eyebright to actively support the digestive system
Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) is a common sight in July and August in damp meadows, on riverbanks and by streams. As the name suggests Meadowsweet gives off a very sweet smell from the fluffy yellowy white flowers and is known as “nature’s aspirin” as the salicylates in Filipendula, have similar effects to aspirin. Filipendula was one of the most sacred plants for the Druids and has been a longstanding remedy in much of Europe. Nicholas Culpepper wrote in 1652 “it helpeth speedily those that are troubled with the cholic being boiled in wine; and stayeth the flux in the belly.”
The aerial parts of Filipendula are very good for digestive disorders due to the anti-acid, anti inflammatory constituents. In particular, acid reflux, indigestion, gastritis, heartburn and gastro-esophageal reflux. The astringent tannins help to protect and heal the gut lining. An infusion of roughly torn flowering tops and leaves, drunk regularly during the day will ease symptoms and heal the gut.
German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is in full bloom at the moment and ready for picking. Chamomile is no stranger to most of us, particularly for a calm and restful nights sleep. However, this lovely herb has been taken for digestive problems since at least the 1st century AD. It is perfectly suited for digestive disorders including pain, indigestion, gastric bloating and colic, as well as other more severe digestive problems such as colitis, Crohn’s disease and IBS. For best effect, as with the afore mentioned herbs, make an infusion with the flower heads and sip throughout the day.
I hope you enjoy experimenting with these herbs and going natural. Not only is it easier on your body, but also your purse! Please note for severe or repetitive acid reflux and other persistent gastro-esophageal complaints, consult a professional practitioner.