When it comes to supporting digestion and your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, consider teas. As you sip, the healing properties of your herbs come into direct contact with the digestive system from the moment you inhale their aromas and let the tea touch your tongue.
Herbs for Gastrointestinal Well-Being
Most digestive herbs taste pleasant (excluding strong bitters) and extract well in hot water. The simple ritual of brewing and sipping a gut-healing tea invokes good, healing, self-care vibes, too.
Mucilaginous and Demulcent Herbs
These herbs soothe, reduce inflammation, and promote healing of the GI lining from top to bottom. They extract best in water and have a slippery feel. This soothes the GI tract when it’s dry, inflamed, irritated, or damaged, and helps create a temporary mucus-like lining. Strongly mucilaginous (mucus-like) herbs include marshmallow root, slippery elm bark, and aloe inner gel. Demulcent yet only slightly mucilaginous herbs include licorice root, plantain leaf, and meadowsweet flower.
Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis)
Hands down, marshmallow is my favorite mucilaginous herb. The root powder provides the most mucilaginous slime, but the snot-like consistency can be off-putting and may also trigger gas and bloating in some people with dysbiosis (including SIBO and FODMAP sensitivities). I prefer the cut/sifted root, which forms a more velvety, almost creamy mouthfeel. Also enjoy or opt for marshmallow leaf and flower, which are even better tolerated by people with dysbiosis and easier to harvest in abundance from the garden.
Mucilage extracts best as a long infusion (several hours or overnight), but the leaves release the goods in less time. Some herbalists prefer a cold infusion for a purer mucilage extraction, but hot infusions do just fine and will extract more from other herbs in your gut-healing tea blend.
The term “vulnerary” means wound-healing, promoting the speed and quality of tissue repair. Many of the herbs we classically consider topical wound healers, including Calendula, plantain, gotu kola, and licorice, are also excellent GI vulneraries in a gut-supportive tea blend.
Plantain Leaf (Plantago spp.)
Almost any gut-healing tea blend I whip up contains at least 5 to 20 percent plantain leaf. Though plantain is best known as a fresh poultice for stings and bites, in the GI tract it provides vulnerary, gently astringent, demulcent, and even antimicrobial (perhaps biofilm busting!1) activities with a bland flavor that lends itself well to tea blends.
Gentle Astringent Herbs
Gentle astringents help tighten and tone the lining of the digestive tract when it’s boggy or leaky. These herbs often have modest antimicrobial activity as well, but they may irritate the GI lining and aggravate constipation if used in excessive amounts. They include rose petals, cinnamon, raspberry leaf, and plantain leaf.
Rose Petals (Rosa spp.)
A sprinkle of rose petals brightens any tea blend and puts a smile on your face as you brew it, and it also offers gentle astringency. Interestingly, roses have mild antimicrobial action against pathogens yet encourage beneficial gut flora.2
First and foremost, aromatic herbs lend flavor to your gut-healing tea blend, but they also have additional benefits. Most aromatic herbs are also carminative, which encourages digestive function and eases gas, bloating, and spasms. Many have some level of antimicrobial activity ranging from mild (for the Agastache genus and mints) to more potent (for bee balm, oregano, cinnamon, cloves, and other spices).
Korean Licorice Mint (Agastache rugosa) & Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
I have no idea why Korean licorice mint and its nearly identical and interchangeable cousin anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) aren’t more popular and widely available in commerce. They’re so wonderfully delicious, beautiful, and easy to grow and harvest in abundance. Seek out seeds or seedlings from specialty herb growers such as Strictly Medicinal Seeds, or find dried anise hyssop from United States herb farms including Zack Woods Herb Farm and iFarm. The Agastache species gently stimulate digestive function, ease bloat and spasms, and support the immune system while providing sweet anise-fennel-honey-minty flavor.
Fennel seeds are more widely available and can also be used, acting more prominently on gas and spasms with similar flavor. If you don’t like licorice-y flavors, try mint, holy basil, cinnamon, ginger, or cardamom instead.
Now, let’s put together a delicious gut-healing tea with these herbs and actions using plants you could easily grow in your garden!
Gut-Healing Tummy Tea
Recipe adapted from Grow Your Own Herbal Remedies by Maria Noel Groves (Storey Publishing, 2019).
I rely on this basic recipe for many of my clients with gut issues – it provides soothing mucilage, demulcent, and vulnerary gut-healing support. Perfect for ulcers, reflux, gastritis, heartburn, and leaky gut issues.
What you’ll need…
- 2 parts dried marshmallow root
- 1 part dried marshmallow leaf or flower
- 1 part dried plantain leaf
- 1 part dried fennel seed or Korean licorice mint leaf (or to taste)
- Sprinkle of dried rose petals
- Optional additions (per cup): pinch of licorice root, 1to 2 cinnamon sticks, 1 to 2 cardamom pods, 1 star anise pod, 3 to 5 whole cloves
- Combine all of the herbs and store in an airtight container.
- To brew: In a 32-ounce container (such as a French press pot or tea-infuser travel mug), cover 2 or more heaping tablespoons with hot water. Let steep for several hours or overnight. Feel free to move to the fridge once it cools.
- Strain and drink over 1 to 2 days. (You can steep it for a shorter period of time – 15 minutes or so – but the mucilaginous herbs and the spices will be more potent with a long steep.)
- Karina Pezo Shirley, L. Jack Windsor, George, J. Eckert, and Richard L. Gregory, “In Vitro Effects of Plantago Major Extract, Aucubin, and Baicalein on Candida albicans Biofilm Formation, Metabolic Activity, and Cell Surface Hydrophobicity,” Journal of Prosthodontics, 2017 Aug;26(6):508-515. https://scholarworks.iupui.edu/bitstream/handle/1805/10501/Shirley_2015_In-Vitro.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y ↩
- Manjiro Kamijo, Tsutomu Kanazawa, Minoru Funaki, Makoto Nishizawa, and Takashi Yamagishi, “Effects of Rosa rugosa petals on intestinal bacteria,” Bioscience Biotechnology Biochemistry, 2008 Mar;72(3):773-7.