When you think of herbs, what comes to mind? Mint? Ginger? Turmeric? While these commonly used herbs can certainly spice up your next meal, you might be surprised to know that they also carry medicinal properties.
That’s right – herbs may seem small + insignificant to us, but they can have a tremendous impact on our bodies. In fact, herbs have been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine, with some herbal remedies having been prescribed as early as 1100 BCE!
Herbs derive naturally from roots, flowers + leaves or stems, bark + seeds, which means not all of them can be found in the grocery store aisle – especially those that are native to other countries, such as China or India. At WTHN, we source organic herbs from around the world + combine them based on extensive knowledge of TCM + Western medicine in an FDA-registered facility.
Some herbal medicines are great for supporting your body’s physical wellbeing + promoting mental wellness, while others have been shown to improve mental + digestive health. Our professional healers can help recommend specific herbal formulas that will work best for you based on your body’s specific needs.
Unlike the antacid your doctor might suggest you take after overindulging, Chinese herbal medicine isn’t about just treating the symptom. Instead, it treats the symptom + the root cause. It’s also about taking a combination of herbs with therapeutic properties – in addition to alternative therapies like acupuncture, acupressure + cupping – to improve your body’s wellbeing over time.
Below, we’ll look at how to use Chinese herbs for digestive issues, why our digestive health is so important + what it means when our bodies may not be processing food like it should. We'll even give you recommendations on the best supplements to take from WTHN.
How Does Chinese Medicine Look at Digestion?
We’re all familiar with the four main seasons that occur each calendar year (Fall, Winter, Spring + Summer), but have you heard of the fifth season? While the modern day calendar divides the year into four parts – each one distinguished by particular weather, temperature + light patterns – the teachings of Traditional Chinese Medicine map out five seasons: Fall, Winter, Spring, Summer + Late Summer.
Also known as “the second summer,” Late Summer starts in mid-August + continues through the Autumn Equinox on September 22. In contrast to the outward, high energy of summer + the inward, laidback energy of fall, the fifth season offers a middle ground where we’re encouraged to cultivate what our minds + bodies need to thrive. This is done by grounding our energy, nurturing our spirit + nourishing our body as we prepare to wind down from what was likely a schedule-packed summer.
During this crucial period in TCM, which is rooted in the Earth element, our Qi is ruled by our gut – which consists of the spleen, pancreas + stomach – making it an ideal time to harness the season’s energy rhythms toward our digestive health. Whether or not you suffer from digestive disorders, TCM can offer many ways to promote good digestion.
Chinese Herbs for Digestion + How to Use Them
Let’s take a look at digestion. Digestion is a major factor in keeping your body healthy + happy. After you eat, the digestive tract absorbs + then distributes nutrients to the rest of your body – wherever they’re needed. If this major system isn’t functional, the body really isn’t able to operate!
We usually don’t even realize just how much our digestive action affects us until our stomach suddenly goes south. We’re immediately left to wonder, “What did I eat that didn’t agree? What did I do all day to bring this on?”
So, how do herbs help with healthy digestion? There’s a helpful list of medicinal herbs that double as Chinese medicine for digestion + cooking ingredients that you may already have on your shopping list. Herbalist practices have been in place a very long time – especially ayurvedic medicine, which used herbs + essential oils for everything from aiding in sluggish digestion + stimulating mucous membrane activity, to calming stomach acid, promoting digestive enzymes + demulcent effects, acting as prebiotics, regulating blood sugar + even acting as a laxative.
Our blends like Daily Digestion + Indulgence Relief help aid in digestion on a regular basis or after those nights of overindulgence. Let’s talk about a few specific Chinese herbs that are super easy to incorporate into your routine outside of our supplements. The following herbs + spices are known to support healthy digestion, while adding a boost of flavor to any meal.
Turmeric (Jiang Huang)
This flowering plant with a thick, long root contains curcumin, which helps support a healthy immune response + provides the antioxidants your digestive tract craves. Therefore, it has historically been used in holistic medicine to relieve abdominal pain + calm irritated skin caused by slow digestion. Because the curcumin content of turmeric is low when consumed in food, we recommend starting with 400-500 milligrams per day via supplement – or consuming it along with black pepper for better absorption.
Cinnamon (Rou Gui)
Add a little sweetness with a kick to your herb collection. Cinnamon’s been reported to alleviate occasional nausea, upset stomach or mild discomfort caused by indigestion. Add a dash to watermelon for extra flavor, or swirl it in your morning coffee. The flavor alone will have you going back to the spice rack again + again.
Ginger (Sheng Jiang)
Perfect for a morning pick-me-up, this essential tummy-soother gets your digestive system going for the day by signaling to the digestive juices that it's time to get to work. In TCM, this Southeast Asian plant is used to help flush toxins out of the body. It can also alleviate mild nausea caused by stomach upset, mild heartburn from overeating or temporary motion sickness. Why not brew a little ginger herbal tea in the AM to speed up your digestion? Topped with honey + squeezed lemon, it could be your new morning treat.
Siberian Ginseng (Eleuthero)
Commonly ingested in the form of herbal tea + composed of blood-sugar-regulating + immunity-boosting compounds, ginseng has long been used in Chinese herbal medicine to naturally settle an upset stomach. Bonus: It gives you a natural energy boost without the usual caffeine-crash that you might get from a cup of coffee – therefore, you can take it multiple times a day.
A popular remedy in both TMC + Ayurvedic Medicine, cardamom tinctures, capsules + essential oils offer a range of antioxidant + antimicrobial benefits for the treatment of digestive issues (think nausea, vomiting + discomfort). With a sweet-tasting flavor, it’s no wonder why people also consume this Indian spice (made from grounding its seed pods into a powder) in chai tea, curries + desserts!
Kudzu Root (Ge Gen)
Most commonly used as an herb in TCM, this fast-spreading vine helps to relax the muscles of the upper body, including the neck + shoulders. In other words: It’s like an herbal massage for your stomach! Sounds good? Find it in our Indulgence Relief herbal detox!
Fennel Seed (Xiao Hui Xiang)
Fragrant + licorice-like in flavor, fennel is native to Mediterranean regions + was even believed to provide strength + fortitude by the ancient Greeks. Today, many herbalists use this multipurpose plant as a tincture, tea, or supplement to aid problems associated with poor digestion, from muscle spasms to stomach cramps to gas to bloating.
Used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine + packed full of nutrients, vitamins + minerals, Chrysanthemum Flower is also known to process fatty foods more efficiently – making it an ideal herbal tea to sip on for smoother digestion after indulging in a greasy meal.
In addition to the above, here’s a few honorable mentions that help aid healthy digestion + add flavor to meals:
- Codonopsis Root (Dangshen): In addition to boosting metabolism, codonopsis has powerful effects on the digestive, respiratory + immune systems.
- Wild Yam (Shan Yao): Aids digestion by targeting the stomach + spleen while turning some intestinal flora in the stomach into helpful bacteria.
- Fenugreek Seed (Hu Lu Ba): Slows absorption of sugars in the stomach, lowers blood sugar + helps combat obesity by helping metabolize fats.
- Milk Thistle Seed (Da Ji): Detoxifies the body + promotes liver + gallbladder health.
- Peppermint (Mentha Piperita): A traditional remedy that is believed to have calming effects for the head and stomach.
- Cumin: Used for centuries as a digestive aid as well as for its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory + antiseptic effects.
- Dandelion (Pu Gong Ying): A widely used Western herb that supports + protects the liver from damage.
- Licorice (Gan Cao): Contains glycyrrhizin, which is an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory + antimicrobial property that soothes upset stomachs, reduces inflammation + treats upper respiratory problems.
- Tangerine Peel (Chen Pi): A powerful antioxidant packed with Vitamin C that is traditionally used in TCM to promote the body's Qi.
Looking for more information on finding the right herbal supplements for your digestive needs? Look no further than WTHN.
What are the Health Benefits of Good Digestion?
Simply put, a healthy gut is a happy gut. But how can you make sure that everything is running smoothly down there? First, it’s important to understand how your digestive system actually works.
Like any part of the body, all areas of the digestive system work together + support each other. A healthy digestive system is one that is able to successfully move your last meal through your gastrointestinal tract (also referred to as your gut flora or microbiome) in a process called peristalsis. Once these foods or drinks reach your small intestine, your body breaks down their nutrients – like carbohydrates, proteins + vitamins – into smaller molecules that can be absorbed + sent into your bloodstream for energy, growth + cell repair. Any leftover waste or undigested food is then pushed out through your colon.
When your digestive system functions properly, your body receives the nutrition + total support it needs to run smoothly without causing pesky side effects such as gas, bloating or discomfort. But the good news doesn’t stop there! Additional signs of a healthy gut include better mental clarity, increased energy + overall stamina, healthy weight loss, regular bowel movements, improved mood + a more reliable immune system.
Sounds pretty great, right? Not only are there physical benefits to keeping your GI system healthy, but mental ones too.
What are the Effects of Bad Digestion?
You knew it was coming. Just as proper digestion has its benefits, lousy digestion has its consequences. In fact, certain daily habits + diets can upset the balance of your digestive system + prevent your liver or other organs from getting the nutrients they need to thrive. As a result, the rest of your body is thrown out of whack, too. Below, we’re sharing a few critical symptoms to look for if you feel your digestive system may not be on its best behavior.
Trouble Sleeping or Chronic Fatigue
When you think of serotonin, you might think of the brain. However, this mood-boosting hormone primarily lives in your gut + helps regulate your sleeping patterns. If your gut is out of whack, you might have trouble falling (or staying) asleep – which can lead to feelings of lethargy.
We’ve all been there. After a night of overindulging + overdrinking, we wake up experiencing nausea, diarrhea + bloating. This likely means that your tummy is having trouble digesting the food you ate the night before in a timely manner.
If your digestive system is blocked or slowed down, the food or drinks you consume end up staying in your digestive tract for longer instead of being broken down into nutrients your body needs to remain at a healthy weight. The less nutrients your body absorbs, the more likely you are to overeat, which can lead to unwanted weight gain.. If you’re experiencing unusual weight loss, this could be a sign that your gut has too much “bad bacteria” in it + not enough “good bacteria.”
Aside from providing no nutritional value, heavily processed or high-sugar foods can significantly slow down your digestion process + deplete your gut of “good bacteria.” The result? Inflammation + breakouts. Some skin problems, such as dermatitis, are even believed to be linked to an imbalance in the gut flora.
Additional Ways to Improve Your Digestion Naturally
Want some good news? In addition to adding herbal remedies to your daily diet, there are other ways to support your body’s digestive health naturally. Here are just a few of the most beneficial ways we’ve found.
This centuries-old TCM practice is well-known for increasing circulation + gastric motility to help soothe abdominal pain + constipation. Studies also show that this natural anti-inflammatory can stimulate peristalsis in the colon for regular + healthy bowel movements.
Avoid Artificial Foods
Your body wasn't created to process unnatural foods + it’ll tell you the more you consume them. While everything is generally okay to enjoy in moderation, be conscious about how you’re alternating what’s on the menu. Your body will thank you later!
Add Fiber to Your Diet
Fiber’s known to support digestion needs. A proper diet with fiber is one of the anchors that will aid your daily routines, so you don’t have to worry as much about whether you’re making regular bowel movements.
Don’t Forget the Healthy Fats
Yes, fats really can be healthy - as long as you stick with the right kind. We’re talking about omega-3 fatty acids, found in natural foods like nuts + fish. Sprinkle some healthy fats across your meals + you’ll be good to go!
Since the majority of our bodies are made up of water, it makes sense that adding water to our daily routine will only help aid digestion + keep things flowing properly. Be sure to replenish throughout the day, especially when exposed to the sun or during a workout.
Reduce Your Stress Levels
Stress doesn’t just wreak havoc on the digestive system, but also on the whole body. Some may even hold stress in one area of the body more than another. Take a step back + look at how stress may be affecting you. You can take additional precautions like meditating or taking breaks from work to reduce feelings of stress, which can potentially cause harm to the body.
Don’t Forget to Chew
Bet you didn’t know that digestion actually starts in the mouth. As soon as you take a bite of any food, take the time to chew. During the course of a busy day you might be tempted to consume that long-awaited meal pretty quickly, but proper chewing is important. Take your time with your meal + your body will thank you later.
Move + Groove
Keep your body moving! As the body begins to slow down, so does the digestive system. Sometimes, your digestive system needs a workout as much as the rest of your body. Regularly upping your heart rate with cardio is good for your whole body + can help make sure your digestive system is functioning as it should.
Listen to Your Body
Who knows you better than your own body? Your body will talk to you, so you better listen when it’s showing signs that something isn’t right. If your digestive function seems off, you may have developed a new food allergy without even knowing it.
Our Final Thoughts
Our blends like Daily Digestion + Indulgence Relief are here to help aid in your digestive needs + pack some of the amazing ingredients found in this article. Introducing Chinese herbs to your diet is one natural way to give your health a little boost.
Each of the herbs we profiled can help aid in digestion or support the digestive system as a whole, not to mention add some flavor to a less-than-exciting meal. However, herbs aren’t a quick fix for every issue. There may be times when working with a medical professional will help you to better assess your unique situation.
Herbs are an easy-to-integrate, nutritious addition to most diets + when you take the time to acknowledge what your body’s telling you, you can improve your overall comfort, health + happiness.
Ready to begin your healing journey + improve your digestive system with TCM? Shop Chinese herbs for digestion online at WTHN.