Oh My Aching Tummy! Tips For Soothing Holiday Digestive Woes From A Favorite Herbalist

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Cookies and candy and fruitcake – oh my! With less than a week to go till Christmas, some of us are ducking from a veritable deluge of rich holiday goodies.

What’s that? You’ve got great self-control and you’re able to pass up that buttery poppy seed cake that your neighbor gifts you with every year? Well, good for you. But what about the office potluck complete with eggnog? Or that big tin of popcorn, the box of candied nuts, or that traditional holiday dinner that always leaves you singing the “stuffed song?” (Well, we sing the stuffed song in my family ­– perhaps you have another tradition…)

Digestive woes come in many forms and they are particularly prevalent at this time of year when we are surrounded by so much temptation and tend to eat more of the foods we usually know to avoid.

My friend Sylvester “Sly” Holladay and I were talking about just this the other day, and he reminded me of a series of great remedies for those times when you’ve overdone the rich foods.

I love Sly’s take on herbal medicine – he was trained in Western herbalism, but since he’s a science geek and a self-learner he has educated himself on many of the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and also in the “why’s” behind how herbs work. What molecules are really doing what to make these changes in your body when you ingest a particular herb? Sly can actually explain these actions. It’s way cool.

A friend for many, many years, Sly was also my employee at Moonrise Herbs (and works there part time still) where he counseled customers on which herbs or natural supplements would best suit their needs.

As we commiserated on the upcoming holiday food overload, he reminded me of an article he had written on herbs for digestion, and I thought this would be an appropriate time to share some of these tips with you. (Of course, any of these herbs and formulas are beneficial for digestive ills year-round, and many work well as preventative maintenance if you know you are prone to symptoms such as gas, bloating and stomachaches.)

So, here’s the shortened holiday-centric version of Sly’s article (with some extra commentary from me, some drawn from the original article.)

Festive Digestive Herbs

The holiday season is a special time of year – a time to celebrate with family and friends. As we all know, celebrating typically involves food and drink, and sometimes it’s possible to have too much of good thing. If you happen to experience digestive upset after a festive occasion, there are definitely some herbal allies that can come to the rescue.

A really good all purpose digestive aid is a Chinese formula known as the Curing Pills. This combination is fast acting, and is quite effective at relieving gas, bloating, cramps, and diarrhea, as well as any associated headache.

(I love Curing Pills, and they are light and easy to carry when traveling. An essential for the herbal first aid kit – especially if you tend toward digestive problems. The kind I have taken are kind of a strange, they are capsules that are filled with these tiny black pellets. But they work!

 In his longer article Sly also recommends a virtually identical supplement, manufactured by U.S. company Planetary Formulas called Digestive Comfort.)

Alternatively, an herbal bitters formula is worth considering for the above symptoms, and bitters are more indicated when symptoms of constipation are present. (The bitter substances help the liver to produce detoxifying enzymes essential for healthy digestion.)

Bitter herb formulas are typically found as a tincture or alcohol extract. These formulas contain some combination of bitter herbs, such as gentian, milk thistle, turmeric, and wild yam. Typically aromatic herbs, such as ginger, orange peel, and fennel, are combined with the bitters to relieve symptoms of gas and cramping.

A representative formula is the Sweetish Bitters Elixir by Gaia, which includes both bitter herbs and warming, spicy herbs. This formula is effective for indigestion accompanied by constipation and also possesses anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and bowel toning properties.

(Bitters are best taken about a half hour before meals so as to stimulate the digestive flow before tucking into that meal.)

And let’s not forget the tried and true remedy, probiotics. Probiotics are friendly bacteria that can be taken preventively or after the fact to improve digestive function and treat symptoms of indigestion and diarrhea.

(The most well-known probiotic supplement is acidophilus – easily spotted on any health food store shelf, and even in most traditional drug stores nowadays. Acidophilus and other friendly probiotic bacteria are also found in natural yogurts as well as in fermented foods such as saurkraut and kim chee. The digestive benefits of these foods must have something to do with why they are included with every meal in many cultures.

Acidophilus supplements can be taken in liquid form or as capsules, but most need to be refrigerated after they are opened. That’s why my favorite is PB 8 made by Nutrition Now. They have somehow stabilized it so it doesn’t have to be refrigerated. I’ve found it to be effective and again, great for traveling.)

Hopefully, these simple holiday tips will help you enjoy the holidays to their fullest, and while moderation is, of course, the safest choice, should one succumb to temptation, there are plenty of helpful herbal remedies to support us when they are needed.

Okay, so that’s the quick version with some fast tips on healing the gas, bloating, and general malaise caused by over-indulging. Perhaps one of these remedies will make all the difference for you – chances are you can pick up any of them at your local heath food store or herb shop. Otherwise the links will lead you to them.

If this digestive stuff interests you and you’d like to delve deeper into it, you can view Sly’s original article in full here.


How about you? Do you have some tried and true natural remedies to soothe digestion? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below. Oh, and if you think this info is useful, I’d love it if you’d click one of those little buttons to share it on Facebook, Twitter, or wherever you’re buddies might see it.

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