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When digestion is at its best, we can feel lighter, more comfortable, and even have more energy and a better mood.
But when things are not-so-good, poor digestion can cause us to feel bloated, uncomfortable, and less excited to go about our days.
Although there are plenty of over-the-counter options for helping digestion, many people prefer to go a more natural route, looking to the earth for herbs or plants that facilitate digestion.
Whether you have slow digestion, constipation, excess gas, or bloating, we’ve got you covered with information on the top ten herbs for helping soothe your bothersome belly.
10 Best Herbs for Digestion
The natural world provides us with hundreds of herbs, plants, and roots that can benefit health in some way—let’s take a look at the top ten that are known to support digestion.
1. Dandelion Root
Although you may only know dandelions as stubborn weeds with puffy white seeds that blow off in the wind, the root of this plant is known to support digestion.
Dandelion root is a bitter plant that acts as a mild laxative and can increase gastric motility—the speed at which food passes through the digestive tract.
In an animal study published in Neurogastroenterology and Motility, dandelion extract increased gastric motility by 37% compared to a control group, which worked by relaxing muscles between the stomach and the small intestine.
An easy way to get dandelion root in your daily routine is with Onnit’s Total Gut Health—a seven-capsule package with all the digestive-supporting ingredients you need.
Dandelion root can also be consumed as a tea, in extract form, or even eaten raw, which is a good source of the prebiotic fiber inulin that can benefit the gut microbiome and reduce constipation.
Meaning “three fruits,” Triphala is a combination of fruits from the Indian gooseberry (amla), behada, and black myrobalan (haritaki) trees, which all originate in South Asia and are commonly used in Ayurvedic practices.
The bitter trio of Triphala supports digestion by providing gentle laxative action and potent antioxidant activity to reduce inflammation in the gut.
Although many people are turned off by the word “laxative” due to scares of diarrhea, animal studies have shown that Triphala extract actually prevents loose stool.
We also have some research on humans—one clinical trial found that Triphala reduced constipation, abdominal pain, and flatulence while improving the frequency and consistency of stool.
One reason for these gut-related benefits may be due to Triphala’s high content of plant polyphenols, which encourage the growth of healthy species like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus while inhibiting the proliferation of harmful bacteria.
This tasty, aromatic spice does more than flavor desserts and lattes—cinnamon has also been used since ancient times to treat digestive problems.
Cinnamon provides potent anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial effects, helping to relieve stomach discomfort and calm gut irritation.
The best type of cinnamon for supporting digestion is Ceylon cinnamon—also known as “true cinnamon”—which has more of a bioactive compound called cinnamaldehyde.
Ginger has been used as a home remedy for treating nausea and indigestion for thousands of years—now, we know that this spicy aromatic root contains over 400 bioactive compounds that provide us with its health benefits.
This aromatic root helps digestion by speeding up gastric motility, thereby reducing symptoms of bloating, heartburn, and indigestion.
In the study of adults with functional dyspepsia (indigestion), those who supplemented with a combination of ginger and artichoke extract had significantly improved symptoms of bloating, gastric pain, and fullness, with 86% of people reporting a complete alleviation of their symptoms within a month.
However, the effects cannot be attributed to ginger alone, considering the presence of the artichoke extract.
Cultures all over the globe use fennel seed for culinary and medicinal purposes, including supporting healthy digestion.
This marriage of good taste and therapeutic use is often seen in authentic Indian restaurants, where you’ll be offered aromatic fennel seeds to chew on after a meal to facilitate digestion.
In a study of patients with irritable bowel syndrome, people who supplemented with a combination of fennel and curcumin essential oils experienced significant symptom relief, including reduced abdominal pain and bloating with improved quality of life.
Fennel may also work when applied topically, as seen in a study of people who used heated fennel therapy (heated fennel wrapped in a towel and placed on the stomach) had facilitated gut motility after gastrointestinal surgery.
Turmeric is a beloved aromatic spice in Asian cuisines, providing curries and rice dishes with its characteristically bright golden hue.
But turmeric also has vast health benefits, including supporting gut health and digestion.
The primary bioactive compound in turmeric—curcumin—provides potent anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant activity.
Turmeric’s beneficial compounds are also thought to modulate the richness, diversity, and composition of bacteria in the gut.
Research has found that turmeric increases the secretion of digestive enzymes and gastrin—a hormone that promotes gastric motility and mucus— while inhibiting ulcer formation.
This translates to better digestive health, as seen in a randomized controlled trial of people with ulcerative colitis (UC), a form of inflammatory bowel disease.
Those who supplemented with 2g of curcumin per day for six months in addition to their regular UC medication had a relapse rate of 4.7%, compared to 20.5% in people on the medication alone.
Originating in Northern Africa and Mediterranean regions, peppermint’s history is surprisingly varied, from being recorded as a stomach pain treatment in the ancient medical text, Ebers Papyrus, to being so valuable it was used as a form of currency in Egypt.
Now, we know peppermint as the cooling and refreshing flavor that often comes in chewing gum and mints—but it also is an antispasmodic agent that calms stomach muscles to relieve cramps, bloating, and gas.
In a randomized controlled trial of adults with IBS, those that supplemented with peppermint oil for four weeks had a 40% reduction in gastrointestinal symptoms compared to 24% in the placebo group.
Although chewing peppermint gum might not have a huge effect, you can consume peppermint in capsule, tincture, tea, or extract form to support healthy digestion.
Licorice is unique in that it fits all three categories—it’s slightly bitter, has aromatic qualities, and is soothing to the gut.
But this isn’t the same as the pack of Red Vines you get at the movie theaters (although true black licorice candy contains some of the same medicinal properties as licorice root).
The main compound in licorice root that benefits digestion is called glycyrrhizin, which is known to reduce inflammation and regulate acidity in the gut.
As a demulcent, licorice root protects the gut’s mucus membranes by increasing mucin production—a compound that acts as a physical barrier against the harmful effects of stomach acid and detrimental bacteria.
9. Marshmallow Root
Marshmallow root is another mucilaginous herb that soothes the gut—and no, it’s not the same as the marshmallows you’d put on a s’more, although traditional marshmallow recipes did utilize this root’s gelatinous properties to make the sweet treats.
This sticky root can help restore gut integrity by forming a protective layer in the intestinal lining.
Studies with animals have found that marshmallow root coats the inside of the stomach and intestines, providing anti-inflammatory effects that relieve gastrointestinal discomfort or heartburn.
The gel-forming nature of marshmallow root is also helpful for constipation, as the additional mucus can promote bowel movements and loosen stools.
Marshmallow root is available as a tea, tincture, or capsule, but keep in mind that because it coats the lining of the stomach, it may interfere with the absorption of other medications or supplements.
10. Slippery Elm
Native to the United States, slippery elm has historically been used by Native Americans both orally and topically for wounds, skin inflammation, coughs, diarrhea, and other stomach problems.
Like marshmallow root, slippery elm is also mucilaginous, allowing it to coat the throat, stomach, and intestines and relieve inflammation.
Slippery elm also causes nerve stimulation in the gastrointestinal tract, which leads to additional mucus secretion to protect the gut.
Although its historical use is well-documented in anecdotal reports, there has been little scientific research on how slippery elm affects human digestive health.
One small pilot study looked at how a combination of slippery elm, oat bran, and licorice root impacted constipation in people with IBS, finding that the herbal concoction significantly improved bowel movement frequency, abdominal pain, and bloating.
Types of Herbs for Digestion
Digestive-supporting herbs can work in different ways, with the top three categories of herbs being:
- Bitter herbs: Bitter herbs for digestion work by stimulating your taste buds to create more saliva, which can trigger the production of enzymes, stomach acid, and bile to facilitate digestive processes. If you’ve eaten dinner in France, Italy, or other European countries, you may have experienced this by drinking a “digestif” afterward—a bitter herb-based alcoholic beverage intended to help you digest the meal.
- Aromatic herbs: These herbs are ones we typically use for cooking—think cinnamon, mint, and fennel—and are full of essential oils that create tasty aromas and flavors. These are considered “warming” herbs in Ayurvedic medicine terms, which are thought to promote “digestive fire” by speeding up sluggish digestion.
- Soothing herbs: Also known as demulcents or mucilaginous herbs, these plants form a soothing film over the mucus membranes of the gastrointestinal tract, helping to alleviate gut inflammation and irritation.
FAQs About Herbs for Digestion and Bloating
What Causes Poor Digestion?
Many things can cause poor digestion, including an unhealthy diet, excessive alcohol or tobacco use, high stress, poor sleep, foodborne infections, digestive diseases, certain medications, and food intolerances or allergies.
What Herbs Are In Digestive Bitters?
In addition to dandelion root, Triphala, and licorice, several other bitter herbs have been used historically to help with digestion, including:
– Gentian root
– Bitter melon
– Artichoke leaf extract—another bitter compound found in Onnit Total Gut Health
– Milk thistle
How Can I Improve My Gut and Digestive System?
Healing the gut is multifactorial, but some leading tips to improve gut health include:
– Rebuilding your gut microbiome with probiotics, prebiotics, and fermented foods
– Ensuring adequate stomach acid production by using digestive bitters or betaine HCl supplements
– Reducing stress with meditation, journaling, walking, yoga, or therapy
– Limiting intake of inflammatory foods, like alcohol, refined sugar, fried foods, and ultra-processed foods
– Taking gut-supporting supplements like digestive enzymes, probiotics, L-glutamine, collagen, aloe vera, and fish oil
What Are the Symptoms of Poor Digestion?
The top symptoms of poor digestion include:
– Bloating after eating
– Stomach cramps or pain
– Excessive gas
– Heartburn or acid reflux
What Is the Best Way to Take Herbs for Digestion?
There are many ways to take herbs to support digestion, with the most common being in capsule (supplemental) form, as well as teas, extracts, and tinctures.
Can Herbs Help Bloating?
Yes, many herbs are known to help reduce bloating, including these aromatic plants:
– Fennel seed
- Poor digestion is both frustrating and painful, but several herbs or plants are well-known for improving various qualities of digestion and gut health.
- Bitter herbs that improve digestion include dandelion root and Triphala, while the main aromatic herbs that support the gut are cinnamon, ginger, fennel, turmeric, and peppermint.
- Mucilaginous herbs, such as marshmallow root and slippery elm, support mucus production to protect the intestines and relieve constipation.
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