Who needs Pepto or Tums when you have botanicals to help you recover and support you through illness, without the harmful side effects? Think about it next time you have a hay fever attack and are sneezy and snotty and you pop an anti-histamine: whatever the offending agent is, your body is coating it with mucous in order to expel it from your body, hence all the snot and runny nose. Same with diarrhea: whatever it is (parasite? pathogen?), your stomach acid didn’t kill it, so it’s causing a problem and needs to be expelled. Of course, no one wants to be on the pot all day, but certain herbs can help stop you up and reduce intestinal inflammation AND kill the offending pathogen. Can your Pepto do that? Here are my picks for the healthy family’s herbal pharmacy (alphabetized!).
Allergies: allergies can be complex. You may think you are reacting to a substance like pollen, but you’re reacting to the chemicals (histamines) released by your body in reaction to the pollen. For the sake of brevity, I’ll give you some suggestions to mitigate your symptoms, but if you have seasonal allergies (and are they getting worse with time?), it’s actually your digestive tract and detox system that need attention. But that’s a different post to come for spring. My fave herb to recommend for allergies is stinging nettles, especially good for coughs, runny nose, chest congestion, even asthma. Get the dried leaves from your natural foods store, or in bulk, or in tea bags. Make a tea and drink liberally. High in iron, too. Vitamin C with bioflavonoids (its natural co-factor, which means it helps your body utilize it) is a natural anti-histamine. Take up to 1,000 grams a couple times a day.
Burns: aloe relieves the pain immediately and speeds healing. Ideally, you have an aloe plant in your house and you can snap off a leaf. Seriously, get an aloe plant. So pretty and useful and doesn’t contain those nasty chemical preservatives from that green aloe gel you buy at Walgreen’s (aloe is naturally clear), and plants clean the air. Honey is a superior healing agent: it’s antibacterial and has beneficial enzymes. Use liberally. Also, lavender oil is surprisingly effective for burns, and you’ll smell good, too.
Colds: keep the ingredients for this concoction on hand at all times; it is my tried and true cold and general sickness fighter. Drink first thing in the AM & in PM right before bed. Equal parts elderberry, yarrow, and peppermint. Place in pot, cover with water, simmer for about 20 minutes, strain, and drink. Best used as soon as you think you’re getting sick.
Constipation: Everyone gets a little plugged up from time to time, but if it’s happening regularly, it’s a sign you’re not getting enough fiber or that there is a digestive issue. But for occasional diarrhea, there are many good herbal tea formulas on the market that work great. Tradition Medicinals has one: Smooth Move. It contains senna, which is the best herb to relieve constipation. Also, aloe vera juice helps: make sure you get the juice intended for consumption. Aloe helps regularity and is very good and soothing for the digestive tract.
Cramps: See my previous post on relieving menstrual cramps. The bark of the white willow tree contains salicin, a chemical similar to aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid). Back in the days of yore, people chewed on the bark to reduce fever and pain. It really works! You should be able to find a tincture or capsule form. Also try ginger tea and 500mg magnesium daily for cramping.
Diarrhea: You might be able to find herbal tinctures to keep on hand with any of the following combinations: ginger, red raspberry, peppermint, fenugreek, meadowsweet, marshmallow, and/or slippery elm. If not, any combination of the aforementioned will do, but try for ginger/peppermint and slippery elm or marshmallow. The ginger and peppermint are anti-spasmodic and the slippery elm and marshmallow are demulcent and soothing to your GI tract. They reduce inflammation. Oregano oil, one of my favorites, is useful here, too: it is antibacterial, antiviral, and antipathogenic, so it’ll kill the bugs that ail you. Get an oregano oil tincture with 70% carvacrol (the active constituent). Also, try mixing carob powder with a nut butter or coconut milk if you can stomach any food (it’s quite tasty): carob powder is extremely useful for stopping diarrhea and is good for the gut. Finally, keep a good quality probiotic on hand, and take one every hour during the day until bed to halt diarrhea.
Fever: Use a tincture of feverfew until fever breaks. Elderberry is great, too. You can take an elderberry tincture, or boil up the dried berries you already have for the cold formula above, strain, and drink.
Gas: Oregano oil works GREAT and quickly for gas and bloating/indigestion. Place 4 drops on your tongue and chase with water: it is strong and can sting. Repeat every 5 minutes or so . If you have fennel seeds around, chew on some of those. They work pretty well too. Ginger tea and peppermint tea also work great.
Heartburn: if you have heartburn regularly, it could be a sign of food allergies, or you could have h pylori, a nasty bacteria that causes ulcers and heartburn. Occasional heartburn is best treated with licorice root. Get a tincture and use as needed until it goes away. Do not use if you have high blood pressure. Use DGL licorice instead (you can find in capsule form). Peppermint works too, as does fennel.
Nausea: Ginger tea is superb for nausea and can be used during pregnancy. Works great for hangovers too. Grate some fresh ginger in a mug and pour hot water over it. Peppermint tea is another good choice. Same combo works for indigestion.
Pain/headache: White Willow bark works really well for headaches and general body ache (see cramps, above). Kava kava is another choice; it is a mild (and legal) narcotic, has anxiety-relieving properties, and can be found as a tea.
Sore throat: I like the Traditional Medicinals Throat Coat formula. It contains the demulcent herbs like licorice, slippery elm, and marshmallow.
I didn’t include this one at the beginning, but anxiety is a a condition from which so many suffer. It’s another one where the underlying issue needs to be addressed: what is causing it? High cortisol? Low neurotransmitters like serotonin or dopamine? If you have chronic anxiety, consult with a practitioner to figure out why. Step away from the xanax, which only depletes your natural feel-good chemicals over time. Use Rescue Remedy, a homeopathic tincture, valerian (works very well), or kava kava. Ashwagandha, lemon balm, chamomile. Again, there are some really good anti-anxiety herbal tinctures on the market.
Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.