The Top 5 Best Herbs for Digestion & IBS

by | Jan 23, 2018 | Digestive Health, Herbal Medicine

If you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or are simply looking for some relief from common digestive complaints, these 5 herbs can come in handy.

I love herbal medicine. I’ve grown to appreciate the many diverse benefits and uses of herbs over the years, especially for digestion. Having a history of a sensitive gut myself, I’ve come to know each of these 5 herbs very well and how useful they can be.

Whether you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or you’re just looking for some ways to support digestion, I highly recommend trying out some of these herbs! I’m a big tea drinker, and all 5 of these herbs can be taken as such. Capsule, tincture, powder, used fresh in cooking, or cut and sifted in bulk to be brewed yourself are other great ways to use these herbs.

The Top 5 Herbs for Digestion & IBS

1. Peppermint

Peppermint is a classic for digestion; you may have even guessed I’d be mentioning this one! I never used to be a fan of anything minty, but over time I acquired a taste for it.

Peppermint is a ‘carminative’ which means it helps to expel gas in the intestines and help reduce bloating. Peppermint is also antispasmodic making it great for intestinal spasms, cramping, or abdominal pain. Irritable bowels tend to respond well to peppermint, and the oil in particular (as in a capsule), has been shown to be useful. In a randomized controlled trial, patients in the peppermint oil group experienced greater improvement in gastrointestinal symptoms as well as in severe symptoms, compared to placebo.

I enjoy peppermint tea in the morning, but it’s also great at the end of the day, or throughout the day after meals.

Note: If you have acid reflux or GERD, I recommend avoiding peppermint as it can irritate these. Instead, opt for other herbs I talk about below.

2. Fennel

Just like peppermint, fennel is a carminative which makes it particularly great for bloating. In fact, fennel is one of the number one herbs I recommend for bloating. If you like the taste of black licorice, then you’ll love fennel. I can’t say I’m a huge fan of its taste, but if I ever feel particularly bloated, there are times when I’ll suck it up and drink it anyways because I love how soothing it feels when I drink it. It’s great after a meal or in the afternoon! 

3. Slippery Elm

Slippery elm is a fantastic herb for digestion and has some very impressive benefits, including its mucilaginous content. Mucilage is a soothing polysaccharide that’s slimy, goopy, totally weird but also amazing. Slippery elm is used to It also helps to:

  • Helps protect mucosal barrier function in gastrointestinal illness.
  • Soothe irritated mucus membranes and inflammation
  • May help support healthy intestinal flora
  • Can be useful for both constipation and diarrhea

I personally like using slippery elm in powder form and I enjoy it as a “gruel”. Slippery Elm Gruel is basically a slimy, porridge-like (dare I say, “mucus-like”?) recipe that consists of slippery elm powder and hot water. Here’s how to make it:

Slippery Elm Gruel

  • 2 tbsp slippery elm powder
  • 1/4-1/2 cup boiling water
  • toppings as desired: cinnamon, maple syrup, fruit, etc.

Mix all ingredients together until you create a goopy but strangely comforting bowl of weirdness. 

4. Marshmallow Root

Just like slippery elm, marshmallow root contains mucilage. It’s not only soothing for our gut lining, but it also has anti-bacterial properties. Extracts of marshmallow were demonstrated to be potentially helpful for inflammation, gastric ulcers, and platelet aggregation with no detected adverse or toxic effects. Marshmallow can also be useful for urinary and kidney health, indigestion, and heartburn.

The gastro-protective effect of marshmallow could be attributed to its active constituents such as flavonoids and mucilage polysaccharides which give it a mucus protection (cytoprotection effect) and anti-oxidant effect.

5. Ginger

Ginger is incredible for digestion. It has many uses when it comes to digestive support. It’s anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, and it’s anti-emetic which means it helps to prevent nausea and vomiting. Ginger contains active constituents that help stop food from coming up, and it also helps to regulate gastrointestinal motility and rhythmic contractions. It’s a pretty powerful food if I do say so myself!

Ginger is great as a tea (try it with lemon) but it’s also excellent to cook with. Grate it fresh or use it powdered in stir fries, smoothies, and salad dressings.

Do you use any of these herbs? Which one is your favourite?

by Meghan Livingstone

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  1. Marisa

    I stumbled upon your website in search of some type of relief from my stomach discomfort. I have all the classic symptoms of IBS. Right now I am taking a probiotic, celery juice in the morning, peppermint tea and marshmallow root capsules. I haven’t had any significant relief. I’m starting to read a lot about a FODMAP free diet. Is there anything else you can recommend for the discomfort (bloating, spasms, urgency) while my body gets used to these new foods and herbal supplements?

    • Meghan

      Hi Marisa. The Low FODMAP diet is extremely helpful for many, including myself. I’d rule out any other underlying issues with your doctor because bloating, spasms and urgency can be related to specific foods you may be eating (dairy, greasy foods, etc.) The herbs/supplements you’re taking sound great! Let me know how Low FODMAP goes if you explore it.

  2. Tati

    Hi Meghan,

    I have been researching into herbs for Leaky Gut and gut motility issues and found a lot of resources praising both Marshmallow Root and Slippery Elm. However, I know with both side effects would be issues with absorbing anything else due to the mucousal protective layer both herbs create.

    Could you please expand on it more? Do you think it’s a good idea to take those with a motility issue?



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Hi, I’m Meghan. I’m a Certified Holistic Nutritionist, blogger, and YouTuber with a passion for healthy, simple living. I’m here to inspire you to listen to your body, eat mindfully and wholesomely, and create a fulfilling life that’s completely unique to you.