Herbal Education At The Academy: The Digestive System | Growing Up Herbal | Interested in going to herbal school? Here's a sneak peek at the Herbal Academy's Intermediate herbal course!

This month’s sneak peek into the Herbal Academy’s Intermediate Herbal Course is on the Alimentary system… better known as the digestive system.

Last month, I talked my studies on using food as medicine, but in order to get the most nutrition from your food, your digestive system needs to be functioning properly. When I think of all the different bodily systems that people have health issues with today, the digestive system is definitely at the top.

Below, I’m going to give you a behind-the-scenes look at what I studied in this unit as well as the three most interesting things I learned, and I’m going to give you a recipe straight out of the HA course (with their permission of course) that you can make and use to help your digestive system on a daily basis.

The Digestive System

You’ve heard the saying, “All disease begins in the gut,” right? Well, this unit goes in depth on gut health and imbalance and how herbs can assist us in keeping our guts healthy and balanced so that the rest of our bodies are nourished and in a healthy state.

What I Studied

  • basic anatomy and physiology of the gut… top to bottom, beginning at the mouth and ending at the anus
  • healthy digestion and why it’s important
  • how the gut absorbs nutrients and toxins
  • gut/brain/immune connection
  • ayurvedic view of digestion
  • herbal and non-herbal support for digestive health
  • acute/chronic digestive problems
  • pathophysiology of gut imbalances and remedies to help
  • food sensitivities, allergies, gut dysbiosis (flora)

Interesting Things I Learned

Having a background as a registered nurse really helps me when it comes to studying herbalism… well clinical herbalism anyway. Anyone can learn to use herbs for health and healing, but when you work with others and help them to use herbs to bring balance and healing to their body, having a good understanding of anatomy, physiology, and pathophysiology really helps. It’s a must really. Since I’ve already had these courses in college, most of these parts of the HA units end up being a great review for me seeing how it’s been several years since I sat in those classes; however, I always learn so much when it comes to applying herbs to these areas. Below are three things that I learned in this unit.

  1. When it comes to eating food and actually absorbing the nutrients from it, we need to relax and eat slow. If we don’t, we don’t absorb as much of the nutrients from our food. You see, our guts and our brains are connected via a system of nerves called the enteric nervous system (ENS). It is activated when the central nervous system (CNS) sends it messages and these messages vary based on whether the body is in a rest-and-digest mode (parasympathetic) or a fight-or-flight mode (sympathetic). If we’re rushing through eating our CNS tells the ENS that the body doesn’t have time to digest properly because it may have to get up and go soon. This means that you don’t get all the nutrients from the foods you’re eating.
  2. Remember the ENS I just talked about? Well, taking herbal bitters before eating has a direct effect on the ENS. Not only do herbal bitters stimulate digestion, but they calm you so you are emotionally prepared to eat. It all has to do with the vegas nerve and stimulating the CNS into a parasympathetic mode. Herbal bitters should be taken 15-20 minutes before eating, and the type of herb doesn’t matter as long as it’s bitter. However, it’s important to keep energetics in mind especially if you’re going to take bitters daily. You don’t want to throw your body out of balance trying to do something good for it.
  3. When it comes to working on gut health, one of the most basic things we can do is to promote healthy bacteria in the gut. We can do this by eating fermented or cultured foods which increase probiotics in the gut or by taking a probiotic supplement daily. In addition to increasing the amount of probiotics we consume, we should also cut back on too many sugars (yes, even healthy sugars) as they can lead to overgrowth of bad bacteria and yeast in the gut. This throws the gut out of balance and can lead to inflammatory gut disorders. Now, probiotics are one thing, but did you know that we should supplement with pre-biotics as well? I didn’t! In fact, I’d never even heard of pre-biotics. Pre-biotics provide a type of sugar for healthy gut flora to eat on to keep them healthy and plentiful. They’re like food for good bacteria, and they can be found in herbs that contain inulin such as dandelion, marshmallow, and burdock.

A Recipe To Share

When it comes to keeping the digestive system healthy, I talked about two things that can make a big difference. Pre- and pro-biotics and herbal bitters. If you want to get an herbal recipe for some yummy pre-biotics, check out this post I wrote for the HA blog called, Promote Healthy Gut Flora With A Prebiotic Herbal Electuary. As for herbal bitters, below you’ll find a recipe straight from the alimentary unit in The Online Intermediate Herbal Course from HANE. This recipe is fairly neutral as far as energetics go (not to warming or too cooling) so it’s a great remedy to use on a daily basis if “energetics” is a new concept to you. Digestive Bitters Ingredients:

You can also feel free to purchase herbs directly from the BHS store and make your own tinctures as well! Directions:

  1. Pour all ingredients into a 2 oz. dropper bottle and shake well. Label and store appropriately.
  2. Take 10-20 drops 15-20 minutes before meals.

So there you have it. The digestive system is a huge part of our health, and it’s worth knowing how it works as well as how herbs can help us keep it in good shape or get it in shape if there are problems occurring. Be sure to check out the Herbal Academy’s online herbal courses if you’re looking for a systematic, evidence-based approach to learning about herbs!

Do you have any digestive system issues? If so, what are they and how are you treating them naturally with herbs?