6 Ways To Use Ginger Every Day

6 Ways To Use Ginger Every Day | Herbal Academy | Ginger root is most commonly used when cooking in the kitchen, but there are many ways you can use ginger every day for health and wellness.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) rhizome is most commonly used in the kitchen given its slightly sweet, spicy, and strong aromatic flavors. However, there are many ways you can use ginger every day in your herbal practice, too! From helping soothe muscle pain, enhancing overall circulation, and nipping colds in the bud, ginger has many uses on its own and as a complementary herb in formulas.

In this article, I’m sharing six easy ways to use ginger every day. Read on to discover how you can start incorporating this popular rhizome into your daily routine!

6 Ways To Use Ginger Every Day

6 Ways To Use Ginger Every Day | Herbal Academy | Ginger root is most commonly used when cooking in the kitchen, but there are many ways you can use ginger every day for health and wellness.

1. To Help Support Your Brain Function

A wonderful way to use ginger every day is to help support your overall brain function. At first thought, you might not think to use an herb like ginger when your mind is feeling a little foggy. However, given its antioxidant function and ability to support the downregulation of inflammation in the body, ginger is reputed for preventing and halting the progression of neurodegenerative conditions in addition to improving overall cognitive function (Saenghong et al., 2012). In one study, ginger extract was found to enhance working memory and increase cognitive function in a group of middle-aged women (Saenghong et al., 2012).

An easy way to use ginger for boosting your brain function is through taking the encapsulated powder or an extract daily. Ginger powder is also a lovely addition in a honey paste formula with other neuroprotective and cognitive-enhancing herbs. For those who enjoy the spice, chewing on a small piece of fresh ginger can instantly help to stimulate your senses and awaken your cognitive vitality.

2. For Sore Muscles & Joint Pain

Ginger is a wonderful herb to use both internally and externally to help soothe sore muscles. Ginger is commonly used as a base in formulas to address fibrositis and muscle sprains (Hoffmann, 2003).

Due to ginger’s ability to modulate inflammation in the body, it is a useful herb for soothing arthritic-related joint pain in the body (Srivastava & Mustafa, 1992; Hoffmann, 2003). In one study, taking ginger extract internally was found to significantly reduce symptoms of moderate-to-severe osteoarthritis-related pain (Altman & Marcussen, 2001).

You can make your own topical preparation of ginger through our Warming Ginger Cayenne Salve recipe for natural pain relief here.

3. As A Cold-Buster

Ginger is a staple herb in many cold and flu formulas for a good reason. Well-known for supporting the clearance of viruses and respiratory congestion, ginger is a great herb to draw from when you feel the onset of sickness encroaching or if you have already come down with something (Gladstar, 2012).

Using the fresh or dried rhizome in a tea formula is a simple and tasty way to use ginger every day as a cold-buster. You could also prepare a ginger syrup or incorporate ginger in your homemade fire cider brew to give your immune response system a quick boost.

6 Ways To Use Ginger Every Day | Herbal Academy | Ginger root is most commonly used when cooking in the kitchen, but there are many ways you can use ginger every day for health and wellness.

4. To Soothe A Sore Throat

Did you know you can use ginger to help soothe pain and discomfort from a sore throat? The inflammation regulatory properties of ginger help relieve irritated tissues in the throat caused by excessive coughing and post-nasal drip (Hoffmann, 2003). Although ginger has a predominantly spicy flavor on its own, when prepared as a tea with raw honey or as a syrup, the spicy and dry properties of ginger become balanced and tolerable to use as a gargle.

Easy Ginger Gargle Recipe

[recipe_ingredients]

1 tablespoon of fresh ginger rhizome (or 1 teaspoon dried and cut ginger rhizome)
1 ½ cups water
1 teaspoon raw honey or manuka honey

[/recipe_ingredients][recipe_directions]

  1. If using fresh ginger rhizome, first wash the rhizome then mince or thinly slice it.
  2. Add the ginger and water to a small pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot with a lid, and allow the mixture to simmer for about 30 minutes.
  3. Remove from the heat and strain the ginger from the tea into a heat-safe container.
  4. Stir in the honey until dissolved.
  5. Allow the mixture to cool until warm. Use as a throat gargle as needed. The gargle will keep in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.

[/recipe_directions]

5. To Promote Circulation & Warmth

A great way to use ginger every day, especially during the cooler months ahead, is to help promote warmth and proper circulation in the body. Ginger is considered a premier circulatory stimulant, making it an ideal herb to use for poor circulation (think cold hands and feet), cramps, and chilblains (Hoffmann, 2003).

Since ginger is a diaphoretic, it carries the unique ability to push heat inside the body outwards to the exterior. This makes it an ideal herb to draw from in chilled and feverish states. One way to use ginger for this purpose is through infusing it into a bath, soaking, then wrapping yourself in a thick blanket for the next hour and “sweating it out.”

Ginger Bath

[recipe_ingredients]

3 tablespoons of dried ginger rhizome powder (or 4 tablespoons of dried and chopped ginger rhizome)
½ – 1 cup Epsom salts

[/recipe_ingredients][recipe_directions]

  1. Fill your bathtub with hot water.
  2. Add the ginger powder (or chopped ginger in a muslin bag) and Epsom salts into your bath, stirring to combine.
  3. Soak in the bath for 15-30 minutes.
  4. Dry off with a towel, then bundle up under a thick blanket or lay in bed under the covers for an hour or so to sweat.
  5. Rinse off in the shower.
  6. Rest and restore.

[/recipe_directions]

6 Ways To Use Ginger Every Day | Herbal Academy | Ginger root is most commonly used when cooking in the kitchen, but there are many ways you can use ginger every day for health and wellness.

6. For Mild Tummy Troubles

One of the most common ways to use ginger every day is for an upset stomach. Used for symptoms ranging from motion sickness to general nausea to morning sickness, ginger is a strong herbal ally for an array of tummy troubles (Hoffmann, 2003).

This also makes ginger a popular herb to draw from when symptoms of indigestion, such as intestinal cramping, gas, and bloating occur. Ginger can help the body digest food easier and reduce spasms in the gut (Wood, 2007).

A quick and easy way to help pacify an upset stomach and alleviate indigestion is to chew a small piece of candied ginger after meals or as needed. Sprinkling a few drops of ginger rhizome tincture around the tongue is also a helpful way to use ginger for soothing tummy troubles.

More Than Just A Tasty Rhizome

Although ginger carries many tasty qualities you can incorporate at mealtime, ginger clearly has many applications you can bring into your herbal practice as well! The repertoire of uses for ginger expands beyond what we discussed in this article, too.

Learn more ways you can use ginger in our posts 3 Reasons To Eat Ginger During Wintertime and Licorice And Ginger: Herbal Decongestants.

6 Ways To Use Ginger Every Day | Herbal Academy | Ginger root is most commonly used when cooking in the kitchen, but there are many ways you can use ginger every day for health and wellness.

REFERENCES

Altman, R.D., & Marcussen, K.C. (2001). Effects of a ginger extract on knee pain in patients with osteoarthritis. Arthritis & Rheumatology, 44(11), 2531-8. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11710709

Gladstar, R. (2012). Rosemary Gladstar’s medicinal herbs: A beginner’s guide. North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing.

Hoffmann, D. (2003). Medical herbalism. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.

Saenghong, N., Wattanathorn, J., Muchimapura, S., Tongun, T., Piyavhatkul, N., Banchonglikitkul, C., & Kajsongkram, T. (2012). Zingiber officinale improves cognitive function of the middle-aged healthy women. Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine, 2012, 383062. http://doi.org/10.1155/2012/383062.

Srivastava, K.C., & Mustafa, T. (1992). Ginger (Zingiber offinicale) in rheumatism and musculoskeletal disorders. Medical Hypotheses, 39(4), 342-348. http://doi.org/10.1016/0306-9877(92)90059-L

Wood, M. (2007). Ginger. Retrieved from http://www.woodherbs.com/Ginger.html.

Ayurvedic Guide to Building Digestive Power

If you consult with an Ayurvedic practitioner, don’t be surprised if she asks you a hundred and one questions about the state of your digestive system—no matter what brought you into her office! Regardless of where your imbalances manifest, Ayurveda places incredible emphasis on the state of digestion, also known as agni.

According to the Ayurvedic paradigm, a digestive imbalance is considered to be the root cause of most illness (Frawley, 2000). Conversely, a strong and balanced digestive system puts you at much greater odds for attaining and maintaining optimal health. This article will explore Ayurvedic methods for supporting digestive health, and ultimately, building digestive power.  

How Hot Does Your Fire Burn?

To begin, it may be helpful to outline why Ayurveda places so much emphasis on digestion. Our digestion is our processing system for almost all of our nourishment. Of course, some nourishment is received via the air, and our skin has its own absorption as well. But, as we all know, one cannot live for long without food or drink. Furthermore, though it is wonderful to have food and liquids of high-quality, if we can’t make use of that nourishment through good digestion, it does us little good. Taking this one step further, strong digestion builds healthy blood, and healthy blood is carried all throughout our bodies, giving rise to healthy organs. Thus, our gut is the first portal of nourishment and addressing the digestive system, or regulating agni, is the foundational approach to most diseases (Frawley, 2000).

The state of digestion is classified into four major categories in Ayurveda:

  • mandagni (low digestive fire),
  • tikshnagni (high digestive fire),
  • vishmagni (variable digestive fire), and
  • the elusive unicorn of Ayurveda: samagni (perfectly balanced digestion) (Frawley, 2000).

It is rare (but not impossible) to find perfect equanimity in digestion. Signs of healthy digestion include, but are not limited to:

  • only a very thin coating on the tongue,
  • pleasant breath and body odor,
  • good energy,
  • healthy circulation,
  • regular daily bowel movements, and
  • a healthy appetite for meals (Frawley, 2000).

It is quite common for agni (the digestive fire) to be imbalanced in one direction or another. This article will primarily explore methods for building digestive power, which is appropriate in instances of mandagni (low digestive fire), and sometimes, in cases of vishmagni (variable digestive fire).

Signs That Your Digestion Needs Building

In general, weak digestion is an expression of kapha dosha. Those with a kapha constitution are more prone to slow or sluggish digestion. However, anyone can experience mandagni. Furthermore, late winter and spring is the time of year ruled by kapha, so you may find your digestive power flagging a bit at that time of year in particular.

For vatas, the digestive power is often variable. At times, vata’s intense hunger may need calming down; at other times it can use a little agni boost. So, these guidelines may be helpful for those with variable digestion as well. Pittas, on the other hand, tend to have a very powerful and warm digestive system. A pitta digestive imbalance is characterized by intense hunger, burning indigestion, and perhaps diarrhea. Therefore, these guidelines are less suitable for pitta types or those with a pitta digestive imbalance.

If you are really perplexed about the condition of your agni, it is always wise to consult with an Ayurvedic practitioner. However, these are some general signs of low digestive fire:

  • poor appetite,
  • tendency to gain weight even when eating very little,
  • a thick coating on the tongue,
  • feeling heavy or sleepy after eating,
  • foul breath and body odor,
  • excess mucus and congestion, and
  • frequent colds and flu (Frawley, 2000).

How You Eat Is As Important As What You Eat

There are classifications of foods and herbs that are particularly effective at building digestive power, which I will enumerate later in this article. However, before digging into the details of what goes onto your plate, it is well worth considering how you take in your food.

These are some basic guidelines for cultivating healthy eating habits. All of these guidelines are outlined in the Caraka Samhita, one of Ayurveda’s most renowned classical texts. Like many classical texts, it is a bit unclear exactly who wrote it, however, it is one of the fundamental pieces of Ayurvedic literature.

1. Eat the Proper Quantity

It is important to eat neither too little nor too much. Being undernourished will ultimately weaken all the bodily tissues and will cause any number of vata imbalances. However, eating too much will dampen the digestive fire and will likely lead to excess weight and sluggish digestion.

You may wonder how to tell when enough is enough. The Caraka Samhita leaves us a clue: “The amount of food which, without disturbing the equilibrium, gets digested as well as metabolized, in proper time, is to be regarded as the proper quantity” (Sharma & Dash, 2014, Vol I: p.106).

This may sound a bit obscure to most readers. One modern interpretation, and one that I personally use, is the 75% rule. The 75% rule states that you should not fill your belly with food and liquid beyond 75% full. Of course, there is no way to exactly measure this. It is a felt sense. However, I  recommend letting the burp be your guide. If you are eating your meal slowly enough to pay attention, there will typically be a place in your meal where you have a small burp. The next time you sit down for a meal, see if you can detect the burp. If you detect it, put your fork down, and observe if you end up at a nice 75% mark — the Goldilocks principle of satiety!

Eating just the right amount of food will prevent feelings of heaviness after meals and will allow you to digest your food more efficiently, thus preserving the strength of your agni.

2. Eat in a Peaceful Setting Without Distraction

Mindfulness has become a buzzword these days, but there is a lot to be said about being aware while we are eating, especially when it comes to building digestive power. In modern times, this means unplugging from technology during meals. It also means not working while eating and engaging in only pleasant and light-hearted conversation at meal times. The Caraka Samhita takes a strong stance on this by suggesting, “One should not talk or laugh or be unmindful while taking in food” (Sharma & Dash, Vol II).

While the position described in the Caraka Samhita is rather austere, we can learn from these ancient teachings and use meals as a time to be quiet, to be reflective, and to simply enjoy the wonderful nourishment in front of us. Of course, there is something to be said for enjoying a pleasant meal with friends and family. However, as an Ayurvedic practitioner, I advise keeping conversations light-hearted, as well as steering clear of business lunches, when possible, which distract us from savoring our food.

An Ayurvedic Guide to Building Digestive Power | Herbal Academy | Come join us as we explore Ayurvedic methods for improving digestive health naturally, and ultimately, building digestive power.

3. Eat at a Moderate Pace

Interestingly enough, the Caraka Samhita advises not eating too fast as well as not eating too slow, this affects one’s ability to properly taste and enjoy his/her meal. (Sharma & Dash, Vol II). Furthermore, on eating too slowly is problematic, as the food will become cold and digestive irregularities may result (Sharma & Dash, Vol. II). One helpful rule of thumb is to put the fork down between bites. I find that this greatly assists in eating at a moderate pace.

4. Do Not Eat Until the Prior Meal Has Been Digested

For most, this means waiting at least three hours between meals and snacks. This is also where the concept of true hunger comes into play. Many Americans are accustomed to frequent snacking. However, from the Ayurvedic standpoint, eating too frequently dampens agni and will inhibit building digestive power. Speaking metaphorically, you want to give the fire a chance to burn its fuel before piling on more fodder. The Caraka Samhita clearly explains that eating too soon after the last meal will cause all the doshas to become aggravated, as the partially digested food will mix with the new food and cause a clogging of physical channels.

Also, the Ayurvedic standpoint here is that allowing enough time between meals stimulates the agni, helps the body clear ama (toxins), sharpens the mind, and restores the balance of the doshas (Palanisamy, 2015).

There are a number of other guidelines for healthy eating listed in the Caraka Samhita as well as contemporary Ayurvedic texts. However, the four listed above cover quite a bit of territory and are an excellent place to begin. Once you have mastered those, a couple of other guidelines are to have mostly warm and moist foods and also to take no more than a half cup of warm water with meals. Ice water, especially with meals, is contraindicated as Ayurveda teaches that it will weaken the agni.

The latter guidelines are based on an understanding of the nature of agni. Since agni is warm and fiery by nature, to boost agni and ignite that fire, it is ideal to choose foods that mimic the nature of agni. Warm and moist foods are considered to be easier to digest and to have a more encouraging effect on the agni. Thus, when building digestive power, it is wise to eat moderately, eat with awareness and gratitude, and focus on warm, moist, cooked foods (Svoboda, 2010).

An Ayurvedic Guide to Building Digestive Power | Herbal Academy | Come join us as we explore Ayurvedic methods for improving digestive health naturally, and ultimately, building digestive power.

Rasa For Building Digestive Power

The word rasa has many meanings in Sanskrit. One of its meanings essentially translates to taste, and more specifically, the taste of food when it first hits the tongue (Lad & Lad, 2009).

There are six main tastes according to Ayurveda:

  1. sweet,
  2. sour,
  3. salty,
  4. bitter,
  5. pungent, and
  6. astringent.

For building digestive power, the pungent, sour, and salty tastes are best (Sharma & Dash, Vol 2). This does not mean that if you are trying to increase agni you will exclusively eat these foods. However, it is wise to emphasize foods with the pungent, sour, and salty tastes with some regularity if this is your aim.

The pungent taste is especially good for increasing agni short-term, whereas the sour taste is best for increasing agni long-term. The salty taste is helpful for stimulating appetite — giving food good flavor, and like the pungent and sour tastes, it has a warming energy, which inherently stimulates agni.

Examples of the pungent taste include chile, onion, mustard, radish, and garlic. The pungent taste is excellent for stimulating agni and for burning up excess kapha, which may manifest in the form of mucus, watery secretions, or a thick tongue coating. Kapha types may use the pungent taste liberally, vatas are best off taking it in small doses, and pittas should minimize hot, spicy food as it is intensely aggravating to pitta dosha (Morningstar, 1995).

The sour taste is found in foods such as vinegar, yogurt, cheese, citrus, and pickles. This taste stimulates salivation, as well as the agni, which is why it is helpful to have a small amount of pickles or chutney along with your meals. However, just like the pungent taste, too much of the sour taste will aggravate pitta and may cause a mild inflammation of the gut (Morningstar, 1995). However, if your digestive power is weak, you can likely benefit from a bit more of the sour taste. Keep in mind that, small amounts frequently taken with meals are better than consuming large amounts of vinegar and pickles at once.

The salty taste is found in rock salt and sea salt, as well as sea vegetables (Morningstar, 1995). Again, it is wise to not eat huge amounts of the salty taste, but if you are looking to boost agni, having a bit of salt with your meals on a regular basis will stimulate the digestive fire. Another interesting fact about salt is that it is quite grounding, and thus beneficial for vata dosha (Morningstar, 1995).

There is one more aspect of working with taste, agni, and the doshas, that is important to understand. Though the pungent, sour, and salty tastes have an overall stimulating effect on agni, one must always consider individual constitution. For example, if someone has low digestive fire and also a very strong kapha constitution, the pungent taste may be suggested in liberal amounts. However, it would be unwise to recommend that this person take in large amounts of the salty and sour tastes, as those tastes drastically increase kapha dosha. As always in Ayurveda, protocols are tailored to the individual. In this instance, the pungent taste would be recommended along with plenty of bitter and astringent foods, as the pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes all pacify kapha dosha.

Conversely, someone of a vata constitution who has weak agni would benefit from ample amounts of the sweet and sour tastes, and smaller amounts of the pungent taste. The salty and sour tastes pacify vata with their warm, moist, and heavy nature. Too much hot, spicy food is overly drying and stimulating for vata dosha, and would thus be recommended in smaller amounts. For pitta dosha, the aim is generally to cool the digestive fires, so the sweet, bitter, and astringent tastes are best.

Spices To Light Your Digestive Fire

Finally, spices are crucial when building digestive power. While the list of beneficial spices is long, here are a few ideas to get you inspired.

An Ayurvedic Guide to Building Digestive Power | Herbal Academy | Come join us as we explore Ayurvedic methods for improving digestive health naturally, and ultimately, building digestive power.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale)

Ginger is one of the most versatile and potent digestive spices. For my vata clients, I recommend fresh ginger tea. For kapha clients, dry ginger is best. This can be taken as a tea, in cooking, and even in capsule form. Ginger has a pungent and sweet taste, a heating energy, and depending on whether it is fresh or dried, either a nourishing or purifying effect on the body. (The fresh root is nourishing, whereas the dried root is purifying (Dass, 2013).) One easy way to take fresh ginger as a digestive is to make thin slices of the root, squeeze a bit of lemon or lime on top, add a pinch of salt, and simply chew before meals. This is a sure way to give the agni a little head start at mealtime.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

Fennel is special in that it stimulates agni without aggravating pitta dosha. People of a pitta nature generally have an inherently robust digestion, but even pittas can use an agni boost from time to time. Fennel is the perfect choice. Fennel has a sweet and slightly pungent taste, a cool energy, and an overall nourishing effect on the body (Dass, 2013).

Since it is sweet and nourishing, fennel is also an excellent choice for those of vata constitution (Dass, 2013). Dried and powdered fennel makes a lovely tea. Also, chewing on a few dry roasted fennel seeds after meals is a wonderful way to take in this pleasant and effective digestive spice.

An Ayurvedic Guide to Building Digestive Power | Herbal Academy | Come join us as we explore Ayurvedic methods for improving digestive health naturally, and ultimately, building digestive power.

Black Pepper (Piper nigrum)

If you are looking for a heavy hitter, black pepper is a great choice. Black pepper is ideal for kapha dosha and those with a particularly sluggish digestion. This is because black pepper has a pungent taste, a heating energy, and a purifying effect on the body (Dass, 2013). These spicy little peppercorns are excellent for stimulating agni and helping the body to burn up ama (metabolic wastes and/or undigested food matter). Adding ground black pepper to your veggie curries and soups is an easy way to weave a little Piper nigrum into your daily meals. Also, black pepper is part of the potent digestive trifecta known as Trikatu, which consists of equal parts dry ginger, black pepper, and pippali (Piper longum). Trikatu is one of the premier herb blends used in Ayurveda for boosting agni.

If you are building digestive power, you may use spices generously in cooking. However, it is helpful to be aware of the energetics of the spices and how they affect your dosha so you can make the best choices. Some other excellent digestive spices include cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum), cumin (Cuminum cyminum), coriander (Coriandrum sativum), and fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum).

Taking It All In

If building digestive power is your aim, it is wise to consider how you eat, what you eat, and the appropriate use of spices and seasonings. Ayurveda is not one-size-fits-all, so there are general guidelines that we can all follow for strengthening agni. Yet, one must always consider the constitution of the individual and tailor food choices and spices that are balancing and harmonizing.

On the whole, the pungent, sour, and salty tastes are best for stimulating agni, as well as foods that are warm, moist, and light. Also, we can all benefit from greater mindfulness around our eating. So, a great place to start for everyone is with the guidelines for healthy eating outlined in this article, remembering that how you eat is as important as what you eat.

An Ayurvedic Guide to Building Digestive Power | Herbal Academy | Come join us as we explore Ayurvedic methods for improving digestive health naturally, and ultimately, building digestive power.

REFERENCES

Dash, B. & Sharma, R.K. (2014). Caraka Samhita (Vols. 1 & 2). Varanasi, India: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office.

Dass, V. (2013). Ayurvedic herbology. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.

Frawley, D. (2000). Ayurvedic healing. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.

Lad, U. & Lad, V. (2009). Ayurvedic cooking for self-healing. Albuquerque, NM: The Ayurvedic Press.

Svoboda, R. (1999). Prakriti: your ayurvedic constitution. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.

Morningstar, A. (1995). Ayurvedic cooking for westerners. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.

Three Herbs to Support Digestion After a Long Winter

Three Herbs To Support Digestion After A Long Winter | Herbal Academy | Is your body in need of a jump start after a long winter? Here are three herbs to support digestion and give your body the help it needs!

Human beings are part of the natural environment. We pass through the same natural and seasonal cycles that affect other living beingsanimals, plants, and ecosystems. This is reflected in traditional healing systems the world over. Western herbalism has a long history of practices and remedies that are determined by the season, and older systems like Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) also consider seasonal cycles to be important. These systems reflect the idea that the microcosm (in this case, the human being) is a representation of the macrocosm (the natural world), even in tropical locations that don’t experience the same change of seasons as in temperate climates.

The Season of Winter

Winter is a season of cold, dampness, and darkness. It is the time of year that most animals (including human beings) slow down, go within, and reserve our resources. For people who evolved in temperate climates, the metabolism and digestive process may naturally slow down so that we can store fat (and energy). This is one way humans survived through harsh seasons, when less food was available.

One result of this evolutionary process is that we may find our bodies (especially our digestive processes) in need of a “jump start” once the snow begins to thaw, the days become longer, and we are ready to emerge into spring. Herbalists have observed this phenomenon for ages, and have documented quite a bit about the energetics at work, as well as ways to maintain physiological balance as we move from winter in the spring.

The Season of Spring

In TCM, spring is represented by the energy of wood—this is the energy that is reflected by the function of the Liver and Gallbladder. Obviously, these organs affect the wellness and function of our digestive systems all year long, but according to TCM, it is in the spring that they really kick into gear and are most active. In the spring, people with chronic digestive issues may experience more imbalance (Pitchford, 2002).

This wisdom is in wonderful accordance with Western herbal practice, where we have traditionally turned to the first (often bitter) herbs of spring to detoxify the body and energize the digestive system after months of eating heavier foods (Bellebuono, 2012). For example, in the Southern US where I live, “poke salat” (the cooked young leaves of the potent Phytolacca americana, potentially toxic if not prepared carefully) was once a popular way to detoxify the body and stimulate the liver in early spring; dandelion greens continue to be popular as a spring bitter. In fact, I generally suggest more food-like herbs to stimulate healthy digestion as we move from winter to spring.

There are many herbs that can support us in making this transition from winter to spring, but today, I’d like to share just a few of my favorite herbs to support digestion during this time of the year.

Three Herbs To Support Digestion After A Long Winter | Herbal Academy | Is your body in need of a jump start after a long winter? Here are three herbs to support digestion and give your body the help it needs!

Three Herbs to Support Digestion After a Long Winter

Bitter Orange

There are actually two types of oranges that are used in Western herbalism—bitter (Citrus aurantium) and sweet (Citrus dulcis). The fresh or dried outer peel of both these fruits (not the white inner peel) has a long tradition of use. A look at historic texts and pharmacopoeias will show that until very recently, bitter orange in particular has primarily been considered a digestive aid. Its warmth and its moving, aromatic qualities make it a lovely carminative used to stimulate appetite and ease digestion. Bitter orange also acts on the liver and gallbladder as a bitter tonic and mild choleretic, helping the body to metabolize the heavier and fattier foods consumed during a long, cold winter (Mars, 2009).

Interestingly, modern research on orange peel has focused less on digestive support and more on the actions of a constituent called synephrine. This alkaloid shares a chemical and functional similarity to epinephrine—also known as adrenaline. For this reason, the isolated chemical has been marketed toward those seeking weight loss, especially as the safety of other herbs used to boost metabolism (such as Ephedra) has come into question (Ulbricht, 2010). Within the “whole plant” context of orange peel (which also contains essential oils and flavonoids, among other phytochemicals), synephrine provides a gentle, stimulating push to the digestive and metabolic systems that is appropriate for the season.

Like its relative grapefruit, bitter orange has some potential for interaction with drugs metabolized through the CYP450 enzyme system, so caution should be used for those taking such medications.

Orange is also the single source of two important oils used in aromatherapy: neroli (distilled from the flowers of C. aurantium) and bergamot (distilled from the fruit of C. bergamia), which are widely used to act on the nervous and digestive systems (Ulbricht, 2010). It also makes an incredible marmalade. One of my favorite teachers, James Snow, describes it as an herb that ushers in the qualities of joy and communication. I find orange peel to be a great companion for our emergence from the cold darkness of winter into the warmth and light of spring.

Three Herbs To Support Digestion After A Long Winter | Herbal Academy | Is your body in need of a jump start after a long winter? Here are three herbs to support digestion and give your body the help it needs!

Mugwort

Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) has an wide range of uses. Historically, herbalists have found the aerial parts of the plant helpful to support people suffering from everything from stalled menses to palsy, and fever to jaundice (Grieve, 1931). Growing in abundant stands in many areas, it has qualities that make it a wonderful herb to support post-winter digestion.

Mugwort is a choleretic, cholagogue, and slightly aromatic bitter tonic that also is warm and moving to a sluggish or congested gastrointestinal tract (Wood, 2008). In its cottony, dried leaf form, mugwort is also known in TCM as moxa, and is burned by acupuncturists over meridian points to stimulate the movement of qi.

Mugwort is a good choice to support fat metabolism as the body moves away from the seasonal tendency to store lipids. The late herbalist Michael Moore may well have described its usefulness best in his Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West: “If you wake up in the morning with a grey sheet over your psyche, your head hurts in the front, your mouth tastes like a three-day old Greek salad, your hemorrhoids are aching, and you crave things like pizza, potato chips, or fry bread take the infusion once at night for a couple of weeks” (Moore, cited by Shepherd, 2014). You’ll not want to overdo it, however, because large amounts of mugwort can induce nausea and vomiting (Grieve, 1931).

Three Herbs To Support Digestion After A Long Winter | Herbal Academy | Is your body in need of a jump start after a long winter? Here are three herbs to support digestion and give your body the help it needs!

Artichoke

The leaves of the globe artichoke, Cynara scolymus, have a very different quality than that of the aromatic herbs mentioned so far. While it’s actually pretty similar to mugwort in its effect on the body, artichoke is cooling rather than warming, and moderately dry in its energetics. In Western herbalism, it was traditionally used when digestion was slow or painful or when gentle laxative action (a characteristic feature of springtime purges) was called for (Phillips & Foy, 1990).

A relative of milk thistle, artichoke also has an affinity for the liver. It is not only choleretic and hepatoprotective, but also is hepatoregenerative, which means that it can help restore both function and tissue. Artichoke is also supportive of digestion because it is a bitter tonic, cholagogue, aperient, and one of relatively few cooling carminative herbs. There is also evidence that artichoke lowers blood cholesterol levels (Mills & Bone, 2005). Combined with aromatic and warming carminatives, artichoke makes an excellent spring digestive tonic.

Making The Transition

As you begin to emerge from your winter hibernation, take note of the herbs that are beginning to emerge from the warming earth as well. Many of them may well be helpful to help get your digestive juices flowing, support and strengthen your liver function, and help you transition joyfully into spring.

And don’t forget to keep an eye out at your local farmers market or supermarket. Mugwort soba noodles aren’t difficult to find at health food stores, and even if you can’t find bitter oranges, a little orange zest added to tea or fruit salad is an easy way to incorporate plants that help give the digestive system a boost after the winter.

We’ve made it through another winter. Here’s to a happy, healthful spring!

Three Herbs To Support Digestion After A Long Winter | Herbal Academy | Is your body in need of a jump start after a long winter? Here are three herbs to support digestion and give your body the help it needs!

REFERENCES

Bellebuono, H. (2012). The essential herbal for natural health. Boston, MA: Roost Books.

Grieve, M. (1931). A modern herbal, vol. 2. New York, NY: Dover Publications.

Mars, B. (2009). Healing herbal teas: A complete guide to making delicious, healthful beverages. Laguna Beach, CA: Basic Health Publications, Inc.

Mills, S. and Bone, K. (2005). The essential guide to herbal safety. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone.

Shepherd, J. (2014). California mugwort dreamin’ & herbal recipes. Retrieved from https://allthingsherbaldotorg.wordpress.com/2014/04/13/california-mugwort-dreamin-herbal-recipes/.

Phillips, R. and Foy, N. (1990). The Random House book of herbs. New York, NY: Random House.

Pitchford, P. (2002). Healing with whole foods: Asian traditions and modern nutrition. 3rd ed. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Ulbricht, C. E. (2010). Natural Standard herb & supplement guide: A evidence-based reference. Maryland Heights, MO: Mosby Elsevier.

Wood, M. (2008). The Earthwise herbal, volume 1: A complete guide to old world medicinal plants. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.