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Top 4 List of Spices and Herbs for Good Digestion

Updated on May 6, 2014

Something many people don’t realize as they cook is that many of the herbs and spices they use can also be used for upset stomachs. In fact, most herbs were introduced into food either as a way to preserve it or because they prevented sickness.

Ginger Plant

An illustration of what the ginger plant and herb looks like. The root is what's most often used in cooking, teas and medicinal preparations.
An illustration of what the ginger plant and herb looks like. The root is what's most often used in cooking, teas and medicinal preparations. | Source

Ginger (Zingiber officinale)

Popular in Japanese and Chinese dishes, as well as in deserts, ginger has a long history of soothing stomach discomfort. There’s a reason why true ginger ale is helpful when you’re struggling with a stomach bug.

It had originated in China, as an addition to their seafood dishes, because they’d discovered long ago that when ginger was included, fewer people fell ill after eating. Through trading, the Greeks eventually adopted this use by adding fresh ginger to bread and serving it after meals. Gradually, this idea evolved into a type of ginger cookie, the first recorded incident of this type of dessert food.

Today, ginger is an approved herb for digestive problems in Germany by their Commission E. It naturally relaxes the smooth muscles of the gastrointestinal tract, which is how it eliminates nausea. There have been several studies done demonstrating its safe and effective use for morning sickness, motion sickness and ulcers. Some people have also found it helpful in treating menstrual cramps.

Storage Tips For Herbs And Spices

To maximize the life of your dried herbs and spices, keep them in a cool, dark place free of moisture. This will keep their flavor sharp and their healing properties vital. To store fresh ginger, I've found that wrapping it in plastic wrap and putting it in the fridge keeps it good for a couple of weeks as you chip away at it. Never freeze it, as the cold damages the root's structure.

Interestingly, it helps eliminate pain from ulcers, thanks to a combination of its antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and the presence of compounds which closely mirror the enzymes in a healthy digestive tract. Perhaps in part because of how it helps get rid of illness, it has been known to stimulate the appetite when it’s poor.

However, if used in excess, it can cause miscarriage during pregnancy, so if you are pregnant, it’s a good idea to talk to a doctor before taking too much of it. A small amount of the fresh root shouldn’t be a problem, though.

There are ginger supplements for sale, but I’ve always preferred to use it in cooking, brew it in tea or munch on pieces with vegetables. I enjoy chopping it up and putting it in soup, but it can also be candied as well as baked into cookies.

Simple Ways to Make Ginger Tea

Fresh Peppermint

A close up view of a peppermint sprig and it's lovely spike flower. The leaves are most commonly used in cooking, cold mint drinks and teas.
A close up view of a peppermint sprig and it's lovely spike flower. The leaves are most commonly used in cooking, cold mint drinks and teas. | Source

Peppermint (Mentha piperita)

Very popular in teas, peppermint is also a popular recipe in deserts, some salads and certain main dish recipes. Its fresh taste and smell make it perfect for summer get togethers, or as a relaxing tea during a cold winter day.

Its popularity is not undeserved. In addition to its antibacterial and antiviral properties, it’s also a natural muscle relaxant. This means that it eases stomach and intestinal cramps once you consume it. I’ve found that it does wonders for cramps related to lactose intolerance. I’ve found that if I drink a cup of peppermint tea shortly after noticing the discomfort, I’ll be fine 15 to 20 minutes after I start sipping.

This might also have something to do with its pain relieving properties. When used as part of massage oil, the areas which it’s applied stop hurting for some people in addition to relaxing any tension. Some studies have also shown that it may minimize damage from radiation, which may be very helpful for people going through cancer treatments.

However, high enough doses may bring on menstruation, so consult your doctor before trying it if you’re pregnant. Also, avoid taking it if you have GERD, because it may make your symptoms worse.

Pre-Ground Cinnamon Bark

Cinnamon harvested in Pakistan. This spice is actually the bark from the cinnamon tree.
Cinnamon harvested in Pakistan. This spice is actually the bark from the cinnamon tree. | Source

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)

Extremely popular around the winter holidays, this spice acts as both an antibiotic agent and digestive aid. Its first recorded medical use can be traced back to 2700 BC, where it was used in China to treat menstrual issues, diarrhea and fever. When it reached Egypt, the people there added it to their embalming practices.

One of the ways in which it eases digestion is that it assists in breaking fats down. This eases the load on the liver, stomach and intestines, which gives the body more energy to utilize the nutrients in the food more easily. It also relaxes the smooth muscles lining the gastrointestinal system while cutting down on infection, thanks to its antibacterial and antiviral properties. Cinnamon also carries within it propanoic acid, which has shown promise in both preventing and soothing ulcers. In addition to its beneficial effect on the digestive system, cinnamon has been shown to lower blood pressure when consumed regularly, and it shows promise in treating diabetes.

I have seen cinnamon teas on the shelves of some stores, but it also works well when you add it to your cooking. One of my favorite ways to eat it is either with honey in oatmeal, or on chopped up apples with ginger and honey. However, there are countless ways to use it, from mixing it in coffee to baking it in bread.

More Benefits of Cinnamon and Honey

Fresh Dill

A dill plant before it was used for seasoning or pickling food.
A dill plant before it was used for seasoning or pickling food. | Source

Dill (Anethum graveolens)

If you love pickles, dill probably already has a soft spot in your heart. It sure does for me. Even though the majority of people dine on pickled food just for the flavor, it was originally done to preserve the food for winter consumption. However, the popular herb used in pickling, dill, has been used for centuries as both an infection fighter and an aid to digestion.

Ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Chinese records suggest dill as a remedy for both upset stomach and intestinal problems. The word “dill” actually originates from the Old Norse word, “dill”, which means to soothe. Chinese practitioners still use it, and suggest its use for children, as it’s far gentler than other options. Germany’s Commission E recommends it for indigestion, as well.

Like the above herbs and spices, dill is also a natural muscle relaxant, meaning it sooths the smooth muscles involved in digestion. However, it’s unique in that it also prevents air from forming during the digestive process, thus stopping flatulence and painful gas bubbles before they can form. It’s also antibacterial, and may play a role in maintaining the flora levels in the gut.

Not everyone enjoys the taste of pickled foods, but there’s no need to stock up on pickles to benefit from this herb. There are teas available, or you can brew your own from the fresh herb. It can also be included in several different dishes, like various soups and things like devilled eggs.

As with all complimentary therapies, it’s wise to discuss any safety concerns with your doctor before starting them. Some medications interact negatively to some surprising triggers. However, when used in levels appropriate for cooking, the majority of herbs and spices are safe to use.


Submit a Comment
  • ESPeck1919 profile imageAUTHOR

    Emilie S Peck 

    7 years ago from Minneapolis, MN

    Thanks, Glimmer Twin! I was surprised when I first heard of cinnamon, too, but I've had good luck with it when I didn't have anything else on hand.

    And no worries - your comment just showed up once. :)

  • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

    Claudia Mitchell 

    7 years ago

    Well my go to is always mint tea when my stomach is upset. Did not know cinnamon would help too. Useful hub. If this comment shows up twice, I'm not sure why. There was a glitch when I tried to post a minute ago.


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