With Thanksgiving just around the corner, it is the perfect time to think about digestion…you know how heavy a Thanksgiving meal can feel especially after just “one more slice” of pie! But did you know some herbal teas can actually help your digestion, and serve as a calming end to a feast?
Today I am going to delve into the science of digestion, and the best brews to help the process! Learn:
- How does digestion work? A quick overview
- Why is digestion poor after a big meal? (+ how alcohol affects digestion)
- The 6 best herbal teas and tisanes for indigestion and digestion
How Does Digestion Work?
Food provides nutrients and energy, these can be broken down into macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are fats, protein, and carbohydrates, with fiber being a non-caloric subset of carbohydrates (BI1). Micronutrients on the other hand are vitamins and minerals.
Food moves through the digestive tract passing through the mouth, esophagus, stomach, and intestinal tract (CI1), where the bulk of digestion starts. Mechanical and chemical digestion (OP1) take place via mixing, churning, and secreting digestive juices.
The liver, gallbladder, and pancreas all contribute by producing chemicals that make the process of digestion possible (NI1). These chemicals or juices include saliva in your mouth, or pepsin and renin from your stomach (SO1).
Like me you’ve probably wondered what the heck does the pancreas do? Well now you will know that it regulates blood sugar and provides enzymes to the intestinal tract to break foods down into those macros I mentioned above. The liver produces bile needed to digest food and is stored in the gallbladder. This bile is then released into the small intestine to help break down fats. (Cue “Ooooh THAT’s what bile does!”)
Pretty neat! Time for a slice of pie...
Why is digestion poor after a big meal, like Thanksgiving?
It is no surprise that poor digestion arises around Thanksgiving. All those yummy and rich dishes really add up! One news source reported that 4,500 calories will be consumed throughout Thanksgiving dinner and a dessert…or three (MO1). This sum is in comparison to the recommended daily average of 1,600 to 2,400 for women and 2,000 to 3,000 calories for men (HE1)!
It is definitely not fun to end a celebration feeling so bloated…or experiencing cramping, gas, heartburn, and pain, all symptoms of temporary poor digestion (NH1). Other signs include stomach ache and changes in bowel habits (NH2).
The issue is the complex combination of so many things: proteins, dairy (lactose), fibers, simple carbs, veggies and sugar (not to mention alcohol), which all introduce a range of struggles for our body (SC1). Overeating and alcohol consumption in particular add to the strain. With 7 calories per gram, alcohol is right behind pure fat’s 9 calories per gram (HS1). Food for thought!
About Adult Beverages…
Replacing your alcohol consumption (okay, well most of it) with teas and tisanes decreases calorie load, but also does you one better: alcohol in large amounts without enough food speeds up the contractions of the colon and doesn’t let it absorb water, which can lead to…unpleasant…bathroom experiences (HL1, FE1).
Preceding the meal with a lot of alcohol isn’t a great idea either. Drinking it with or after consuming excessive amounts of food can lead to cramping, killing off helpful gut bacteria, delaying digestion, and irritating your stomach.
So, the solution? These herbal teas and spices!
What are the Best Spices & Herbal Teas for Digestion and Bloating?
When it comes to your evening tea, you can satisfy your taste buds while helping your digestion with these 6 brews:
How do these herbal teas help digestion? They...
- Provide adequate hydration (important for our intestines)
- Replace calorie-heavy alcohol or carbonation-laden soda
- Have actions specific to the digestive processes, which I will investigate below!
Now that I have discussed the basics of digestion and alcohol and answered some of those niggling questions you’ve always had, let’s examine the best spices for digestion. These spices are often used in cooking, but are also great for after a large meal. However, since it is unlikely you will consume plain spices after a big meal (ack!), the best way is to enjoy their benefits in an herbal tea. Simply brew a lovely cup of the below tea and chai blends, and enjoy!
So, let’s check them out starting with...
Modern uses of cardamom (KO1) include aiding digestion, stimulating gastric secretions and liver bile, (PL1) and relieving abdominal pain from gas in the stomach and intestines. Generally Cardamom is combined with other herbs for digestive help.
Try: Add our Classic Cardamom Ginger Chai Blend to any tea for a warming drink, and enjoy its wondrous effects.
Ginger’s reputation as a digestive aid has been affirmed throughout many a scientific study (AN1). Known for its ability to soothe nausea, it has also been proposed for use in gastric dysfunction. Ginger tea helps digestion through gastric ‘emptying’ (you know what I mean!). It also aids abdominal discomfort, specifically increased stomach activity (tachygastric) caused by the feeling of rotation in the stomach when there is none.
Fun fact: Carbonated beverages add gas to the digestive tract which make you feel fuller and more bloated. Remember mom’s folk remedy of ginger ale for an upset stomach (NC2)? That soda was once made with real ginger! It’s not the bubbles!
Try: Happy Tummy Ginger Rooibos for a strong and spicy drink that will calm your tummy down after a big meal.
This spice has a long reputation of use as a digestive aid. The British Herbal Pharmacopoeia references (RJ1) its use as an appetite stimulant, an aid for stomach upset with gas, and an antidiarrheal.
Other uses of cinnamon include helping with bloating and nausea (CM1). Research shows that it helps gastric acid secretion and mucosal blood flow, aiding digestion in the stomach. A cornucopia of digesti-goodness (Pl2)!
Try: Another of our chai blends which you can add to any and all teas, this Sweetly Cinnamon Apple Chai Blend is a great sweet and calorie free treat, that is good for you!
4. Black Pepper
A warming spice, this herb increases gastric acid production and mucosal blood flow. The latter, which doesn’t sound too pleasant, but is actually a good thing! Mucosal blood flow shortens the transit time of food through the digestive tract by stimulating production of pancreatic enzymes and liver bile (PL3).
Try: Add a spoon or two of our Pinch of Pink Pepper Aniseed Chai Blend to your favorite tea to get a warm and spicy chai plus the benefits of pepper.
5. Lemon Verbena
Traditional practitioners value this herb for its amazing digestive properties! Considered a digestive tonic, it acts on the Mechanical and Chemical (SA1) aspects of digestion. It increases the movement and motility of the intestines and contractions of the gallbladder (NI1).
When the gallbladder contracts, stored bile is discharged into the intestine to help with food digestion, especially fats (ME1). This chemical action increases secretions necessary to breaking down foods: saliva, hydrochloric acid, bile, and pancreatic enzymes. In addition, an animal study found that it prevented diarrhea due to its ability to stop intestinal spasms (NI1).
Try: Pure Organic Lemon Verbena for a soothing and oh-so-fragrant tea that will aid your sleep, perfect for after a big day. It also works as a mixer with all sorts of drinks.
Can peppermint help digestion? Well while it is famous for its cool and relaxing properties, peppermint does provide digestive relief (MC1) from bloating, gas, stomach pain (AN1) and intestinal spasms. While Peppermint oil is largely responsible for these effects, for eons, herbalists have been using the tea for these reasons too as a vector to get it in the body (KH1).
Try: Peppermint Stick Chamomile for a minty fresh and floral tea with anti inflammatory properties and a wonderful stomach comfort! The naturally caffeine-free chamomile makes for a great smooth floral flavor as a to add depth.
A Note From the Herbalist
Delicious food is hard to turn down! So why don’t you seek out some of our Blend@Home range, Chais or tea blends - all perfect for the season as well as for helping digestion pre-, post- or throughout big meals. These digestion-stimulating spices and herbs can help counter or prevent nausea and upset tummies, so enjoy a delicious cup with your pumpkin pie. :-)
Tea and tisane blends with fruity and floral flavors like the ones presented above not only include the relevant spices, but are a great alcohol replacement. It is important to remember that we’re all still human, and so it’s not so easy to just “drink water instead”.
As an alcohol replacement, tea is perfect for actually scratching the itch that water may not do especially well - in seeking something tasty and sweet before or after a meal.
So in trying our delicious teas you give yourself the best chance of a positive switch actually lasting! If you need inspiration, check out our tea mocktail recipes here.
As a quick note of safety, I want to point out that while health benefits are often attributed to the oils in these plants, use that information with caution. Do not ingest essential oils. Many cannot be processed by the kidneys and can have dangerous side effects if ingested. Essential oils are potent concentrates extracted from the plants and are great for aromatherapy but not for eating!
Do you have a favorite after dinner tea? That helps settle your tummy? Let me know in the comments below!
Here are my favorites:
Pinch of Pink Pepper Aniseed Chai Blend
Help your stomach after a big meal with this beautifully balanced ginger. It is strong and spicy without being overwhelming.
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All of the information regarding the herbs, botanicals, minerals, vitamins, etc., is information drawn from traditional use data or academic research and should be regarded as such. If you, the reader, has a health or medical concern, please consult your healthcare professional. The information found here is not meant to diagnose, treat, prescribe or cure and has not been evaluated by the FDA. This information is for educational purposes only.
Teas and Digestion References & Further Reading
(PL1, PL2, PL3) https://www.researchgate.net/publication 8489294_Digestive_stimulant_action_of_spices_A_myth_or_reality
(AN1) Anh, N. H., Kim, S. J., Long, N. P., Min, J. E., Yoon, Y. C., Lee, E. G., Kim, M., Kim, T. J., Yang, Y. Y., Son, E. Y., Yoon, S. J., Diem, N. C., Kim, H. M., & Kwon, S. W. (2020). Ginger on Human Health: A Comprehensive Systematic Review of 109 Randomized Controlled Trials. Nutrients, 12(1), 157. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12010157 Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7019938/
(SI1) Sisay, M., Bussa, N., & Gashaw, T. (2019). Evaluation of the Antispasmodic and Antisecretory Activities of the 80% Methanol Extracts of Verbena officinalis L: Evidence From In Vivo Antidiarrheal Study. Journal of evidence-based integrative medicine, 24, 2515690X19853264. https://doi.org/10.1177/2515690X19853264 Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6580719/
(MC1) McKay, D. L., & Blumberg, J. B. (2006). A review of the bioactivity and potential health benefits of peppermint tea (Mentha piperita L.). Phytotherapy research : PTR, 20(8), 619–633. https://doi.org/10.1002/ptr.1936 Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16767798/
(AN1) Anheyer, D., Frawley, J., Koch, A. K., Lauche, R., Langhorst, J., Dobos, G., & Cramer, H. (2017). Herbal Medicines for Gastrointestinal Disorders in Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review. Pediatrics, 139(6), e20170062. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2017-0062 Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28562281/
(KH1) Khanna, R., MacDonald, J. K., & Levesque, B. G. (2014). Peppermint oil for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of clinical gastroenterology, 48(6), 505–512. https://doi.org/10.1097/MCG.0b013e3182a88357 Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24100754/