There are many herbs that can help ease some of the pain and discomfort of Celiac disease (CD) and gluten sensitivity—these are not “cures” but they can certainly help you help yourself heal!
All of the herbs listed here are safe to use, but I strongly recommend you talk to a knowledgeable health care professional—preferably a naturopath or an herbalist—to find out which ones might be best for you.
Also, always tell your physician what herbs or supplements you are taking—there are sometimes interactions, and it is always important that the people involved in your health care are fully informed.
I’ll emphasize teas here—mainly because they are often easiest to find. The other reason is that I’m not excited about anyone with GI difficulties taking a lot of capsules or gelcap’s—if they don’t dissolve completely, it can be a problem. Also, teas can be very relaxing!
The alternatives are herbs that help re-balance and get your GI system on the path to normalcy. Digestive alternatives include:
• Allium sativum (garlic),
• Arctium lappa (greater burdock),
• Hydrastis Canadensis (Goldenseal),
• Inula helenium (elecampane),
• Galium aparine (Cleavers),
• Rumex crispus (curly dock),
• Smilax spp.(Sarsaparilla—yes, the sarsaparilla in those old westerns, except they used to call it sasparilla!) and
• Urtica dioica (Stinging nettle or common nettle).
Most herbal stores will carry many of these alternatives, but if you don’t have an herbal shop near you, the simplest approach is to use lots of garlic in cooking and drink goldenseal tea. Goldenseal tea is carried by a number of larger grocery stores.
CD and gluten sensitivities are immune responses. Part of any immune response is inflammation—and, when it is controlled, inflammation is a good thing! It helps clear out cell debris and toxins and aids in the healing process.
But…. and this is a big BUT…. when inflammation goes out of control, as it does in CD and gluten sensitivity, reducing the inflammation is a way to start recovering and healing.
Some digestive anti-inflammatories are Calendula officinalis (English marigold), Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice), Hydrastis Canadensis (Goldenseal…again!), Matricaria recutita (Chamomile) and Mentha X piperita (peppermint).
Again, the simplest approach is to drink chamomile, goldenseal or peppermint teas (or a mixture!), maybe flavored with some licorice! Now—before I became a naturopath, I thought licorice came in twisted strands or long strings and turned your tongue black! That is NOT the licorice I am talking about…maybe the candy started out with real licorice, but I doubt it has much anymore! Again, talk to a local herbalist—many will combine these herbs in teas according to your taste!
Digestive bitters are just that—bitter! They stimulate secretion of all the gastric fluids that we need for proper digestion. They also stimulate the liver to remove toxins, stabilize blood sugars and some can moderate immune responses.
The strong bitters include:
• Achillea millefolium (yarrow),
• Artemesia absinthum (Sweet Annie),
• Harpagophytum procumbens (Devil’s Claw),
• Sylibum marianum (Milk Thistle),
• Matricaria recutitia (Chamomile),
• Taraxacum officinalis (Dandelion).
More moderate bitters include:
• Berberis spp (Oregon grape),
• Gentiana lutea (Great Yellow Gentian),
• Hydrastis Canadensis (Goldenseal…yet again),
• Melissa officinalis (Lemon balm—don’t use this if you have thyroid problems),
• Mentha X piperita (peppermint),
• Rosemarinus officinalis (yep…rosemary) and
• Usnea barbata (Old Man’s Beard).
For the bitters, I’d recommend you look at some of the commercial tinctures—these are the herbs dissolved in alcohol. If alcohol is a problem for you, there are bitters made in glycerin. Try the more traditional companies like HerbPharm, Gaia Herbs, Oregons Wild Harvest, Wise Woman Herbals or Swedish Bitters. (Full disclosure—they did NOT pay me to say that!)
Demulcents form a soothing film over irritated gut tissue and can reduce a lot of discomfort.
• Althea officinalis (marshmallow—again, not the kind you roast over a campfire!),
• Arctium lappa (Greater burdock),
• Commiphora myrrha (Common myrrh),
• Glycerrhiza glabra (licorice),
• Linum usitatissimum (Flaxseed oil),
• Olea europa (olive oil),
• Plantago (common plantain),
• Symphytum officinale (Comfrey),
• Thymus vulgaris (Thyme—yes, like the one already in your kitchen cabinet!),
• Ulmus fulva (Slippery elm),
• Verbascum Thapsus (Common Mullein).
I have to admit I have my favorites here—they are slippery elm, marshmallow, thyme, licorice, flaxseed oil and olive oil!
One more thing…You probably noticed that some herbs got repeated over and over again. So, in my view, why have a shelf-full of herbs when there are powerful ones that do more than one thing! The herbs that are overall good for the digestive system and you can use in teas include goldenseal, licorice, peppermint, chamomile, licorice and dandelion. The ones you can use in your cooking include thyme, garlic, olive and flaxseed oil and rosemary.
The demulcents—well, again, it is probably best to get to an herbal store and see what they have. Wise Woman Herbals has a bittersweet elixir (in alcohol) that contains some wonderful GI herbs like the ones mentioned here.
Also, there is DeGlycyrrhizinated Licorice (DGL) which comes in chewables. This one has worked wonders for me! Now—different companies have products with different tastes…and they are not always the greatest… so you may have to try a few to find one you like!
Good luck and good digestion!