Digestion can be a problem for many people and bowel irregularities can be caused by a number of factors, including poor diet, poor water intake and a lack of daily fibre (which is common with our modern-day diet).

Bitter plants are a great way of "waking up" our digestive system. It is common knowledge that having lemon in warm water is a great way to start the day, as it helps to activate your digestive juices in preparation for the food you are going to ingest. Bitter plants will also do this, and more.

Bitter plants activate your taste buds and that is how they signal to your digestive system that you are getting ready to eat. When you taste something bitter the taste buds start to produce saliva which contain lots of enzymes to help break down the food we are eating. Once the taste buds have been activated, it sends a message to our nervous system that starts a chain reaction signalling to the body to release chemicals needed to break down food and absorb the nutrients.

With constipation, there is a lack of bile being produced by the body to help with digestion. The inclusion of bitter plants will help to increase bile production and alleviate digestive discomfort. Bitter plants can also help with soothing flatulence, bloating and can calm an upset stomach.

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Globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus) is one of plant medicine's most bitter plants and has been shown to stimulate bile flow. It can also help fat digestion and bowel regularity. In a study of 208 IBS sufferers who took Globe Artichoke for 2 months there was a 26.4 per cent reduction in IBS symptoms, with the sufferers advising their bowel motions moved towards normal, giving a 20 per cent increase in their quality of life.

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) root and leaves both contain active components that support the liver and gallbladder function, in particular stimulating bile flow from the liver. This action is essential in helping to alleviate constipation.

To help reduce inflammation (from food intolerances or allergies) try Slippery elm. It relieves the irritation by providing a protective layer to the gut lining. Slippery elm comes from a small tree, and the portion that is used in herbal medicine is the inner bark. The best way to take Slippery elm is mixed into water, juice or yoghurt as it bulks up in liquid.

A New Zealand native alternative is Hoheria, which has also been used as a demulcent. Hoheria is taken as tea or a tincture instead of a powder, and due to the fact it is a fast growing tree it makes it a more sustainable option over slippery elm. Traditionally, Maori used a fresh plant preparation of Hoheria leaves by simply picking leaves from the tree, chewing and swallowing in order to obtain the medicinal properties. Today however, a medical herbalist will be able to make a tincture that will be more convenient to consume.

With both Slippery elm and Hoheria, it is best that they are taken before meals to help with providing a protective layer to the gut lining before food is consumed. This can alleviate irritation and reduce symptoms of unease that food intolerances cause.

If you find your symptoms do not improve or get worse please contact your lead healthcare provider.

REFERENCES:

Abrahamsson, H., Östlund-Lindqvist, A. M., Nilsson, R., Simrén, M., & Gillberg, P. G. (2008). Altered bile acid metabolism in patients with constipation-predominant irritable bowel syndrome and functional constipation. Scandinavian journal of gastroenterology, 43(12), 1483-1488.

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Bertges, L. C., Gonçalves Felga, Â. M., Piccinini Teixeira, J. B., Magalhães Girardin Pimentel, C. F., & Ornella Neves, P. (2006). Effect of Calendula officinalis infusion on indomethacin-induced gastric lesions in Wistar rats. Revista Cubana de Plantas Medicinales, 11(2), 0-0.

Kemper, K. J. (1999). Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis). Longwood Herbal Task Force.

Salem, M. B., Affes, H., Ksouda, K., Dhouibi, R., Sahnoun, Z., Hammami, S., & Zeghal, K. M. (2015). Pharmacological Studies of Artichoke Leaf Extract and Their Health Benefits. Plant Foods for Human Nutrition, 70(4), 441-453.

Demulcent. (n.d.). Retrieved March 07, 2016, from http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=11142