Our health and vitality depend largely on how effectively we process and assimilate nutrients, as well as on how thoroughly we eliminate waste. What we eat is important, but so are how and when we eat. Creating a peaceful environment, eating fresh whole foods and proper elimination constitute a good start toward digestive harmony.
Aromas signal the brain that food is on the way, so simply sniffing a pleasant food aroma, such as pasta sauce or baking bread, begins a chain reaction that sets the stomach grumbling in anticipation. The response is almost immediate, as digestive fluids are released in the mouth, stomach and small intestine.
The essential oils found in common culinary herbs such as rosemary, basil, cumin, anise, coriander, ginger and cinnamon not only make food tasty, but help digestion. In addition, some spices have special applications: cumin relieves indigestion-promoted headaches, rosemary improves poor food absorption, and basil helps overcome nausea even from chemotherapy or radiation treatments, even when conventional anti-nausea drugs have had little effect. Lemongrass is used in Southeast Asia to relieve indigestion. To decrease appetite, try dill and fennel.
If you are plagued by ulcers or stomach acidity, try chamomile and sandalwood. Fennel seed and melissa relax the stomach muscles while soothing irritation and inflammation. Try a small amount of honey flavored with one of these oils in a cup of herb tea. (See the "Essential Oils in the Kitchen" chapter for instructions on how to make this honey.)
Poor digestion can also result from too little hydrochloric acid, which is needed to break down protein. Improperly digested protein is thought to be a cause of certain food allergies. Black pepper and juniper berry both increase stomach acid. Use these essential oils in a massage blend over the stomach, add fresh-ground pepper to your meal, or chew a couple of juniper berries before eating.
Ginger is one of the best remedies for nausea- especially motion and morning sickness-with peppermint running a close second. The British medical journal Lancet reported ginger more effective than the popular antihistamine drug Dramamine for preventing motion sickness, and unlike the drug ginger doesn't leave you feeling sluggish. These essential oils can be used in a 2-percent massage blend, although herb teas are both effective and tasty. Even eating ginger cookies, a piece of crystallized ginger (sold in Chinese food stores) or peppermint candy works.
Tummy Soother Massage Oil
5 drops chamomile
3 drops dill
2 drops ginger
2 drops peppermint
1 ounce carrier oil
Combine oils and gently massage the abdomen. For kids, use half the number of drops in the recipe.
Digestive Tonic Tea
1 teaspoon gingerroot
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon bark
1 teaspoon peppermint
1/2 teaspoon anise
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
3 cups water, boiling
Mix herbs together, pour water over them. Drink a cup 30 minutes after your meal. The hot water extracts the essential oils from the herbs.
Natural Ginger Ale
3 cups digestive tea (recipe above)
1/4 cup honey
1 cup carbonated water
1 lemon slice
Stir honey into warm tea. Add carbonated water and lemon just before serving.