I’m so excited to be starting this part of my healing journey. I know it seems like herbs would be the logical place for a herbalist to start, but I think I needed to find my way back there. To be honest I feel a little rusty in this department. I haven’t been on a chronic herbal formulation since my pregnancy and I haven’t made a formula for anyone since then as well. I know the knowledge is still in there, but a little practice never hurt anyone!
I’ve decided the best way to practice is to do exactly what I was taught. At first I was going to create a formulation consisting of anti-depressants and nervines. In the end I felt it was best to follow the treatment protocol I learned in school at Living Earth School of Herbalism.
Chronic formulations are for chronic conditions. These can range from eczema and acne to heart disease or asthma. In my case a mild case of depression and some mild eczema.
Acute formulations are for acute, short-lived conditions. Most of us are familiar with illnesses such as colds, the flu and other shorter living viruses.
Regardless of the chronic condition, each person when undertaking a chronic herbal treatment should start at the beginning. For the human body the beginning is the digestive system. The purpose of our digestive system is to absorb the nutrients we ingest through our food, drink and nutritional supplements (vitamins, minerals etc.). Our circulatory system then delivers those nutrients to the cells in our body. Our entire body is made up of cells (from bone cells to nerve cells) and like us, these cells need energy to survive. If your digestive system is compromised in anyway, which is the case for most of us, it won’t matter how healthy you eat or how many herbs or supplements you take. If the body cannot absorb the nutrients then they also cannot deliver them to your cells. It is for this reason that it’s imperative to spend at least a little time healing your digestive system.
For more information on herbs and the digestive system check out an old post of mine here.
Link Between Digestion and Mental Health
I promise you this post will help you on your journey to Beat the Winter Blues! Herbs are far more complex and unique than many people give them credit for. If you’ve only used them in the kitchen you might not truly realise the healing potential these plants have. So follow me as I explain how healing your digestive system can still help provide you relief from stress, anxiety, depression and SAD.
There are an overwhelming amount of modern day scientific studies showing a direct link between digestive/GI health and mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. Some of these studies talk about inflammation in the body (including inflammation in the digestive system) being linked to depression and other mental health concerns. In my own clinical practice, admittedly limited, I have yet to meet someone suffering from depression, stress, or anxiety that doesn’t have some digestive woes. Scientists and physicians have long documented the gut-brain connection and while from an academic point of view it may not make sense to some, we have all experienced it. Here are some examples:
Have you ever been in a high stress situation? Of course, we all have. Weddings, job changes, deadlines, illness in the family, financial stressors; life is not without bumps in the road. And I’m willing to bet that during times of high stress your appetite was affected. For some, they can’t eat at all. The idea of food makes them feel nauseous (and for serious cases people will vomit if they force themselves to eat). For others, like me, eating becomes a coping mechanism (emotional eating).
Have you ever been nervous? A presentation at work or school perhaps, or waiting to hear back about a test result. If I ask you if you’ve ever experienced the feeling of “butterflies” in your stomach, I bet almost all of you have! So how can an emotion like nervousness (which is most definitely processed in our brain) make us feel something in our stomach? It’s that gut-brain connection I was talking about!
If you are interested in reading more about the gut-brain connection and specifically how it’s connected with mental health conditions check out some of the links below. This is just a few articles and studies on the subject. There are lots more out there!
Please note, healing the digestive system may work for some as a treatment for depression. Most likely this is not the case for everyone. However it is a logical and healthy place to start. Even if you don’t experience any relief from your symptoms, your digestive system will be able to absorb the chemical constituents of your nervine and anti-depressant herbs much more efficiently.
Digestive Herbs and Mental Health
I truly believe that Nature knew of the gut-brain connection long before our scientists discovered it. As I flipped through my clinical binder a memory of a lecture came rushing back. I remember my teaching talking about how many digestive herbs were also nervines (because of the intricate connection between our brain and our digestive system). I quickly realised that by focusing on digestion for my first formula, I would be in no way ignoring my mental health. Glorious news!
Digestive Herbal Formulations: The Basics
A good herbal digestive formulation must cover a few categories. While a nice cup of chamomile tea is lovely, we really want to focus on healing our gut and to do this we need the benefits of carminatives, bitters and circulatory stimulants all working together in harmony.
- Carminative: These herbs help to stimulate the secretions of the mouth, stomach and small intestines. They also reduce gas, bloating and spasms in the digestive tract. Carminatives are further divided into tranquilizing (non-warming) and warming. As the name suggests, the difference is the heat the individual herb has.
- Bitters: Digestive herbs that help to stimulate the secretions of the entire digestive tract. This is a reflex action that is stimulated as a result of tasting bitter herbs. They also help to improve general digestion and appetite.
- Circulatory Stimulants: Herbs that improve general circulation throughout the body. These herbs help get the healing properties of the herbs to all parts of your body. Circulatory stimulants are a necessary part of all herbal formulations.
Making a Digestive Herbal Formulation: Formulation Structure
This is a template for a general digestive tonic. Remember you will want to choose herbs for your specific situation. No two people are alike. However this template will be an excellent guide when you are ready to pick your herbs. I will be discussing digestive herbs (that are also nervines) in Part 2. While I was taught that tinctures are by far the best medium, this template will also work for teas if you don’t have access to tinctures. In general, I try to use about 5 herbs in each formulation I make (depending on the herbs and situation of course).
Tranquilizing (non-warming) carminatives – 2-3 herbs (about 50-65% of your formulation)
Bitters – 1-2 herbs (10-30% of your formulation)
- Start low for bitters as many North Americans have a low tolerance for bitters foods and herbs. You can gradually increase the bitterness level with each subsequent formulation
Warming carminiatives – 1-2 herbs (15-20% of your formulation)
Circulatory stimulants – 1 herbs (1-20% of your formulation)
- Heat is also something that should gradually build over time. Start slightly warming and as the tolerance increase you can add more in subsequant formulations. Remember, too much heat can aggravate some digestive conditions (like heartburn for example).
Digestive Herbal Formulations: The Herbs
I will chat about specific digestive herbs that are also excellent for our mental well-being, in part 2 of this blog! Until then I encourage you to learn more about your digestive health and browse your herbal books for herb ideas.