The Triumphant Elder: Indigestion Rx in the Spice Rack!

by Tim Keim, EYT500, Yoga Therapist

Indigestion can come in several forms: gas, bloating, belching, flatulence, hyperacidity, sluggish elimination or constipation. We all experience some of these in our lives and symptoms can increase with age and certain medications.

For thousands of years our ancestors used common culinary spices to achieve what we might now term uncommon relief for the above symptoms. Not only are these herbs strong and effective, they are safe, gentle, nourishing to the effected tissues and a lot less expensive than prescription or over-the-counter meds that can cause serious side effects.

The ancient medical science of Ayurveda is well over 5,000 years old, and is in many ways the mother of modern medical traditions with which it has much in common. Many of today’s medicines are derivatives of their herbal antecedents.

Gastritis (hyperacidity) is often caused by the ingestion of some kind of irritant like aspirin, ibuprofen, alcohol or excessively hot foods. When these irritants combine with stress and the H. pylori bacterium, ulcers can result. Removing the offending irritant is a good start. Common herbs like fennel, cardamom, cumin, licorice and dandelion root can quell hyperacidity. These may be prepared by steeping 1/8-1/4 teaspoon of each of the above herbs in a cup of boiling water for five to ten minutes. Add a wee bit of honey and sip at near body temperature. Herbs can also be mixed into a small portion of food and taken during a meal. Start with a low dose and see how you respond. If the herbs have been in the cupboard for over six months, it’s time for fresh stock.

Flatulence can be caused by eating too much or too fast, improperly combining foods, alcohol or eating while upset. Fruit with other types of food can be a contributor, so it’s best to eat fruit by itself as a snack. The carminative or gas dispelling herbs that are also cooling for the digestive tract include fennel, coriander, peppermint, chamomile and lime. Warmer herbs like basil, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg are equally effective if hyperacidity is not a factor.

Constipation is epidemic in the western world, largely owing to our inadequate fiber intake. Laxative herbs can provide bulk fiber, moisten digestive contents or stimulate peristalsis (muscular contraction of the gut).

Psyllium, without the sugar of drugstore preparations, can be mixed with diluted juice and chased with adequate water. Flaxseeds ground into a meal in the blender can be used the same way or mixed into warm oatmeal, stews or soups. Stewed prunes are also great and a nice sweet treat in your oats for breakfast.

For stubborn constipation, try cascara sagrada or senna, easily obtained at your local natural foods store.

Many serious diseases can be averted by taking care with digestion and daily elimination. Simple guidelines include eating slowly; chewing thoroughly with the mouth closed, eating quietly without the distraction of media, eliminating cold drinks to protect digestive strength and pausing to a state of calm and giving thanks.

Tim Keim is an IAYT certified yoga therapist, and has been teaching yoga for 15 years. Keim can be heard Saturday and Sunday mornings from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. on 91.5-FM, WUNC. He can be reached at