Top 5 Botanicals for Chronic Heartburn
I want to introduce you to your new besties if you have been dealing with chronic heartburn: Aloe, Marshmallow, Sea Moss, Licorice/DGL and Slippery Elm.
Demulcent is an herbal action that means the botanical has a large amount of mucilage. Mucilage is a gooey constituent made up of polysaccharides, or complex sugars, that soothe and protect inflamed tissue. Demulcent herbs also help to cool hot and irritated tissue and relax constricted/swollen tissue. Think, that lump in your throat sensation.
And I know what you guys are thinking, “I do NOT need more mucus, I have so much already.” I hear you. That is your bodies normal response to damaged and inflamed tissue. It is trying to protect your throat and voice box from acid reflux. The good news is there are many herbal allies that can support your body's natural process without overriding it like medications and procedures do.
I want to share five different plants with you today and one kick ass nutrient, glutamine. Many of which I am sure you have heard about if you have done any of your own research. If not, welcome to the dark side of advocating for yourself. Sucks that we have do that BUT it is how I personally was able to get well and stay well. Knowledge = power.
Aloe, Aloe spp.
Parts Used: Inner Fillet Gel/Juice
My all-time favorite is Aloe or Aloe spp.! If any of you have been following me, you know I LOVE this plant. This plant is what finally tipped my health from crappy to bearable to finally feeling good again. And because of that shift I focused on becoming a naturopathic doctor instead of a medical doctor.
Aloe has two parts to it that are medicinal. For our purposes we are using ONLY the inner fillet gel or juice. What this means is if you have an aloe plant in your house and you cut the leaf off the plant you will see a white goo ooze from the green part of the leaf - this is not what you want. You want the gooey gel that is known as the inner fillet.
I personally use Lakewood Organic Aloe Inner Fillet Juice, not gel and not whole leaf. Studies show that between 2-4 ounces of aloe juice per day are helpful for heartburn.
Marshmallow, Althaea offinalis
Parts used: Leaf and Root
Marshmallow adds a slimy texture to tea that is sort of sweet. If you have ever had a cup of Throat Coat Tea, the slimy part of that tea is due to the marshmallow root. You can also use the leaf of this plant but the leaf does not contain as many polysaccharides (complex sugars) as the root, therefore the root is stronger.
I personally preferred the root powder to make a gruel. A gruel is the root powder mixed with enough water to make it gooey or into applesauce or something similar. I know that name isn’t very appealing but when you feel like crap it is easy to get over that because of how the gruel feels going down. It gently soothes and coats the irritated throat and voice box.
A fun fact about marshmallow is that this gooey medicinal herb was the original white fluffy confectionery marshmallow we know in today. And if you try to make your own original herbal marshmallows I want to hear about your experience! I find that you need WAY more marshmallow powder than any of the recipes I have tried recommened.
1 tablespoon Marshmallow root powder
4 tablespoons filtered water
Pinch of salt
Irish Sea Moss, Chondrus crispus
Parts Used: Dried Thallus
This medicinal comes up a lot for all kinds of medicinal benefits, many I am not discussing today. One benefit is that sea moss is an excellent demulcent and thus helps to soothe inflamed tissues of the throat and stomach. Much like the other demulcents we have been introduced to today, there isn’t much of a taste associated. Just gooey and slightly sweet.
Historically sea moss has been used as an additive to food items and goes by the name carrageenan. Carrageenan is used to thicken and emulsify food products.
There are lots of recipes online to help you soak and blend this sea moss into a gel that may soothe the burn.
Licorice or DGL, Glycyrrhiza glabra
Parts Used: Root
I love licorice, in proper dosing, because it is very sweet tasting! Unlike the other medicinals we have discussed to this point this actually has a flavor. Some people hate it while others love it. And not to be confused with artificially flavored candy that has NO medicinal benefits at all.
Again as demulcent it helps to soothe and support your gut and stop the burning sensation. So what’s the deal with DGL? DGL stands for deglycyrrhized licorice. It is missing a specific constituent. Research shows that DGL does not impact blood pressure the same way whole licorice may. Often you will see DGL chewables used instead of Tums or Maalox for heartburn.
Slippery Elm, Ulmus rubra
Parts used: Bark of Young Branch
This is an excellent demulcent; however, it is an endangered plant because of a fungus that is causing Dutch Elm Disease. The fungus is killing this North American native species. Although difficult to avoid in some products, I like to encourage people to find botanicals that are sustainable and the other four plants I mentioned are far less threatened than slippery elm. In addition to huge die off from Dutch Elm Disease this tree is being heavily over-harvested because of its health benefits. Again to mention Throat Coat tea, the original formula contained Slippery Elm, which you guessed it has a slippery texture. A bit sweeter tasting than marshmallow, but just barely and not anything like licorice root/DGL.
The four other demulcent herbs are better choices than Slippery Elm.
You may also consider another elm tree that is considered invasive, Ulmus pumila or Siberian Elm. A cool thing about the Siberian Elm is that is it completely resistant to Dutch Elm Disease. The same part of the tree is used and since it literally is indestructible it is an alternative to using our dearly beloved Ulmus rubra.
Glutamine is an amino acid that helps to restore the lining of the gut by providing energy to the cells, which if you ask me is pretty dope. When we have chronic heartburn the cells that line our stomach and throat get damaged. Many of you may have a diagnosed inflammatory condition ending in -itiis and research shows that glutamine may help to reduce inflammation and soothe irritated tissues. Glutamine helps to restore the lining of the gut by providing energy to the cells, which if you ask me is pretty dope.
To review we discussed five botanicals and one awesome amino acid that support the gastrointestinal system pertaining to chronic heartburn. Please consider another choice instead of slippery elm.
Share in the comments if you have used any of these plant allies before and what your experience has been!
This blog is for educational purposes only. Please consult your licensed healthcare professional before trying any botanical medicine to ensure you are impacting your current medications or worsening any health conditions.
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Tilgner, S. (2009). Herbal Medicine: From the Heart of the Earth (2nd ed., pp. 23, 42, 111-114, 120, 153). Pleasant Hill: Wise Acres.