Irritable Bowel Syndrome

QUESTION: I was recently diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome. The doctors are busy writing me prescriptions that I don’t want to take, however I do wish to care for my health. I am a novice at herbal remedies and need your advice. What can I take for irritation & spasm of the bowel? I would like to be able to take the herb in a “tea” if possible. I hope to lower my stress level & will watch what I put in my stomach, but I don’t want to take those doctor’s pills!!

ANSWER: Thank goodness there are herbal soothers for this condition. Because I sell herbs I really cannot say that an herb will cure anything but I can say what is reported by various authorities, what other people have used and what I would do if it were me.

Slippery Elm comes to mind first because I know of the success others have had using this herb for this condition. It’s usually used in the powder form. The capsules are quite popular but for this purpose it is better to ingest much larger quantities. It is the inner bark of this tree that is considered medicinal. Native people used to consider it a food item. It was considered a perfect food for the young and weak. Slippery Elm is famous for it mucilaginous quality and is soothing & strengthening to all mucous membranes. Your entire digestive tract from beginning to end is all mucous membrane. Besides this soothing quality,Slippery Elm is full of vitamins, minerals and even protein making it quite a healing food. It was often used during convalescence because it was so gentle and easily assimilated. Many herbs are balancing and this one is helpful in soothing diarrhea as well as being a highly regarded, gentle laxative. Balancing herbs like this tend to give you what you need at the moment. It is interesting to note that the FDA has declared it to be a safe and effective demulcent.

I know people who have eaten Slippery Elm everyday and it has dramatically reversed their condition. If it were me, I would definitely have daily intake of this herb. You can eat it like cereal or pudding. It tastes pretty good and can be sweetened and seasoned with cinnamon, cloves, etc. Some people eat it like a hot cereal with milk and I’ve read of it being mixed with hot milk and taken that way. Books will recommend mixing it with a little water but I find it is almost always lumpy. You can mix it in a blender to make a smooth consistency or we have found mixing it with rice or soy milk eliminates the lump problem and is more simple than using a blender. Maybe it is the natural thickeners in rice and soy milk that encourage a smooth texture out of this herb powder. Try using a tablespoon or two of the powder and add just a little liquid a bit at a time until you have a gruel or pudding consistency. If it were me, I would eat that much once or twice a day. You can also add the powder to regular hot cereal like oatmeal or I have even added it to cooked brown rice. It tastes great in these dishes. Capsules are convenient but you would have to take quite a few to equal eating it like has been suggested above. When I need the convenience during travel or extra busy times, I have taken generous amounts of the capsules. I’ve been grateful at times that the capsules exist! I have also seen many authors recommend mixing a teaspoon of the powder in a glass of water or juice. It’s probably going to be a pretty wild and lumpy liquid to get down but that would work too. One thing I must mention is that althoughSlippery Elm tastes good, its texture is slippery and slimy, hence the name!

Unfortunately, as you know, there are several different symptoms that can be experienced with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Therefore, there are several categories of herb actions that are commonly used. Marshmallow as well asSlippery Elm are considered demulcents. Herbal astringents like Agrimony, Bilberry, Raspberry Leaf and White Oak Bark have historically been used for diarrhea. Depending on the specific condition, immune supporters and antimicrobials like Echinacea and Lapacho can be helpful. Sometimes relaxing intestinal spasms and just relaxing from stress and anxiety is needed and herbs like Chamomile, Valerian, Peppermint and Melissa (Lemon Balm) have been used just for these purposes. All these herbs for spasms and relaxing could be taken in the liquid extract form and except for the Valerian (for some people), all make rather delicious teas. All the other herbs mentioned above could be taken as liquid extracts or tea. Ginger is quite remarkable for digestive problems being anti-inflammatory and helping with all kinds of discomforts.

Essential oils are generally used externally in this country but there are a few exceptions. Studies have shown internal use of Peppermint Essential Oil to be of great benefit in Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Dosages recommended by the German Commission E Monographs are approximately 5 drops at a time. This is pretty high according to the usual recommendations found in aromatherapy books. I know a lady, suffering from this condition, who took 2 drops 3 times a day and had wonderful results.

Aromatherapy involves the use of essential oils for health and well-being. Application to the skin is one of the most common uses of essential oils. The oils thought to be valuable in digestive complaints, especially for spasms and pain according to respected aromatherapy authorities, include Peppermint, Black Pepper, Fennel, Chamomile (Roman) and Marjoram. These oils can be diluted into a carrier and applied to the abdomen. In France they are more bold in their method of aromatherapy and essential oils for this purpose are applied to abdomen undiluted. Relaxing essential oils such as Neroli andLavender are great to use as well. For relaxing, these wonderful smelling oils could be added to the bath water, applied to the body in a lotion or carrier oil or diffused in a room to be inhaled.

We have a product called Digestive Blend of essential oils diluted into a carrier and we also have a wonderful mixture of essential oils called DIG Friction from the French line of aromatherapy products by Nelly Grosjean. Nelly is an internationally famous naturopathic doctor and aromatherapist. This little friction, as she calls it, is really excellent.

If it were me, I would regularly and generously use these herbs and essential oils, be careful of what I ate and try to eliminate as much stress and tension from my life as possible. I’m sure you are aware already of how important diet is in the recovery from this condition. Sometimes this is the time when an allergy to certain foods such as dairy products is discovered. Michael Murray and Joseph Pizzorno, authors of Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine feel that Candida can help favor the possibility of food allergies and may further complicate Irritable Bowel Syndrome. According to many authorities and from my own experience, Lapacho is an anti-fungal herb that helps quite a lot with candida. Lapacho is also a powerful immune stimulant and has been shown to help with a huge variety of conditions including all kinds of digestive problems. In my opinion, boosting the immune system helps your body deal with whatever specific condition that is unique to you. I would definitely give this herb a try for awhile and see if you notice a difference.




Agrimony Herb Agrimonia eupatoria

Safe to consume when used appropriately.


Bilberry Berry Vaccinium myrtillus

Safe to consume when used appropriately.


Echinacea Root Echinacea angustifolia & E. purpurea

No warnings although some authorities feel it should not be used in autoimmune diseases.


Lapacho Bark (Pau D’Arco) Tabebuia avelleneda

Safe to consume when used appropriately.


Chamomile Flower (German) Matricaria recutita (M. chamomilla)

Safe to consume when used appropriately.


Ginger Root Zingiber officinale

Safe to consume when used appropriately.


Marshmallow Root Althaea officinalis L

Safe to consume when used appropriately but absorption of other drugs taken simultaneously may be delayed.


Melissa Herb (Lemon Balm) Melissa officinalis

Safe to consume when used appropriately.


Peppermint Leaf Mentha x piperita

Safe to consume when used appropriately.


Raspberry Leaf Rubus idaeus

Safe to consume when used appropriately.


Slippery Elm Bark (Inner) Ulmus fulva

Safe to consume when used appropriately.


Valerian Root Valariana officinalis

Safe to consume when used appropriately.


White Oak Bark Quercus alba

Avoid external use with extensive skin surface damage. Full baths with a significant amount of the tea are contraindicated in the following conditions: weeping eczema and skin damage over a large area; febrile and infectious disorders; cardiac insufficiency stages III and IV; hypertonia stage IV.





Black Pepper Piper nigrum

Tested non-toxic at low levels. Possible skin irritant. Large levels may damage kidneys.


Chamomile (Roman) Anthemis noblis L.

Tested non-toxic at low levels. Avoid in early pregnancy.


Fennel (Sweet) Feoniculum vulgare

Tested non-toxic at low levels. Avoid in pregnancy, epilepsy. Potentially sensitizing.


Lavender Lavandula angustifolia

Tested non-toxic at low levels.


Marjoram Origanum marjorana, sweet

Tested non-toxic at low levels. Avoid when pregnant, with asthma, low blood pressure, depression. Sedative.


Neroli Citrus aurantium

Tested non-toxic at low levels.


Peppermint Mentha x piperita

Tested non-toxic at low levels. Avoid when pregnant, lactating. Skin irritant. Keep away from infants.




Battaglia, Salvatore. The Complete Guide to Aromatherapy. Virginia, Queensland: The Perfect Potion. 1995.

Blumenthal, Mark., et al Ed. The Complete German Commission E Monographs. Austin: American Botanical Council. 1998.

Duke, James A. The Green Pharmacy. New York: St. Martin’s Paperbacks. 1998.

Hoffmann, David. The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal. Shaftsbury, Dorsett: Element Books. 1996.

McGuffin, Michael, et al Ed. American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton: CRC Press. 1997.

Murray, Michael T. and Pizzorno, Joseph. Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine.Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing. 1991.

Thomas, Lalitha. Ten Essential Herbs. Prescott, AZ: Hohm Press. 1992.

Tyler, Varro E. Herbs of Choice. New York: Pharmaceutical Products Press. 1994.

Shook, Edward E. Advanced Treatise in Herbology. Beaumont, CA: Trinity Center Press. 1978.

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