Classes of Herbs Used to Support Digestive Health

By: Amber Klampferer, ND

The digestive system is composed of a number of organs including the mouth, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, small and large intestines, rectum and anus. These organs work together to process and assimilate the food we eat everyday.

There are a variety of different herbs that can be used to support the digestive system. It can be helpful to classify them based on their medicinal action in order to determine which herb(s) could be most supportive for any given digestive issue.


  • Carminatives: help to prevent and/or dispel gas in the digestive system

    • Examples: fennel, chamomile, ginger, peppermint

  • Demulcents: produce a mucilaginous layer that helps soothe irritated mucous membranes

    • Examples: slippery elm, marshmallow, aloe, licorice

  • Bitters: help stimulate and enhance digestion in a variety of ways due to their bitter taste. These herbs increase peristalsis and increase the production of digestive fluids.

    • Examples: gentian, yarrow, wormwood, dandelion, chamomile

  • Antispasmodics: work to ease or prevent spasms. Antispasmodics used for the GI tract are often carminatives as well.

    • Examples: peppermint, chamomile, ginger

  • Cholagogues: increases the flow of bile into the small intestine

    • Examples: gentian, barberry, burdock, aloe, dandelion

  • Laxatives: promotes bowel activity. Can be further broken down based on how much they stimulate bowel activity. For example, aperients are considered gentle laxatives, whereas cathartic and purgative herbs have a strong laxative effect.

    • Example of an aperient: juniper

    • Examples of cathartic/purgative herbs: senna, cascara

  • Stomachics: generally improves gastric activity by tonifying, strengthening, and/or stimulating the stomach

    • Examples: aloe, hops, mint

  • Hepatics: herbs that support the liver in a variety of ways

    • Examples: dandelion, milk thistle, turmeric, artichoke

Working with a Naturopathic doctor can help determine whether you might benefit from any of these herbs. To learn more click the link in our bio to schedule a FREE 15-minute call with one of our experts to discuss your concerns.

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