Herbs for Those with Stomach Aches, Ulcers, and Heartburn

Reproduced with permission, c. 2002, Susun S Weed

1. What is the biggest mistake people make about stomach ache?

Calling it stomach ache. The stomach (fortunately) does not ache. Usually when people say their stomach aches, they mean they have a gas pain. Gas pain can be severe pain. My friends who work in emergency rooms say you wouldn’t believe how many people come in for what turns out to be gas pain.

2. What herbal allies would you recommend for those dealing with:

2a. heartburn?

Herbalists, myself included, see heartburn as a lack of HCL (hydrochloric acid) in the stomach, instead of the prevalent opinion, that it is caused by too much acid. So instead of trying to turn off production of HCL (as drugs attempt to do), herbalists seek herbs that increase HCL, such as dandelion ( Taraxacum officinale). In my book Healing Wise I devote an entire chapter to dandelion, with lots of recipes and ideas on how to use it.

You can use any part of dandelion: the flowers make dandelion wine, you can cook the greens, or eat them in salad, you can even cook the root, or make a vinegar with it (my favorite), or tincture it. Some people make a coffee substitute from roasted dandelion root. Any way you take it seems to work. (A standard dose would be 10-20 drops of the root tincture taken at the beginning of the meal.) Dandelion, and its friendchicory (Cichorium intybus), which is a fine substitute should you have access to one and not the other, are true tonics. That is, the more you take them, the less you need them. You don’t have to keep taking this remedy forever. After 3-6 weeks you’ll find you need it less and less.

In Europe it is customary to take bitters before a big meal. Most mild bitters, such as yellow dock (Rumex crispus), cronewort/mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), gentian (Gentiana lutea), barberry (Berberis vulgaris), and Oregon grape are liver tonics and digestives. They aid in digestion, and decrease risk of heartburn, by increasing production of both HCL and bile.

A few more tips for those who suffer from heartburn:

  • Eat less at each meal
  • Stay upright after eating; no lounging around or sleeping
  • Avoid eating late at night
  • Reduce the amount of coffee you drink
  • Don’t overdo it with the orange juice, either
  • Use slippery elm lozenges (available in health food stores) for immediate relief from heartburn