7 super herbs and spices for gut health

Humble herbs and spices can elevate dishes from dull to delicious – and it turns out they can also pack a punch when it comes to gut health.

It’s well known that our microbiome – the trillions of bacteria living in our gut – can have a major impact on our health, wealth and even mood. 

But who would have thought the herbs and spices we cook with can influence our gut health?

Accredited practising dietician Rebecca Flavel says that’s because diet is one of the most influential factors on that kilogram or so of alien bacteria living in our digestive systems.

“They play a key role in helping to break down food our bodies can’t digest, in producing important nutrients and influencing the function of our immune system and much more,” Rebecca says.

Here are a few of our favourite food flavour-boosters that also support healthy digestion:

1. Ginger

A super-star spice, ginger can reduce nausea, stimulate saliva and bile production, soothe the stomach and help ease motion-sickness. It’s also good for reducing gas and bloating.

Try a ginger tea to wake up your sluggish digestion in the morning or toss minced ginger into your stir-fries or curries. While fresh is best, you can also use dried, ground ginger.

Try this: Sally’s Quick Sticks Ginger Beef


2. Turmeric

It’s the spice that gives curry its yellow colour and has been used for thousands of years in India as a medicinal herb.

Turmeric contains curcumin, a substance with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties which has powerful healing potential.

Try popping turmeric into soups and smoothies or adding it to scrambled eggs, rice and even your morning latte.

Try this: Zoe Bingley-Pullin’s nourishing Turmeric Latte

3. Cinnamon

Cinnamon is delicious and, luckily for those of us addicted to its warm and spicy sweetness, even a small daily sprinkle is thought to be good for our gut health.

Not only does it ease nausea and stomach upsets, but early studies show it may lower blood sugar levels by improving insulin sensitivity.

Try this: Delicious Carrot and Chocolate Cake


4. Basil

Basil reduces gas and stomach cramping. One of the oldest herbs known to mankind, it comes from the same plant family as some other popular herbs such as mint, oregano and rosemary.

Incredibly there are 35 different species in all, including sweet basil, lemon basil, Italian or curly basil, Thai basil, lettuce-leaf basil and the one best known for its ability to help the body deal with stress – holy basil.

Try this: Polenta Pizza with Mushrooms, Mozzarella and Basil

5. Bay leaves

From the plant Laurus nobilis, commonly found in parts of Asia and America, the bay leaf is said to have strong effects on the gastrointestinal system, helping to decrease the toxicity of our bodies and even soothing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Dried bay leaves are a popular spice used in pickling and marinating, and to flavour stews, stuffings and fish.

For the rookies among us, they’re not eaten but used whole and removed when serving.

Try this: Vegetarian Bolognese with Borlotti Beans


6. Chamomile

Who doesn’t like a comforting cup of chamomile tea before bed? It seems as well as promoting sleep, this calming herb is also good our digestive tract.

Used by ancient Roman, Greek and Egyptians to flavour drinks and incense as well as for its medicinal properties, chamomile can relieve upset stomachs, tummy cramps, and help with IBS, indigestion and abdominal gas.

7. Cardamom

A beautiful, aromatic spice, cardamom is widely used in Indian cuisine.

There’s every chance you’ve chugged some down lately if you’ve jumped aboard the Chai latte craze.

When cooked into food, cardamom is said to balance excess mucus, gas and bloating in the stomach and small intestine. Remember though, a little goes along way – so use it frugally.

Try this: Sally Obermeder’s Quinoa Brekkie Bowl

Fun fact

If you’re wondering about the difference between herbs and spices you’re not alone!

Herbs are the plant leaves (whether fresh or dry) while spices are every other part including roots, stems, flowers, seeds and berries.

Learn more about the power of probiotics for gut health and the spice that’s key to a happy life.

Watch Ed Phillips and Jo Stanley discuss gut health with our panel of experts on House of Wellness TV:

Written by Liz McGrath.