Relieve the searing discomfort of indigestion with this delicious blend of reflux busting herbs and fruits. It makes a great healing tonic to sip at through the day, and it’s suitable for kids and adults. In this post learn about the properties of the herbal medicines Marshmallow and Licorice, and why they’re so great at relieving the discomfort of indigestion. Wondering where to get these herbs? Most health shops will have them, and failing that, you can find them online in dried form. Now get that blender ready, there’s a fabulous recipe coming up!
In reflux, the contents of the stomach are regurgitated back up the oesophagus (the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach). At the base of the oesophagus, sphincter muscles contract and release to control the flow of fluids and foods into the stomach, but they don’t always function normally. When they become too loose or weak, stomach contents just flow back up towards the mouth. You can call it heartburn or indigestion, and essentially, it’s a feeling of dry, burning discomfort in the chest and oesophagus.
Reflux is a recognised chronic disease, and it’s associated with conditions like Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GORD, or GERD if your using American spelling) which leads to erosive damage of the lining of the oesophagus. This sort of damage is unavoidable, particularly if the reflux is chronic (lasting more than a few months) and persisting. It’s a common condition too. A 2021 review of herbal medicines for reflux estimated that in the USA, pharmaceutical medicines for reflux (i.e proton pump inhibitors) generate $13 billion in sales yearly. The researchers also acknowledged that such drugs are more of a temporary solution…they don’t fix the underlying causes of reflux. They also don’t offer protection or healing of the mucous membranes exposed to the pepsin, bile constituents and other matter in refluxed materials from the stomach. In Australia, Nexium is currently one of the top 10 most prescribed pharmaceutical drugs.
What causes reflux?
Mostly, incompetent (meaning ‘weak’) lower oesophageal sphincter function is thought to eb the top cause of reflux. Either the sphincter muscles aren’t strong enough to close properly and seal stomach contents in, or they release at the wrong time and don’t coordinate properly with swallowing activity. There are lots of reasons for abnormal sphincter behaviour including weight gain, intake of fatty foods, chocolate, alcohol, coffee, drinking carbonated drinks, smoking and certain pharmaceutical drugs like tricyclic antidepressants (like Imipramine and Clomipramine) and calcium channel blockers (used in high blood pressure or for heart arrhythmias).
Naturopaths look at reflux and heartburn as acidic conditions so the diet can often be improved by increasing alkalinizing foods and drinks like melon, lettuce, celery, brown rice and oatmeal.
A 2019 study found that in a significant number of cases, heartburn symptoms weren’t actually caused by a reflux-dominant condition like GORD and may also suggest abnormal oesophageal muscle activity, food allergy or functional heartburn.
Reflux in children
Reflux occurs in around 70% of children. In children, regurgitations is the most common symptom of reflux and present in most cases. Here you’re looking at infants experiencing gastric contents moving back up through the oesophagus causing a burning and painful sensation.
Little ones will be irritable, may vomit and may have cough or wheezing too. It can be an issue for infants because where chronic, reflux can impeded physical growth. Generally, it’s thought that most children will outgrow this, but that doesn’t mean you can’t offer some symptomatic relief. This is where Marshmallow and Licorice come in.
Demulcent herbs for reflux
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) and Marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis) are both rich in a substance called mucilage. It’s the same chemical that makes things swell and soften, like chia seeds or psyllium husks when you soak them in water. You’ll notice after 15 minutes or so, that the seeds and husks thicken and consistency of the water becomes more slimy (for want of a more appealing word!).
It all might sound a bit gooey (because it actually is gooey) but the benefits for your inflamed digestive passageways are numerous. Mucilage containing plant medicines offer:
- Increased protection for the mucous membranes
- A temporary barrier that protects your digestive system walls against inflammation
- Promote healing in body tissues, especially digestive system mucosa
- A low-tox option for gastro-intestinal healing
- Cooling qualities (meaning, they cool down any hot, inflamed internal tissues)
- Safety for children and infants (a fantastic benefit!)
- Other plant medicines have contain mucilage include Aloe Vera, Slippery Elm and Calendula.
Here I am measuring out Marshmallow and other demulcent herbs. Photo: Sulin Sze
How Marshmallow root soothes indigestion
Marshmallow is a native of southern Europe, China, central Asia and the Mediterranean. It’s rich in mucins (a key component of mucous) contributing to its high mucilage content as well as flavonoids, pectins, amino acids and fibre.
Studies show that Marshmallow root reduces inflammation in the digestive system. This action most likely comes from its high content of polysaccharide hydrocolloids which gather to create a protective layer on the mucosal membranes of the upper digestive system (the surfaces of your oral cavities, throat and oesophagus), soothing them and encouraging them to heal.
It relieves pain caused by inflammation and provides some soothing relief in cough, angina and bronchitis. Marshmallow also offers some protection against pathogenic infection from species like Helicobacter pylori and Aspergillus flavus and some studies suggest its also anti-microbial against Candida albicans. One of the other benefits of Marshmallow is its ability to modulate immune activity. So it has numerous benefits beyond calming down a heated, dry oesophagus.
Licorice root cools inflamed tissues
Licorice is native to Southern Europe and Asia and it’s such a valued medicinal plant that it’s considered an ‘essential herbal medicine’ in China where it’s been used most extensively since 25 A.D. One classical Chinese text states that Licorice in used in nine out of ten herbal formulae. (Jiang, 2020) This may be due to the harmonizing effects of Licorice, it’s certainly a herb I often use in blends to bring balance and to prevent the medicine becoming over-heating. Which is a very useful quality in a condition like heartburn and indigestion.
The benefits of Licorice in reflux come from a couple of healing actions, namely the demulcent and anti-inflammatory effects on the mucous membranes of the throat and oesophagus. Reflux creates damage and dry heat in the upper digestive tract, and Licorice is the perfect repair herb to bring those mucous linings back to a state of health.
A 2013 open label trial showed significant improvements in reflux symptoms when patients with non-erosive reflux were treated with pure glycyrrhetinic acid and Bilberry. Glycyrrhetinic acid is one of the 200 or so chemicals that have been identified in licorice root so far, and it’s derived from the main active constituent of the plant, glycyrrhizin.
Licorice also contains flavonoids, mucilage and proteins.
How to create a SuperSmoothie that heals you from the inside out
Add demulcent herbs!
Smoothies make great medicines for children. You can throw in lots of healthy fruits and vegetables along with your healing herbs to create a smooth, tasty and often cooling medicine. The quality of cooling is really important in reflux and indigestion which by nature are heaty/burning conditions. I love a simple smoothie base of mango and banana, or just mango, with some yoghurt to make the smoothie more creamy in texture. You can definitely vary this recipe to suit your needs so that if you little ones like certain fruits and veges then by all means, switch them with the ones I’m using.
You can superfy your smoothies by adding in adding powders too, everything from magnesium, vitamin C, protein powders, collagen powders, Turmeric, Cacao through to herbs (of course, I’m a herb nut!). think about the next smoothie you make as a one-stop shop to AMAZING vibrancy, packed with all the goodies in your collection (we all have one…) of health products.
And don’t stop at powders, try infusions too. This smoothie uses an infusion of Licorice root which is great because Licorice root is so deliciously sweet. Around 50 times sweeter than sucrose in fact. Wow! So you won’t need to add any honey or maple syrup to sweeten this smoothie. I made the Licorice infusion so that the water in the smoothie would be enriched by the anti-inflammatory and demulcent compounds found in Licorice.
If you want to learn about using infusions for smoothies, check out my ‘Art of the Infusion’ webinar on the Wild Medicine Academy. It’ll give you lots of great ideas and inspiration.
There are a couple of things to note about reflux. When its recurrent and persisting it’s usually relating to poor muscle sphincter function so in order to reduce reflux you do also need to look at the health of your stomach sphincters muscles. And look at ways you can naturally reduce the incidence of reflux by identifying any foods you may be allergic to, not smoking, eating smaller meals more frequently and if appropriate, achieving a healthy body weight.
And now for that recipe…
Reflex Busting Smoothie
- High speed blender
- 2 Bananas
- 6-8 Strawberries
- 1/2 cup Pineapple or Mango (chopped into cubes)
- 4-6 Dates (each cut into a smaller pieces)
- 1 tsp Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) powder (1 tsp is equivalent to 2.5g)
- 1 tsp Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) powder (1 tsp is equivalent to 1.5g)
- 1/2 cup Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) infusion made with 1 tsp Licorice root in 1 cup water (use it all for a more liquid consistency)
- 1 Tbsp Yoghurt (heaped spoon)
- splash Coconut oil (MCT)
- Make the Licorice infusion and leave to infuse for an hour. When ready, strain out the liquid and throw the spent herb on the garden or discard.
- Combine all ingredients starting with the fruit, then the liquids, in the blender and blend until smooth
- I recommend keeping your smoothie in the fridge for the day and sipping throughout for best effect.
Lil video to show you how its done 😉 Enjoy!
If you love smoothies as much as I do, hopefully this post gives you a little bit more inspiration to SUPERFY your smoothies with herbs. Stay tuned, over Summer there’ll be more smoothie recipes here on the blog. I love sharing herbal inspirations with you all. Post a comment below if you like this recipe, or made any variations you’d like to share.
Hey there! Welcome to my world of totally natural and powerful healing medicines. Medicines from nature. Medicine from Source. I’m a naturopath and herbalist with extensive clinical experience working with a range of health conditions including hormonal, metabolic, mental health, sleep and more.
I’ve brought together years of clinical and teaching experience, academic skill and curiosity to bring you this blog. I hope you enjoy it! If you do, leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you!