A little history...
Through much research, I found out there's extensive scientific evidence that a Paleo autoimmune diet and lifestyle (because if it's only food you're missing a big part of it) could put many autoimmune diseases in remission. Because my particular autiommune disease was digestive, I also adopted a low FODMAP diet. For detailed info on all of this, I highly recommend The Paleo Approach by Sarah Ballantyne PhD. For those of you into science, she has pages of references for each chapter in the back of the book. If you're looking for more specific help navigating all of the info, give me a call as this is part of my consulting work.
However, despite the wonders of the Paleo AIP way, I truly don't think I'd have had so much success in putting Crohn's into remission were it not for the herbs I took as well.
I first began with infusions of yarrow, a known styptic and hemostatic - an herb that stops bleeding. Yarrow's astringent properties tighten up tissue to prevent bleeding of external and internal wounds. Some of it's common names are nose-bleed herb, woundwort, soldier's wort, and militaris - many of these alluding to it's use on the battlefield in ancient times. In fact, some believe that yarrow's Latin name refers to the legend of Achilles who used this herb for magical protection. I only used this herb for as long as I had internal bleeding.
Calendula is known primarily as a vulnerary or wound healing herb. It's antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties make it a soothing healer for hot, inflamed, irritated or even ulcerated digestive tissue. Additionally, calendula is a bitter, an herb that interacts with taste receptors on the tongue to send a message to the brain and in turn the digestive track to begin secreting digestive juices. A mostly safe and gentle herb though it might be contraidicated for folks with a strong ragweed allergy as they are in the same botanical family. Then again, lettuce is in the same family too. Sharing a family doesn't necessarily mean there will be an issue.
Chamomile is one of the oldest - perhaps the oldest - digestive remedies in existence. Scientists have discovered that it contains over 100 active constituents, some of which can target ulcers for healing and inhibit H. pylori bacteria that can lead to ulcers. Yet this herb is mild enough to be used for a baby's colic too. It's an antispasmodic and carminative - meaning it relieves spasms and gas. When infused more than a few minutes bitter constituents are extracted in chamomile making it an even more potent digestive aid.
Some folks note the high FODMAPs of one of chamomile's active constituents and find it contraindicated for folks on a Paleo AIP diet, but I believe this is a mistake. With over 100 different active constituents working in synergy, I believe the FODMAPs in chamomile are of no concern, mediated by other constituents. However, chamomile is quite likely to make you burp or fart, and this confuses some folks, making them think that the herb is not for them. But this is just part of chamomile at work - relieving excessive air in the digestive track. All of that said, it is possible to be allergic to chamomile and folks with a heavy ragweed allergy should excercise caution as they are in the same botanical family.
Plantain is known as the bandaid plant and is one of the most astringent herbs in existence. Astringency tightens tissue, either drawing things out and/or drying things up. Plantain is a common external remedy used in spit poultices on bee stings and bug bites, in anti-itch formulas, and even in poultices to draw out stones from road burn. Internally, plantain can help to dry up diarrhea and to tighten up leaky-gut tissue. Plantain is also a bitter herb which can assist with getting those digestive juices flowing.
Believe it or not, this herb is what the marshmallows of s'mores fame were once made from! The root is highly mucilaginous - or gooey and slimey - and gave the marshmallows their gelatinous texture. Internally, marshmallow root provides a slippery soothing coating to the digestive track that can aid in healing.
While marshmallow root's properties are best extracted in a cold water decoction, I add it right to the infusion and still get good results.
Another root that I throw into the infusion rather than decocting - because I only use a tiny pinch of it... Licorice root adds a bit of sweetness and has properties that help the other herbs to hit the bloodstream more quickly and effectively. However, this herb is contraindicated if you're taking blood pressure meds, blood thinners, having surgery, or are on various heart medications, have low potassium, or have kidney or liver disorders. That said, it's an amazing digestive herb with demulcent properties that can help heal ulcers and calm all sorts of digestive upsets from heartburn to stomach cramps.
How to infuse herbs
For those not familiar with herbal techniques, an infusion is used primarily on more delicate parts of an herb such as berries and leaves and involves pouring simmering hot water over herbs, capping them, and leaving them to infuse. Alternately, I usually put the herbs in the pot, pour cold water over them, bring to a simmer, turn off the heat, put a lid on the pot, and leave to infuse.
For my infusion, I combine equal parts of calendula, chamomile, plantain, and marshmallow root by sight (weighing on a kitchen scale is also an option) along with just a teensy pinch of licorice root. I use 1/2 oz to a full oz of herbs per quart of water, bring to a simmer, and leave to infuse for an absolute minimum of 30 minutes - often for an hour or even overnight. For a few years I drank 1-2 quarts of this daily. It's strong and bitter flavored! I called it "swamp water" due to its appearance - though I can't complain about flavor, having finally grown accustomed to and even fond of it. Sweetening it with honey will reduce the effectiveness of the bitter herbs in it since bitters work by stimulating receptors on the tongue, but if it's the only way you can stomach it at first, try sweetening it a bit or making it milder with smaller amounts of the herbs.
I found that a quart of this infusion would quickly reduce any digestive upsets and believe it was a big part of healing my digestive track.
Disclaimer: Herbs are not evaluated by the FDA. All information on my blog, website, social media, writings, or in consultations is for educational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease.