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We share traditional, scientific and practical insights written by experienced herbalists and health experts from the world of herbal medicine and natural health

Building resilience from our core: igniting digestive fire.

Digestive health

Where herbal healing begins.


Our digestive system is the place we bring the outer world inside us, work on it to absorb what is useful, and eject the rest. It is where we make ourselves who we are, and where we relate most intimately to our environment. It really is our physical personality – our visceral being.

So it is not surprising that the digestive tract, the gut, is highly intelligent. The gut also produces more hormones and neurotransmitters than the rest of the body put together, and plays a major role in our immune system. With the liver, it is the centre of our metabolism’s processing and detoxification, and it dominates the body’s cleansing functions.

A healthy human gut is also very robust, able effortlessly to manage a vast diversity of substances. Earlier cultures saw it like a cooking oven or even furnace: in Ayurveda it is agni or digestive fire, and digestive processes are included in the Chinese san jiao ‘Three Heaters’. The western view emerged with the ancient Greeks: Plato had explained vital heat as a process of digestion. Nowadays we can describe digestion correctly as an enzymatically controlled combustion, just like fire generating heat and energy and leaving ash.

We are right to regard digestion with awe, to warm ourselves on its fire, and to see it as literally fundamental. The herbalist uses the digestive tract as a vehicle for healing, operating gut processes and receptors in much the same way as an acupuncturist stimulates points on the skin, both nudging reflex corrective responses. It is even likely that most herbal impact is in the gut. This is where we work!

This section is no replacement for the thorough study of digestion and its ailments. Instead we will pick out those highlights that best guide herbal approaches.

Many herbs are suitable for self-care. However if a health condition does not resolve with home remedies we recommend using the information in Herbal Reality along with your health advisors, especially herbal practitioners from the professional associations listed in our Resources page (‘If you want to find a herbalist”). When buying any herbal products, you should choose responsible manufacturers with independently assured quality standards and sustainability practices. Check the label carefully for the appropriate safety and sustainability information.

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