Herbs for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

by Dee Atkinson MNIMH
5 November 2011

Dee takes a herbalist's approach to treating IBS. At Napiers Clinics, Dee sees an increasing number of patients with digestive problems. No matter how good your diet is, if the food you eat is not properly broken down and absorbed, your body will lack the building blocks it needs for the best health and vitality. 

One of the digestive problems we now regularly encounter is Irritable Bowl Syndrome (IBS). IBS is a blanket term for a wide range of symptoms including abdominal cramping, alternating diarrhoea and constipation, wind and bloating. IBS can be considerably helped by herbs, probiotics and nutrition.


The most common triggers can be stress, anxiety and food intolerance and sensitivity. It is important to identify which are the triggers for your symptoms and then to avoid these where possible. One of the major factors in many digestive orders is often stress. The release of adrenaline as part of the body’s response to stress causes a reduction in blood flow to the digestive organs, which can lead to digestive problems. 

If you think this may be an issue for you, we have a section dealing with stress and some articles about specific causes


However there are a number of herbs which are traditionally used to relieve digestive problems and these include: 

Peppermint – this is my herb of choice where there is spasm, wind or bloating. Traditionally used as an after dinner drink, Peppermint Tea is refreshing and also helps aids digestion. 

Fennel - this also helps relieve colicky pain whilst supporting the digestive processes and combines well with the peppermint. 

Liquorice - if there is discomfort or mild constipation try taking licorice.This helps to regulate bowel movements, and is also very soothing 

Bloating and wind can be very uncomfortable and embarrassing side effects of digestive problems and herbal bitters can be taken to increase appetite, reduce flatulence, gurgling and bloating and promote good digestion. 

Slippery Elm is used traditionally to treat any inflammation or irritation of the lining of the digestive tract. It is a soothing nutritious powdered bark and is particularly useful for IBS and heartburn and can be taken as powder made into a warm drink. 


Constipation is also a common problem. The bowel is one of the major routes for ridding the body of waste products and if blocked can contribute to major health problems and general lack of vitality. 

Pysillium husks can be used as a bulking agent to help promote regular bowel movement. Slippery elm also combines well with psyllium husks. A mixture of psyllium and slippery elm powders are used to tone the bowel and gently ease constipation and are often also used by herbalists for help with diverticular disease and mild constipation as well as IBS. 

Causes of chronic constipation include a low fibre diet, lack of exercise, dehydration, stress and poor muscle tone. 

It is very important to address these lifestyle issues as well. Take regular exercise, drink plenty of water and take time out to let your body and mind relax!