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Natural Laxatives – Herbal Remedies

Natural Laxatives – In general, constipation refers to infrequent (less than 3 bowel movements per week) or incomplete bowel movements. Constipation is also defined when stools are hard or difficult to pass. The longer stool stays in the colon, the more water is absorbed from the stool causing it to harden. Some people who are constipated may feel bloated, strain when with they try to pass stool and have the sense of a full bowel. There are some natural remedies that do an excellent job of relieving and preventing constipation, although dietary change and exercise should be tried first. All laxatives, even herbal ones, should be used with caution.

There are three classes of herbal laxatives – bulk, mild (but not bulk) and purgative. Bulk herbs take between 12 – 24 hours to work. More irritating herbs take less time, 6-12 hours to work.

Bulk Laxative – Bulk laxatives are the most gentle for occasional constipation.

Psyllium – A popular herb used in most over the counter laxatives. Metamucil and Konsyl are a few brands containing psyllium. Psyllium has long been used to help relieve symptoms of constipation because it is loaded with soluble fiber called mucilage. Mucilage absorbs a great deal of fluid in the intestines. This causes psyllium to swell. It softens and add bulk to stool. As stool becomes bulkier, it presses on the colon wall, triggering the muscle contractions we experience as “the urge.” Make sure you take psyllium with plenty of water. Insufficient water can cause the fiber to swell and cause choking
Do not take psyllium if you have asthma. There have been several reports of allergic reactions in asthmatics. Also use caution when taking psyllium if you have allergies.
You should also watch how you react to this herb if you have allergies. If allergic symptoms develop after you take it, discontinue use.

Flaxseed (also known as linseed) – You can purchase it whole or ground. Flaxseed is good for you because it is loaded with fiber. Like psyllium, flaxseed swells up when it comes in contact with water to form a type of gelatinous substance which softens stool and makes it easier to pass. Take 1 to 3 tablespoons a day with plenty of water. You will need to make sure you drink at least 8 glasses of water a day when using flaxseed to keep bulk moving through your digestive system. You can also sprinkle ground flaxseed in your food.

Fenugreek – Like psyllium, fenugreek swells up when exposed to fluids, causing stool to bulk and trigger intestinal muscle contractions which gives us the “urge” to go.

Mild (not bulk)Herbal Laxatives

Dandelion root – A mild laxative often served often as tea. It is helpful for bed-ridden seniors and others with chronic constipation. Susun Weed, a practicing herbalist and author of Wise Women’s Ways for the Menopausal Years says, “The root in tea will have little effect on constipation due to nervousness, diet, fevers, and such occasional causes, but acts reliably when it is chronic, related to age, long-tern illness, or general intestinal blahs; a teaspoon of the root boiled in water three or four times a day.” Use dandelion leaves in salad, or 1-2 teaspoons of dandelion vinegar or 10 – 20 drops of tincture taken with meals.

Chickweed – A nutritious herb, high in vitamins and minerals, it contains fiber which helps improves digestion and relieves constipation. Chickweed can be added raw to salads or cooked. It has the taste similar to spinach. The dose of the fluid extract is 10 to 60 drops mixed in hot water or under the tongue. You can make a tea by adding 1 tablespoon dried herb, 2 tablespoons if fresh, to 1 cup boiling water steeped for 10 min. Strain the herb and then drink.

Purgative or Cathartic Laxatives

Purgative are the most irritating laxatives. They belong to a class known as anthraquinones, which are categorized as stimulant laxatives. They work by aggravating the lining of the lower intestine resulting in contractions which force the bowels to expel. Anthraquinones may also keep more water in intestinal contents, producing softer stools which make them easier to pass.

Pregnant or nursing mothers should not use purgative laxatives nor should people with gastrointestinal problems such as ulcers, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and hemorrhoids. Use purgative laxatives in small amounts for a short period of time. Prolonged use can cause your bowels to become dependent on the laxative and unable to make a bowel movement without it. Do not use these laxatives for more than a week at a time.

Cascara Sagrada- The most gentle of purgative laxatives. It is known as “sacred bark” from a Native American tree (Rhamnus purshiana). Some herbalist say cascara also helps improve the tone and function of the intestines. Cascara can be found in various forms: capsules, liquid extracts, and dried bark. Although a tea is sometimes recommended made from dried bark, it is very bitter.

Rhubarb Root- Contains laxative properties and is high in fiber. It is much stronger and should be with caution. Take 2-3 capsules of Chinese rhubarb root at one time. A tea can be made by 1 2/3 teaspoons of cut dried rootstock to 1 cup of boiled water; simmer for 3 minutes; remove to steep, covered for half an hour; drink only 1/4 to 1/2 cup.

Senna – a bit stronger and also quite popular. It is the main ingredient of many over-the-counter laxatives such as Ex-lax. A tea may be made from dried senna leaves or fruits. Dried senna leaves has a very bitter taste and is unpleasant to most individuals. Herbalists generally discourage using the plant material and instead recommend over-the- counter products containing it.

Aloe vera- juice or aloe latex is a yellow, bitter liquid derived from the skin of the aloe leaf. It is a powerful laxative. Because of its painful intestinal cramping it is not recommended. Other gentler, herbal laxatives from the same plant family as aloe, such as cascara and senna are usually recommended first.
Take 2 tablespoons of natural aloe gel with apple or other juice. 1 tablespoon in the morning and then in the evening. If using Aloe vera juice, drink 1 quart per day. It can also be taken in capsule form

Irritant laxatives should be combined with an herb to relax the intestines and prevent cramping. Some of the most popular of these are peppermint, ginger and fennel. You can take less of any laxative by adding licorice to it. Licorice, itself is a light laxative and makes the intestine much more responsive to other laxatives.

A commercial example of such mixtures is the blend Smooth Move sold by Traditional Medicinals. The main ingredient is senna, combined with licorice, and cinnamon, ginger, orange peel, fennel and coriander seed.