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Carminatives (also called aromatic digestive tonics or aromatic bitters) may be used to relieve symptoms of indigestion, particularly when there is excessive gas. It is believed that carminative agents work, at least in part, by relieving spasms in the intestinal tract.1
Among the most notable and well-studied carminatives are peppermint, fennel, and caraway. Double-blind trials have shown that combinations of peppermint and caraway oil and a combination of peppermint, fennel, caraway, and wormwood have been found to reduce gas and cramping in people with indigestion.2, 3, 4 Generally, 3–5 drops of natural essential oils or 3–5 ml of tincture of any of these herbs, taken in water two to three times per day before meals, can be helpful. Alternately, a tea can be made by grinding 2–3 teaspoons of the seeds of fennel or caraway or the leaves of peppermint, and then simmering them in a cup of water (covered) for ten minutes. Drink three or more cups per day just after meals.
1. Forster HB, Niklas H, Lutz S. Antispasmodic effects of some medicinal plants. Planta Med 1980;40:303-19.
2. May B, Kuntz HD, Kieser M, Kohler S. Efficacy of a fixed peppermint/caraway oil combination in non-ulcer dyspepsia. Arzneimittelforschung 1996;46:1149-53.
3. Westphal J, Hörning M, Leonhardt K. Phytotherapy in functional upper abdominal complaints. Results of a clinical study with a preparation of several plants. Phytomedicine 1996;2:285-91.
4. Madisch A, Heydenreich CJ, Wieland V, et al. Treatment of functional dyspepsia with a fixed peppermint oil and caraway oil combination preparation as compared to cisapride. Arneimittlforschung 1999;49:925-32.
Whole peppermint leaf is often used either alone or in combination with other herbs to treat abdominal discomfort and mild cramping that accompany IBS. The combination of peppermint, caraway seeds, fennel seeds, and wormwood was reported to be an effective treatment for upper abdominal complaints in a double-blind trial.1
In a double-blind study of infants with colic, supplementation with an emulsion of fennel seed oil relieved colic in 65% of cases, compared with 24% of infants receiving a placebo, a statistically significant difference.1 The amount used was 1 to 4 teaspoons, up to four times per day, of a water emulsion of 0.1% fennel seed oil.
Carminatives are a class of herbs commonly used for infants with colic. These herbs tend to relax intestinal spasms.
Chamomile is a carminative with long history of use as a calming herb and may be used to ease intestinal cramping in colicky infants. A soothing tea made from chamomile, vervain, licorice, fennel, and lemon balm has been shown to relieve colic more effectively than placebo.1 In this study, approximately 1/2 cup (150 ml) of tea was given during each colic episode up to a maximum of three times per day.
The fennel plant came originally from Europe, where it is still grown. Fennel is also cultivated in many parts of North America, Asia, and Egypt. Fennel seeds are used in herbal medicine.
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The information presented by Healthnotes is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires December 2018.