The temperatures are heating up and summer is fast approaching. I love the longer days, picnics in the park and the fresh, local produce. In the urban jungle of New York City, thankfully we have farmers’ markets that offer freshly picked seasonal fruits and vegetables that have been brought in from Long Island, Upstate NY and New Jersey.
Eating in season means food just tastes better. Strawberries are sweeter, green beans are snappier, and is there anything better than a vine-ripened summer tomato? Didn’t think so.
I also love the herbs that are in season this time of year. They easily add a wallop of flavor and freshness to a dish but did you know culinary herbs can also help enhance digestion? Think about it. We often use herbal supplements to help with symptoms of IBS, SIBO and IBD like gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea. And many of my clients use herbal antimicrobials to treat SIBO, parasites and other gut infections.
While herbal supplements feature medicinal doses of specific constituents and compounds of herbs, we can use culinary herbs to improve or prevent digestive symptoms every time we eat. Best of all, using herbs in our dishes helps us enjoy our food. Who says elimination and therapeutic diets have to be bland and boring? Nope, not me!
Take a look at these summer herbs and how they work to improve digestion. I’ve also provided some delicious recipes and easy ways to incorporate them into your diet.
Mint is a carminative herb, which has anti-spasmodic properties. It relaxes the muscles of the digestive tract to release trapped gas. So if you often feel gassy or have abdominal cramps, then peppermint may be a great addition to your diet.
Those with acid reflux or GERD should avoid carminative herbs like mint because it can relax the lower esophageal sphincter, which allows the back-flow of stomach contents into the esophagus causing heartburn.
Carminative herbs also increase production of stomach acid and stimulates the production of digestive enzymes and bile, all of which we need to better digest our food.
Easy ways to incorporate mint into your dishes this summer:
Brew fresh mint tea then chill for herbal iced tea
Add fresh mint and cucumber to a pitcher of water for your own spa water
Add freshly chopped mint to fruit salad
Make this Vietnamese Summer Roll Salad
To make it low-FODMAP, omit the fried shallots and substitute maple syrup for honey
Parsley stimulates production of gastric juices including stomach acid and bile to help digest food.
It also has a diuretic action, so it can decrease water retention by increasing urination.
Its antimicrobial properties can protect against food borne bacteria such as Ecoli and listeria.
As a culinary herb, parsley is safe to eat but do not eat excessive quantities or take medicinal doses of parsley when pregnant, as it can cause uterine contractions.
We often think of parsley as a garnish but it can be a major player in these dishes:
Chimichurri – An Argentinean herbal steak sauce. This low-FODMAP recipe from Calm Belly Kitchen also features parsley & mint and is delicious on poultry, fish and potatoes, as well.
Herb Drizzle – This is my own non-recipe recipe for adding a pop of flavor to fish, seafood, grilled veggies and grain bowls
Blend parsley, mint, scallion greens (or chives), anchovy paste, lemon juice, lemon zest, and capers in a mini food processor then add extra-virgin olive oil to make a paste or a sauce
Tabouli – This Middle Eastern, whole grain salad is traditionally made with bulgur wheat but this clever low-FODMAP and gluten-free recipe from The FODMAP Free Life uses quinoa.
Like peppermint, basil is a carminative herb and can improve digestion by relaxing smooth muscle in the digestive tract to help soothe an angry tummy, relieve gas and abdominal cramps.
It can also stimulate digestive juices to help breakdown food.
It’s also anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal.
So bring on the basil with these yummy recipes:
Tomato/Mozzarella/Basil salad – drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and a splash of aged balsamic vinegar
My Dairy-Free Pesto recipe
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted and cooled
2 cups packed basil
2 TBS white miso paste
1 clove garlic (or garlic-infused olive oil to make it low-FODMAP)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Pepper to taste
Whirl all ingredients in food processor or blender.
Make this summery Charred Corn Salad with Tomatoes & Basil from Bon Appetit
Use scallion greens instead of red onions to keep it low-FODMAP
What is your favorite way to use herbs?