FlorEssence Herbal Tonic as a Gastrointestinal Normalizer

Suzanne Diamond, B.Sc., M.Sc., (Botany)

Flor•Essence is a traditional herbal tonic that is now being researched for its many benefits. It includes eight herbs: Burdock root, Turkish Rhubarb root, Sheep Sorrel, Slippery Elm bark, Watercress, Blessed Thistle, Red Clover, and Kelp. Of these, six are food-type herbs and have been traditionally utilized by our European ancestors and the First Nation's peoples of North America, and two are bitter-type herbs that are classified as foods, but are taken in smaller amounts as digestive aids.

Current Research:

A summary of the most recent experimental and clinical data on the digestive properties of each of the eight herbs is provided below.

1. Burdock Root (Arctium lappa L)

The root contains at least five powerful flavonoid-type antioxidants and several polyphenols that are more powerful antioxidants than vitamin C. As much as 75% of the carbohydrate content in the plant is stored in the root as a complex fructan, gamma-glucoside-fructose ester, known as inulin. Modification of intestinal microflora by inulin: A clinical study found increased intake of oligo-fructose and inulin significantly increased bifido-bacteria and decreased numbers of potential pathogens'. An increase in oligosaccharides was reported to lead to a selective qualitative change in ceco-colonic microbial flora (ie, bifidogenisic change).

Inulin is not digested in the stomach but fermented almost exclusively by colonic bifido-bacteria and bacteriodes. The complete fermentation increases fecal bacterial biomass, decreases colonic pH, and increases fermentation products such as short chain fatty acids that positively affect the metabolism of lipids. Beneficial intestinal bacteria have been found to support the immune system.

2. Sheep Sorrel (Rumex acetosella L.)

At least ten native tribes of Canada and the United States have used this plant as a food and medicine. Sorrel contains vitamin C, A, B complex, D, E, K P, and U. Several key trace elements and minerals are abundant in the herb, including: calcium, iron, magnesium, silicon, sulfur, copper, iodine, manganese, and zinc. The leaves and stems contain beneficial carotenoids, chlorophyll, and organic acids (ie, malic, oxalic, tannic, tartaric, and citric).

Laxative effect: At low doses, most Rumex species are useful for treating diarrhea; however, at higher doses, they are mild laxatives due to the presence of anthraquinones that directly affect the neuromuscular tissue and stimulate peristalsis. At higher dosages, the anthraquinones increase the mucous production of colonic mucosa cells and stimulate secretion of water into the intestinal lumen, thereby exerting a laxative effect. The high content of tannins also can provide astringent action.

3. Slippery Elm Bark (Ulmus rubra Muhl.)

The inner bark is very rich in mucilage, a complex mixture of polysaccharides including pentoses, methylpentoses, and hexoses which form soothing gelatinous fiber upon hydration. After hydrolysis these give galactose, and traces of glucose and fructose.

Demulcent action: The mucilage of slippery elm bark resists hydrolysis primarily by the stomach's acids and enzymes; therefore, it acts as a demulcent and emollient to the digestive system and soothes the throat, nasal passages, and lungs. The bark's viscous fiber has several direct and indirect beneficial effects: 1) reduces bowel transit time; 2) absorbs toxins from the bowel; 3) increases fecal bulk and dilutes stool materials thereby reducing stool contact with the intestinal mucosa, and 4) enhances beneficial colonic bacteria and provides an excellent substrate for bacterial fermentation.

4. Watercress (Nasturtium officinale R. Br.)

Watercress contains large amounts of mustard oil glycosides called glucosinolates, specifically gluconasturtiin, which is then hydrolyzed to 2- phenethyl isothiocyanate (PEITC). PEITCs give watercress its characteristic aroma and produces the characteristic tingling sensation on the tongue. Watercress is a rich source of vitamins A and C, and trace minerals including sulfur, iodine, calcium, and manganese.

Nutritional supplement and digestive aid: In Europe, watercress is popular as a blood cleanser and part of several phytopharmaceutical choleretic preparations (a choleretic increases the flow of bile into the intestines). The fresh leaves are a superior food medicine containing high levels of vitamins A, C, and iodine.

5. Blessed Thistle (Cnicus benedictus L.)

Choleretic and hypolipidemic action: Through its bitter properties, blessed thistle increases the flow of gastric juices relieving dyspepsia, indigestion and headaches associated with liver congestion. British and German Pharmacopoeias recognize that 'bitters', including blessed thistle, stimulate bile flow and cleanse the liver. The primary active ingredient of blessed thistle is a bitter tasting compound called cnicin, a sesquiterpene lactone. The seed contains several lignans that are phytoestrogen precursors for the key mammalian lignans: enterolactone and enterodiol which are present in humans and animals. Cnicin aids digestion and has considerable cytotoxic, antimicrobial and phytotoxic activity.

In Europe "bitter vegetable drugs" are considered medicinal agents and used to stimulate appetite, aid digestion, and promote health. Studies confirm that bitters increase gastric juice and bile acid secretions by increasing the flow of saliva through stimulation of specific receptors on the mucous membrane lining of the mouth.

6. Red Clover Herb (Trifolium pratense L.)

Red clover is a legume that contains large amounts of the phytoestrogen, genistein. Research on dietary legumes, indicate that phytoestrogens are necessary for a balanced diet and beneficial for health promotion. The phytoestrogen content varies from 1.0% to 2.5% of dry matter. The biological study of white clover showed a clear estrogenic effect not visible through chemical analysis.

Detoxification: Red clover tea is recognized traditionally for facilitating the elimination of wastes and toxins through the kidneys, skin, and bowels. This herb also increases the activity of phagocytes, the scavenger cells of the immune system that remove micro-organisms and debris from blood and mucous.

7. Turkish Rhubarb Root (Rheum palmatum L.)

Anthraquinones are the active ingredient in the root, including emodin. Emodin at different concentrations has many benefits including: anti-inflammatory at 15mg/Kg, antiseptic; antispasmodic; cathartic, cytotoxic with a CD50 of 2.6ug/ml; immuno-suppressive; vasorelaxant and viricidal. The root also contains a high tannin content.

Digestive ailments: Turkish rhubarb root has been used traditionally to improve both digestion and loss of appetite. The bitter root tea increases the flow of saliva and gastric secretions and functions as a safe and effective laxative. The plant is a component of many choleretic drugs because of its laxative properties. The laxative sermosides A and B, as glycosides, are inactive precursors in which the sugar moiety acts as a transport group. The glycosides are hydrolyzed in the organism into their aglycones at least in part by the action of bacterial enzymes; by influencing the water and electrolyte transport in the colon, these aglycones are responsible for the laxative action.

8. Kelp (Laminaria digitata Lmx.)

Kelp contains abundant minerals and significant quantities of iodine, calcium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron and silicon. Total iodine varies between 0.1 to 0.8%. Kelp should not exceed arsenic levels above 3.0 ppm and lead levels above 10.0 ppm based on the internationally recognized Food Chemicals Codex.

Demulcent action: The alginates in kelp largely resist hydrolysis by the stomach acids and enzymes, and therefore act as a demulcent and emollient to the digestive system and increase the amount of fermentable material in the colon. The short-chain fatty acids produced are used as an energy source by colonocytes and may inhibit hepatic cholesterol synthesis and bring the associated health benefits of enhanced beneficial intestinal microflora, such as inulin from burdock root or the mucilage from slippery elm bark. As with other soluble fibers, the alginates have a soothing and cleansing effect on the digestive tract and are known to assist in resisting absorption of toxic metals like mercury, cadmium, plutonium and, cesium.

Superabsorbent laxative action: Superabsorbent laxatives, such as the alginates from kelp, are a type of bulk forming laxative which increase in bulk more than 20 times their original volume by absorbing water. This large swell volume is much greater than other types of bulk laxatives such as psyllium, cellulose and bran, which swell very little, compared to alginates. Compared to other bulk laxatives, kelp alginates are more effective than other bulk laxatives for dealing with habitual constipation and gastric bloating because they increase swell volume acting specifically in intestinal juices rather than water or gastric juices. In addition, alginates reduce intestinal transit time, soothe the intestinal mucosa, have acceptable taste and are nonirritating.