The 39 Best Herbs for Leaky Gut and Digestive Health

39 Herbs for Leaky Gut & Digestive Health

Leaky gut syndrome is a modern-day health epidemic on-the-rise. If left unchecked, leaky gut can and will spiral into a cascade of other chronic issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS),  allergies, adverse food reactions, nutritional deficiencies, autoimmune disorders, hormonal imbalance, skin breakouts, and more.  While leaky gut repair is complex and requires an individualized, multi-dimensional approach such as in the 5R protcol, it’s worth knowing there’s an abundance of herbs for leaky gut and digestion which are readily available and waiting to be discovered by those who can benefit! 

In this article I’ll share the top 39 herbs for leaky gut repair, based on my first-hand experience and research as a functional dietitian, holistic nutritionist and clinical herbalist.

Disclaimers:

  • This article was written for educational and informative purposes, not to replace medical advice.  While most herbs are relatively safe, there are some potential medical contraindications and/or herb-drug interactions not mentioned in this article. Consult your doctor and other members of your treatment team as needed, when navigating health issues of any kind.
  • Some of these herbs are not recommended during pregnancy/nursing, or for children/infants.
  • One size never fits all. The type, combination and dose of herbal medicine that works for another person will likely not be the same protocol that works for you!
  • Consult a clinical herbalist and/or functional medicine practitioner to determine the best herbs for your gut-healing journey.

Affiliate disclosure: This article contain affiliate links*.  As an affiliate for my favorite organic online apothecaries, I may make a commission on qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you!

This article was most recently updated: May 17, 2023

Leaky gut 101

“Leaky gut syndrome” is a functional medicine term that describes a subclically damaged or impaired gut lining.  A leaky gut is overly permeable or “hyper-permeable”, which means it is letting harmful unwanted substances “leak” into the bloodstream instead of excreting those substances out as waste.

Over time, the unwanted particles “leaking” into the body begin to accumulate, over-burden the liver, impair natural detoxification, and ultimately wreak havoc in the immune system, hormonal regulation and more.

Since leaky gut is not correlated with acute clinical conditions, it’s not routinely assessed or addressed in hospitals or mainstream medicine; however, leaky gut is a major focus among those of us who practice functional medicine and functional nutrition.

Herbal medicine 101

Call me biased, but I firmly believe herbs are one of Mother Nature’s many gifts to humans!  The effectiveness of herbs for gut health issues (and for many other types of ailments) has been documented and also practiced among indigenous healers for hundreds if not thousands of years, worldwide.

  • In eastern cultures (such as India and China), herbs are the primary form of medicine used in healthcare.  
  • In the western world (such as in the U.S.), we typically integrate herbs as a form of complementary alternative medicine – which means herbs can complement and enhance (versus replace) mainstream medical interventions.

Herbs can also be supportive for both acute and chronic health conditions. Herbs may be taken internally or applied topically, depending on what is going on.  

In my field of clinical herbalism, I’ve witnessed some profound transformations in my clients when they are paired with the right plant allies for their indivdual needs.

Do herbs work?

In my experience, the right herbs in many cases can sometimes be just as effective (if not more effective) than their pharmaceutical counterparts. 

While herbs might take longer than medications to provide a comparable level of relief, I find herbs usually also tend to be safer. 

  • Herbs can be effective at helping to treat and manage symptoms with less collateral damage, and in many cases they can also help support a person’s health at the root-cause level.

Herbal medicine can be integrated into pretty much any plan of care.

Herbal medicine delivery methods

Depending on the person and the ailment being addressed, herbal medicine can be applied/administered as any of the following:

  • Tea infusions
  • Tea decoctions
  • Tinctures (alcohol extracts of the herb)
  • Glycerites (non-alcohol extractions)
  • Elixirs/cordials (pleasant-tasting extractions)
  • Capsules
  • Spagyrics
  • Powders
  • Salves
  • Herbal oils
  • Hydrosols
  • Essential oils
  • …and more!

When it comes to addressing leaky gut syndrome, the most common and practical ways to administer herbs are usually via teas, tinctures, powders, and capsules – but this will vary from one practitioner and patient to another. It also depends on the type of herbs being administered.

Sourcing your herbs – where to buy them

It’s important to keep in mind, not all supplement companies and dispensaries are going to give you the same level of quality whn it comes to herbal supplements.

Whether you’re purchasing your herbs locally or online, look for an organic and environmentally sustainable apothecary that uses ethical, sustainable harvesting and organic farming practices.  (You don’t want to be ingesting pesticides!)

Here are my favorite organic online apothecaries worth checking out:

Mountain Rose Herbs Organic Herbs and Spices - Small Horizontal Affiliate Banner

Types of herbs for leaky gut and digestion

There’s a variety of herbs that can be integrated into a leaky gut healing protocol, alongside medical and functional nutrition interventions.

While everyone is different, if you’re dealing with IBS and leaky gut syndrome you’ll likely be able to benefit from at least a few (if not more) herbs from each of the following categories:

Types of Herbs for Leaky Gut

Bitter herbs for leaky gut and digestive health

Tinctures of bitter herbs for digestion are often referred to as “digestive bitters” and they have been used for hundreds if not thousands of years!  

Digestive health benefits of bitter herbs

Bitter herbs support digestion in that the bitter taste helps to stimulate the secretion of digestive juices (such as stomach acid) in the stomach before a meal, making it easier for the gut to break down foods and nutrients appropriately. (Altered stomach acid levels are common among many people with IBS and leaky gut!)

Digestive bitters are known to often stimulate liver function, which can mean more bile production for better emulsifying (breaking down) fatty foods in the gut (1).

Bitter herbs also support digestion and leaky gut by helping to control the overgrowth of bacteria in the gut, which translates to supporting a healthier gut microbiome (1).

Which bitters are best?

There are infinite ways to make and take digestive bitters.  The decision around which herbs and/or which combination of herbs to use may depend on what’s available, and what’s going on in the body from a constitutional standpoint.

Generally speaking, advised to take a dropperful (about 15 to 30 droplets) of digestive bitters within 10 to 20 minutes before a meal to help optimize digestion.

  • Working with a clinical herbalist is a great way to narrow down and identify the best type and dosing of bitter herbs for supporting your individual digestive health needs!

Types of bitter herbs for leaky gut and digestion

The most commonly used bitter herbs for supporting digestive health include but are certainly not limited to:

  • Artichoke leaf (Cynara cardunculus)
  • Burdock root (Arctium lappa)
  • Cacao powder (Theobroma cacao)
  • Chamomile flowers (Matricaria chamomilla)
  • Coffee (Coffea arabica)
  • Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale)
  • Gentian root (Gentiana lutea)
  • Grapefruit peel (Citrus Racemosa)
  • Lemon peel (Citrus limon)
  • Milk thistle seed (Silybum marianum)
  • Orange peel (Citrus x sinensis)
  • Yellow dock root (Rumex crispus)

Vulnerary Astringents

“Vulnerary” means containing wound-healing properties, and “astringent” means causing the contraction or tightening of cells/body tissues.

While vulnerary astringent herbs are more well known for topical use (such as in cases of Witch hazel for itchy skin), they work wonders for healing the gut as well! (As within, so without.)

Digestive health benefits of vulnerary astringent herbs

When it comes to leaky gut, vulnerary astringent herbs are known for their ability to heal, tone, and tighten the tight junctions of cells making up a the gut! (2)

In other worse, vulnerary astringent herbs help reduce the size of spaces or gaps in between cells that make up the gut lining, which are often referred to as the “tight junctions”.

  • You may notice some of the herbs on this list will overlap with herbs listed as digestive bitters, and/or any of the other categories below.  That is because herbs are all unique and not cookie-cutter! They each have their own personality and set of benefits, tendencies, uses, etc.

Tea vs capsules: which is better?

Since becoming a clinical herbalist and bringing herbal medicine into my clinic in 2018, I’ve observed that for upper-GI issues, vulnerary astringent herbs are best and most effective when made into tea, since tea covers exponentially more surface area of the gut compared to a tincture.

I’ve also found that capsules are better for cases of lower-GI issues, since capsules allow the herbs to travel farther down into the gut before getting released.

A list of vulnerary and/or astringent herbs for leaky gut

The most well-known and popular vulnerary astringent herbs for leaky gut (based on my experiences and findings) include:

  • Calendula flowers (Calendula officinalis)
  • Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum)
  • Gotu kola (Centella asiatica)
  • Plantain leaf (Plantago major)
  • Rose petals (Rosa Centifolia)
  • Schisandra berries (Schisandra chinensis)
  • Shatavari root (Asparagus racemosus)
  • Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
  • Violet leaves (Viola spp.)

Dispersive and pungent aromatics for digestion and leaky gut

When it comes to unwanted digestive symptoms such as gas and bloating, dispersive aromatic herbs make wonderful herbal allies!

Dispersive herbs have a tendency to be aromatic and pungent in nature. These types of herbs help to break up stagnant energy, which is essentially what’s going on in cases of gas and bloating among people with IBS and/or leaky gut (1).

Gas and bloating symptoms are most often caused by stagnant waste and food particles which get fermented by unwanted “bad” pathogens (microbes such as bacteria or fungus) which produce methane as a by-product (3).

Dispersive, aromatic, pungent herbs (such as those listed below) contain essential oils which help to expel stuck gas/air, while also keeping those troublesome methane-producing microbes responsible for gas and bloating in check (1).

Pungent herbs may be effective when taken as a tea, tincture or capsules. (Don’t ever take any of these herbs in the form of essential oils internally – even organic or “therapeutic grade” – as it can be very toxic to the liver!)

  • Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum)
  • Fennel seeds (Foeniculum vulgare)
  • Ginger root (Zingiber officinale)
  • Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
  • Oregano leaf  (Origanum vulgare)
  • Peppermint leaf (Mentha × piperita)
  • Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus)
  • Thyme leaf (Thymus vulgaris)

Herbal antimicrobials for dysbiosis and SIBO

Again, you’ll notice a lot of overlap between the aromatic pungent dispersive herbs and the herbs listed below, which possess antimicrobial properties. 

It’s no coincidence!  The “bad” pathogenic microbes have an aversion to pungent, aromatic herbs as those listed below, which makes sense that many of these help to manage gas and bloating (4).

These types of herbal antimicrobials listed below are also very effective in helping to reduce/manage cases of dysbiosis (an underlying root-cause of leaky gut and IBS), in that they help to keep the overgrowth of “bad” fungus and bacteria under control in the gut (4).

  • Agarita/Algerita root (Mahonia trifoliolata)
  • Bayberry bark (Morella cerifera)
  • Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum)
  • Garlic (Allium sativum)
  • Ginger root (Zingiber officinale)
  • Oregon grape root (Berberis aquifolium) 
  • Oregano leaf  (Origanum vulgare)
  • Pau D’Arco / “pink trumpet tree” bark (Handroanthus impetiginosus)
  • Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus)
  • Thyme leaf (Thymus vulgaris)

This list of antimicrobial herbs for leaky gut and dysbiosis is not exhaustive. To go more in-depth is far beyond the scope of what I can include in just an article!

  • The third pillar of complete gut repair, which I refer to as a “Microbiome Makeover”, is covered extensively in my Complete Gut Repair Roadmap online course for those who are on a gut-healing journey and would like to learn more.

Either way, you’ll want to keep in mind the specific types and combinations of herbal antimicrobials that will work (or not work) best for you will depend on what is going on in your gut microbiome, since certain microbes can become resistant to certain types of herbal antibiotics/herbal antifungals.

Demulcent herbs for leaky gut repair

Wouldn’t it be nice to have herbs that provide pretty fast relief for a leaky gut?  Look no further!  Demulcent herbs are slippery and slimy, making them great potential candidates for tissue that is raw, wounded and/or compromised. (5, 6)

Some of these are used more in western clinical herbalism, while others are most popular in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or Ayurveda.  Nonetheless, each of the herbs on this list can all do wonders for coating and supporting the mucous membranes of the gut!

Mucilaginous herbs are best taken as tea or capsules, versus tinctures – since alcohol does not extract the mucilage (slippery, slimy, healing constituents) very efficiently. 

Note: I included slippery elm bark on the list, since it’s technically a mucilaginous herb.  However, I’ve been taught by all of my mentors NOT to work with slippery elm since it’s been overharvested the last few decades and is now at risk of going extinct in the wild.  Please don’t use slippery elm given all of these other wonderful options readily available!

  • Aloe vera leaf juice (Aloe barbadensis)
  • Amla / Amalaki / Indian gooseberry (Phyllanthus emblica)
  • Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
  • Plantain leaf (Plantago major)
  • Marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis)
  • Slippery elm bark (Ulmus rubra)
  • Triphala (“three fruits”) – Amalaki (Emblica officinalis) + Vibhitaka (Terminalia bellerica) + Haritaki (Terminalia chebula)

Prebiotic herbs

By this point, you’ll notice the following prebiotic herbs were also listed in other categories – so there is a decent amount of overlap. The key attributes of prebiotic herbs are that they contain special indigestible fibers and/or polyphenols which serve as a primary fuel source for probiotic microbes that support a healthy gut lining.

(Read more about the similarities and differences between prebiotics vs probiotics here!)

My favorite prebiotic herbs for leaky gut include:

  • Burdock root (Arctium lappa)
  • Cacao powder (Theobroma cacao)
  • Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
  • Marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis)
  • Slippery elm bark (Ulmus rubra)
  • Triphala (“three fruits”) – Amalaki (Emblica officinalis) + Vibhitaka (Terminalia bellerica) + Haritaki (Terminalia chebula)

Nervine herbs

Nervines are a class of herbs which soothe and settle a stressed-out nervous system.

With leaky gut and stress going hand-in-hand, it makes sense that nervine herbs would help to settle a nervous stomach and re-balance gut motility by turning off the “fight or flight” branch of the nervous system so that your “rest and digest” system can function optimally.

The best nervine herbs for leaky gut include but are not limited to:

  • Chamomile flowers (Matricaria chamomilla)
  • Gotu kola (Centella asiatica)
  • Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

Herbs for leaky gut: a complete list

Below is a comprehensive, alphabetized list of the herbs for leaky gut and digestion mentioned above, with their latin name included!

  1. Agarita/Algerita root (Mahonia trifoliolata)
  2. Aloe vera leaf (Aloe barbadensis miller)
  3. Amla / Amalaki / Indian gooseberry (Phyllanthus emblica)
  4. Artichoke leaf (Cynara cardunculus)
  5. Bayberry bark (Morella cerifera)
  6. Burdock root (Arctium lappa)
  7. Cacao (Theobroma cacao)
  8. Calendula flowers (Calendula officinalis)
  9. Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum)
  10. Chamomile flowers (Matricaria chamomilla)
  11. Coffee (Coffea arabica)
  12. Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale)
  13. Fennel seeds (Foeniculum vulgare)
  14. Garlic (Allium sativum)
  15. Gentian root (Gentiana lutea)
  16. Ginger root (Zingiber officinale)
  17. Gotu kola (Centella asiatica)
  18. Grapefruit peel (Citrus Racemosa)
  19. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)
  20. Lemon peel (Citrus limon)
  21. Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
  22. Marshmallow root (Althaea officinalis)
  23. Milk thistle seed (Silybum marianum)
  24. Orange peel (Citrus x sinensis)
  25. Oregon grape root (Berberis aquifolium) 
  26. Oregano leaf  (Origanum vulgare)
  27. Pau D’Arco bark (Handroanthus impetiginosus)
  28. Peppermint leaf (Mentha × piperita)
  29. Plantain leaf (Plantago major)
  30. Rose petals (Rosa Centifolia)
  31. Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus)
  32. Schisandra berries (Schisandra chinensis)
  33. Shatavari root (Asparagus racemosus)
  34. Slippery elm bark (Ulmus rubra)
  35. Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
  36. Triphala (“three fruits”) – Amalaki (Emblica officinalis) + Vibhitaka (Terminalia bellerica) + Haritaki (Terminalia chebula)
  37. Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
  38. Violet leaves (Viola spp.)
  39. Yellow dock root (Rumex crispus)

Herbal medicine for health: additional resources

As I mentioned earlier, leaky gut often is often accompanied by IBS, dysbiosis, nutritional deficiencies, and immune system imbalance.  If you’d like to learn more about how to support your health holistically with herbs, make sure to check out the resources below, and/or feel free to enroll in my Complete Gut Repair Roadmap online course where we can go down the gut-healing rabbit hole together at your own pace!

Complete Gut Repair Roadmap with Jenna Volpe - Learn More

Leaky gut

Herbs for digestion and IBS

Herbs for iron deficiency anemia

Herbs for immunity

Herbalism books

Herbs for leaky gut and digestion: final thoughts

Herbs are best and most effective when used alongside functional nutrition, medical nutrition therapy interventions, and energy healing as a multi-dimensional way to support conditions such as IBS, leaky gut and digestive health at the root-cause level.

Working 1:1 with a holistic healthcare team which includes a functional medicine doctor, functional dietitian nutritionist, clinical herbalist, and energy healing practitioner (alongside other types of practitioners, as needed) is a great way to start addressing your gut health from all angles.

If you’re a holistic-minded and motivated action-taker and implementer, and you’d like to simplify and speed up your gut-healing journey, I invite you to enroll in my Complete Gut Repair Roadmap online course where you’ll get a complete and comprehensive step-by-step roadmap (simple, consolidated and all in one place) so you can finally get clear on what you need to do in order to heal yourself at the root level, from the inside-out!

2 thoughts on “39 Herbs for Leaky Gut & Digestive Health”

  1. Melissa Russell

    this article is so great it gives you so much information without it costing you a ton of money I have spent a ton of money on stuff and haven’t really been diagnosed with anything but I accept at the beginning I had an inflamed stomach never healed properly with God’s help it has been it has snowballed to histamine I believe that it goes back to a leaky gut and I’m trying to fix this through God’s help God is helping me in guiding me but this article is the best article I have ever seen please email me is there a book out on this

    1. Jenna Volpe, RDN, LD, CLT

      Hi Melissa, so sorry to hear you’re struggling but very glad you found the article helpful! Someday I’d love to start writing books on this topic and will definitely keep you posted.
      -Jenna

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