The following extract is paraphrased from Emine Rushton’s new book ‘Natural Wellness Every Day’ available online or at Gazelli House.
The gut microbiome is a massive ecosystem made up of trillions of organisms, such as bacteria, yeasts, fungi and viruses. This is a living ecosystem with more cells than our physical body! Our community of microbes plays a fundamental role in digestion – cracking open indigestible foodstuffs, supplying the gut with energy, manufacturing vitamins, breaking down toxins and medications – not to mention the crucial role it plays within our immune system. Stress of any kind activates nerves that inhibit the digestive process. Did you know that our perception of pain can be altered by the bacteria in our gut, and that our mood can be altered by our microbiome? When something is wrong with our microbiome, something goes wrong with us. Research into the gut microbiome has revealed the fundamental role it plays in communicating with other systems in our body, such as the brain and immune system, which is why the microbiome can affect mood and contribute to the development of chronic health conditions, including auto-immune disease.3 A dense and diverse gut microbiome is therefore regarded as a reliable indicator of overall health and associated with stability of mood and a resilient immune system. Diets low in fruits and vegetables and fibre but high in ultra-processed foods, such as sugars and trans fatty acids, have been found to have a significant negative impact on the diversity and density of the human microbiome. Adequate hydration can counter many of the problems we associate with slow digestion, acid reflux and constipation. As you increase the amount of fibre you consume, you must in turn increase your water intake. Often, in a bid to increase our fibre intake during a period of chronic constipation, we end up making matters worse – we need to rehydrate the bowel and gut first, then lubricate it from within with warm oils (adding a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil as a dressing for your food is a simple way to do this), and only then increase our fibre intake. We are best to add in more water- and fibre-rich foods first too, such as fruits and vegetables, rather than overdoing the dense, concentrated forms of fibre such as wheat bran. Warming culinary herbs and medicinal plants such as cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, cloves and angelica root (Angelica archangelica) have a long history of use for symptoms associated with upset digestion.
Spotlight on Lemon Balm
The essential character of lemon balm is revealed as soon as you rub a leaf between your finger and thumb. What a delicious scent is released – a mixture of the awakening freshness of lemon with a much warmer, earthier scent. This warm, lemony aroma resides in the plant’s essential oils, and is what creates a distinct mood of relaxation and calm. This is one of the oldest medicinal plants cultivated in Europe, long used to raise the spirit and comfort the heart. Lemon balm expresses itself through its leaves rather than its flowers, which are inconspicuous and to be found hugging the stem, nestled in the leaf axils. Its signature scent is therapeutic and useful when you can’t relax or get to sleep because you have too much going on in your head, or if stress has upset your stomach.
Lemon Balm Infusion
You can make your own lemon balm tea by adding 2 teaspoons of dried leaves to a cup of boiling water and leaving it to infuse for at least 5 minutes. You can also mix lemon balm with chamomile or peppermint for additional digestion- and mood-calming benefits.