Whether you have a loss of appetite due to anorexia or as a side effect of certain medications or medical conditions, some herbs might act as appetite stimulants. Herbs like gentian, blessed thistle and others could help to improve your appetite and promote healthy digestion at the same time. Consult your doctor before taking any herbal appetite stimulant to discuss the potential health risks and drug interactions.
You might take herbs like horehound, centaury, alfalfa, fenugreek, gentian or blessed thistle to stimulate your appetite. Gentian, blessed thistle, horehound and centaury are considered "bitters," meaning that they contain certain constituents that are thought to improve appetite and digestion, says the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Bitter herbs seem to increase stomach acids and saliva, which may account for their appetite-stimulating effects (Reference 1). No widely accepted medical research supports the use of any herbs to stimulate appetite, however.
You might take ¾ tsp. of horehound daily or 1 to 2 grams of centaury capsules three times daily prior to meals, says the University of Michigan Health System. The typical recommended dosage of alfalfa is 1 to 2 mL of tincture three times daily or 500 to 1,000 mg of dried herb daily (Reference 3). Between 250 and 500 mg of fenugreek taken two or three times per day is sometimes recommended for promoting appetite, notes the University of Maryland Medical Center. Alternatively, you could take 20 drops of gentian tincture before meals or 2 grams of blessed thistle two or three times per day, states the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Ask your doctor about the dosage that's right for you before taking any of these herbs.
In addition to stimulating appetite, horehound could also help in treating respiratory ailments like coughs and bronchitis, while centaury is sometimes recommended for low stomach acid and indigestion, says the University of Michigan Health System. Alfalfa may help lower cholesterol levels and treat menopause (Reference 3). Gentian and blessed thistle are often also used to improve digestion, notes the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Talk to your physician before taking any of these herbs as appetite stimulants or to treat any other health problem.
Although few medical studies have been performed on these herbal appetite stimulants, the Germany government's Commission E has approved centaury, horehound and blessed thistle as viable treatments for poor appetite (References 1, 2 & 6). Centaury is one of the most popular herbs used in European folk medicine to treat digestive tract ailments, says the University of Michigan Health System. In traditional Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, alfalfa was used to treat digestive problems. Eclectic physicians in the United States during the 1800s began using the herb to treat poor appetite and indigestion (Reference 3). Blessed thistle has been used in European traditional medicine for digestive problems and is part of Essiac herbal therapy used to treat cancer, notes the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
If you're allergic to daisy family plants, you might have an allergic reaction to blessed thistle (reference 6). Alfalfa can also cause allergic reactions in some people (Reference 3). If you take large doses of alfalfa, you might be at a higher risk of developing the autoimmune disease called systemic lupus erythematosus (Reference 3). In rare cases, gentian could worsen acid reflux or stomach ulcers and you shouldn't take it during pregnancy (Reference 5). If you have stomach ulcers, heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, Crohn's disease, diarrhea, or related gastrointestinal conditions, you shouldn't take centaury (Reference 2). If you have gastritis or peptic ulcers or if you're pregnant, you shouldn't take horehound (Reference 1).