Poor appetite can be a symptom of a deeper physical or psychological problem. Many disorders, including gastrointestinal problems, depression, stress, anorexia and liver disease, may involve loss of appetite, sometimes with life-threatening consequences. Herbs may help stimulate your appetite and regulate your digestive system. Consult a qualified health care practitioner to accurately diagnose your appetite problem before starting herbal therapy.
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Herbs to increase appetite are stimulating tonics called bitters. In his 2003 book “Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine,” clinical herbalist David Hoffmann explains that bitters affect the central nervous system, which signals the gut to release digestive hormones that stimulate appetite. Bitters also increase liver bile, which aids digestion. You can take bitters as teas or tinctures. Consult a knowledgeable practitioner for use and dosage instructions.
Gentian, or Gentiana lutea, is a yellow flower found throughout Europe. Traditional healers use the roots and rhizomes as a bitter tonic to treat poor appetite, digestive problems and anorexia. The active ingredients include bitter chemicals known as secoiridoids that increase appetite by stimulating the production of saliva, gastric acids and bile. In their 2009 book “Medicinal Plants of the World,” botanist Ben-Erik van Wyk and biologist Michael Wink state that gentian also contains the chemical amarogentin, one of the most bitter substances known. You can take gentian root as a tea, tincture or capsules. Consult a qualified herbalist for dosage and use instructions.
Blessed thistle, or Cnicus benedictus, is a spiny Mediterranean plant with yellow flowers. The seeds and aerial parts contain a bitter glycoside called cnicin, and herbalists use the plant as a bitter tonic. Like other bitters, thistle increases gastric juices and bile, stimulating appetite and aiding digestion. Hoffmann recommends a tea or tincture of thistle for appetite loss and anorexia. Do not use this herb if you are pregnant.
Centaury, or Centaurium erythraea, is a member of the gentian family. The plant has tiny lavender flowers and is found throughout the world. Healers use the aerial parts as a bitter tonic and to stimulate gastric juices. Hoffmann advises using a tea or tincture for poor appetite and anorexia accompanied by liver weakness. For anorexia, you can combine centaury with burdock root and chamomile. Consult your doctor before taking this herb if you are pregnant.
- “Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine”; David Hoffmann; 2003
- “Medicinal Plants of the World”; Ben-Erik van Wyk and Michael Wink; 2009
- “The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal”; David Hoffmann; 1999