Essential oils improve digestive tract health and enhance the digestive process in numerous ways. They can eliminate bacteria and yeast, stimulate bile production, improve liver and gallbladder health, alleviate intestinal parasites, help relieve gas and bloating, and soothe abdominal cramping.
Citrus oils, spice oils, and mint oils are the most well-known essential oils for improving digestion, but there are a few others that don’t fall into those categories.
Citrus Essential Oils
1. Lemon Essential Oil
Lemon (Citrus limonum): Aspirin is the most widely used anti-inflammatory drug on the market, and along with it comes side effects and damage to the lining of the intestines. Lemon essential oil has been shown to have cell protective actions against the aspirin-induced toxicity. In the referenced study, it reversed the damage caused by the aspirin. (1)
The dilution rate for lemon essential oil is 1-2% (9-18 drops per ounce of carrier oil), based on age and sensitivity. This is a suggested maximum use for adult healthy skin. For those young or elderly with more sensitive skin, I would suggest .5-1%. Use a carrier such as olive oil, sweet almond, jojoba, or vegetable oil and blend in your oils. Using a small amount, rub on the belly counterclockwise.
Repeat every 3-4 hours as needed to help calm the belly. If irritation occurs, stop immediately. Lemon, like most citrus oils, is phototoxic. Furanocoumarins (FCs) are found in most citrus oils in relatively small amounts, but enough to become activated in UVA light and cause irritation on the skin. (2) For this reason, lemon essential oil should not be used in the sun or in tanning beds unless it is in a wash off product.
2. Orange Essential Oil
Orange essential oil (Citrus sinensis) alleviates constipation and diarrhea, soothes irritable bowel syndrome, reduces nausea and vomiting, calms muscle spasms, and relieves gas and bloating. It also helps improve your appetite by aiding in the digestive process.
It can be used to alleviate bacterial and fungal infections like candida yeast overgrowth in the gut, too. Most of these issues are resolved internally and under a guided clinical aromatherapist. However, through dermal absorption, we can find symptom relief by using a solution of 1 to 2% (9-18 drops per ounce) in a carrier oil and massaging the abdomen area counterclockwise.
We suggest repeating the process every few hours until you get symptom relief. If a reaction such as itching or red raised skin occurs, stop immediately. Orange peels, where the essential oil is extracted from, showed considerable activity against Listeria monocytogenes, which occurs in the gut. (3) You could also diffuse during mealtime. Wild or sweet orange essential oil is not photosensitizing.
3. Bergamot Essential Oil
Amongst many other components, Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) essential oil contains upwards of 36% of the component (constituent) d-limonene. Being a solvent of cholesterol, d-limonene has been used clinically to dissolve cholesterol-containing gallstones. Because of its gastric acid neutralizing effect and its support of normal peristalsis, it has also been used for relief of heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux (GERD). (4)
Bergamot oil also kills bacteria. BEO has been proven to be a natural technological hurdle against Listeria monocytogenes and other strains of bacteria. (5) This citrus oil will also help relieve flatulence and painful digestive issues and helps to increase the appetite. Blend 1-2% (9-18 drops) of bergamot with 1 ounce of carrier oil and gently massage abdomen in a clockwise motion.
Expressed Bergamot essential oil is phototoxic, not distilled. Distilled or FCF (furocoumarin free) is best to use. Older citrus oils tend to oxidize easier. You could also diffuse during mealtime.
Herb and Spice Essential Oils
1. Anise or Aniseed Essential Oil
Used with direction, anise (Pimpinella anisum) essential oil can assist with colic, indigestion, flatulence, nervous stomach, diarrhea, and vomiting.
Anise has a high content of the component €-anethole, upwards of 80%, and should be used cautiously. Tisserand had noted trans-anethole as having a weak estrogen-like activity. (6) Anise is contraindicated for pregnancy, breastfeeding, endometriosis, any estrogen-related cancers, and in children less than 5 years of age.
Oral doses are not recommended for people taking diabetes medication, diuretic medication, with renal insufficiency, or edematous disorders. Also, it may interfere with anticoagulant medications or bleeding disorders. When oxidized, anise may be skin sensitizing. For topical applications, Tisserand suggests a maximum of 2.4% dilution. (7)
For discomfort, blend 1-2% (9-18 drops) of anise essential oil to 1-ounce carrier oil. Apply counterclockwise to the abdomen. Diffuse 15 drops (or drops per your diffuser directions) for 30-60 minutes after mealtime. You can also practice anise essential oil aromatherapy at mealtime.
2. Basil Essential Oil
Basil (Ocimum basilicum ct. linalool) essential oil is excellent for calming your tummy and alleviating vomiting. Just add one drop of sweet basil to a cotton ball or tissue and inhale slowly. For added effect, add one drop of peppermint to your basil. Because of the constituent linalool, basil has anti-spasmodic properties that contribute to calming the stomach. Other oils that sweet basil works well with include sweet fennel, cardamom, and Roman chamomile. Sweet basil is also a great oil for flatulence.
Under the guidance of a trained clinical aromatherapist, in the appropriate delivery vehicle depending in the clients’ symptoms, sweet basil can assist with ulcers, cleansing of the intestines, aid with the effects of gout, and help stimulate enzymes in the pancreas. (8)
Sweet basil also has a high content of the component (constituent) of eugenol. Tisserand recommends a dermal maximum of 3.3%, keeping in mind this maximum is for healthy, adult skin. (9) Blend 1-2% essential oil to 1-ounce carrier oil or unscented lotion and apply to the abdomen as often as needed.
Use a lesser percentage based on age, sensitivity, and integrity of the skin.
3. Black Pepper Essential Oil
Black pepper (Piper nigrum) is one of the best essential oils for improving digestion. It relieves colic, constipation, abdominal cramping and spasms, diarrhea, indigestion, gas, bloating, and nausea. Black pepper oil also stimulates your appetite, speeds digestion, and boosts your metabolism.
Black pepper will antidote fish and mushroom poisoning, ease tonsillitis, soothe toothaches, calm heartburn, and increase saliva. (10)
Because of the spicy hot nature of black pepper, use no more than 1% essential oil to one ounce of carrier oil and rub into the abdomen. If irritation occurs, stop immediately. This percentage is for healthy, adult skin. Reduce your percentage for those with sensitive skin, including the young and elderly. Black pepper should not be used internally except under the guidance of a clinical aromatherapist who is trained in pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics.
4. Caraway Seed Essential Oil
Caraway (Carum carvi) essential oil stimulates the appetite, relieves diarrhea and gas, reduces abdominal cramps and spasms, and helps alleviate nervous digestive issues. It is also useful for treating diverticulitis, colitis, colic, dyspepsia, and IBS. (11) (12)
The component (+)-carvone in caraway essential oil gives it a sweet spicy aroma with a slight peppery background. Per Tisserand, there is very little concern for this oil topically and it is safe up to 23%, although this level of dilution is rarely necessary. Blend 1-2% essential oil to 1 ounce of carrier oil or unscented lotion and apply to the abdomen as often as needed.
Caraway seed essential oil is even more effective when combined with peppermint essential oil. If using peppermint, keep it under 1-2% maximum for healthy, adult skin. Use a lesser percentage for those who are sensitive, which includes the young and elderly. Do not use peppermint topically on anyone under 5 years of age.
5. Cardamom Essential Oil
Cardamom (Ellettaria cardamomum) essential oil is produced from the seeds and has a high content of 1,8-cineole. Cardamom is an excellent digestive aid and has been proven to significantly inhibit gastric irritation and ulcerative lesions induced by ethanol and aspirin in rats. (13)
Cardamom should be used with caution in children 5-10 years of age and never near the faces of infants or children. For discomfort, blend 1-2% (9-18 drops) of cardamom essential oil to an ounce carrier oil. Apply counterclockwise to the abdomen. Diffuse 15 drops (or drops per your diffuser directions) for 30-60 minutes after mealtime.
6. Clove Bud Essential Oil
Clove Bud (Eugenia caryophyllata) essential oil should be used with caution. Clinical aromatherapists have used clove bud to treat a multitude of digestive issues including parasites and intoxications, nausea, dysentery, cholera, colic type spasms, and intestinal viruses.
However, it must be done in the appropriate dose and delivery vehicle to be safe. The dermal maximum for adult healthy skin is 0.5%. It’s best to blend with skin-friendly oils, such as Roman chamomile and lavender. It is also advisable to use a skin-friendly carrier oil to help to reduce the chance of skin reaction.
Internally, this oil is a concern with some drug interactions (14)
7. Coriander Seed Essential Oil
Coriander seed (Coriandrum sativum) essential oil has a high content of the component linalool, which is a CNS (central nervous system) depressant found in many oils and can range from 59.0-87.5%. (15)
The significance of coriander on the digestive system is calming, relaxing the muscles, and easing stress-induced digestive discomfort. Coriander seed essential oil also eases symptoms of colic, gastritis, diarrhea, gas, and hiccups. This oil is non-toxic and non-irritating. You can dilute 1-2 % (9-18 drops) in one ounce of carrier oil and apply to the stomach.
For more acute or chronic situations, you can go up to 5-10 percent. This amount is for short-term use only. Before applying to the entire abdomen do a small skin patch test. If there is no reaction within 10 minutes, continue to apply to the rest of the stomach. Discontinue use if there is a reaction of any kind.
Enjoy diffusing coriander seed essential oil during mealtime. It is especially calming yet uplifting when blended with orange or mandarin and vetiver. Try 4 drops coriander, 8 drops mandarin and 2 drops vetiver. Vetiver is strong so keep it low, but it adds a nice calming effect.
8. Fennel Essential Oil
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ssp. piperitum) essential oil assists the symptoms of and eases colitis. (16)
Fennel stimulates your appetite, relieves colic, alleviates constipation and soothes abdominal cramps and spasms. It also assuages gas, bloating, indigestion, and nausea.
This oil should be avoided if you are pregnant or have epilepsy.
Many of the attributes of fennel are through the seed, not the essential oil. Tisserand recommends a maximum dermal dose of 2.5%, keeping in mind this maximum is for healthy, adult skin.
9. Ginger Essential Oil
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) essential oil eases flatulence, cramps, colic, nausea, and vomiting and assists in increasing the appetite. It’s great to have on hand in an inhaler for motion sickness.
There are no safety concerns with this oil. Blend 1 to 2% ginger essential oil with 1 ounce of carrier oil and massage into the abdomen. This is a great oil to diffuse during mealtime.
10. Marjoram (Sweet) Essential Oil
Sweet Marjoram (Origanum marjorana) essential oil helps heal infections such as staph and colibacillus due to its anti-bacterial therapeutic properties. (17)
Sweet marjoram is also a great antioxidant and provides relief from constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, abdominal spasms, and cramping.
It also assists with diarrhea, gastritis, acidic stomach, and ulcers. Sweet marjoram is anti-spasmodic, calming the large muscles of the abdomen. Blend 1-2% essential oil to 1 ounce of carrier oil or unscented lotion and apply to the abdomen as needed, or diffuse.
11. Nutmeg Essential Oil
Nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) essential oil alleviates gas, bloating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and muscle spasms. It can also help to kill intestinal parasites. It’s a digestive stimulant that helps to encourage a poor appetite and aids in healing intestinal infections. Some therapeutic actions are through internal use, advised under the care of a trained clinical aromatherapist.
It’s best avoided during pregnancy due to the component myristicin, which can be around 12% within the essential oil. (18) Myristicin is classed as a deliriant. Maximum dilution rate for adult healthy skin is 0.8%. You can round down to 0.5% for easier calculation purposes, which would be no more than 5 drops per ounce of carrier oil. Apply as needed to your stomach. Diffusing can have a stimulating effect.
12. Oregano Essential Oil
Oregano (Origanum vulgare) essential oil should be approached cautiously and is never used internally unless by the direction of a trained clinical aromatherapist. Oregano essential oil has been used to treat various digestive issues including calming intestinal spams and stimulating poor appetites. Oregano soothes intestinal nervous disorders.
Avoid use if you are pregnant or nursing, and also avoid use with small children. There are many cautions against using this oil orally and you should also avoid usage on sensitive skin. The maximum recommended amount for healthy, adult skin is 1.1% or 7-10 drops per ounce of carrier oil.
This oil is best blended with skin-friendly oils and a skin protective carrier oil. This oil goes well with mandarin, sandalwood, and spruce oils such as black spruce. Apply a small amount to your abdomen as needed.
13. Rosemary Essential Oil
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) essential oil has several chemotypes. Rosemary ct. verbenone is good for treating colitis and improving gallbladder function. (19)
Rosemary is a liver stimulant and decongestant and helps to clear bile duct blockage.
It is not for use during pregnancy or for children under 5 years of age. A 1% to 2% rosemary oil/carrier oil blend can be used to massage the abdomen and rosemary aromatherapy can be helpful at mealtime.
14. Savory Essential Oil
Savory (Satureja montana) has an affinity with healing digestive disorders. Savory was shown to have strong effects against bacillus, a causative agent in anthrax. Savory also assists with purging one of intestinal parasites. (20)
Dr. Valnet states that aromatic condiments also owe their digestive and carminative properties to their essences, and these include most of the oils mentioned here. Savory alleviates diarrhea, intestinal cramping, stomach cramps, bloating, gas, and nausea. It can be applied topically, but savory can be irritating so dilute it in a carrier oil to no more than 1% strength. You can also practice savory EO aromatherapy.
15. Tarragon Essential Oil
(Artemisia dracunculus) essential oil stimulates your appetite and food emotional upset stomach, hiccups, abdominal muscle spasms, gas, and bloating. It is a vermifuge, meaning it can rid the body of intestinal worms.
Internally, it should be avoided unless under the direction of a clinical aromatherapist as it can be moderately toxic. Avoid usage with infants and small children, and if you are pregnant. (21,22)
Use caution with this oil. The maximum topical dilution rate for tarragon essential oil is recommended at 0.1%, which is less than a drop per ounce of carrier oil.
16. Thyme Ct. Linalool Essential Oil
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris ct. linalool) essential oil (not Thymus vulgaris ct. thymol) is a disinfectant and was shown, when added to a solution of soapy water, to destroy the mouth’s microbial flora within three minutes. (23)
Thyme stimulates your appetite. It also provides relief from gas, bloating, and intestinal bacterial infections. In addition, it helps battle viral and bacterial staph and candida infections. Blend 1-2% thyme ct. linalool to 1 ounce of carrier oil and apply to your abdomen.
Thyme combats intestinal parasites as well.
Mint Essential Oils
1. Peppermint Essential Oil
Peppermint (Mentha piperita) essential oil is an antidiarrhoeic. When diluted in the proper delivery vehicle and substance, Peppermint acts as an anesthetic with a cooling effect, acting as a counterirritant on your mucous membranes. This is done with capsules and generally honey. The aromatherapist would determine the amount based on the client’s health, sensitivity, and age.
Peppermint can help improve your appetite and provide relief from colitis, colic, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), nausea, food poisoning, hemorrhoids, inflammation, abdominal cramps, gas, and bloating. It can also help with restoring your sense of taste.
Using 1%, or 9 drops per ounce of carrier, massage your abdomen counterclockwise. A low dilution rate of 1% peppermint has a cooling effect. A high dilution rate such as 5% has a heating effect. Peppermint essential oil should only be used on adult healthy skin and in no greater amounts than a 5.4% dilution rate. Because of possible neurological effects on children, peppermint should not be used on anyone younger than 5 years old.
2. Spearmint Essential Oil
Spearmint (Mentha spicata) essential oil is much safer and gentler than peppermint and just as effective. Spearmint is supportive of the digestive system. The components carvone and limonene have strong antibacterial actions, which help to inhibit bacterial growth. (25)
Spearmint helps to stimulate the immune system and has antimicrobial, antioxidant, and antispasmodic properties that help support and keep the digestive system healthy. Spearmint essential oil can be used for colic, vomiting, flatulence, nausea, hiccups, and to stimulate the appetite and bile production.
Spearmint contains carvone and may cause sensitization. It’s best used at a low dilution. To avoid skin irritation, Tisserand recommends a maximum dilution of 1.7%, keeping in mind that this is for healthy, adult skin.
Other Types of Essential Oils
1. Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender (Lavendula angustifolia) essential oil speeds digestion by causing increased bile production and relieving abdominal cramping. It assists with nausea, eases spasms and vomiting, and assists with raising blood sugar levels. (26)
Massage the abdomen with a dilution rate of 1% to 2% lavender essential oil in your favorite carrier oil. Diffusing lavender essential oil eases stomach discomfort and is calming and relaxing.
2. Lemongrass Essential Oil
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) essential oil stimulates the appetite and can be used to effectively treat colitis, gastroenteritis, indigestion, inflammation, bacterial infections, and intestinal parasites.
It can be irritating to mucous membranes in the nose and eyes. Avoid internal use of lemongrass if you are taking diabetic medication or antidepressants/CYP2B6 substrates. Lemongrass is not recommended for children under the age of two. Tisserand cautions the use of this oil during pregnancy. The maximum topical recommendation for healthy, adult skin is 0.7%.
3. Patchouli Essential Oil
Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin) essential oil has limited uses for the digestive system. However, it is a great oil for infectious intestinal colitis. It also relieves spasms, thus calming the digestive tract.
Internally, patchouli should be avoided if you have a peptic ulcer, hemophilia, or other bleeding disorders. It should also be avoided if you are taking anticoagulant medication and before or after major surgery. Tisserand states patchouli is a low-risk allergen and sets no dermal limits.
We recommend blending 1% to 2% (9 to 18 drops) of patchouli essential oil to one ounce of carrier oil. Patchouli oil can also be diffused, but you may consider a citrus oil such as lemon, grapefruit or orange to thin the patchouli. It is very thick and doesn’t diffuse easily.
4. Tea Tree Essential Oil
Tea tree (Melaleuca alternifolia) essential oil is one of the best oils for the digestive system. Tea tree can be used to treat mouth ulcers and other oral issues such as gingivitis. Tea tree will rid the stomach of parasites and support the immune system. It also protects the intestinal tract from infections. Tea tree is excellent for treating thrush (candidiasis). (27)