By Matt Gowan, BSC, ND
August 30, 2017


Carminatives – Herbs to relieve cramping, bloating and gas

By Matt Gowan, BSC, ND
August 30, 2017

Carminatives are herbs that help promote digestion and relieve bloating and flatulence. The word carminative comes from the Latin meaning to “comb out”.  The ancient Greeks stated carminatives “help to relax the gross humours from whence the wind arises, combing them out like knots in wool.”1 This is a long way of saying carminatives relax smooth muscles to relieve cramping and help expel gas.

Carminatives contain essential oils that impart their medical effects.  After consuming a carminative, one detects a pleasant aromatic taste followed by increased circulation to the digestive tract.  Within a few minutes, smooth muscles and sphincters relax relieving cramping pains and often releasing trapped gas resulting in eructation and/or flatulence. The precise mechanism of carminatives is unknown, but the essential oils have an irritant effect on mucous membranes causing capillaries to dilate and increase blood flow.  In addition, these oils normalize peristalsis (the rhythmic movement of the intestines) and relax sphincters, thereby facilitating the passage of food and also make it easier to expel gas.

What conditions can carminatives help?

Research supports the traditional use of carminatives to improve symptoms of abdominal pain, bloating, distention and irregular bowel habit.2–6 Due to symptom relief, studies also showed that quality of life was increased in patients taking carminatives.

Carminative can help with several conditions including:

  • Flatulence
  • Colic
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Indigestion
  • Colitis
  • Gastric ulcer


What some examples of carminatives?    

Hundreds of plants from around the world act as carminatives including:

  • Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
  • Caraway (Carum carvi)
  • Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
  • Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
  • Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
  • Garden angelica (Angelica archangelica)
  • Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)
  • Parsley (Petroselinum sativum)
  • Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
  • Sage (Salvia officinalis)
  • Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

The following carminatives are explained in more detail including the supporting research.


Consuming peppermint (Mentha piperita) after meals has long been a culinary custom to help freshen the breath and facilitate digestion.7  Peppermint is the most researched of all the carminatives.  Clinical trials show peppermint improves symptoms in patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and dyspepsia.8 In addition, peppermint relieves abdominal pain, especially when associated with diarrhea.9,10  Peppermint may also be a useful adjunct to some modern medicinal procedures. Research shows peppermint relaxes smooth muscles thereby decreasing pain and discomfort in patients undergoing endoscopy and colonoscopy.11–19

Peppermint - Carminatives


How does peppermint work?

Peppermint is rich in essential oils like menthol that gives it a cool minty aroma.  Breath mints, gum, cough drops and even sports creams for muscle pain contain menthol.  The essential oils in peppermint relieve symptoms by reducing intragastric pressure, proximal phase contractility, and appetite.20 Menthol also decreases abdominal pain by affecting visceral hypersensitivity21 and exhibits spasmolytic properties by inhibiting L-type Ca2+ channel responsible for smooth muscle contractions.22  In addition, peppermint oil reduces nausea by modulating serotonin 5-HT(3) receptor.23

Lemon balm 

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) belongs to the mint family and contains high amounts of the essential oil geranial25 that gives it a distinctive lemony smell. Herbalist have long used lemon balm to treat stomach problems, especially in stressed and anxious people. Preliminary research shows lemon balm improves anxiety and sleep problems in humans.26   Lemon balm is effective against IBS and peptic ulcer by exhibiting antibacterial activity against E. coli27 and Helicobacter pylori28. In addition, lemon balm in combination with chamomile may be effective in treating colic based on animal studies.4,29 It also exerts a protective effect against gastric ulcer.30

How does it work?

Less research exists for the health benefits of lemon balm compared to other carminatives.  Presumably, the essential oils in lemon balm have a similar effect on the digestive tract as peppermint. Limited research shows lemon balm modulates intestinal motility and possesses antibacterial activity, which explains some of its medicinal effects.4,27–29

Lemon balm - carminatives

Lemon balm

Fennel & Anise

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and anise (Pimpinella anisum) are closely related plants in the Apiaceae (carrot family).  Both herbs are rich in anethole, an essential oil that imparts these carminatives with their distinctive sweet licorice taste.  Cultures around the world have used these two plants interchangeably for both culinary and medicinal purposes.  After dinner, Indian restaurants serve “mukhwas” a carminative mixture of fennel, anise and other seeds that help freshen the breath and settle the stomach.31  Fennel and anise are found in licorice tasting aperitifs, like ouzo and sambuca, that are used in the Mediterranean region to promote digestion.  Mother’s may be familiar with “gripe water” a traditional herbal mixture containing fennel that relieves colic in infants, whose efficacy has now been confirmed by science.2

Research supports the use of fennel in patients with gastrointestinal disorders such as IBS because it reduces abdominal pain and bloating.6  Furthermore, the essential oil of fennel helps provide protection against harmful enteric organisms such as Campylobacter jejuni32 and Helicobacter pylori.28

How do fennel and anise work?

The essential oils of fennel and anise have antispasmodic effects, increase gastric secretions33 and enhance gastric emptying.34 Moreover, due to its high polyphenol content, fennel was also found to be effective in reducing and preventing gastric lesions.5

Fennel - Carminatives



Caraway is closely related to fennel and anise in appearance and medicinal properties, however, cumin has a distinctive earthy, musky aroma that flavors Indian curries and Mexican dishes. Although caraway tastes different than anise and fennel, the essential oils are very similar and can be used for essentially the same purposes. Research shows the combination of caraway and peppermint treats dyspepsia8 and IBS.35,36 In animal studies, caraway improved colic.37 Finally it appears to possess antibacterial activity against ulcer causing H. pylori.28

How does it work?

Caraway has an antispasmodic effect that relaxes smooth muscles of the duodenum, stomach and gall bladder.38–40 The synergistic effect of peppermint and caraway also modulates post-inflammatory visceral hyperalgesia, providing gastrointestinal symptom relief.35

Caraway - carminative




Chamomile has long been consumed as a caffeine-free herbal tea to calm the nerves and settle an upset stomach.    In the Germanic herbal tradition, chamomile has an affinity for the stomach is the primary herb recommended for gastritis and stomach ulcers. Also, parents often give chamomile tea to irritable children to relieve tummy aches.

Most clinical trials conducted on chamomile for digestive disorders use mixtures of chamomile with other herbs. When combined with coffee charcoal and myrrh, chamomile was found to be effective in improving symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).41,42 Specifically, this combination reduced symptoms of nausea/vomiting, stool frequency, flatulence, and pain. Meanwhile, in combination with lemon balm, chamomile was found to reduce intestinal motility, thereby suggesting its effectiveness in treating colicky infants and diarrhea.4,29

Chamomile - Carminatives


How does it work?

The flowers contain essential oils and flavonoids that are responsible for its medicinal actions.   Chamomile is rich in antioxidants which also plays a role in protecting against gastric ulcer.43,44 Chamomile acts as an anti-inflammatory agent by reducing interleukin (ie. IL-6), TNF (ie. TNF-alpha) and prostaglandins while improving IL-10.45,46 Moreover, chamomile exerts antispasmodic effect thereby providing relief from cramping abdominal pain.47–51

Safety Concerns with Carminatives

In general, carminatives are considered very safe.  Because carminatives relax sphincters some patients may complain of reflux, especially if carminatives are consumed immediately before lying down.  High amount should not be given to pregnant and breastfeeding women due to lack of safety studies.21,24

Summary of Carminatives

Carminatives relieve bloating, cramping and gas.  These herbs are rich in essential oils that relax smooth muscles and increase circulation to the digestive tract.  Herbal carminatives are used to treat indigestion, colic, IBD and IBS.  Although carminatives are relatively safe, excess amounts can cause reflux and heartburn.

Author & Photographer: Matt Gowan, BSc, ND
All images are copyright of Matt Gowan ©2017 Reference

Disclaimer: This content is subject to change. The information is intended to inform and educate; it does not replace the medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional. © 2017 NDAssist Inc. and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.

References: Carminatives – Herbs that relieve indigestion, bloating and gas

Onions C Talbut, Washington Salisbury Friedrichsen G, Burchfield R W. The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. Oxford University Press ; 1966.
Savino F, Cresi F, Castagno E, Silvestro L, Oggero R. A randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial of a standardized extract of Matricariae recutita, Foeniculum vulgare and Melissa officinalis (ColiMil) in the treatment of breastfed colicky infants. Phytother Res. 2005;19(4):335-340. [PubMed]
Vejdani R, Shalmani H, Mir-Fattahi M, et al. The efficacy of an herbal medicine, Carmint, on the relief of abdominal pain and bloating in patients with irritable bowel syndrome: a pilot study. Dig Dis Sci. 2006;51(8):1501-1507. [PubMed]
Savino F, Capasso R, Palumeri E, Tarasco V, Locatelli E, Capasso F. [Advances on the effects of the compounds of a phytotherapic agent (COLIMIL) on upper gastrointestinal transit in mice]. Minerva Pediatr. 2008;60(3):285-290. [PubMed]
Sumbul S, Ahmad M, Mohd A, Mohd A. Role of phenolic compounds in peptic ulcer: An overview. J Pharm Bioallied Sci. 2011;3(3):361-367. [PubMed]
Portincasa P, Bonfrate L, Scribano M, et al. Curcumin and Fennel Essential Oil Improve Symptoms and Quality of Life in Patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. J Gastrointestin Liver Dis. 2016;25(2):151-157. [PubMed]
Mimica-Dukic N, Bozin B. Mentha L. species (Lamiaceae) as promising sources of bioactive secondary metabolites. Curr Pharm Des. 2008;14(29):3141-3150. [PubMed]
Rich G, Shah A, Koloski N, et al. A randomized placebo-controlled trial on the effects of Menthacarin, a proprietary peppermint- and caraway-oil-preparation, on symptoms and quality of life in patients with functional dyspepsia. Neurogastroenterol Motil. July 2017. [PubMed]
Merat S, Khalili S, Mostajabi P, Ghorbani A, Ansari R, Malekzadeh R. The effect of enteric-coated, delayed-release peppermint oil on irritable bowel syndrome. Dig Dis Sci. 2010;55(5):1385-1390. [PubMed]
Alam M, Roy P, Miah A, et al. Efficacy of Peppermint oil in diarrhea predominant IBS – a double blind randomized placebo – controlled study. Mymensingh Med J. 2013;22(1):27-30. [PubMed]
Mizuno S, Kato K, Ono Y, et al. Oral peppermint oil is a useful antispasmodic for double-contrast barium meal examination. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2006;21(8):1297-1301. [PubMed]
Yamamoto N, Nakai Y, Sasahira N, et al. Efficacy of peppermint oil as an antispasmodic during endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2006;21(9):1394-1398. [PubMed]
de S, Soares P, de A, Maia A, de S, Assreuy A. Antispasmodic effect of Mentha piperita essential oil on tracheal smooth muscle of rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 2010;130(2):433-436. [PubMed]
Hiki N. [Peppermint oil reduces gastric motility during the upper gastrointestinal endoscopy]. Nihon Rinsho. 2010;68(11):2126-2134. [PubMed]
Zong L, Qu Y, Luo D, et al. Preliminary experimental research on the mechanism of liver bile secretion stimulated by peppermint oil. J Dig Dis. 2011;12(4):295-301. [PubMed]
Solà-Bonada N, de A-L, Roca-Massa M, Bordas-Alsina J, Codina-Jané C, Ribas-Sala J. [1.6% peppermint oil solution as intestinal spasmolytic in retrograde endoscopic cholangiopancreatography]. Farm Hosp. 2012;36(4):256-260. [PubMed]
Hikichi T, Irisawa A, Sato M, et al. Utility of peppermint oil for endoscopic diagnosis of gastric tumors. Fukushima J Med Sci. 2011;57(2):60-65. [PubMed]
Imagawa A, Hata H, Nakatsu M, et al. Peppermint oil solution is useful as an antispasmodic drug for esophagogastroduodenoscopy, especially for elderly patients. Dig Dis Sci. 2012;57(9):2379-2384. [PubMed]
Shavakhi A, Ardestani S, Taki M, Goli M, Keshteli A. Premedication with peppermint oil capsules in colonoscopy: a double blind placebo-controlled randomized trial study. Acta Gastroenterol Belg. 2012;75(3):349-353. [PubMed]
Papathanasopoulos A, Rotondo A, Janssen P, et al. Effect of acute peppermint oil administration on gastric sensorimotor function and nutrient tolerance in health. Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2013;25(4):e263-71. [PubMed]
Mearin F, Ciriza C, Mínguez M, et al. Clinical Practice Guideline: Irritable bowel syndrome with constipation and functional constipation in the adult. Rev Esp Enferm Dig. 2016;108(6):332-363. [PubMed]
Amato A, Liotta R, Mulè F. Effects of menthol on circular smooth muscle of human colon: analysis of the mechanism of action. Eur J Pharmacol. 2014;740:295-301. [PubMed]
Heimes K, Hauk F, Verspohl E. Mode of action of peppermint oil and (-)-menthol with respect to 5-HT3 receptor subtypes: binding studies, cation uptake by receptor channels and contraction of isolated rat ileum. Phytother Res. 2011;25(5):702-708. [PubMed]
Khanna R, MacDonald J, Levesque B. Peppermint oil for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome: a systematic review and meta-analysis. J Clin Gastroenterol. 2014;48(6):505-512. [PubMed]
Nurzyńska-Wierdak R, Bogucka-Kocka A, Szymczak G. Volatile constituents of Melissa officinalis leaves determined by plant age. Nat Prod Commun. 2014;9(5):703-706. [PubMed]
Cases J, Ibarra A, Feuillère N, Roller M, Sukkar S. Pilot trial of Melissa officinalis L. leaf extract in the treatment of volunteers suffering from mild-to-moderate anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances. Med J Nutrition Metab. 2011;4(3):211-218. [PubMed]
Thompson A, Meah D, Ahmed N, et al. Comparison of the antibacterial activity of essential oils and extracts of medicinal and culinary herbs to investigate potential new treatments for irritable bowel syndrome. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2013;13:338. [PubMed]
Mahady G, Pendland S, Stoia A, et al. In vitro susceptibility of Helicobacter pylori to botanical extracts used traditionally for the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders. Phytother Res. 2005;19(11):988-991. [PubMed]
Capasso R, Savino F, Capasso F. Effects of the herbal formulation ColiMil on upper gastrointestinal transit in mice in vivo. Phytother Res. 2007;21(10):999-1101. [PubMed]
Saberi A, Abbasloo E, Sepehri G, et al. The Effects of Methanolic Extract of Melissa officinalis on Experimental Gastric Ulcers in Rats. Iran Red Crescent Med J. 2016;18(7):e24271. [PubMed]
Badgujar S, Patel V, Bandivdekar A. Foeniculum vulgare Mill: a review of its botany, phytochemistry, pharmacology, contemporary application, and toxicology. Biomed Res Int. 2014;2014:842674. [PubMed]
Cwikla C, Schmidt K, Matthias A, Bone K, Lehmann R, Tiralongo E. Investigations into the antibacterial activities of phytotherapeutics against Helicobacter pylori and Campylobacter jejuni. Phytother Res. 2010;24(5):649-656. [PubMed]
Vasudevan K, Vembar S, Veeraraghavan K, Haranath P. Influence of intragastric perfusion of aqueous spice extracts on acid secretion in anesthetized albino rats. Indian J Gastroenterol. 2000;19(2):53-56. [PubMed]
Asano T, Aida S, Suemasu S, Mizushima T. Anethole restores delayed gastric emptying and impaired gastric accommodation in rodents. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 2016;472(1):125-130. [PubMed]
Adam B, Liebregts T, Best J, et al. A combination of peppermint oil and caraway oil attenuates the post-inflammatory visceral hyperalgesia in a rat model. Scand J Gastroenterol. 2006;41(2):155-160. [PubMed]
Lauche R, Janzen A, Lüdtke R, Cramer H, Dobos G, Langhorst J. Efficacy of Caraway Oil Poultices in Treating Irritable Bowel Syndrome–A Randomized Controlled Cross-Over Trial. Digestion. 2015;92(1):22-31. [PubMed]
Keshavarz A, Minaiyan M, Ghannadi A, Mahzouni P. Effects of Carum carvi L. (Caraway) extract and essential oil on TNBS-induced colitis in rats. Res Pharm Sci. 2013;8(1):1-8. [PubMed]
Goerg K, Spilker T. Effect of peppermint oil and caraway oil on gastrointestinal motility in healthy volunteers: a pharmacodynamic study using simultaneous determination of gastric and gall-bladder emptying and orocaecal transit time. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2003;17(3):445-451. [PubMed]
Micklefield G, Jung O, Greving I, May B. Effects of intraduodenal application of peppermint oil (WS(R) 1340) and caraway oil (WS(R) 1520) on gastroduodenal motility in healthy volunteers. Phytother Res. 2003;17(2):135-140. [PubMed]
Al-Essa M, Shafagoj Y, Mohammed F, Afifi F. Relaxant effect of ethanol extract of Carum carvi on dispersed intestinal smooth muscle cells of the guinea pig. Pharm Biol. 2010;48(1):76-80. [PubMed]
Langhorst J, Varnhagen I, Schneider S, et al. Randomised clinical trial: a herbal preparation of myrrh, chamomile and coffee charcoal compared with mesalazine in maintaining remission in ulcerative colitis–a double-blind, double-dummy study. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2013;38(5):490-500. [PubMed]
Albrecht U, Müller V, Schneider B, Stange R. Efficacy and safety of a herbal medicinal product containing myrrh, chamomile and coffee charcoal for the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders: a non-interventional study. BMJ Open Gastroenterol. 2015;1(1):e000015. [PubMed]
Cemek M, Yilmaz E, Büyükokuroğlu M. Protective effect of Matricaria chamomilla on ethanol-induced acute gastric mucosal injury in rats. Pharm Biol. 2010;48(7):757-763. [PubMed]
Al-Hashem F. Gastroprotective effects of aqueous extract of Chamomilla recutita against ethanol-induced gastric ulcers. Saudi Med J. 2010;31(11):1211-1216. [PubMed]
Menghini L, Ferrante C, Leporini L, et al. An Hydroalcoholic Chamomile Extract Modulates Inflammatory and Immune Response in HT29 Cells and Isolated Rat Colon. Phytother Res. 2016;30(9):1513-1518. [PubMed]
Vissiennon C, Hammoud D, Rodewald S, et al. Chamomile Flower, Myrrh, and Coffee Charcoal, Components of a Traditional Herbal Medicinal Product, Diminish Proinflammatory Activation in Human Macrophages. Planta Med. 2017;83(10):846-854. [PubMed]
Achterrath-Tuckermann U, Kunde R, Flaskamp E, Isaac O, Thiemer K. [Pharmacological investigations with compounds of chamomile. V. Investigations on the spasmolytic effect of compounds of chamomile and Kamillosan on the isolated guinea pig ileum]. Planta Med. 1980;39(1):38-50. [PubMed]
McKay D, Blumberg J. A review of the bioactivity and potential health benefits of chamomile tea (Matricaria recutita L.). Phytother Res. 2006;20(7):519-530. [PubMed]
Maschi O, Cero E, Galli G, Caruso D, Bosisio E, Dell’Agli M. Inhibition of human cAMP-phosphodiesterase as a mechanism of the spasmolytic effect of Matricaria recutita L. J Agric Food Chem. 2008;56(13):5015-5020. [PubMed]
Mehmood M, Munir S, Khalid U, Asrar M, Gilani A. Antidiarrhoeal, antisecretory and antispasmodic activities of Matricaria chamomilla are mediated predominantly through K(+)-channels activation. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2015;15:75. [PubMed]
Vissiennon C, Goos K, Arnhold J, Nieber K. Mechanisms on spasmolytic and anti-inflammatory effects of a herbal medicinal product consisting of myrrh, chamomile flower, and coffee charcoal. Wien Med Wochenschr. 2017;167(7-8):169-176. [PubMed]