Constipation is uncomfortable and can make life uncomfortable. When you’re feeling weighed down and bloated, you want fast relief. Fortunately, you may be able to use natural remedies to relieve your constipation.

What Is Constipation?

Constipation is defined as having less than three bowel movements per week. It may be chronic, or happen occasionally. Some symptoms include:

  • hard stools
  • straining to have a bowel movement
  • feeling as though you are “blocked” or can’t empty your bowels
  • needing help emptying your rectum
  • abdominal pain
  • nausea and bloating

Constipation is caused by many factors, including:

  • inactivity
  • surgery
  • medications
  • low-fiber diet
  • insufficient fluid intake
  • stress
  • overuse of laxatives

5 Herbal Remedies for Constipation

It’s pretty easy to find herbal remedies for constipation. In fact, many over-the-counter laxatives contain herbal ingredients. Most laxative herbs contain anthroquinones, or substances that have a stimulant effect on the intestines. These laxatives work by drawing in fluid to the colon and increasing peristalsis. Peristalsis is the contraction of the intestines that helps move material through the colon to the rectum.

Here are five herbal remedies you may want to consider for your constipation.

1. Cascara Sagrada (Buckthorn)

This is a popular herbal laxative that comes from the bark extract of a species of buckthorn tree. This extract works by irritating the colon enough to promote bowel movements. Short-term use is usually well-tolerated, but it may cause abdominal pain or electrolyte imbalance. Long-term use may cause liver injury ranging from mild to acute liver failure.

2. Psyllium

A member of the plantain plant species, psyllium is a natural fiber laxative that helps create bulk stools. Psyllium is often used to treat chronic constipation and may be combined with other laxatives, both natural and synthetic. It may cause allergic reaction, nausea, stomach pain, or vomiting.

The Health Benefits of Psyllium

3. Rhubarb

While it may be best known as an ingredient for pie, this fruit is also used to treat constipation. Rhubarb has a laxative effect, but a study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that it also has antidiarrheal effects because of its tannin content. As a result, rhubarb should only be used on a short-term basis for constipation.

4. Senna

An herb, senna is used to treat constipation and to clear the bowel before some medical procedures. The fruit is thought to be gentler than the leaf. Still, it should only be used in the short term and at the recommended doses. Long-term and high-dose use has been reported to cause liver damage.

5. Slippery Elm

This mucilage herb has a history of use for constipation. It stimulates nerves in the GI tract, which leads to mucous production and provides relief from constipation. Limited research has been done to determine long-term effects. Slippery elm does coat the gastrointestinal tract, so it may reduce absorption of some medications if taken at the same time.

There are other herbs that don’t treat constipation directly by inducing bowel movements, but may help relieve associated symptoms.

For example, mint tea helps soothe nausea and bloating, and witch hazel and chamomile applied externally relieve hemorrhoid pain and rectal irritation.

And, don’t forget that the most basic remedy for constipation and for preventing it: eating more fiber. Plants like fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains will help you meet your daily fiber needs.

When to Call the Doctor

If constipation happens now and then, it’s probably nothing more than an uncomfortable nuisance. But if it happens regularly, or is accompanied by these symptoms, give your doctor a call:

  • sudden onset with severe cramping and inability to pass gas
  • blood in your stool
  • rectal pain
  • severe abdominal pain and bloating
  • unexplained weight loss
  • alternating constipation and diarrhea
  • laxatives aren’t working after several weeks of use

Some people believe that all herbs are safe because they’re natural. While it’s true that in some cases herbs are a gentler alternative, they’re still powerful and have the potential to cause drug interactions or negative side effects.

Talk to your doctor or pharmacist before using an herbal remedy to treat constipation, especially if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.