Finding the constipation home remedy that works for you begins with understanding a few basic principles of physiology.
Bile, produced by the liver and condensed by the gallbladder, serves multiple roles in the digestive tract. It acts as one of our natural laxatives, adding moisture to the stools and promoting peristalsis (gut movement).
In this article, we will first take a close look at the role of bile in the digestive process. In a second step, we will present what constipation home remedies promote a healthier and more abundant flow of bile. More bile means more fluid flowing through your gut, and hopefully relief for chronic constipation.
We will particularly focus on one medicinal plant: Yellow Dock, which should be part of every constipation home remedy kit. I will tell you where to buy a quality extract and how to use it.
Finally, and this is the fun part, we will explain how you can create your own yellow dock herbal extract and take a very active role in your healing journey. For those who want to buy a commercial product, I recommend one of my favorite.
I will provide, as usual, lots of detailed information. It is very important to understand how a remedy works. This enables us to visualise its effect as we take it, making those effects more potent, thanks to our power of self-suggestion.
The liver is our processing and recycling plant. After the skin (which is an organ in itself), it is the largest organ of our body.
First it processes raw materials coming from the intestine during digestion. It reorganizes nutrients, then sends those through general circulation to feed the body. Cholesterol, for instance, is a key building block that the liver makes; 85% of the cholesterol we need is manufactured by the liver (only 15% comes directly from food). The liver is also intimately involved in storing and releasing sugar.
Its second job is to process our body's waste (hormones that are no longer needed, old red blood cells, cell debris) as well as outside toxins (drugs, pollutants). Unwanted residues are excreted through the bile.
The liver is quite a busy organ, and can sometimes get overwhelmed with modern life and its load of malnutrition and toxins.
Bile has 3 major functions:
This gives us a clue: one approach for a constipation home remedy would be to leverage bile to relieve constipation. More on this later.
Bile is more effective when it is concentrated. When it leaves the liver, it is fairly liquid. The gallbladder is used as a holding tank to store a certain amount of bile in order to thicken it, keeping it ready for digestion. Just like the colon dehydrates food residues, the gallbladder dehydrates bile.
After being handled by the stomach, the food enters the duodenum, the first part of the intestine. The gallbladder squirts a thick and potent bile into the duodenum, through the cystic duct and common bile duct, entering the duodenum via the sphincter of oddi (the pancreatic juices enter the duodenum via the same sphincter).
This bile mixes with the food and promote good digestion, especially of fats. Not enough bile may cause constipation. The constipation home remedy we present on this page will make you secrete more bile.
To be effective, our constipation home remedy needs to:
Common, time-tested medicinal plants can assist us in that regard.
By optimizing the flow of bile, our constipation home remedy will also:
Yellow dock, or curly dock is a common plant found on road-sides, in public parks, in uncultivated fields, and often in or around the lawn of your garden. Its latin name: Rumex crispus.
It is a plant I use regularly in my naturopathic practice as I respect it lot. It grows all around us, unnoticed, and yet can bring so much good to a deficient liver and gallbladder.
Yellow dock delivers two important functions:
This plant is not very hard to identify. However, if you have little or no experience in medicinal plant recognition, you will want to do a plant walk with experts and learn to identify it. Picking a plant that resembles another one is a very easy mistake to make and can be very dangerous. Think of the parsley family: all plants looking alike at a high-level, containing innocuous plants like fennel and potent poisons like hemlock.
Of course, you do not need to worry about picking and making, there are many trusted sources of yellow dock out there, people who know how to pick, dry and process medicinal plants. I will provide recommendations for tinctures, capsules, and of course bulk plant material soon.
Note that a new constipation remedy being evaluated(1) focuses exactly on that aspect - getting more bile to enter and stay in the gut. This is a typical example of modern medicine trying to replicate the smooth and balanced ways of the natural world.
Among authorities who have attested to the essential role of yellow dock throughout history :
Nicholas Culpeper, one of the fathers of herbal medicine, notes in his "Complete Herbal"(2) published in 1653 that the plant is “exceeding strengthening to the liver”.
Maude Grieve, in her famous "A Modern Herbal" (Volume 1, Volume 2)(3) published in 1931, states that “The root has laxative, alterative and mildly tonic action".
The late Michael Moore, one of the most experienced and admired modern US herbalist, said it is good for “chronic constipation with atonic gastric functions, eruptions on face, neck, back or buttock” (noting the correlation between a sluggish liver and skin afflictions).
There is a long list of renowned herbal authorities using this plant as a liver and bile tonic.
To use yellow dock as a constipation home remedy, here is what I recommend.
This constipation home remedy should be used by people suffering from chronic constipation. A specific indication that yellow dock may bring constipation relief is if you have a hard time digesting fats. Imagine being served a tuna-mayonnaise sandwich with slices of avocado. Can you deal with it without blinking, or will you still be digesting it tomorrow?
Without going to extremes, you get the picture. If you suspect digesting fats is not your forte, it may mean your gallbladder needs a boost, and that you are not making good bile, or that the timing of bile-release is off. This is where yellow dock can help by increasing the flow of bile a natural laxatives.
Your inability to digest fats may also be reflected by dry flaky skin - the sebaceous glands need good fats to keep the skin soft and pliable.
Lack of fats may also create or exacerbate allergies, as fats are essential to maintain good cell integrity. Our cell membranes are made of fatty acids, and a bad cell integrity in the gut will allow, for instance, undigested proteins to penetrate the blood and act as allergens.
I recommend a good quality tincture, also called “alcoholic extract”. You needn’t be concerned about the quantity of alcohol you will ingest for the dose and length of treatment I am suggesting below.
The tincture should be made from fresh root. Yellow dock remains fairly stable during the drying process. Still, there will be a lot more active constituents if the plant is used fresh, and tinctured in 190-proof alcohol. You want your constipation home remedy to be as potent as possible.
If you use dried roots, 100-proof alcohol is sufficient.
As a second choice, you can use capsules of powdered yellow dock. Even though this is not the form I prefer, it is still an active form of the plant, and can be used by people who cannot take any alcohol. The capsules make a decent constipation home remedy.
I highly recommend the yellow dock tincture from Herb Pharm or Mountain Rose Herbs, which I have been using in my naturopathic clinic for years.
You should take yellow dock before each meal, about 15 minutes before you start eating. This will prepare your liver and gallbladder for the upcoming food.
To use yellow dock as a constipation home remedy, I recommend:
As you can see, I give you dosage ranges, not exact numbers. I cannot give you an exact number because: 1) I don’t know your weight, gender and overall constitution and; 2) I don’t know how you will react to the plant.
If you tend to be small and lightweight, start with 20 drops. If you are tall and heavyset, go for 40.
If you tend to react strongly to medicinal plants, stick to the lower dosage. If you don’t really have any past experience with plants, you will have to experiment.
The key is to be consistent and experiment to find the right dosage. The plant can become a laxative if too much is taken. We want to use it as a bile tonic, not a laxative. A bile tonic will be better suited to bringing you back to a good gastrointestinal balance.
As mentioned previously, yellow dock is not only a bile tonic, it also slightly irritates the gut, which stimulates peristalsis.
This means that it is best not to use this herb for a prolonged period. You can use this constipation home remedy over the course of several weeks if needed, giving you time to further investigate the root causes of your chronic constipation. Then wean yourself off it, gradually lower the daily dosage.
Medicinal plants can kick an under-active set of organs back into shape. Sometimes just a little nudge is needed. If your liver and gallbladder need yellow dock, its effects will be long lasting even after you stop taking it.
Aim for complete freedom from any drugs or plants in the long run. A constipation home remedy, as natural as it is, creates a dependency on an outside substance. You should, one day, be able to fully rely on your own gut capabilities.
This is the exciting part of the discussion. Don’t you want to get outside and do a bit of exercising and digging? Don’t you want to get your nails dirty while making your own constipation home remedy? Then read on. This is a fun way to take control over your health.
In this section, we will learn how to make a yellow dock alcoholic extract, or "tincture".
First, you’ll need to gather the plant. Ideally, you’ll pick yellow dock in the fall. Fall is when all the plant energy returns to the roots, the part of the plant we’re interested in.
If you need to pick it at another time of the year, this is OK. It is not ideal, but any period will do. The plant world is quite forgiving and always has some good healing energy to spare.
If you don't want to pick yellow dock, don't worry, I will recommend some trustworthy providers of yellow dock root so that you don't have to get your hands dirty.
Find a mature plant. The root mass will be bigger. Here is what the aerial part looks like around where I live.
How do you know it is a mature plant?
First, if you had the chance to see the flower and seed stalk, the larger the stalk the older the plant. You can also gently dig around the crown of the root and size it with your fingers. Ideally, you will want a root the size of a medium or large carrot.
Ah, I almost forgot: if possible, pick after a good rain. Otherwise, digging will be harder, and you may break the roots trying to extract them.
Here is a picture of the roots just after digging the plant out.
Wash the roots, rinse and brush them to get rid of sand and soil, as below.
See how yellow-orange the section of the root is?
The more yellow-orange the root, the more potent your constipation home remedy will be. In the past, this particular color was deemed to be a signature for a bile tonic (also seen in celandine, another useful medicinal plant).
Cut the root in thin slices, put them in a jar, and cover them with alcohol. Alternatively, buy the powdered roots from Mountain Rose Herbs on the internet.
Here are the proportions plant-to-alcohol to use:
For 190-proof alcohol, see if you can find some Everclear 190 around where you live. If you just have 100-proof alcohol, dry the sliced root first, then let it macerate in the alcohol once dried using the ratio mentioned above. If you work with the dried roots, you can powder them first using a coffee grinder for better maceration.
Make sure the alcohol completely covers the plant. If some plant parts are still sticking out of the alcohol, either cut them in smaller pieces, or add a bit more alcohol.
Here is a photo of the fresh, cleaned sliced roots macerating in 190-proof alcohol.
The cut root, in my example, barely fills a fifth of a small jar. You will need to gather more, say 2 or 3 mature roots, enough to fill at least half of a quart jar. You want your constipation home remedy to last 3 to 4 weeks.
Let the preparation sit for 3 to 4 weeks in a dark place away from a source of heat. If you used dried roots, shake the jar on a daily basis.
The liquid will become dark brown fairly quickly as in the photo below, taken just 2 days after I started the maceration. At the end of the 3 weeks, the liquid will be even darker, almost opaque.
Then run the liquid through a coffee filter, bottle and label with the name of the plant, the location where you picked it and the bottling date. You just made your own constipation home remedy!
Yellow dock remains one of my favorite herbal constipation home remedy for someone with chronic constipation, along with a deficient liver and gallbladder.
But other medicinal plants can be used instead to stimulate bile secretion. Stay tuned, this will be the object of another article. A good constipation home remedy kit should contain other bile stimulants, as back-ups, but also because we are all different, and have affinities to certain plants more than to others.
In this article, we covered the critical role of the liver and the gallbladder in secreting bile, one of our natural laxatives. We saw that yellow dock, a common plant found on roadsides and in certain lawns, can constitute a good constipation home remedy.
We also saw that yellow dock will likely provide constipation relief if you suspect you have an under-active liver and gallbladder, and your production of bile is insufficient. This is often accompanied by a difficulty in digesting fats, possibly with skin and allergy issues.
Finally, we stated that even though yellow dock acts as gentle bile tonic, it should not become your permanent fix for chronic constipation.
The goal is still to go back to the root cause, find the trigger and eliminate it. We hope this website give will you all the pieces of the puzzle to accomplish this objective.
(1) Wong BS, Camilleri M, McKinzie S, Burton D, Graffner H, Zinsmeister AR. "Effects of A3309, an Ileal Bile Acid Transporter Inhibitor, on Colonic Transit and Symptoms in Females With Functional Constipation". Am J Gastroenterol. 2011 Aug 30. doi: 10.1038/ajg.2011.285.
(2) Culpeper, Nicholas (1995). "Culpeper's Complete Herbal: A Book of Natural Remedies of Ancient Ills" (The Wordsworth Collection Reference Library) (The Wordsworth Collection Reference Library). NTC/Contemporary Publishing Company. ISBN 1853263451.
(3) Grieve, Maud 1984. "A Modern Herbal" (in two volumes : volume 1 and volume 2). Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books. ISBN 0486227987 (first published in 1931). Old herbal books from the 18th, 19th and early 20th century contain a wealth of constipation home remedy material. After all, constipation was quite a preoccupation back then, even sometimes an obsession rife with strange folk beliefs.
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