Herbal healing for women
Whether you're looking for an HRT-free hot flush cure or relief from period pain, there's a herbal remedy for you. Visionary herbalist Rosemary Gladstar shares her time-tested knowledge.
So much of modern medicine, herbalism included, is about repairing what is unhealthy in the body. But I believe that if we focus our primary attention on ill health, we reduce our opportunity to enjoy the full experience of radiant health. If we instead choose to create balance and harmony in our daily lives by emphasising abundant and sustainable health, we make choices that are good for us and for the earth.
The common health problems that women experience – for example, irregular periods, menstrual cramps, depression, and menopausal disorders – are simply symptoms of imbalances. Often it takes nothing more than ‘good living practices’ to remedy them. Tonic herbs, proper nutrition, adequate rest, connecting with self, and joyful exercise are our primary prescriptions for radiant health and vitality.
Support liver health
The health of the entire body – including our reproductive organs – is directly related to the health of the liver. When a herbal protocol for the reproductive system also addresses the liver, recovery is often faster and more deep-seated. Thankfully – or as part of nature’s master plan – many of the herbs recommended for the reproductive system are also beneficial to the liver.
Liver tonic formula
This tonic is excellent for the reproductive system and the liver; it is also mild and pleasant-tasting.
3 parts nettle leaf
2 parts dandelion leaf
2 parts lemon balm
2 parts red clover flowers
1 part alfalfa leaf
Prepare as an infusion, following the instructions in “Make your own medicine”, using 4 tablespoons of herb mixture per litre of water and steeping for 20 minutes. Strain. Drink 3-4 cups daily.
The lymph nodes
The lymph system is a primary component of our immune system. If the lymph glands become congested and lymph flow is obstructed, the area surrounding the glands becomes overly acidic, creating a domino effect of cascading pathology. The breasts have a high concentration of lymphatic tissue and glands. For the health of the body and the breasts, it is important to keep the lymph system flowing freely.
Breast health tea
This mineral-rich tea nourishes the blood and encourages healthy lymphatic flow.
2 parts calendula
2 parts red clover
1 part cleavers
1 part lady’s mantle
spearmint or peppermint (optional; for flavour)
Prepare as an infusion, following the instructions in “Make your own medicine”, using 30 grams of herbs per litre of water, and letting steep over night. Drink 3-4 cups daily.
Breast massage is therapeutically effective and sensuously pleasurable, and it is excellent preventive medicine. It keeps the breast supple and resilient, enhances proper flow of lymph fluid, helps relieve breast congestion, relaxes the body, and feels great. It also encourages women to know their breasts intimately, which can aid in early detection of cancer. Breast massage takes roughly 5-10 minutes a day and should be done at least 5 days a week by women of all ages. I recommend doing the massage while looking at something beautiful – the great outdoors, a painting, yourself in the mirror.
Love-my-breasts massage oil
This herbal oil can be used for a stimulating massage. Comfrey strengthens and heals tissue; calendula flowers are of tremendous aid in treating fibrocystic conditions; lavender increases circulation; pine contains compounds that have been proven to destroy cancerous cells; rosemary is warming and decongesting.
15g dried or fresh calendula flowers
15g dried or fresh comfrey leaf
2 cups almond oil
Infuse the calendula and comfrey in the almond oil, following the instructions in “Make your own medicine”. Add the essential oils to the infused oil.
About 10 days before menstruation begins, calcium levels in the blood begin to drop, and they continue to drop until about 3 days into the cycle. Blood calcium deficiency is responsible for many of the symptoms of painful menstruation: muscle cramps, headaches, water retention, achiness, depression, and insomnia.
Pennyroyal leaf relieves uterine congestion and helps promote menstruation. Raspberry is a wonderful tonic for the reproductive system, and peppermint gives the tea a refreshing flavour. I like to add a handful of organic rose petals to the tea for flavour and beauty.
2 parts nettle
2 parts oatstraw
2 parts pennyroyal leaf
1 part horsetail
1 part peppermint
1 part raspberry leaf
Combine the ingredients. Prepare as an infusion, using 1 teaspoon of herbs per cup of water, and steeping for 15-20 minutes. Drink 3-4 cups a day for 10 days prior to your period.
Caution: Never use the oil of pennyroyal for internal purposes; it is highly toxic.
It’s important to focus on building and strengthening the liver and the endocrine system, specifically the thyroid, which is often implicated in excessive menstruation (menorrhagia). The following protocol has been helpful for many women who bleed excessively during their menstrual cycles:
* Seaweed. Each day include seaweeds in your diet. They are incredibly rich in trace minerals, vitamins, and calcium and are highly recommended for endocrine gland imbalances, specifically those of the thyroid. If you’re not crazy about the taste of seaweed, try hijike, which is quite mild in flavour. Dulse is also good. Try mixing them with grains, soups, casseroles, and salads.
* Iron. If you’re bleeding heavily during your period, you’re losing a lot of iron. Restore your body’s iron levels by taking liquid Floradix Iron + Herbs (available in health food and organics stores).
Women's reproductive tonic
This tea is a strong tonic for both the liver and the reproductive organs. For flavour, try adding sassafras, birch bark, and orange peel to the blend.
3 parts licorice root
1 part burdock root
1 part chaste tree berry
1 part dandelion root
½ part cinnamon
½ part ginger root
Prepare as a decoction. Drink 3-4 cups daily for at least 4 months.
Ginseng and sage are excellent herbs for hot flushes. Ginseng normalises the body’s response to hot and cold. Sage is a yang, or grounding, herb, and many women have found it helpful in relieving hot flushes. Try drinking several cups of sage tea daily. In addition, try the following herbal formula.
2 parts black cohosh
2 parts motherwort
2 parts sage
1 part blue vervain
1 part chaste tree berry
mint to taste
Combine all the ingredients. Prepare as an infusion, using 1 teaspoon of herbs per cup of water, and letting steep for 30 minutes. Strain. Drink in 1/4-cup doses throughout the day as needed, up to 3 cups.
Thinning vaginal walls
Known as atrophic vaginitis, the thinning of the mucous membranes along with the decreased elasticity of the walls of the vagina cause an uncomfortable dryness in many women during the menopause cycle. Oestrogen creams and pills are the common allopathic solution for this problem, but these products have serious health risks and should be used with caution. Natural therapies include:
* Vitamin E. Take 200-400IU daily. You can also use the gel from a vitamin E capsule to lubricate the vagina before sex.
* Herbal salves. Homemade or commercial salves made from comfrey and aloe or from calendula, comfrey, and St John’s wort are very effective when applied inside the vulva.
* Water. Lubrication increases in proportion to water intake. Drink 8 glasses daily.
* Aloe-slippery elm paste. To soothe and lubricate the inflamed, dry vagina, mix enough slippery elm powder with aloe vera gel to form a thick paste. Apply inside the lips and up into the vagina. It will feel very cool and soothing. This paste also makes an effective lubricant for the vagina before sex.
* Kegels. Exercising the PC muscle strengthens and tones the vaginal area. Kegels also stimulate circulation, encouraging fresh blood flow to the area, which helps keep it moist.
How herbs work
Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa): A powerful nervine and muscle relaxant, as well as one of the most useful uterine tonic herbs. Stimulates the oestrogen cycle of women and is particularly helpful for menopausal women. Use only organically cultivated supplies.
Black haw (Viburnum prunifolium): Has a long history of ‘quieting’ the uterus and is used for threatened miscarriage, uterine cramps, and dysmenorrhoea.
Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus): The berries stimulate the pituitary gland, which regulates the menstrual cycle. Used to normalise the menstrual cycle and to increase fertility. Rich in volatile oils, alkaloids, and flavonoids.
Crampbark (Viburnum opulus): An amazing uterine nervine; tremendously helpful for relaxing the uterine muscles. Used to relieve menstrual cramps and in cases of threatened miscarriage due to uterine tension. Its relaxing effects are specific to the reproductive system.
Dong quai (Angelica sinensis): One of the best female tonic herbs. Increases blood flow to the pelvic area. Can be used over time to strengthen the uterus. Excellent for easing the transition of young girls into the menstruating years or of older women into menopause. Should not be used during pregnancy or during the menstrual cycle.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale): Directs blood flow to the pelvic region and helps relieve pelvic congestion and blockages. One of the best herbs for easing menstrual cramps.
Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris): Helps regulate irregular cycles, relieves cramps, and helps reduce heavy menstrual bleeding. Also used to promote fertility.
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra): Normalises hormone production. Useful for treating adrenal exhaustion and hormonal imbalances. Often recommended in cases of infertility.
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca): Used for promoting delayed menstruation, relieving cramps, and reducing nervous stress. A specific herbs for menopausal women.
Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris): A bitter digestive tonic and liver stimulant. Also functions as a uterine stimulant and aids in bringing on delayed or suppressed menstruation. Helps regulate the cycles of young women just entering their menses.
Nettle (Urtica dioica): One of the best all-round women’s tonic herbs. A rich source of iron, calcium, and vitamin A. Used during pregnancy to enrich and increase the flow of mother’s milk and to help relieve water retention.
Raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus): One of the most famous and widely used female tonic herbs; especially valued as a tonic during pregnancy. Contains fragarine, an alkaloid that tones and nourishes the uterus and pelvic region. A rich source of vitamins and minerals, including calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, and vitamins B, C, and E.
Wild yam root (Dioscorea villosa): Contains steroidal saponins that yield diosgenin, an important component of birth control pills. However, wild yam is not a natural birth control agent but is used to regulate hormonal action. It is also a primary tonic for the liver and activates and stimulates liver function.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): Used to reduce excessive menstrual bleeding, for easing menstrual cramps, and to stimulate delayed or absent menstrual cycles.