If you’re reading this post it’s likely that you’re a conscious woman seeking ways to heal that are unconventional. One of the most common questions I get asked by my female patients is what herbs to take for a women’s health issue to avoid the pharmaceutical route. Obviously the answer will be different depending on who you are and what’s happening with your body/life stage. I primarily work with women who fall into 1 of 4 categories 1) are trying to get pregnant, 2) are pregnant, 3) are struggling with periods, or 4) are peri-menopausal/menopausal.
The common thread is that I work with women looking for a more sustainable health care model. This is how we roll out a more sustainable health care model, we start by not harming the body. Here’s a list of herbs that, when used appropriately, are not going to harm the body.
Historically black cohosh was used by Native Americans in North America to treat fatigue, gynecological disorders, constipation, hives, rheumatism, fever, kidney disease, inflammation of the uterus, infertility, sore throat, malaria, and labor pains. One major commercial use today is for treatment of menopausal symptoms. Anecdotally, I have seen the best results using black cohosh to support peri-menopausal women with extreme fatigue and hot flashes.
Evening Primrose Oil (EPO):
Produced from oil of the seed of the Evening Primrose, which is a small yellow wildflower, and declared the “KING’S CURE ALL” in 17th Century England, EPO certainly has earned it’s popularity amongst other gynecological herbs. Common uses include: ripening the cervix pre-labor, labor induction, treatment of rheumatoid arthritis, breast pain, hot flashes, premenstrual syndrome, eczema, skin problems, high cholesterol, diabetic neuropathy, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and heart disease. Some health care practitioners may tell a woman not to take EPO when pregnant. Others might approve taking EPO. I typically avoid it until a patient is around 38 weeks pregnant and ready to have labor gently and slowly initiated. When a patient presents with eczema, digestive bloating, and breast tenderness just before her period, EPO is my herb of choice.
Considered “thee woman’s herb” by many herbalists, raspberry leaf contains the compound fragarine. Fragarine purportedly improves uterine tone and function, which can relieve some symptoms of PMS such as cramps. Raspberry leaf also possesses tannins (also found in tea), which provide the herb’s astringent properties. Tannins may alleviate diarrhea and help with indigestion and nausea, all conditions frequently associated with PMS. Ask your qualified health care practitioner whether raspberry leaf tea is appropriate for you. Raspberry leaf may induce uterine contractions and should NOT be taken by pregnant women unless monitored by a health-care provider.
Also known as chaste tree (vitex), this herb may reduce symptoms of PMS such as headaches, breast tenderness, and mood swings. From both research and anecdotal experience, chasteberry works on the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle, augmenting progesterone. This is the part of the cycle right before bleeding when nutrient rich endometrium stores are dependent on high concentrations of estrogen and progesterone for a thick, healthy lining and for implantation of the embryo to occur. Taking chasteberry may facilitate implantation. Be warned-do not take an herb when trying to get pregnant unless working with an herbalist. Always practice extreme caution when using herbs during your first trimester and always work with a certified herbalist if plant medicine is a route you’d like to explore. I often prescribe chasteberry extract to women who have had a baby within the past year or two and are experiencing irregularity or heavy bleeding with the return of her period. It’s been my personal experience that chasteberry supports emotional balance within the luteal phase of the cycle as well.
A common use of dandelion is use of the leaves to reduce fluid retention before the start of a woman’s menses. This portion of the cycle can commonly present with liver disharmony and stagnation– in accordance with the approach of energy and the functions of organs through the lens of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The liver is in a delicate and complex relationship with the blood and qi, or vital force. When the liver cannot perform it’s duty by smoothing the flow of energy throughout the body (as happens with inflammation, toxic burden, stress, and myriad other factors), a woman may experience cramping, mood swings, breast tenderness, cravings, and bloating. Mastitis can also be treated with dandelion. Familiar to acupuncturists and herbalists as Pu Gong Ying, this herb has a specific effect on the stomach and liver. It may be brewed with hot water and taken as a beverage, as a tincture, in a formulation with other herbs or encapsulated. Dandelion leaves and greens are edible. They can be put in salads and sauteed. I double down on dandelion when I’m nutritionally cleansing for the anti inflammatory and blood cleansing properties.
Dang Gui (Dong Quai):
In Chinese medicine and herbology different parts of the Dong Quai root are believed to have different effects – the head of the root has anticoagulant activity, the main body of the root is a tonic, and the end of the root can powerfully eliminate blood stagnation. It is considered the “female ginseng” because of its balancing effect on the female hormonal system. It is thought to treat symptoms such as PMS, high blood pressure, breast disease, fibroid tumors, allergies, constipation, headache, shingles, anemia, hepatitis, and symptoms related to menopause. This is my go to herb for women with menstrual cramps who don’t have severe blood loss during menses.
There are so many effective and wonderful qualities of herbal medicines. While I encourage you to try out an herb or a formulation that might feel right for you, it’s also important to remember that some conditions require medical care. See a medical doctor if you have a question or concern about your health. If you want support for where you are in your life-phase, see a holistic health care provider that will guide you through the process. Nutrition, exercise, lifestyle modifications and other interventions are often prescribed along with herbal medicine.
In general, none of these herbs should be taken without talking to an herbalist and your medical doctor. Please do not confuse this blog post for medical advise. It’s me writing to you about my experience working with herbs and women’s health. Thank you, enjoy!