“A woman is the full circle, within her is the power – to create, nurture and transform.” – Diane Mariechild
For as long as women have been giving birth, mothering children and serving their communities, they have been healers. In our ancient past, women healed themselves, their families and their communities using the plants and nourishment so abundantly given by the earth. For millions of years women have grown, gathered, prepared, and eaten herbs – with wisdom passed down to them through generations and from them onto their daughters and their daughters’ daughters. This wisdom is still alive today and women are not only rediscovering the healing power of herbal medicine, but also their own inner healing wisdom.
Many women are discovering that what they seek in a medicine – for it to be healing, nourishing and safe – is best found in the plants and food direct from the earth. As an herbalist working in what is often called the “Wise Woman Tradition”, I believe in a woman’s innate healing wisdom and that optimal nourishment comes in the form of healing food, plants and herbal medicine. Here are my five favorite herbs for women's reproductive health:
MOTHERWORT (LEONURUS CARDIACA
Its common name means herb (wort) for the mother. Its botanical name Cardiaca stems from the latin word for heart, making this herb an excellent tonic for both female reproductive systems and heart strengthener. Its an excellent herb to promote menstruation and assist during childbirth. This is due to concentrations of leonurine and stachydrine, chemical constituents that promote uterine contractions. In ancient times, motherwort was used not only to strengthen the physical heart, but the emotional heart as well. The ancient claims are true, given the herb’s sedative qualities. Glycosides in the plant have the effect of lowering blood pressure, which reduces stress on the heart muscle. Motherwort is amphoteric, that allows the herb to be both a sedative and a stimulant, and thus it adapts and changes to the situation. Great cramps with scant menses. Also used for menstrual stress, tension, delayed menstruation, and PMS. Motherwort is not recommended for use during menses with heavy bleeding or during pregnancy but is excellent used in last days of pregnancy when labor begins.
NETTLES (URTICA DIOICA)
This prickly stinging plant, often considered a pesky weed by many is perhaps one of the most nutritious, with an impressive list of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, C, D, K, iron, potassium, phosphorus and folic acid, to name a few. Iron is an essential mineral needed during pregnancy, however iron supplements are difficult for the body to assimilate, often leading to constipation. Nettles deliver absorbable iron to the body, nourish the kidneys, improve circulation and ease mood swings. Nettles also support the muscles, easing leg cramps and muscle discomfort during pregnancy and birth, through its absorbable calcium content. Nettle is amazingly rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals, especially the critical trace minerals: anti-cancer selenium, immune-enhancing sulphur, memory-enhancing zinc, diabetes-chasing chromium, and bone-building boron. A quart of nettle infusion contains more than 1000 milligrams of calcium, 15000 IU of vitamin A, 760 milligrams of vitamin K, 10% protein, and lavish amounts of most B vitamins. Adrenals take on the role of producing estrogen after ovaries cease to and can use the boost during the transitional time of menopause.
RED RASPBERRY LEAF (RUBUS IDEAUS)
One of my favorite herbs anytime, Red Raspberry leaf has been used by women as a healing herb during pregnancy for thousands of years and with good reason: it contains vitamins C, E, A, B complex and absorbable calcium and iron. It also contains fragarine, an alkaloid which tones uterine muscles. It does not strengthen or promote contractions, but rather allows the uterus to function at its best. It also eases morning sickness, can assist in milk production, and prevents miscarriage and hemorrhage. Red Raspberry leaf has been used for centuries both during pregnancy and as daily tonic to nourish the reproductive system. Also, the herb is extremely delicious, making it a delightful daily tea for women. In addition to its benefits for the reproductive system, research shows that the herb is useful in lowering blood sugar levels. Red Raspberry leaf finds itself in the press for often contradictory reasons, with numerous studies showing its benefits (while a few dispute these claims) however in the words of herbalist Rosemary Gladstar "its real value has been established by the actual experience of thousands of women over hundreds of years."
OATSTRAW (AVENA SATIVA)
A soothing nervine, Oatstraw is an excellent herb to soothe frayed nerves, support muscle function, prevent insomnia and promote a peaceful relaxed state in the body. Effective, yet gentle, the herb is rich in calcium and magnesium and comes from the same plant as oats, which we eat as grain. Often used as a fertility promoter in men and women, Oatstraw is a wonderful ally should its effects as a love-potion result in the gift of pregnancy. Noted herbalist Susun Weed calls it “a good friend in hot water.” Oatstraw contains proteins, all macro and trace minerals in high amounts, as well as high in calcium and vitamin B. Oatstraw is an excellent fertility herb and also promotes heart health and moderates cholesterol in the body. It restores nervous system integrity, emotional flexibility, and sexual flow. The herb contains steroidal saponins nourish the pancreas and liver, improving digestion and stabilizing moods. Its ability to deliver much needed nutrients while helping mellow mood and soothe frayed nerves make it a wonderful herb to use for reproductive upsets in which stress contributes to imbalance.
RED CLOVER (TRIFOLIUM PRATENSE)
Red clover, found on road sides and often used to feed pregnant or lactating cows, is a remarkable herb with fertility enhancing and anti-cancer properties. The herb contains protein, minerals, and vitamins (except B12), and is an excellent source of phytosterols. “Phytosterols are hormone-like substances found in many plants that can be bio-converted in the human gut into active anti-cancer estrogens and other helpful anti-stress hormones.” (Weed) Red Clover contains isoflavones, which researchers believe might help reduce symptoms of menopause, such as hot flashes and night sweats, because of their estrogen-like effects. As estrogen levels drop during menopause, a woman's risk for developing osteoporosis (significant bone loss) goes up. Studies suggest that red clover isoflavones may slow bone loss and even boost bone mineral density in pre- and perimenopausal women. Red clover is an excellent fertility herb, especially in cases where the infertility is deemed “unexplained” and also serves to relieve symptoms of PMS. Isoflavones are similar to the female hormone, estrogen. Therefore, they can attach to estrogen receptors throughout the body particularly in the bladder, blood vessels, bones, and heart. For women with normal estrogen levels, red clover isoflavones may displace some natural estrogens, possibly preventing or relieving estrogen-related symptoms, such as breast pain, that are associated with PMS. This effect may also reduce the possibility of developing estrogen-dependent cancer of the endometrium (the lining of the uterus). In addition, results from a review of nearly 1000 women suggest that red clover may interfere with an enzyme known to promote the progression of endometrial cancer.
NOTE: Unless you stumble upon a Nettle patch (careful of those stings) and can sauté up the greens fresh with a little olive oil, I reccommend the above herbs prepared as a medicinal tea or nourishing infusion. They can be taken alone or together (recipe suggestions are below) and are wonderful to take throughout pregnancy, drinking one or two cups a day.
MEDICINAL TEA: 1 teaspoon of dried herb steeped in a mug of hot water for at least 20 minutes.
NOURISHING INFUSION: Generous 1/4 cup of dried herb steeped in a quart of hot water for 4 hrs to overnight. I use a quart sized French press which makes straining easy.
MY FAVORITE MORNING PREGNANCY TEA: 1 teaspoon dried nettles and 1 teaspoon dried red raspberry leaf steeped in a large mug of hot water. Strain, and add a little raw honey and almond milk. Delicious!
NOURISHING WOMEN'S TEA: This blend is great hot or cold. Mix together the dried herbs and store in a container, which makes it easy to prepare as either a medicinal tea or nourishing infusion.
2 parts nettles
2 parts red raspberry leaf
1 part oatstraw
¼ part rose hips
¼ part hibiscus petals
a generous pinch of spearmint leaf
Herbal medicine is a gift from the earth – helping women to provide themselves and their bodies with the nutrition and healing nourishment they need to move through the sacred journey of living with grace and ease.