Articles on Health
Women’s health with natural remedies by Brigitte
Mars, American Herbalist Guild
women have handed down information from mother to daughter on
how herbs can remedy some of the common maladies of life.
Women, like the moon, change in cycles. Through menarche (the
first menses), menstrual cycles, pregnancy, nursing, and
menopause, herbs have been a common denominator for the wise
woman and those she comforts.
Plants are sometimes
referred to as being phytoestrogenic or phytoprogesteronic.
This is because some plants have molecular structures similar
to the hormones estrogen (phytoestrogenic) and progesterone
(phytoprogesteronic). They can occupy the receptor sites in
the body that would normally be taken up by these hormones.
Plants can therefore, in some cases, both increase or decrease
hormonal levels in the body.
(Cimicifuga racemosa) is a member of the Ranunculaceae
family. The root or rhizome is used medicinally and works as
both a smooth muscle and nerve relaxant. Black cohosh is a
phytoestrogen, which means it has mild, estrogen-like
properties. It is also anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic,
astringent (contracts tissue), diuretic, emmenagogic (promotes
menstrual flow), and a vasodilator (widens blood
Black cohosh soothes irritated and congested
uterine, cervix, and vaginal tissues. It helps relieve hot
flashes, headaches, and edema, and helps prevent organ
prolapse—the “falling” of an organ from its true
Dandelion root (Taraxacum
officinale), a member of the Asteraceae family, improves
liver function by stimulating bile production and lowering
blood triglycerides (a type of fat). It is the liver that
helps the body break down excess hormones, and for this reason
dandelion can help a wide range of menstrual and menopausal
concerns, and even breast tenderness.
leaf is an excellent diuretic and can help alleviate fluid
retention associated with PMS (premenstrual syndrome), yet the
herb is rich in potassium so it does not present the depleting
effects that chemical diuretics have. Both dandelion leaf and
root can help prevent weight gain associated with water
retention and the inability to metabolize fat.
Dong quai (Angelica sinensis) root is a
member of the Apiaceae family. It contains vitamin E, and,
among its many health benefits, it is an alterative (blood
purifier), anticoagulant, antispasmodic, blood tonic,
emmenagogue, muscle relaxant, and nervine.
helps regulate the menstrual cycle, build the blood, ease
cramping, and smooth emotional turbulence. Like black cohosh,
it helps regulate estrogenic activity.
Dong quai has
been used for thousands of years in China to regulate the
menstrual cycle, for amenorrhea, and for dysmenorrhea. When
women stop taking birth control pills, dong quai can be used
to reestablish normal menstrual cycles.
menopause, dong quai can relieve hot flashes and vaginal
dryness. Dong quai is helpful in increasing vaginal
lubrication and strengthening the bladder and vaginal walls.
It can be used to calm insomnia related to the change of life,
and, by stabilizing blood sugar levels, dong quai can help
support calmer moods.
Dong quai should be avoided during pregnancy and
during menstruation in women who bleed excessively. Though it
can help relieve hot flashes, it is not suited for women who
feel hot all the time, because of its own warming
Kava kava (Piper methysticum)
is a member of the Piperaceae family. The root and upper
rhizome are used as both a skeletal and muscle relaxant and
can help relieve menstrual cramping. It has quickly become a
favorite herb to promote relaxation and ease depression and
anxiety. It therefore can benefit the emotional upheaval that
can come with menopause.
(Glycyrrhiza glabra) is a member of the Fabaceae
family. It is considered phytoestrogenic. It helps improve
adrenal function and keeps blood sugar levels more stable so
moods are normalized. It can help promote normal ovulation and
inhibits prostaglandin E2 production, which can cause cramping
and moodiness. Licorice is anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic,
and an energy tonic. Large doses should be avoided during
Raspberry leaf (Rubus species)
is a member of the Rosaceae family. The leaves are rich in the
important minerals calcium, magnesium, and
Raspberry leaves have been regarded as a
universal herb for women. They have been introduced to young
girls beginning their menses as a welcome ritual to help them
through their changes. Raspberry leaves can help alleviate
menstrual cramps, reduce erratic food cravings, and curb
Raspberry leaf tea has long been
used to increase fertility. Pregnant women in China, Europe,
and North and South America have all used this herb as a tea
for a wide range of female health concerns. Even pregnant cats
have been known to seek out the leaves and eat
When used during pregnancy, raspberry leaves help
to relieve morning sickness, prevent spotting, and improve
blood quality thus preventing anemia.
consumed regularly during pregnancy, women often drink
raspberry tea during labor. This is because raspberry leaves
contain an alkaloid called fragarine, which is said to make
labor easier due to its effectiveness as a tonic for the
pelvic muscles and uterus.
When taken after birthing,
raspberry tea facilitates placental delivery, helps decrease
uterine swelling, and helps prevent postpartum bleeding.
Drinking raspberry tea until the time of birthing is so
nutritious, it helps to ensure that the colostrum (the first
breast milk) will be especially rich. However, it is not used
excessively during lactation due to its astringent properties
that can decrease milk supply.
When menopausal women
use raspberry leaf, it helps promote healthy uterine tone and
minimize hot flashes.
Henry Box, an English Quaker
herbalist, said, “A tea made from red raspberry leaves is the
best gift God gave to women.” Now, that might be exaggerating
things a bit, but it does show great appreciation for such a
(Eleutherococcus senticosus) is part of the Araliaceae
family. The root and root bark are excellent adaptogens to
help the body acclimate to stress and improve mental alertness
and physical endurance.
Vitex berry (Vitex agnus-castus), also
known as chaste tree berry, is a member of the Verbenaceae
family. Vitex has been mentioned since the writings of
Hippocrates. Vitex stimulates the pituitary gland, which is
the master gland that regulates sex hormone production and
helps to normalize progesterone levels.
Vitex is an
herb of choice when needing to regulate an erratic menstrual
cycle. It can help both menorrhagia (excessive bleeding) and
polymenorrhea (periods that occur too frequently), as well as
amenorrhea and spotting between cycles. It can also help women
establish more regular cycles after they stop taking birth
Vitex is also used for problems
associated with the menstrual cycle. These include
premenstrual tension, premenstrual acne, breast tenderness,
constipation, fluid retention, insomnia, herpes, and
migraines. It can even help with some of the psychological
difficulties, such as sweets cravings, anxiety, depression,
Vitex is believed to work by
stimulating luteinizing hormonal production and inhibiting
follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which results in an
elevated progesterone level and a more balanced estrogen
Vitex improves milk production in nursing
mothers. Best results are obtained when women use vitex for
the first ten days after birthing. It has been found to
balance prolactin (the hormone associated with milk
production) levels. Interestingly, it can also help decrease
prolactin in nonnursing women who are having abnormal menses.
It can help reduce pain and lumps in the breast. Vitex has
been found to be helpful in fibroid cysts that occur in the
Wild yam root (Dioscorea villosa) is a
member of the Dioscoreaceae family. Wild yam improves liver
and kidney function and can lessen dysmenorrhea and ovarian
pain. It is anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, diuretic, and
nutritive, and a cholagogue (improves liver function). Wild
yam contains diosgenin, which is a precursor to progesterone
and was once used to make birth control pills. Today wild yam,
valued as an herb, is useful for dysmenorrhea, infertility,
menopause, menstrual cramps, ovarian pain, and threatened
Soy products, which are eaten
widely in the Far East, are hypothesized to play a role in
this region’s lower rates of cancers and heart disease and
menopausal symptoms. Soy products such as beans, tempeh, tofu,
soy milk, and miso contain isoflavones, an antioxidant which
can reduce hot flashes and help inhibit tumor growth and
cancer. Soy isoflavones also are a source of dietary
phytoestrogens and have demonstrated the ability to reduce
low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, also known as the more
harmful type of cholesterol.
Eating a cup of soybeans
daily is ideal, but for those who find this hard to swallow,
there are now tablets available that contain
Any herbal protocol is best continued for
at least six menstrual cycles, and in most cases can be
continued long after that.
Herbs are beautiful allies
for women to use throughout their lives. They are nourishing,
comforting, and time-tested for thousands of years by millions
of women. These herbs are genuine friends from the garden. Get
to know them.
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