Botanical medicine offers a rich tradition of herbal healing for women. Over thousands of years, women have discovered which plants they can rely on to help regulate their cycles, soothe spirits and nourish wellbeing. This understanding is all the more important today given the frantic pace at which many of us live; it’s all too easy for things to get thrown off balance. Herbal medicine offers a gentle, non-invasive way to resolve issues affecting our wellbeing that we feel we just have to live with. Below is a list of my 5 favourite herbs for women’s health.
1. Chastetree (Vitex agnus-castus)
Chastetree is perhaps the most well known women’s herb. It has been used since the 1st Century to regulate the length and timing of the menstrual cycle. Very often, imbalances between oestrogen and progesterone levels lie at the heart of many cycle irregularities. Chastetree works as a hormone regulator via its action on the pituitary gland.
It is also indicated for PMS especially when there is breast tenderness and fluid retention. Its effectiveness for this has been supported by research findings from clinical trials. Chastetree is warming to the body and I find it particularly suits women who tend to feel cold and experience lower back pain before their periods. For full benefit, it is taken for between 3 – 6 months. Some women report longer or shorter cycles until hormone levels stabilize. It is usually taken as a single dose first thing in the morning.
2. Motherwort (Leonorus cardiaca)
As the name suggests, Motherwort is the healing herb for mothers and all the anxiety, worry and emotional ups and downs that can come with that sometimes. Culpeper (1616-1654), a famous herbalist, said of Motherwort there is ‘no better herb to drive melancholy vapours from the heart, to strengthen and make the mind cheerful, blithe and merry’.
Motherwort is a gentle strengthening tonic used to support the nervous system. It’s great for anxiety, irritability, excessive worry, emotional lability and insomnia especially when associated with hormonal changes such as PMS and menopause. Motherwort helps to relieve heart palpitations associated with anxiety. As it tones the uterus, it is also used to aid in expelling the afterbirth and any suppressed bleeding post-partum. It is safe to use while breastfeeding.
3. Crampbark (Viburnum opulus)
Crampbark is a wonderful ally to help ease menstrual cramps as it relaxes smooth muscle tissue in the uterus. It prevents spasms in the musculature making it applicable to spams of all kinds beyond the uterus such as the back and bowel. It’s action as a relaxant can also be useful in mild to moderate tension headaches.
4. Shatavari (Asparagus racemosa)
Shatavari comes to us from the Ayurvedic materia medica. It is classified as an adaptogen. Adaptogens help the body mitigate the negative impact chronic long-term stressors can have on our health such as compromised functioning of the digestive, immune and endocrine system.
The word ‘Shatavari’ is Sanskrit for ‘she who has hundreds of husbands’. It was prized as a rejuvenative tonic for women that enhanced physical strength, maintained youthfulness and improved memory. It is still used today as a reproductive tonic. Shatavari is useful in menopause and also for correcting minor hormonal imbalances affecting fertility. It is a deeply nourishing herb and a favourite of mine for the post-partum period. It also helps to stimulate breast milk production, an added bonus.
5. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Yarrow grows abundantly in the United Kingdom. It is said to be the herb Achilles used to staunch his soldiers’ wounds, hence its Latin name – Achillea millefolium. Yarrow is an anti-hemorrhagic and used when there are heavy periods as is often the case with fibroids, endometriosis or menopausal flooding. It is also indicated when the flow tends to form clots. Yarrow reduces the tendency to clot formation while at the same time easing heavy bleeding. It is also a urinary antiseptic and useful in cystitis.
Even though herbs can make an amazing difference, they work most effectively when other important building blocks are also in place such as a nutritious diet, stress management, adequate sleep, regular exercise, opportunities for relaxation and emotional well-being.
About the Author
Samira is a naturopathic herbalist here at The Yard with a special interest in women’s health. She discovered her passion for natural medicine after her own experience with infertility. She works with clients one on one to improve their physical and emotional health, restoring a sense of vitality and well-being drawing on a wide range of therapies including herbal medicine, nutrition, flower essences and coaching.
Please click here to take a look at Samira’s therapy page.