The Herbalist - theherbalist.com.au - Dipaunka Macrides

Herbs & Women's Health

For the past five centuries or so Western Women’s Health has been undermined and subjugated to the patriarchal system that even in this so called liberated age still dominates what happens to women’s bodies . Yes there is more awareness and yes progress Has been made but we still have a long way to go . Women from Ancient cultures like the American Indians , Australian Aboriginals, Amazon tribes all had knowledge of and used herbs for their healing , as preventative care and to correct imbalances in their systems , as well as taking care of their children’s health . We unfortunately have lost that art and are only now , slowly regaining some of that knowledge , hence reclaiming back the power of self healing and self medication .

I too often have women come to my clinic who are suffering because of a lack of knowledge on their own part and a lack of caring from our medical system . My aim here is to share what knowledge I have with you so that you can begin your journey of self healing . I also hope to pique your desire to expand your own knowledge of herbs , so that you may then use that in your daily life . The ongoing premise is that you will then pass that knowledge onto your children and grand children.

In order to keep some form of continuity I will start with puberty { the maiden ] work my way through to childbirth { the mother } and then to menopause { the wise woman } and beyond . I will also cover several of the herbs I mention in depth at the end of this article .

Puberty : When a girl reaches puberty , here in western society , it is generally not celebrated or seen as a rite of passage. Apart from health issues there can be a feeling of shame and awkwardness . I will deal with the various health issues here and remedies that can be applied .

The first and most obvious signs of puberty are pimples and acne . When you get them you think that you are the only person in the world who has them and that they are HUGE !!!

Acne : The main cause of acne is the increase in male hormones , which in boys is obviously greater then in girls . These hormones stimulate the production of an oil substance called sebum , which comes through the hair follicles to lubricate the skin . During adolescence unfortunately , the secretion of sebum is too much and the hair follicles get blocked . From this blockage can come blackheads, white heads , pimples or painful cysts ie: acne . Also the propensity of teenagers to consume large quantities of sugars and carbo’s eg : chips, chocolate , sweets , greasy foods , and all of these exacerbate and aggravate acne .

What you can do : Firstly watch your diet and obviously a proper skin care regime will help , but being careful not to wash the face with soap to much as this strips away all the oils and your body will produce more to compensate and then you have a vicious circle . Increase your intake of fresh fruit and vegetables ,preferably organic and supplements of Vitamin C , zinc and spirulina .For a simple and effective herbal face wash infuse lemongrass ,chamomile ,thyme , rosepetals . The lemon grass and the thyme are antiseptic , the chamomile is anti-inflammatory and the rosepetals are astringent and soothing . The lemongrass also balances the oil production of the skin . Internally a tea of Chaste berry , Shatavari ,{ both balance the hormones and Shatavari nourishes the female reproductive system } Lemongrass tea is also helpful . 

Premenstrual Tension : Not all women experience this but for those of you that do , you know the symptoms, anxiety , tension, depression, agitation, fluid retention , sensitive breasts or even swelling in the breasts . These are responses to changes in the hormone levels{ powerful things} in the body. There are also psychological factors which can affect what happens in your body e.g. : how you view and relate to your menstruation , as a celebration of your womanhood or as an inconvenience.

As it can be a very stressful time , nervine herbs can be used to help relax you . The
prime herbs I would suggest are Chaste Berry { vitex agnus castus } and Hops which increases estrogen but is also a calming herb , Passion flower , Skullcap both of which are calming nervines . Dandelion leaf { a diuretic } will also be helpful if there is water retention . Dandelion is particularly useful as it contains potassium , which can be lost through diueresis .

Dysmenorrhoea {painful periods} A condition which most women have experienced at some time . There is cramping , which accompanies the period which can range from mild to very intense and debilitating . Uterine tonics , antispasmodics
and nervines are the herbs that are needed to assist in alleviating this condition.
With regular use of herbs you can completely eliminate this condition.

Uterine Tonics : Antispasmodics
Black Haw Black haw
Cramp Bark Chamomile
False Unicorn Root Cramp Bark
Ladies Mantle Motherwort
Raspberry leaf Passionflower
Wild yam Wild Yam
Nervines :
Damiana
Hops
Lemon Balm
Lime flowers
Passion Flower
Skullcap
St. Johns Wort
Withania 

As you can see , several of the herbs I have listed are multifunctional which makes
putting your teas together easier . I would also include Chaste Berry for it’s
normalizing effect on hormonal levels .

Amenorrhoea ( Absence of menstruation)
There are women that I have spoken to who think that this is great but to me this
is a denial of your womanhood . The first and most obvious thing to check is whether you are pregnant or not . If no , then there is a problem which needs to be addressed .

Also if you have just come of the pill , this can also occur as your body is trying
to come back to balance. The most important thing is to get your hormone levels
balanced , stimulate your period and get your body back to it’s natural rhythm .

Chaste Berry is the primary herb combine with Black cohosh, Blue cohosh,
False Unicorn Root, and Mother wort . Also to stimulate your period you can use Mugwort , Parsley Root,Pennyroyal, Rue , Southernwood, Tansy, Wormwood but in small doses as they are all potent herbs and can be toxic in large doses. 

Menorrhagia .
This is when your flow is greater than normal , which can occur on occasions
for several reasons , excess stress , hormone imbalance . The primary herbs to use in this instance are astringent herbs that are specific to the female reproductive system , plus
Chaste berry and Shatavari to correct any hormonal imbalances . 

Astringent herbs :
Beth Root
Ladies Mantle
Perriwinkle
Raspberry leaf
Shepherds Purse . 

If this problem persists , you should get a gynaelogical check up to ensure that
there isn’t a more severe problem eg fibroids,cysts .

Metrorrhagia
A very dear friend ,Lisa for whom I did a Handfasting early last year suffered with this condition for 5 years { I have her permission to write about her experience }She had D & C’s , was on the pill , “poked , prodded , etc “{ her words } all to no avail . After one course of herbs she was celebrating and back to normal . 3 months
on she is still taking her herbs and everything is hunky dory . 

This condition is when you bleed in the middle of your cycle or at anytime through your cycle , or as with Lisa , continuously .Obviously the problems are apparent, anemia through loss of iron , via loss of blood , fatigue , not to mention finances spent on extra pads and tampons . As well it can have an affect on your sex life for several reasons .

To counter the loss of iron you should eat iron rich foods like spinach , dried apricots, sesame seeds/tahini, kelp , pumpkin seeds, dulse and leafy greens . Iron tablets tend have a constipating effect which is another problem you don’t need . Also drinking Nettle tea, having steamed nettles is also good as nettles are very rich in iron as is Raspberry leaf . As for herbs the following will help get things in balance and back to normal : Beth root , Black Haw , Chaste berry ( of course} Cramp Bark, Ladies mantle , Shatavari , Shepherds purse .

The Pill
Yes I know it’s convenient and is supposedly helps balance your hormones and gets rid of your acne BUT , it is not natural even though the first pill was formulated using extracts from Wild Yam . There are alternate methods of contraception and I think that it should be a joint Responsibility not just left up to the woman. Many people do not like using condoms because they don’t feel good etc, etc, but better that than an unwanted pregnancy . There are many side effects of the pill , such as Mild Effects: headaches, irritability, nausea . Serious effects: loss of hair, emotional depression, gallbladder disease and much more . If you are interested check out a book titled “ The Essential Guide to Prescription Drugs “ - James Rybacki and James Long . Read the section on Oral Contraceptives . Several of my students have gone off the pill since reading the above reference material . If you are on the pill and decide to stop taking it the following herbs will make your transition easier . It is difficult to get pregnant immediately after having been on the pill for sometime and then coming off it . 

The herbs are : Black Haw , Borage ,Chaste Berry , Motherwort , Shatavari .

Pregnancy and childbirth.
I still find myself in awe and wonder at the miracle of birth and having been present at 2 of my children’s births I still feel that they are up there amongst the most amazing experiences I have had in my life . The process from conception to childbirth can be a breeze for some women and for others it can be a very intense and not so pleasant experience . Fortunately nature has provided us with many herbs to help with all the possibilities that may arise . Even so there are a number of herbs that should be avoided during pregnancy . They are as follows : Barberry , Golden seal , Juniper ,Male fern Mandrake , Motherwort, Mugwort, Parsley Leaf & root, Pennyroyal ,Poke root Rosemary, Rue , Sage , Southernwood , Tansy, Thuja , Wormwood .

A Caution, If you are pregnant and don’t wish to be, see a qualified herbalist before taking any of the above herbs to bring on an abortion.

Threatened or Recurrent Miscarriage
Miscarriage can occur for a number of reasons, poor uterine integrity, low levels of hormones , stress ,,trauma , inadequate diet . It can also be your bodys way of letting you know that you are not ready to bear a child . The following herbs will help tone the uterus and protect against miscarriages : Black haw, Blue Cohosh ,Chaste
berry, Cramp Bark , False Unicorn Root,Shatavari . If there is stress and anxiety involved specific nervine herbs like Jasmine, Passionflower and Skullcap will be helpful .

Morning Sickness
Again this varies from person to person , some women don’t suffer at all and others are sick constantly . The major changes in hormone levels as well as low blood sugar and possibly low blood pressure all can contibute to making you feel unwell . it can also be the body clearing toxins from the system in preparation for your pregnancy. Different people will tell you all sorts of home remedies to try which have worked for them or someone they know. Generally one thing that seems to work is eating some toast or crackers / dry biscuits. They are carbohydrates and consequently increase your blood sugar levels. A very nice tea which will help is a combination of Chamomile, Ginger, Meadowsweet and Peppermint with a slice of lemon { for the Liver } and some honey .

Labour
Pretty self explanatory and inevitable assuming you don’t have a Cesarean and
miss out on the incredible experience of giving birth . To help make your labour easier , drink Raspberry leaf tea from the 2nd trimester onwards . When it is time to give birth drinking a mixture of Cramp Bark , Motherwort and Squaw vine will be of great benefit . If there is excessive bleeding after giving birth { after you have delivered the placenta} they any of the herbs I mentioned for Menorrhagia or Metrorarhagia will be of benefit .

To stop Post Natal Depression , taking chaste berry to normalise your hormones
would be extremely wise as well as a few natural anti - depressant herbs like Damiana , Jasmine flowers and Oats .

Breastfeeding
For some women this is no problem , their milk comes in from day one and can even be excessive , ie : leaks , Mastitis . For Mastitis cold cabbage leaves do work as well as Rose geranium essential oil , taking care not to get it on your nipples as your baby will not appreciate it . For those whose milk production is low or difficult
there are herbs called Galactogogues , which stimulate breast milk production .

They are : Aniseed, Basil, Blessed Thistle , Caraway, Dill , Fennel, Fenugreek,
Goats Rue { which by the way can increase breast size if you are not lactating , A natural in expensive breast job}If you no longer wish to breast feed or for some other reason wish to stop your milk flow then use a tea of Red sage Or Garden Sage .

Menopause
Interestingly in some cultures they do not have a word for Men - o- Pause and in those cultures { when a woman reaches the age that in western culture she is seen as Menopausal } she is revered as a Wise Woman ! Also interesting to note is that in those cultures eg : North American Indian , they all use herbs which help the female reproductive system and alleviate the symptoms of Menopause .It should be seen as a time of celebration and seen as a liberation, a moving on to the next level . There are psychological factors involved here in our Western Culture , tied up in the Beauty Myth and belief that after Menopause Women are no longer sexual beings . We need to adopt a different attitude and start to instill that attitude in women of all ages . To combat the various symptoms which may occur  like hot flushes , and depression there are a number of very useful herbs :
Black Cohosh
Blue Cohosh
Chaste Berry
Damiana
Hops
Licorice
Oats
Saw Palmeto
Shatavari
St. Johns Wort
Wild Yam
Mother wort can added as a Cardiac tonic if there are palpitations, stress or
high blood pressure . Also eating a diet high in plant Oestrogens like soy products
is helpful { eg Japanese diet or vegetarian diet }

I would like to now expand on 2 of the herbs I have mentioned for many conditions
throughout this article , Chaste Berry and Shatavari .



Chaste Berry - Vitex agnus castus
Also known as Monks pepper, so named as the monks in monasteries would use this herbs , which looks like peppercorns to lower their Libido’s . The name Chaste tree also implies that the herb keeps one chaste . It is a deciduous tree that grows to 7m . The berries have an anti- androgenic effect and inhibit male sex hormones. On the other hand they have a progesterogenic effect in women , acting on the pituitary gland , which then balances oestrogen and progesterone production.

As seen through this article Chaste berry has many uses for the female reproductive system .
Parts used : Berries
Properties : Hormone normaliser, Tonic for the female reproductive system .
Uses : It helps normalise the balance of hormones in women and many of my
female patients test positive through kineseology on this herb . To recap it is good
for PMT, dysmenorrhea , Ammenorrhoea ,Metrorrhagia, Menorrhagia ,
Infertility, Menopause . It can be an aphrodisiac for women by getting their
hormones in balance and an anaphrodisiac for men . It also has been used to increase breast milk production . I think we are blessed to have such a wonderful herb
for our use .



Shatavari- Asparagus racemosus .
In Ayurvedic medicine it is known as “ who possess a hundred husbands “ so Look Out Men!!!!!! It has an amazing rejuvanitive effect on the Female reproductive system . In Chinese medicine { TCM } it is called “ Tian Men Dong “ 

Parts Used : The root
Actions /Used for : Cancer , convalescence, coughs , chronic fevers , dehydration, diarrhea , debility of the female reproductive organs, herpes , hematemesis , hyperactivity, infertility , impotence, leucorrhea, lung abscess , menopause , sexual debility , stomach ulcers .

Uses: What can I say , a remarkable herb that has an effect on all tissue elements and a very pronounced effect on the reproductive organs . If you are having trouble getting pregnant then take this herb and if you are taking this herb and don’t want to get pregnant , then take Extra care while using it !

It is the main herb in Ayurveda for the female reproductive system . It can be used externally for muscle spasms , stiffness and stiff joints . Shatavari is very nourishing and can be eaten as a food . It cleanses the blood and nourishes it , increases milk production , semen production and nurtures mucus membranes . As it supplies many female hormones it is of good use for menopause or for anyone who has had a hysterectomy .

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