An herbalist shares ten herbs for women’s health, which she has found to be invaluable on her personal journey toward health and well-being.
By Gail Faith Edwards
Women face unique health issues: From puberty through menopause, we deal with hormonal fluctuations, monthly menses, ovulation, pregnancy, and lactation. We may suffer from pre-menstrual, or menopausal tensions, including irritability, mood swings, bloating, breast tenderness, uterine discomfort, headache, nausea, insomnia, and general malaise. Some of us deal with uterine fibroids, breast and ovarian cysts, yeast infections, cervical dysplasia, vaginal dryness, and incontinence. Breast cancer is a devastating illness striking women often in the prime of life. As we age we are warned to guard against osteoporosis, or thinning and weakening of our bones. Our risk of heart disease climbs rapidly.
Estrogen therapy has been considered as cardiovascular protection for women, but recent research has cast doubt on its efficacy in doing so. In fact, some data suggests that estrogen, as well as progesterone, therapies may have the opposite, or deleterious, effect. What a dilemma! What are we women to do?
We know that our birthright is surely good health: hale hearts, strong bones, strength, and vitality. What we need are some tried and true, safe and simple ways to nourish ourselves, ease our daily discomforts as well as help guard against, and therefore prevent, life threatening disease. As an herbalist, and as a woman, I’d like to share with you some of the herbs I have found to be invaluable on my personal journey toward health and well-being. So here are ten herbs for women.
Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) has been in use for at least 5,000 years. Ginseng root has been verified by scientists to be energizing, rejuvenating and immuno-protective. It is loaded with antioxidants, rich in phytosterols, offering an abundant supply of essential fatty acids, minerals (especially calcium), vitamin B complex and vitamin D. Its abundance of plant hormones and other nutrients are particularly necessary for our glandular systems, and help our body to balance production of both estrogen and progesterone. Regular use is associated with relieving even the most severe pre-menstrual and menopausal problems. American Indian women and ancient Chinese legends consider ginseng to be a fertility aid. Ginseng helps anytime you are under stress, whether physical or mental. It helps relieve anxiety and depression and greatly strengthens the adrenal system. Ginseng rebuilds vitality, increases energy and stamina, and reduces fatigue. It is useful when trying to regulate blood sugar levels, and regular use helps reduce the risk of adult onset diabetes. Ginseng has also been clinically proven to lower blood pressure and to nourish and strengthen the heart and circulatory system. The effects of ginseng are neutralized by vitamin C, so let at least three hours pass between taking either of them. Ginseng’s effects are doubled by taking it with foods rich in vitamin E. What is a typical dose of ginseng? Try chewing a piece of dried root the size of your pinkie finger nail, drink one cup of infusion, or take 10 to 40 drops of tincture daily. Do not use while pregnant.
Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla or M. matricarioides) is among the useful herbs for women. It is soothing to the nerves, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, antibacterial, sedative, and pain relieving. Perhaps best known as an herb to soothe the stomach, chamomile’s antispasmodic properties help allay nausea, and are an excellent ally when dealing with uterine cramping or congestion. It will help bring on the menses when late, is useful for scanty or irregular menstruation, and for menopausal discomforts. German chamomile is often referred to by its Latin name Matricaria, which suggests its use as a gynecological herb. In Germany, chamomile tea is given freely to both mother and babe while in the maternity ward. When feeling stressed, tense or uptight, a nice warm cup of chamomile tea will help soothe those jangled nerves. Chamomile also makes a wonderfully relaxing bath herb and a soothing massage oil.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) roots are strength building, energizing, and enhancing vital life forces, which are rich in iron, manganese, phosphorus, protein, and vitamin A. They also contain bone building calcium, nerve soothing niacin, and magnesium, potassium, zinc, and vitamin C complex. Consistent use of dandelion roots is said to create a potassium rich, anti cancer environment and help rid free radicals from the blood stream. Dandelion roots have traditionally been used to heal breast tissue. Grating the fresh root and applying it externally as a poultice will help heal sores, impacted milk glands and cysts. Infused in oil, it is excellent for breast protective massage. Chinese physicians use it this way to treat breast cancer. Ayurvedic healers use dandelion in similar ways. Regular use of dandelion roots lowers cholesterol, reduces high blood pressure and helps prevent arteriosclerosis. Root dug in the fall contains a full quarter of the weight in insulin and will help stabilize blood sugar levels, help reduce hypoglycemia, and prevent adult onset diabetes. Rich in phytosterols, the roots are a safe and effective tonic for the reproductive system. Dandelion roots regulate and stabilize hormonal production and also inhibit the growth of the fungus responsible for vaginal yeast infections (candida albicans). Everyone knows that dandelion leaves are incredibly nourishing and delicious, but did you know the flowers and sap are medicinal also? Dandelion flowers steeped in wine are an apertif said to strengthen the heart, and the sap is a discutient, which means it absorbs and dissolves diseased tissue, tumors and abnormal growths. A typical dose of dandelion root tincture is 10 to 100 drops daily, or one to two cups of dried root infusion daily.
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) is a beautiful pink fuzzy plant, which has a host of special benefits for women from puberty to old age. If you suffer from PMS, get to know motherwort. It consistently quiets the nervous irritability associated with the premenstrual condition. Motherwort helps restore emotional balance when feeling stressed and tense, soothing and strengthening the entire nervous system. Motherwort is an excellent tonic for the uterus and reproductive organs, is unfailing at relieving menstrual cramping, and will consistently bring on menstruation when late. Motherwort is a very good herb for girls just coming into puberty and just 10 drops in water a few times a week will help regulate menstruation and ease their transition into womanhood. Also an ally of high repute for the menopausal women, motherwort will balance hormones, moderate mood swings, ease hot flashes, depression and heart palpitations. Motherwort is a gentle heart tonic and very strengthening to the heart and circulatory system. Tests conducted in China have shown motherwort’s ability to relax the heart and other studies have demonstrated this herbs ability to prevent internal blood clots that trigger heart attack. German tests show motherwort’s sedative action and Russian researchers found that it contains chemicals that reduce blood pressure. Typical dose of motherwort is 10 to 20 drops twice daily, or as needed.
Nettle (Urtica dioica) greens make one of the finest nourishing tonics in the entire plant kingdom. They are mineral-rich and contain abundant chlorophyll, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and vitamins A, C and K. Nettle is a wonderful ally for the pregnant woman or nursing mother. It not only provides optimum nourishment to build the brain, bones, blood, muscle, tissue, nerves and organs of a healthy fetus, but will also improve the quality and quantity of breast milk. Midwives usually recommend pregnant women drink nettle infusions for the last trimester, as its abundant vitamin K helps prevent hemorrhage. American Indian women drank nettle tea during pregnancy to strengthen the fetus and ease delivery. They also used it to stop bleeding after childbirth. Menopausal women also have a friend in nettle. With its rich stores of minerals, especially calcium, regular use of nettle will nourish your nervous system, calm and steady your nerves and strengthen your bones, thereby preventing osteoporosis. Consuming this herb often also helps ensure a healthy heart. Regular use of nettles will boost energy levels, ease depression and mood swings, and support healthy functioning of the adrenal system, naturally stressed during menopause. Nettles are also highly regarded for their ability to balance blood sugar levels, enhance sexual performance and enjoyment, promote healthy hair growth and alleviate chronic skin conditions such as eczema. Typical dose is two cups of infusion or 20 drops of tincture daily.
Red Clover (Trifolium pratense) is a humble little field herb with incredible healing gifts, especially as one of the herbs for women. Brimming with nutrients, red clover is especially mineral-rich, loaded with calcium and magnesium, and contains profuse amounts of protein, vitamin B complex, and vitamin C. Red clover infusions can be enjoyed daily as a vitamin and mineral rich beverage with no risk of side effects. The National Cancer Institute has found anti-tumor properties in this herb, and no less than 33 cultures around the world use it to treat cancer. It has been found to contain at least four anti tumor compounds, including daidzein and genistein. Red clover also contains significant amounts of form of vitamin E shown to help prevent breast tumors in animals. Red clover is prescribed today for the treatment of breast, ovarian, and lymphatic cancers. To augment other approaches to the treatment of these diseases, herbalists recommend drinking two to four cups of red clover blossom infusions daily. Massage red clover infused oil into the effected area several times daily, or use fresh flowers, or those strained from the infusion, as a poultice over the area. Phytosterol-rich red clover blossoms have been used as herbs for women for centuries to balance the hormones and promote the production of estrogen. Red clover will help reduce the frequency of hot flashes and night sweats for the menopausal women. It is also the number one fertility enhancing herb. And is a wonderful herb for regulating the menstrual cycle, although because it thins the blood it is best not used by women prone to heavy bleeding. Red clover contains salicylates and coumarins, which are responsible for its blood thinning abilities and make red clover an excellent choice to tone and strengthen the heart and prevent stroke. Red clover can safely be used by pregnant women and nursing mothers. It will deeply nourish and help replenish minerals lost through pregnancy and lactation. It will also produce abundant breast milk as well as keep mother feeling relaxed and healthy.
Red Raspberry (Rubus idaeus) leaves are loaded with calcium, iron, phosphorus and potassium, and brimming with vitamins B, C and E. They are highly regarded as a female tonic due to their high content of fragrine, an alkaloid which is strengthening to the entire pelvic region, most especially the uterus and ovaries. Red raspberry leaves are one of the herbs for women taken all over the world during pregnancy to strengthen and tone the uterus in preparation for childbirth. The high calcium content of the leaves helps nourish the nervous system and relieve pain, and so drinking the infusion during light labor is a good idea if pain becomes an issue. Drinking the infusion in the morning will help allay nausea and relieve morning sickness. Raspberry leaves are an excellent fertility enhancing herb, and are often combined with red clover blossoms to promote conception and a successful, full term pregnancy. The abundant calcium in the leaves makes raspberry an awesome ally for strengthening the bones and preventing osteoporosis. They are also very astringent and so effective when taken to control heavy menstrual bleeding. Studies indicate raspberry leaves help reduce blood sugar levels, making it a useful herb in the management of diabetes.
Saw Palmetto (Serenoa serrulata) berries were highly valued by American Indian healers, and later used extensively by the Eclectic physicians around the turn of the century. Antiseptic to the urinary tract, bringing tone to the bladder, saw palmetto berries will come to your aid when dealing with urinary or bladder problems. It helps promote strong contractions of the bladder so that it can fully expel its contents. If an infection of the urinary system is suspected or diagnosed, combine saw palmetto with echinacea in equal amounts. Saw palmetto has a strong reputation as an aphrodisiac, which may be attributed to its ability to nourish the reproductive system as well as the endocrine glands, enhancing all-round sexual health. Regular consumption of infusions of these phytosterol rich berries will bring health and vitality to ovarian, bladder, vaginal, and breast tissue. Saw palmetto is a tissue builder, and will actually rebuild, moisturize and plump up dry or atrophied tissue in these areas.
Violet (Viola odorata) leaves are, perhaps surprisingly, one of the great herbs for women and our health. The leaves are highly nourishing, contain more vitamin C than any other leafy vegetable, and are an excellent source of vitamin A. The leaves can be eaten lightly steamed during spring and summer. They are nourishing to the lungs, nerves, and reproductive systems. Violet leaves have a special affinity for the breast. Fresh violet leaves can be used as a poultice for treating lumpy breast tissue, cysts, infections, and growths. Combine this external treatment with two or more cups of violet infusion daily or 20 drops of tincture twice daily to help relieve pain and inflammation in the breast. To receive the anticancer effects of violet, drink at least two cups of infusion daily, and poultice the area with the strained out plant material. Apply violet oil or salve as frequently as possible, and as appropriate.
Yarrow’s (Achillea millefolium) astringent qualities make it another one of the useful herbs for women. It is an ally to help slow excessive menstrual bleeding, and it is often called upon to help shrink fibroids in premenopausal women. A hormone balancing herb, it is effective at helping the body produce progesterone. Sip yarrow infusions throughout the day to slow menstrual bleeding, or take 10 drops of tincture every two hours until bleeding slows. To help shrink fibroids, take 20 drops of yarrow tincture, or one cup of infusion, twice daily. Yarrow is a powerful disinfectant, possesses strong antibacterial properties, and is an excellent herb against urinary infection or incontinence. It also helps to tone and strengthen the bladder.
I hope you will find at least some of these herbs for women helpful to your health and well-being.
Gail Faith Edwards is a practicing community herbalist with 30 years experience, the mother of four children, founder of Blessed Maine Herb Farm, and author of Opening Our Wild Hearts to the Healing Herbs, among other books, including one about herbs for women. Gail teaches and lectures across the US. This article was first published in Natural Life Magazine.