Seven Essential Herbs for Women
By Tanya M. Williams
Dosage recommendation by Liz Lipski, PhD, CCN

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Herbal RemediesImagine growing your own remedy for seasonal allergies or handling wild premenstrual mood swings with a tincture. Or how about kicking an afternoon coffee habit with a tasty home brewed infusion?

Though many Westerners have lost touch with the incredible healing potential of plants, medicinal herbs are beginning to experience a renaissance. An ancient and empowering field, herbs have been widely used by indigenous peoples to fight illness, heal wounds, balance hormones, boost energy, and improve well-being for centuries. Indeed, villages in Mexico and Hawaii still exchange herbs at regional markets, swapping coastal plants for mountain growers, and vise-versa. For women—whose lives often include bearing and nursing children—having safe, effective, and affordable plant-based remedies for stress, PMS, allergies, digestive troubles, and other day-to-day ailments is even more essential.

With the guidance of four health practitioners, we selected the following herbs to help stock your herbal medicine chest. Ranging from the common dandelion to the exotic shatavari, these herbs provide a wide range of benefits for everyday ailments. In addition, herbs are by nature nutritious, so taking herbs boosts overall health, often without negative side effects. Read on for how, when, and why to take each of these natural healers.

Black Cohosh
Renowned for its beneficial effects for women, black cohosh is often the herb of choice for PMS and menopause. Native to North America, the herb has delicate white flowers, but its black roots (from which the herb gets its name) are the source of this herbs medicinal benefits. Historically, Native Americans have used the herb topically for snakebites and internally during labor and childbirth.

Uses & Benefits: Balances hormones and relieves cramps, depression, and stress associated with PMS. Rich in phytoestrogens, it supports women in menopause by reducing hot flashes, vaginal dryness, headaches, and mood swings. It also helps induce a late period, regulate menstrual flow, and tone the uterus prior to childbirth. A mild sedative and muscle relaxant, black cohosh calms the nervous system and relieves tension and insomnia.

Dosage & Contraindications: Liz Lipski, Ph.D., CCN, and author of Digestive Wellness (McGraw Hill, 2004), recommends taking the herb as a tea, capsule, or tincture, per package directions. Avoid if pregnant or nursing. Use before labor only under physician supervision. Do not use for prolonged periods of time (more than 6 months) or in excessively high doses. Consult your health practitioner before combining it with any prescription medication, including birth control pills.

Dandelion
Who would have thought this common lawn terror could be such a potent healing herb? A bitter cleanser, dandelion has historically been used to purify blood and lymph. The leaves are rich in potassium, chlorophyll, vitamin A, iron, calcium, and niacin; so one dose is akin to eating a large green salad. According to Letha Hadady, L.Ac, and author of Feed Your Tiger: The Asian Diet Secret for Permanent Weight Loss and Vibrant Health (Rodale Books, 2006) and Healthy Beauty (Wiley, 2003), dandelion “stirs the flow of bile,” which helps rid the body of hardened impurities.

Uses & Benefits: Diuretic, stimulates digestion and elimination, clears skin, and alleviates allergies. Dandelion is also useful in weight loss because it reduces sugar cravings and water retention. Under practitioner supervision, dandelion may be used to treat fibroids and gall and kidney stones.

Dosage & Contraindications: Hadady recommends 6–12 capsules (300–400 mg) each day, or the equivalent dose in tincture form. For weight loss purposes, the dosage can be increased to as many as 16 capsules per day, but she cautions, “reduce the dose if you become cold and weak, and avoid dandelion altogether if nausea or diarrhea is present.”

Gotu Kola
In Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, gotu kola is heralded as one of nature’s best nerve tonics. A cooling and rejuvenating herb, it can help reduce the need for caffeine because it supports mental and emotional energy without over-stimulating the nervous system. Rich in vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and other nutrients, this complex Indian herb has even been credited with promoting longevity.

Uses & Benefits: Excellent for boosting energy, endurance, mental clarity, and mood. Promotes circulation, increases brain activity, and is said to balance the hemispheres of the brain. Improves memory and nourishes adrenal glands, strengthens the immune system, and restores balance to a frazzled nervous system. Hadady recommends the herb for city-dwellers or “women who sit and think all day.”

Dosage & Contraindications: Hadady recommends taking 2 capsules (no more than 1,000 mg) daily. If you are pregnant or nursing, or are taking prescription medications, consult your doctor or an herbalist before taking gotu kola.

Motherwort
Another tonic for the nervous system, Leonurus cardiaca translates as “heart of a lion.” Despite its English name of motherwort, this herb is not just for mothers, though herbalist and midwife Aviva Jill Romm notes, “it is often used postpartum to help soothe jangled nerves, tame irritability, and take the edge off of stressful or emotional situations.”

Uses & Benefits: Said to strengthen the heart and lift the spirits, motherwort is best for stress, symptoms of PMS and menopause, pain, cramps, irregular or heavy periods, and emotional imbalance or vulnerability. It tones the uterus and improves circulation.

Dosage & Contraindications: Not to be used during pregnancy (until labor) or prior to surgery. Romm recommends taking the herb as a tincture, in 1/2 teaspoon doses, 3–4 times a day.

Stinging Nettle
Rich in chlorophyll, vitamins, minerals, and iron, this feisty-looking plant is a safe and nutritious supplement for general wellness and beauty. Historically, nettles have been used topically to relieve arthritis pain. Internally, the herb tones blood vessels and strengthens the kidneys and adrenal glands.

Uses & Benefits: A natural anti-histamine, it is useful for seasonal allergies and allergic reactions; high in silica, it improves the health and appearance of hair, skin, and nails and is helpful in preventing and treating varicose veins.

Dosage & Contraindications: For allergies take 3–9 freeze-dried capsules per day as needed. As a healthy pick-me-up, Romm recommends an infusion (steep a handful of dried herb in a quart of water for 3–4 hours or overnight). Nettles are safe throughout pregnancy, but Romm cautions, “Because of its high mineral content, it is important to know your source.” In very (very) rare instances, nettles have been known to contain heavy metals, because they draw so much nourishment from the soil. So verify where the herbs were grown, or better yet, grow them yourself!

Red Raspberry Leaf
A longtime favorite herb of women during the late months of pregnancy, red raspberry leaf is beneficial for women of all ages and stages of life. It is heralded for toning the uterus, which prepares the body for labor, eases labor and delivery, and helps during postpartum recovery. Another highly nutritious herb, it boasts tannins and beautifying minerals including magnesium and silica.

Uses & Benefits: Relieves cramping and excess bleeding during menstruation; improves the health of skin, hair, and nails; and helps relieve nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Dosage & Contraindications: Lipski recommends taking red raspberry leaf as a tea. Like nettles, red raspberry is also easily brewed as an infusion (see above). Pregnant women should consult their health practitioner prior to use.

Shatavari (Asparagus Root)
This classic Ayurvedic remedy “is the hormone balancer for women,” says Reenita Malhotra Hora, ayurvedic clinician, author of Inner Beauty (Chronicle Books, 2004), and founder of Ayoma LifeSpa. An adaptogenic herb, it aids the body’s responses to stress and is credited with enhancing immunity. High in folic acid, isoflavones, and steroidal saponins, shatavari is a cooling, soothing herb that is also considered an aphrodisiac.

Uses & Benefits: Reduces blood pressure, inflammation, and water retention. Particularly useful for PMS and menopause, it regulates menstruation and ovulation, balances mood swings, alleviates morning sickness, promotes fertility, reduces acne and rosacea, and aids digestive ailments.

Dosage & Contraindications: If you struggle with PMS or are in the throes of menopause, Hora recommends making a tea from the powdered root and drinking it daily. For those whose hormones aren’t so volatile, she suggests drinking the tea for three to four days before menstruation. To make the tea, steep the powder (or contents of a capsule) in hot water for several minutes and strain, or drink as is. It can also be sprinkled on food. Consult your health care practitioner before combining shatavari with prescription medications.

Superb Herb Sources

Frontier Herbs www.frontiercoop.com

Gaia Herbs www.gaiaherbs.com

Living Earth Herbs www.livingearthherbs.com

Om Organics www.omorganics.com

Scarlet Sage Herb Co. www.scarletsageherb.com

Solaray www.nutraceutical.com

Wise Woman Herbals www.wisewomanherbals.com

Article courtesy of www.healinglifestyles.com May/June 2007

© Elizabeth Lipski, PhD, CCN

 

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