Lady’s Mantle – Alchemilla vulgaris

March 28th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

One of the first plants in my garden to awaken in the spring (and one of my favorites in general) is Lady’s mantle. Its round, accordion folded leaves start to perk up and green in the warming sun, though they are still tightly curled up on themselves. Each summer Lady’s mantle grows bigger and bigger, usually until it sprawls out into the yard or path. It’s minuscule lacy greenish-yellow flowers may seem like nothing special at first, especially compared to showier garden flowers, but upon closer examination they are quite delicate and stunning, like little shimmering five-petaled peridots.

Lady’s mantle is in the rose family, and contains no less allure or folk lore then the other well-known Rosaceaes like rose, hawthorn, or blackberry. The rose family seems to embody a wildness along with their beauty. They charm our senses with their fruits, flowers and scent so we invite them into our gardens. But anyone who grows roses or keeps raspberries know that they are anything but tame; they require strict boundaries or they will take over! Speaking of, here is a little something about the brambles in an ecosystem I wrote a while back.

Lady’s mantle is ‘Lady’s’ rather than ‘ladies’ to denote that it is the virgin Mary’s mantle (another word for rain jacket or cloak). Of course, before Christianity took over the Western world, Lady’s mantle was associated with local goddesses, like Freya in Germanic tribes (Wood) as well as Tatiana, the queen of the faeries. “It collects the morning dew and wears it like fine jewels. Its flowers are small, greenish, and lacy like the green hair of the fairy queen, Tatiana” (Gladstar, 245). These associations are logical, as this herb has many uses for women.

The botanical name, Alchemilla, or “little alchemist” speaks of the uses of Lady’s mantle which have the ability to transform. Matthew Woods writes an account of this in The Book of Herbal Wisdom. The alchemists found interest in the fact that the morning dew gathers like a translucent pearl in the center of the fan-like leaves, well into almost mid-day, when other plants are all dried off.

The first recorded instances of Lady’s mantle classified it as a supreme wound wort. Wood relays that it was called Greater Sanicle, trumping another wound wort called Sanicle, and since Lady’s mantle was an even better for first aid then the original it was bumped up to greater status. Though not nescessarily used for wounds in this day in age, Lady’s mantle is still used to “…restore the integrity of torn, ruptured, or separated tissues, as seen in hernias or perforated membranes” (Wood, 119). In that case it is not too surprising to hear that it was said to restore virginity in folk herbalism. Women of the Alps used packed Lady’s mantle leaves around the abdomen and breasts to tone the body after birth and nursing. William Salmon wrote about this in 1710.”Inwardly also taken, and outwardly applied to Woman’s Breasts, which are great and over-much flag, it causes them to grow less and hard.”

Lady’s mantle theraputic actions include:

  • astringent
  • diuretic
  • anti-inflammatory
  • emmenagogue
  • vulnerary (David Hoffmann, 525)

Like other members of the Rosaceae family, it contains a fair amount of tannins, along with trace amounts of salicylic acid. It has been used for all sorts of woman’s health issues; excess menstruation and pre- and post-menstrual spotting, prolapse or feelings of heaviness, hemorrhage, irregular cycles and vaginal irritations.

In general it is “…astringent, toning, and strengthening the abdominal tissues and structures” (W00d, 115). Lady’s mantle and shepherd’s purse blend well together for prolapse and hernia. This is a handy combination for hernias during pregnancy, or to arrest hemorrhage after birth. Its astringency also lends it to be used as a mouthwash for mouth sores or gargle for laryngitis (Hoffmann, 525).

Referances:

Gladstar, Rosemary. Herbal Healing for Women.

Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism.

Wood, Matthew. The Book of Herbal Wisdom.

A Handful of Herbal Treatments for Dysmenorrhea

March 29th, 2009 § 1 comment § permalink

a purple garden variety of black cohosh

a purple garden variety of black cohosh

Dysmenorrhea is basically period pain. Doctors will often diagnose period pain as “primary dysmenorrhea”, which means the pain cannot be contributed to any other cause or disease. The typical method for dealing with period pain within the medical model is prescribing hormonal birth control. Much less infrequently pain medications are prescribed; over-the-counter pain-relievers are typically suggested.

Dysmenorrhea is not just a case of “grin and bear it”. It can seriously effect a woman’s ability to function in her daily life. While I am a big fan of resting, nourishing, and turning inwards during the moon time, I acknowledge that there are many woman who’s life is not set up to take such personal time (or rather our society is not set up to take such personal time). And besides, pain is pain, and for most everything besides menstruating and childbirth, we see pain as a sign that something is wrong with the body. Most women I know with dysmenorrhea can’t help but wonder if something is wrong with their body when their uterus is cramped.

Pain and symptoms vary from woman to woman, so it is important to treat the individual, not the condition.
Furthermore, pain and symptoms vary from month to month, as harmony within the menstrual cycle is reached through a process of changes and adjustments. Therefore, herbal formulas should be updated accordingly. At the same time, keep in mind that when working with the endocrine system treatment should be for at least 3 months but often as long as a year or more. Each month the ovaries alternate hormone production, so to ensure an herbal treatment (or conventional, for that matter) is effective let the left, then right, then back to left ovaries do their thing (thus the 3 month recommendation). I also think a quarter of a year is a fair time frame to let your body, mind and spirit go through their natural cycles a number of time, establish rhythms, process emotions, and adjust to physical surroundings and seasons.

It may be tempting to stop taking herbs after a month or so when you a) notice an improvement and b) don’t see any improvement. At this time, especially if you are in the “b” category, keep on! Figure out your dosages and preparations and stick with them. Tinctures? Teas? How often? When I was fist getting into herbs I would stop treatments when I felt they were not working, “so why bother?”, I thought. While it was true they weren’t making horrible cramps disappear, there were many other benefits to be had. Some signs of improvement may be a more regular cycle, less PMS, pre-bleeding spotting, blood clots, nausea, teeth-shattering (yes, some women find they shiver and their teeth-shatter..sounds like a cold condition to me!), more energy and vitality, and simply better able to cope with their cycle no matter how tumultuous it may be.

When creating a formula for dysmenorrhea, you may wish to include: (from Ruth Tricky in Woman, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle)

  • A uterine tonic, as they normalize the uterine tissue
  • Antispasmodics, relaxing, pain-relieving, prostaglandin-inhibiting herbs based on symptoms
  • Emmenagogues may be used with late or slow starting periods
  • Most always use warming herbs
  • Don’t forget to balance emotional and mental tension with nervines, and treat any other body system that may be out of balance and aggravates dysmenorrhea

Uterine tonics
Regulates and normalizes the uterine tissue. Add when there is a heavy, dragging type of pain, pain towards the end of the cycle, some types of pain during sex (of a congested, heavy nature). They often provides nutrition, minerals and can be astringents so the do actually tone (by precipitating excess proteins in cell walls).

Examples: Raspberry leaf, nettle, shepherd’s purse, lady’s mantle, ect…

Warming herbs
Improves the action of antispasmodic herbs when the period if aggravated by cold, relived by heat, lower abdomen feels relatively cool to the touch, relived by movement of the hips.

Examples: Ginger, cinnamon can be added to other herbal formulas, or taken alone, but drink them warm. Many Chinese patent formulas include cinnamon to warm the interior and promote a healthy circulation of blood.
Ginger tea – grate or chop 1 inch of ginger into a saucepan. Add about 2 1/3 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce to low simmer, cover. Simmer for 20 minuets. Turn off heat and let cool slightly before straining and drinking. You may add honey to taste and sip while emerged in a hot bath; doesn’t that sound divine?

Hormone regulating herbs
The goal here is to regulate the hormones, which reduceds pain by indirect action on prostaglandins.

Examples: Vitex angus-castus (chastetree berries) is very useful for congestive dysmenorrhea, and pain with PMS. A picky herb about dosing…when I get the correct does I will let you know. Everyone seems to have different suggestions.
Paeonia lactiflora (peony), Cimicifugia racemosa (black cohosh) are both antispasmodics and have the potential to competitively inhibit the activity of estrogen.Verbena officinalis (blue vervain) is a sedative, traditionally used for menstrual disorders with a hormonal origin. Schisandra berries.

Blue vervain flowers close up

Blue vervain flowers close up

Nervines
These are relaxing herbs, used for both physical and mental/emotional tension or anxiety accompanying pain.They potentate antispasmodic and pain-killing herbs, as some are antispasmodics themselves.

Examples: Valerian, peony, corydalis, vervain, chamomile, agrimony, hops, lemon balm, lavender…

Anodynes
These have analgesic effects. Much weaker than conventional analgesics, so they must be prescribed with other herbs that actually attempt to correct the imbalance. I don’t think anodynes work on all systems and complaints, except for corydalis.
Examples: Wild lettuce, pulsatilla, corydalis, valerian, feverfew (463)…

Don’t over look the liver
Congestive period pain with heavy, dull, dragging pain has historically been treated with liver herbs and bitters, as well as those who are “irritable, hot-headed, constipated, headaches, heavy fiery-red flow”. Liver herbs most likely work through an indirect effect on hormone imbalance by improving the liver’s ability to excrete estrogen from the bowel and through the liver and bile.

Examples: Barberry and other bererine-containing herbs are useful, as are many other ‘liver’ herbs like dandelion root, burdock, Oregon grape, yellow dock. Yellow dock and dandelion in particular (especially when combined with blackstrap molasses) can encourage the body to use iron stores more efficiently, thus relieving fatigue following blood loss.

References:

Tricky, Ruth. Woman, Hormones, and the Menstrual Cycle.

My Favorite Mints

July 7th, 2008 § 1 comment § permalink

Practically everyday I find myself using mints for one reason or another. Here are a few of my current favorites.

Skullcap: Scutellaria lateriflora for mental exhaustion
I have been drinking infusions of this cooling bitter nervine, as I usually do after a mercury retrograde when thinking, communication, and information dissemination are often difficult and confusing. Though I have heard that the fresh tincture is best for acute burn-out conditions, I am using the tea is as a brain tonic to promote a clear mind. Skullcap can be a good ally for mental tension, nervous fear and even dread. Ah yes, this plant is very effective for tension of all sorts, even high blood pressure during pregnancy. Guido Mase of Vermont mentioned that skullcap is useful for acute drug withdrawal symptoms (use frequently) as well as breaking addictions in general, especially that of pain-killers and other receptor-site addictions. I hear that skullcap and motherwort are used to treat sunstroke; luckily I haven’t had to try it.

Sage: Salvia officinalis for a sore throat

Garden SageCurrently I am gargling with a strong sage tea right before bed and upon waking to treat a sore, scratchy throat. I like the spicy astringency of sage for sore throats because it seems to promote reduction on the soreness in a stimulating manner, almost as if it is gently scratching my irritated tonsils. During the winter I often opt for the soothing, coating, mucilaginous ways of slippery elm, especially when the sore throat is a cold or flu symptom, whereas currently I have an infection of the tonsils. Sage seems to prompts a healing response and tone up the rawness I see in the back of the throat. Helium.com has a sums up the common uses of sage. Phyllis Light and Matthew Wood mentioned sage for ‘male menopause’ when there are signs of wasting, premature aging, nervousness and shaking when a man passes mid-age, as it converts hormones to be used by the adrenals. They also cite sage for cystitis caused by mucus congestion in the bladder.

Thyme: Thymus vulgaris for a respiratory infection
About a week ago I awoke with an intense pain in my lungs, as if my chest and ribs were beaten to a bloody pulp. To my dismay, I had another respiratory infection. Feeling wiser since my last infection, I promptly took care of myself the best I could. Acupressure, deep breathing, saunas and steams, light soups and steamed veggies, gentle movement to circulate lymph, mustard plasters (you know it’s bad when you skip the onion plaster and go straight to mustard) followed with chest massage with essential oils, echinacea, goldenseal and osha tinctures, and lots and lots of thyme tea. Creeping Thyme

Spicy and warm thyme is an expectorant, antiseptic, and anti-infective, which makes it so useful in protecting the lungs from a worsening infection. I use it for both acute coughs and lung congestions, as well as for recovering from chronic infections. Looking back, I should’ve taken thyme for a longer duration after my last respiratory infection–I know I will now! Use it for pneumonia, tuberculosis, cold and flu, whooping cough, and sore throat. I read somewhere that it is not the best for chronic bronchitis where there are a lot of secretions, but rather indicated in dry coughs.

Pennyroyal: Mentha pulegium or Hedeoma pulegiodes as an emmenagogue

A few years at an herb conference in North Carolina, a complete stranger came over to me while I was making some tea. When she read the ingredients of the formula, she scoffed and said, “why are you using pennyroyal of all things? It’s a very dangerous herb best let to practitioners, young lady!” “Yes”, I told her, “I am well aware of the dangers of pennyroyal, and make sure to never ingest the essential oil” and continued on with my tea time. Common sense tells me it is always wise to employ caution when using herbs and essential oils. However, I am not about to be scared away from responsibly using pennyroyal herb after hearing a few stories. According to drugwarfacts.com, “Each year, use of NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) accounts for an estimated 7,600 deaths and 76,000 hospitalizations use of NSAIDs in the United States.” (NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, diclofenac, ketoprofen, and tiaprofenic acid). Would this woman have reacted in the same manner if I took out a bottle of aspirin?

Pennyroyal is one of my favorite herbs to have around to use both premenstrually during the first few days of bleeding. It is a well-know emmenagogue, antispasmodic and sedative, while calming nervous tension that settles in the stomach . I can feel its warm, diaphoretic action almost immediately; pelvic congestion and fullness with a bit of coldness or stagnation is allayed. A few drops of the essential oil in a spray bottle with plain water is one of my favorite mosquito repellent.

Lemon Balm – Melissa Offinalis as a calmative
Melissa Volatile oil-rich Melissa is hands down one of my favorite herbs. It is so sweet yet tart, cooling yet uplifting! Could there be a more tasty herb? During the long Minnesota winter, melissa is a melancholy sun-mourners best friend (along with Saint John’s Wort, calendula and rosemary), as it seems to dry up the dreariness and cheer one out of any funk. In true Scandinavian style, the winter darkness doesn’t seem to bother me. In fact, I thrive off of the most yin time of the year. Rather, I like to drink lemon balm tea in the summer to healthfully align myself to the yangness of the long sunny days. I say healthfully align because I have a tendency to be overstimulated in the expansiveness of summer, so much so that I drain my adrenals with too much all-day physical activities and late-night projects. Melissa helps me stay calm in the face of nervousness and insomnia, so I can be more appropriately active. I appreciate its carminative and somatic properties after eating too many raw and cool foods.

Peppermint – Menta piperita as a cooling beverage

I inherited a community garden plot that is chock full of gobs of healthy peppermint. When I initially laid out my garden beds, I transplanted all the peppermint to its own designated spot. With a little bit of conscious planting and watering, this former weed is now the prime example of health and vitality in my garden. Every time I come back from the garden, I take a hand full of peppermint with me to make into a deliciously aromatic sun tea. What says summer like fresh mint tea? To my roommates requests, we will probably be making mojitos soon.

Motherwort – Leonurus cardiaca

May 26th, 2008 § 5 comments § permalink

motherwort.jpgDo you see the motherwort in this picture? Hint: its vertical. Mmmm…Motherwort! I have been craving the bitter herb for a steady week running – and as a tea! Who in their right mind drinks motherwort infusion? Someone who needs it, or who likes the bitter zing. Have you ever eaten a motherwort flower? Try it, I dare you. I have been drinking motherwort infusion to calm my critical and exacting PMS self to a down to a low roar; its working quite well. It is also nourishing, stockpiling nutrients that will soon be shed; for this purpose I add a bit of nettle or oat straw. At this time in my cycle I tend to see things very clearly, which can either enrich my life with wise insight or keep me up at night ruminating. Motherwort, along with hops, eases my mind.

In the middle of winter, I dream of a sunny day and a garden full of motherwort. There is something very awakening and attracting about the upright member of the mint family. A friend once became very aquatinted with a particular motherwort plant and described her as juicy. I have yet to have a garden full of motherwort, as my seeds never seem to germinate. This year I am trying really hard to get my seeds sprouted…so wish me luck.

Motherwort promotes menstruation, reduces nervous tension and cramps, and is regulating to stress and anxiety caused heart problems, racing and/or irregular heartbeat (tachycardia). Culpepper says about motherwort, “Venus owns this herb and it is under Leo. There is no better herb to drive melancholy vapors from the heart, to strengthen it and make the mind cheerful, blithe and merry”. Yes, motherwort is warming in taste and even color with the sweet downy pink with white whorls of flowers, soothing to the heart and demanding emotions, and a wonderful ally for women of all ages and at all times of their cycles. The way it stands in the garden, attracting bees like mad, reminds me of an seemingly innocent attention-seeking amorous Leo. Well, not that innocent, if you have ever been tangled amongst their sharp seed pods at the end of the season!

It is called Ectes Herzgespann in German, which in an excruciatingly literal translation is “common heart team”; luckily a German woman described it to me as meaning “it pulls the heart forward, as one would lead a team of yoked oxen”. What a wonderful way to visualize this herb’s actions. Like many herbs, motherwort contains a myriad of chemical compounds that give rise to its unique uses. From its taste we know that it works on the digestion; Tierra says it is specifically a carminative. The tannins make it astringent to the uterus, and according to Wikipedia, “the herb contains the alkaloid leonurine, which is a mild vasodilator and has a relaxing effect on the smooth muscles. For this reason, it has long been used as a cardiac tonic, nervine, and as an emmenagogue.”

As an emmenagogue, I view it as enriching the blood and circulating it, rather than starting delayed menstruation, as the latter has never worked for me. It still has an important pre-menstrual use of allying stress, anger and rage, worrying that keeps you up at night, and anxious palpitations. Stress and anxiety keeping your period away? Try motherwort. Motherwort may be helpful include during the last few weeks of pregnancy to promote uterine tone. Ruth Trickey states in Women, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle that motherwort “is one of the many herbs which posses the apparently contradictory actions of relieving spasm and stimulating uterine activity–an effect which seems to be brought about by a reduction in the irritability (spasticity) of the uterine muscle. This allows contractions to be followed by an adequate rest period when blood can circulate through the muscle again”(470). Of course, motherwort is useful for peri-menopausal women, adressing palpitations, night sweats and worrying keeping you up at night, Trickey combines hops, motherwort and black cohosh for this reason with “excellent results”.

References:

Tierra, Micheal. Planetary Herbology.

Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Motherwort

Culpepper’s Complete Herbal. http://www.bibliomania.com/2/1/66/113/frameset.html

Trickey, Ruth. Women, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle.

Gladstar, Rosemary. Rosemary Gladstar’s Family Herbal.

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