February 22nd, 2010 § § permalink
If you’ve been to a natural food store, you’ve probably seen boxes of raspberry leaf tea sitting on a shelf. You may of looked at that box and read words like “uterine tonic”, or “pregnancy tonic”. Perhaps you even tried the delicately sweet, slightly sour and astringent (but mostly just…green tasting) member of the rose family.
Raspberry leaf is a perfect tonic for during pregnancy. Generally, it is demulcent (soothing to tissues), astringent, tonic to smooth muscles (especially uterus and large intestine). Since it is rich in vitamins and minerals, raspberry is a well-known nutritive herb. It is also helpful as an astringent tonic is excessive urination and diarrhea, and when the uterus and bladder feel heavy or prolapsed. Raspberry’s more thorny cousin blackberry is one of the most effective remedies for diarrhea for whatever the cause, in childhood contagious bugs, food poising, traveler’s diarrhea, or digestive diseases. It is a good thing to have in your globe trotting first-aid kit – and it’s cheaper and easier on the body then antibiotics.
Raspberry leaf has been used for hundreds of years during and after pregnancy. It can reduce morning sickness in the early months of pregnancy, and can also be helpful in arresting post-partum bleeding. Australian nurse-practitioner Ruth Tricky says that researchers “…suggested that Rubus would prevent or reduce the risk of in-coordinate uterine action (a common cause of difficulty and failure to progress in labor), by regulating the action of the uterine muscles.” (Tricky, 423).
To use raspberry leaf tea during pregnancy, start drinking it after the first trimester. Don’t hesitate–steep strong! One tea bag in one cup of hot water steeped 10 minuets is definitely not going to have the same effect as a medicinally prepared tea. Dried raspberry is quite fluffy, so go more for a fourth or third cup of the dried herb steeped, covered, in 3-4 cups hot water for 2 – 4 hours. Strain and drink daily. Blend with other nutritious tonic herbs like nettle, oatstraw, or alfalfa if desired. Midwife Aviva Romm suggest drinking the tea with a slice of fresh orange or lemon, since the vitamin C of the citrus will increase the rate of absorption of the vitamins and minerals in raspberry leaf tea (iron, for one).
Tonic seems like a quint word of Victorian yesteryear, but it is used often in herbalism. Tonics are called so because they tone or strengthen a body system(s) or the body as a whole over a period of time. To be considered a tonic, an herb usually has a medium to high nutritive profile (like nettle, for instance) and must be safe and mild enough to take everyday indeterminately. Another important feature of tonics are that they seem to have a rich ethnobotanical history of use. Basically, they have been safely used by people for hundreds or thousands of years.
As far I know, every herbal system has tonics, but Chinese medicine has a disproportionate amount of tonics to offer. Ginseng, He-Shou-Wu, Dang Qui, and Astragalus are a few examples. From Roy Upton:
”Chinese herbal medicine has long revered the use of herbal tonics to promote health, longevity, and counter the effects of aging. The highest ideal of Chinese medicine is to promote the highest level of health for the longest period of time, in contrast to simply applying herbs or therapies for the treatment of disease”(124, Medicines from the Earth 2006).
There are many types of tonics; lung tonics, uterine tonics, cardiotonics and so on. Herbs that are used as tonics also have other uses. For example, cordyceps is a yang tonic used to increase warmth, energy and growth when deficient, but is also used for restoring adrenal activity, strengthening the immune system and enhancing athletic output. As you can see, the underlying tonic action is often related to the short term uses of the herb.
There are a few similarities tonics share with each other, but we can’t overgeneralize their actions. Some are astringent (raspberry leaf, a uterine tonic), some are adaptogenic, others are nutritive. Here are a few examples: Schisandra, reishi and shiitake mushrooms, milky oats, licorice, raspberry leaf, alfalfa, astragalus, red clover, licorice, ashwaganda, skullcap, motherwort, linden, hawthorn, gingko.
It may seem that herbal tonics might not be strong action or illicit marked change in the body because they are food-like, relatively safe in large and continual doses (1-4 cups of tea a day for a year or more), and act generally to promote health. This is definitely not the case. Each of these herbs (even alfalfa or raspberry leaf) have their unique medicinal actions. It is through understanding the action and energetic details (like its taste or temperature) of the plant that can help you find the herbal tonic right for you.
Romm, Aviva Jill. The Natural Pregnancy Book.
Tricky, Ruth. Women, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle.
August 5th, 2009 § § permalink
Raspberry leaf, Rubus idaeus and wild species. Raspberry’s astringency, nutritive and tonic qualities lead to being well-known as a woman’s herb, especially during pregnancy. A hot cup of tea made from the dried leaves is quite pleasant with honey, or blended with other herbs. I do not have an exact quote on this (my copy of her pregnancy book is out on loan), but I think it was Aviva Romm that mentioned something about drinking raspberry leaf tea with a juice from a fresh-squeezed orange. Not only does that sound delicious, but it adds to the vitamin C content as well.
What makes raspberry leaf so toning besides it’s obvious astringency? One known chemical constituent that lends to this is fragarine. Fragarine is an alkaloid that has been long linked to raspberries toning action. I say ‘been linked’ because there are many other properties/constituents in raspberry, like the flavonoid quercitin, tannins, vitamins and minerals (it is very high in manganese), ect… From Herbal Amanda’s Rant blog:
“Fragarine was thought to be the ‘active’ constituent of raspberry leaf, the one that cause uterine muscle tissues to strengthen, but it is now postulated that is a more complex reaction that isn’t due to any one constituent, but a combination of many. This particular conclusion seems to be more and more excepted for most herbal medicines, as main constituents are usually found to not work, or have different actions when isolated.”
This makes perfect sense.
Need astringency for excessive menstruation? How about a cup or two or four of raspberry leaf tea drank as needed, combined with other herbs as desired (I love shepherd’s purse and lady’s mantle for this) or over many months as a tonic. That is a beautiful choice since raspberry can boost some of the nutrients lost from the lots of bleeding, as well as tone pelvic muscles, including the uterus. It has also been used for painful cramps, too, although it may be best combined with stronger spasmolytics. Don’t forget to use raspberry after pelvic surgeries or any kind as a general healing tonic.
When used for labor, raspberry has both uterine relaxing and contraction inhibiting actions, which seems contradictory. In 1970 the leaf (not only fragarine) was tested, and the researchers…
“…suggested that Rubus would prevent or reduce the risk of in-coordinate uterine action (a common cause of difficulty and failure to progress in labor), by regulating the action of the uterine muscles.” (Tricky, 423).
To use raspberry leaf tea during pregnancy, start drinking it after the first trimester. Don’t hesitate–steep strong! One tea bag in one cup of hot water steeped 10 minuets is not going to have the same effect as a medicinally prepared tea. Dried raspberry is quite fluffy, so go more for a fourth or third cup of the dried herb steeped, covered, in 3-4 cups hot water for 2 – 4 hours. Strain and drink daily. Blend with other herbs like nettle, oatstraw, or alfalfa if desired.
Strawberry leaf, Fragaria vesica. Let’s not forget the beautiful strawberry leaves, which have a similar sweet but astringent taste. I like making a lunar infusion of fresh strawberry leaves, covering a small handful of the leaves with water and letting steep over night.
Strawberry leaves are not used as much as raspberry, and thus not mentioned in the herbals as much either. I guess this makes sense, especially looking around in the woods. Raspberries are everywhere, spreading like mad, while little strawberry plants are much less conspicuous and have just a few leaves to each plant. And thus, it’s uses are often lumped with raspberry.
It’s astringent, cooling (as a member of the rose family), and nutritive. Rosemary Gladstar says “it can be combined with raspberry leaf and squaw vine for an exceptional tonic blend to drink during the entire pregnancy” (178).
Culpepper speaks of the cooling nature of strawberry:
“The leaves and roots boiled in wine and water, and drank, do likewise cool the liver and blood, and assuage all inflammations in the reins and bladder, provoke urine, and allay the heat and sharpness thereof. The same also being drank stays the bloody flux and women’s courses, and helps the swelling of the spleen.”
Culpepper, Nicolas. http://www.bibliomania.com/2/1/66/113/frameset.html
Gladstar, Rosemary. Herbal Healing for Women.
Hoffmann, David. The New Holistic Herbal.
Trickey, Ruth. Women, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle.
Weed, Susun. Breast Cancer? Breast Health!
Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal (Old World)
February 2nd, 2008 § § permalink
Remember that the Kidneys are the root of both Yin and Yang, even though in and of themselves the Kidneys are considered Yin. Michael Tierra says that Kidney Yang is the “pilot light for our energy system”. When deficient, the warming ability of the Kidneys decreases and can manifest in one or more of the following patterns:
- Cold, sore, weak low back
- Copius clear or pale urine, incontinence, nighttime urination, weak or dripping urine stream
- Coldness, cold limbs, avoiding cold and wanting warm
- Weak legs, leg edema
- Poor appetite, loose stools
- Sexual dysfunction, infertility, premature ejaculation, nocturnal emission
- Chronic vaginal discharge, leukorrhea, spermatorrhea
As you can see, some of these Kidney Yang deficiency patterns overlap with other Kidney deficiency patterns, although the bolded symptoms are the most tell-tale of Kidney Yang. We should also keep in mind that a person may very well have Kidney Yang deficiency and another pattern of excess, and maybe more deficiency patterns, as our bodymind is connected on so many levels. For example, the Kidneys receive from the Spleen and give to the Heart and Pericardium, so if the Spleen is out of balance that may be the underlying reason for Kidney deficiency. It is also a good practice to add a bit of yin tonic (like lycii) to balance a yang tonic.
A few Yang tonics:
Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is a warm, bitter and aromatic seed has a multitude of culinary and medicinal applications. As a Yang tonic, it is used for coldness, sore lower back, pain in the torso and extremities, morning sickness and indigestion. Make into a gruel with milk or tea to nourish the body and stimulate the appetite during or after debilitating diseases and sicknesses, including infant diarrhea. Lesley Tierra suggests sprouting and eating the seeds to aid digestion.
- Fenugreek gruel: 1 1/2 tablespoon fenugreek ground coarsly simmered low in 1 cup milk or water, for a 5 minuets or until it thickens. Add herbs to flavor or thicken, cinnamon, fennel, slippery elm, marshmallow, ect. Turn off heat, let sit to cool, covered. Three times daily.
Damiana‘s (Turnera aphrodisiacea) spicy leaves combined with cinnamon, dried ginger and lemon peel are one of my favorite ways to warm up and tonify yang in the winter. The herbalist/acupuncturist at the Medicine Tree in St. Croix Falls formulated this “Libido Lifter/Kidney Tonic”, one of the most popular tea blends. Damiana is attuned to the Kidneys as it is a well-known aphrodisiac (just check the botanical name) that also treats impotence. The Tierras use it for irritable coughs, which I have yet to try, but I don’t doubt its soothing expectorant abilities, as I have felt how calming damiana can be to the nerves.
Blend and drink as needed. I like it strong; 2 tablespoons to a pint of boiling water, steeped an hour.
- 2 parts Damiana
- 1/2 part each cinnamon, ginger, lemon peel ground coarsely
- 1 part Spearmint
Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera) tastes bitter, with an underlying sweetness and a slight warming to the body. Its has yang tonic, aphrodisiac, sedative, astringent and adaptogenic properties. Some yang tonic can be too stimulating (think deer antler, yohimbe), but ashwaganda apparently does not overstimulate and in fact is used for improving sleep and clearing the mind when stressed or overworked. I have witnessed a complete turn around for a friend with lower back pain, creaky knees, low libido and a general state of low energy by mixing a teaspoon of the powder in heated raw milk daily. Personally, I have used ashwaganda tincture in adrenal formulas, which I always seems to need in spring. Perhaps I should be taking some right now for to tonify my Kidney Yang so to prevent adrenal exhaustion.
- Delicious dosage to nourish yang: Mix 1/2 teaspoon powder with warm milk (can be rice, almond, soy, or ghee), take twice a day.
Other notable herbs:
Teasel Root (Dipsacus sylvestris)
Saw Palmetto (Sabal serrulata)
Celery Seeds (Apium graveolens)
False Unicorn Root (Chamaelirium luteum)