Wild yam (Dioscorea villosa)
Parts used: Rhizomes and roots
Benefits: Wild yam is a primary source of material for steroid production and also serves as a hormone precursor, thereby aiding the proper function of the reproductive system of both sexes. Although sometimes wild yam is listed as a natural birth-control agent, it’s more often used to promote fertility and treat all aspects of menstrual dysfunction. The roots and rhizomes contain bitter compounds that help tone the liver and increase bile flow. Wild yam is also useful for liver congestion and inflammation. It’s especially indicated for those who store excess heat in their bodies or who have high blood pressure. Additionally, wild yam is a nervine and antispasmodic and is excellent for soothing muscle cramps, colic, and uterine pain.
Suggested uses: Wild yam can be made into teas, tinctures, and capsules. It is bitter and not often prepared by itself as a tea, though it is tolerable when blended with other herbs.
At-risk warning: Native populations of wild yam are under siege, and some varieties are highlighted on the United Plant Savers “at risk” list. Use only cultivated varieties of wild yam.
Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus)
Parts used: Fruit. The very dark berries should be picked when ripe, between mid-fall and late fall.
Benefits and uses: The fruit of the chaste tree are more commonly known as vitex berries, which is a widely-known women’s herb. Vitex berries have the effect of stimulating and normalizing pituitary gland functions, but the greatest use of the fruit lies in normalizing the activity of female sex hormones. Thus, it is useful in the treatment of dysmenorrhea, pre-menstrual stress, and other disorders related to hormone function. It is especially useful during menopausal changes, and may be used to aid the body to regain a natural balance after the use of birth control pills.
Preparation and dosage: For an infusion, pour a cup of boiling water over 1 teaspoon of ripe vitex berries and leave to steep for 10-15 minutes. Drink 3 times a day, or take 1-2ML of the tincture 3 times a day.
Until recently, PMS was regarded by the medical community primarily as an imaginary dis-ease. I wonder if men were to suffer monthly from severe debilitating cramps, joint pain, bloating, headaches, and excess bleeding if PMS would be so easily dismissed as imaginary or all in the head. It is estimated that over half the women in the United States suffer PMS every month. Symptoms are varied but generally include water retention, nervousness, depression, tension, swollen and tender breasts, cramps, menstrual pain, join pain, acne, back aches, intense craving for sweets, and a range of other symptoms that all stem from an oversensitization to the sex hormones produces by our bodies.
The physical manifestations of PMS and PMDD indicate in imbalance of estrogen, prolactic, adrenal, and thyroid hormones. The liver is responsible for breaking down hormones and for cleansing the system of metabolic and environmental toxins. If the liver is not in good working order, it becomes overburdened and inefficient and is not able to handle the peak level of sex hormones released during menstruaion and ovulation. The system, in effect, becomes self-poisoned, congested with too many of its own hormones. These hormones, most notably estrogen components, can wreak havoc within the system, causing symptoms of PMS and other potential reproductive problems.
PMDD is a severe form of PMS where a woman has intense depression, anxiety, irritability, and tension before menstruation. Women with PMDD also tend to experience extreme mood swings, panic attacks, trouble sleeping and concentrating, and fatigue. The physical symptoms are similar to that of PMS, but are much more painful.
Not surprisingly, PMS and PMDD are greatly helped by diet, exercise, and healthy living. Follow these dietary suggestions:
- Increase your intake of complex carbohydrates, which are found in vegetables, whole grains, beans, and fruit.
- Increase your intake of eggs, garlic, onions, and beans, all of which are rich in sulfur-containing amino acids.
- Increase your intake of foods rich in vitamins C and E to increase the detoxification of estrogen.
- Decrease intake of fats, especially saturated animal fats, and use unsaturated fatty acids, such as those in cold-pressed vegetable oils.
- Decrease intake of milk and dairy products, although yogurt is acceptable.
- Eliminate sugar, white flour, refined foods, red meat, coffee, and soda.
Since PMS and PMDD are caused by a hormonal imbalance, let’s focus on the endocrine system and nervous system. Drink one or more of the following teas daily for 2-3 months; you may alternate the teas to suit your taste and moods.
- 1 part yellow dock root
- 1 part dandelion root
- 2 parts burdock root
- 1 part wild yam root
- 1 part astralagus
- 3 parts licorice roots
- 1 part ginger
- 2 parts pau d’arco
- 1 part fo-ti
- 1/2 vitex berries
- 1/2 part dong quai
- Optional: cinnamon, orange peel, stevia, more licorice root, roasted dandelion root to taste.
To make: Use 4-6 tablespoons of herb mixture per quart of water. Add herbs to cold water and bring to a slow simmer over low heat. Keep pot covered. Simmer gently for 20 minutes. Strain.
Nervous System Tea
- 1 part oatstraw
- 3 parts chamomile flowers
- 3 parts raspberry leaf
- 1 part squaw vine
- 1 part motherwort leaf
- 3 parts lemon balm leaf
- 3 parts peppermint leaf
- 2 parts nettle leaf
- 2 parts red clover flowers
- 1 part horsetail leaf
To make: Use 4-6 tablespoons of herb mixture per quart of water. Add herbs to cold water and over low heat, slowly bring to a simmer. Keep pot covered. Immediately remove from heat and let infuse 20 minutes. Strain.
Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Parts used: Leave, seeds, roots and young tops
Benefits: This is the stinging nettle that farmers hate, hikers despise and children learn to avoid. But herbalists around the world fall at the feet of this green goddess. It is a vitamin factory, rich in iron, calcium, potassium, silicon, magnesium, manganese, zinc, and chromium, as well as a host of other vitamins and minerals. It makes a wonderful hair and scalp tonic, and activated the metabolism by strengthening and toning the entire system. It is useful for growing pains in young children, when their bones and joints ache. An excellent reproductive tonic for men and women, nettle is used for alleviating the symptoms of PMS and menopause. It’s a superb herb for the genital and urinary system and will strengthen weak kidneys, which are essential for vitality and energy. It is indicated for liver problems and is excellent for allergies and hay fever. All this and it tastes good, too!
Suggested uses: For any liver disorder, take nettle in tea, tincture or capsule form. To tone the nervous system, combine nettle in a tea with lemon balm, oats and chamomile. For reducing the symptoms of allergies and hay fever, take freeze-dried nettle capsules. For urinary health and for treating edema, drink several cups of nettle tea combined with dandelion greens. To combat reduced energy and sexual dysfunction, combine nettle in a tea with green milky oat tops and raspberry leaf. Fresh young nettle leaves have a rich green flavor and can be used to replace spinach in any recipe; but they must always be steamed well, or else they’ll sting if undercooked!
Red Raspberry (Rubus idaeus)
Parts used: Leaves, roots and berries
Benefits: One of the richest sources of iron, raspberry is used to replenish iron-poor blood and is often combined with nettle for anemia and related low energy levels. It is also a rich source of niacin and among the richest sources of manganese, a trace mineral used by the body to produce healthy connective tissue, such as bone matrix and cartilage, and an important factor in energy metabolism. Use the leaves when energy is low or recovering from an illness. As a tea or tincture, raspberry leaf is invaluable for treating diarrhea and dysentery. Additionally, the leaves are a woman’s closest ally, as they’re a highly nourishing reproductive tonic that tones and strengthens the entire female system. It also helps reduce excessive menstruation and is one of the best herbs for pregnancy and child-birth. Because of its astringent properties, it is a good mouthwash for sore of infected gums.
Suggested uses: The leaf is quite tasty and is generally prepared as an infusion. Drink several cups of the tea daily to experience its toning effects. Raspberry leaf can also be blended with other reproductive tonic herbs and made into a tincture to be used daily. The berries, too, are medicinal and delicious!
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)
Parts used: Leaves and flowers
Benefits: Recent pharmacological studies have proved this plant’s remarkable value in alleviating migraine headaches, inflammation, and stress-related tension. Parthenolide, feverfew’s active ingredient, controls chemicals in the body responsible for producing allergic reactions. It also inhibits the productions of production of prostaglandins that are implicated in inflammation, swelling, and PMS.
Suggested uses: Though feverfew will help alleviate the pain of an active migraine, it is far more effective when taken over a period of a few months as a preventive. Its action is similar to that of aspirin, with a stronger, yet slower effect. Some people find eating a fresh leaf of two a day directly from the garden helps prevent migraines. That active ingredient I mentioned above - parthenolide - is highly sensitive to heat and will be easily destroyed if feverfew is exposed to high heat during the drying or preparation process!
Caution: Feverfew can be taken over a long period of time by most people with no side effect; however, it does require some cautionary measures. Since one of feverfew’s medicinal actions is to promote menstruation, it may stimulate the menstrual cycle unnecessarily or promote cramping and painful menstruation. It is also not recommended for pregnant women!