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Seven healing herbs for women

Reading time: 11 minutes

Herbalist Elisabeth Brooke shares a batch of her favorite plant remedies and recipes for healing common women’s health issues and more

Medicinal plants can be used to treat all sorts of women’s health problems, from infertility and heavy periods to cystitis and hot flashes. Here are seven of my go-to herbs for women along with some DIY recipes for herbal healing at home.

Lady’s mantle

Alchemilla vulgaris
Harvest time: June and July
Parts used: Flowers and leaves
Medicinal uses: For gynecological conditions and obstetrics

The principal herb used for gynecological conditions, lady’s mantle is the herb of choice for all problems and imbalances affecting the womb and ovaries. With painful periods, it clears up cramps after one to two months’ use.

I have had wonderful results using this herb in women over the age of 35 who are trying to conceive for the first time. It’s usually effective after two months of taking the herb. I also give lady’s mantle to pregnant women who fear miscarriage and are having a lot of pain or are losing small amounts of blood.

Lady’s mantle helps to prepare the body for labor, but as it’s such a strong astringent, it’s best for women who have had many children and perhaps lack muscle tone, or for women with a weakened cervix who have had miscarriages and abortions.

Astringents dry up secretions, so lady’s mantle can be used to reduce the amount of blood loss during a period and to curb postpartum bleeding (heavier than normal blood loss in the days after childbirth).

After delivery, the herb will help the uterus to regain its natural size; it’s also helpful where there is a possibility of prolapse and for helping the breasts to regain their elasticity. Lady’s mantle is a wonderful wound healer, so it can be used (both internally as a tea or tincture or externally as a lotion) to heal episiotomies and perineal tears after birth.

As a general tonic to the reproductive system, lady’s mantle can be used where there has been physical trauma, such as abortion, miscarriage, IUD insertion/extraction, thrush, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or fibroids. It can also be used to ease symptoms of menopause, such as heavy bleeding and hot flashes.

Recipes

To increase fertility

  1. Mix together tinctures of lady’s mantle and vitex.
  2. Take 20 drops first thing in the morning for up to six months.

For healing the womb after trauma (such as rape, abortion, surgery)

10 g (¼ oz) lady’s mantle
10 g (¼ oz) mugwort

  1. Make a tea.
  2. Take every day for at least one menstrual cycle and for up to three months.

Warning: not to be taken in pregnancy.

Mugwort

Artemisia vulgaris
Harvest time: June to August
Parts used: Flowers and leaves
Medicinal uses: For gynecological symptoms and heavy bleeding

Mugwort acts as a relaxant and astringent and is especially useful for girls during puberty, when periods can be very painful and bleeding may be excessively long and heavy. It dries up excessive blood and helps to regulate the menstrual cycle. Taken hot, it will help to bring on a delayed period.

Mugwort is a powerful blood cleanser and can be used as an alternative to echinacea for any infection.

Use it as an antiseptic tea or tincture for PID, chronic thrush or cystitis, or for any womb infection. It can be used alongside antibiotics to treat sexually transmitted infections and will help to minimize the suppressant effect of these drugs.

It is also used as a digestive stimulant, for nausea, for appetite loss and as a general tonic to stimulate the metabolism and the excretion of wastes from the body.

It is unwise to take mugwort during pregnancy.

Recipes

To bring on a delayed period

Equal parts, such as 20 g (⅓ oz) each, mugwort, southernwood and pennyroyal
600 mL (2 cups) boiling water

  1. Add the herbs to the water off the heat, cover and let stand for 20 minutes.
  2. Drink over the course of a day.

For infertility

15 g (½ oz) mallow
15 g (½ oz) mugwort
600 mL (2 cups) water

  1. Make a tea and strain.
  2. Use 1 cup of the mixture to douche twice a week to strengthen the vaginal area.

For bleeding after delivery

5 g (⅛ oz) each of mugwort, sage and pennyroyal

  1. Make a tisane (see below).
  2. Sip warm as a tea.

Thyme

Thymus vulgaris
Harvest time: June to September
Parts used: Flowers and leaves
Medicinal uses: For the lungs and as an antiseptic

Thyme is an antiseptic remedy and can be used wherever there is infection. In my experience, it works particularly well for lung and kidney infections but can be used safely to heal any part of the body.

Thyme is a potent remedy and is best taken in short, sharp doses—for only seven to 10 days at a time. I never give it to anyone for longer than three consecutive weeks. If the infection has not cleared up by then, there are probably other factors that haven’t been addressed.

Thyme can be used for bronchitis, tonsillitis, pleurisy (when the lining between the lungs and ribs becomes inflamed), septic sore throats, ear infections and whooping cough. It’s also the remedy of choice for cystitis, combined with bearberry. It will clear up the infection in three to four days with no need for antibiotics.

Thyme also helps to expel mucus from the lungs and therefore can be used for dry, irritating coughs. As a diaphoretic (sweat-inducing) remedy, it can be used for colds and flu when you need to lower the temperature and cleanse the body quickly.

Thyme is also slightly sedative, so it can be used to treat nervous headaches and insomnia. It can be used in a bath to alleviate the pains of rheumatism as well as in a lotion for itchy skin, hives and ringworm.

It is said to help with childbirth and with the delivery of the placenta.

Recipe

For cystitis and urethritis (inflammation of the urethra)

25 g (1 oz) thyme
25 g (1 oz) bearberry
1.2 L (4 cups) boiling water

  1. Drink warm over the course of the day.
  2. Repeat for three days until the symptoms have gone.

Red clover

Trifolium pratense
Harvest time: May to July
Parts used: Flowers
Medicinal uses: For the blood and skin

A deep-acting blood cleanser, red clover is useful for chronic, deep-seated conditions.

It’s especially helpful for chronic skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis (a skin disease characterized by peeling skin and inflammation). It normalizes or rebalances the growth of tissues and is commonly used to treat growths of the skin, including cancerous growths.

It is a relaxant for the nervous system, relieving spasms, nervous tics, and headaches due to stress and tension. Drank as a tea daily, it can help those who suffer from anxiety.

Red clover is a remedy for the female reproductive system and can be used in conjunction with other remedies for serious, debilitating conditions such as PID, endometriosis (a disease of the womb causing severe pain and heavy bleeding) and very heavy periods.

The tea can be used as a vaginal douche for thrush and other local infections. For nursing mothers, it makes an effective poultice or cream to soften milk ducts and relieve nipple eczema and mastitis.

Red clover can also be used for the lungs; it has a sedative action in lung tissue and is useful to treat debilitating coughs. The tea can be used as a gargle for sore throats. The herb can also be used in a poultice for athlete’s foot.

Recipe

For growths and swellings

  1. Fill a large saucepan with clover blooms, cover with water and boil briskly for one hour.
  2. Strain and press, then refill the saucepan with new flower heads, adding the same water and repeating the process.
  3. Strain and simmer this liquid until it resembles thick tar, taking care not to burn it.
  4. Apply as a salve to the affected area twice daily.

Bearberry

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
Harvest time: September and October
Parts used: Leaves
Medicinal use: For the kidneys

Bearberry is an excellent herb for acute kidney conditions; it renders the urine antiseptic and so fights any infection in that region by its action of resisting the infective organism. The herb can be used to treat arthritis with an associated kidney complaint.

It tones the urinary system, increases the circulation of blood to the kidneys, stimulates the action of the kidneys and helps to reduce accumulations of uric acid in the body. It’s therefore useful for acute and chronic cystitis, gout, kidney stones, urethritis and nephritis (inflammation of the kidneys).

It’s said to work best where the urine is alkaline, that is, in those who are vegetarian. Or take bicarbonate of soda to make bearberry more effective, 2.5 mL (½ teaspoon) in water, if you are a heavy meat eater.

It is a strong astringent and will help to check bleeding from the urinary system and the female reproductive system. Use for heavy periods, nonspecific vaginal discharges, sexually transmitted infections and hemorrhoids.

Warning: Because of its high tannin content, do not take bearberry for more than 21 days at a time. After this time, stop for 21 days, and then, if necessary, repeat the dosage. By this time, it’s best to consult a medical practitioner if the symptoms have not been alleviated.

Don’t drink black tea, also high in tannin, while taking bearberry. Avoid bearberry if you’re pregnant or suffering from nephritis.

Recipe

See cystitis recipe, above.

Vitex

Vitex agnus castus
Harvest time: October
Parts used: Berries
Medicinal uses: For gynecological conditions

Vitex is believed to work on the pituitary gland in the brain and helps to regulate the hormonal secretions of the female reproductive system. It’s the remedy of choice for the treatment of PMS (premenstrual syndrome), irregular periods, heavy periods and menstrual cramps.

I have used Vitex several times to prevent miscarriage in an otherwise normal pregnancy and to promote ovulation. Where there is infertility, vitex will help to stimulate conception. Vitex also helps to clear premenstrual migraines and to regulate the menstrual cycle in women who have taken the Pill and those who have chronic thrush—especially if this is a side effect of the Pill.

Vitex can clear up puberty-related acne, especially if it seems to be linked to the menstrual cycle. It will also help to bring on an irregular period or start periods again if they have stopped for any reason.

Vitex can help with symptoms of menopause, such as hot flushes, night sweats and vaginal dryness.

Take vitex in tincture form. It has been found to work best if taken first thing in the morning, when the pituitary gland is most active. Take 15 drops before breakfast daily.

It must be taken for at least one menstrual cycle for any results to be seen and generally needs to be taken for at least six months. Then it should be gradually withdrawn by lowering the dose bit by bit.

After a miscarriage, take 15 drops every half hour and stay in bed. When the bleeding subsides, take 15 drops six times daily for another two weeks. Miscarriage is most likely in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, especially at the time your period would have been due.

Recipe

See lady’s mantle fertility recipe, above.

Horsetail

Equisetum arvense
Harvest time: June and July
Parts used: Whole plant
Medicinal uses: For the bones and blood

Horsetail is rich in silica and minerals, both important for healthy bones and connective tissues. The herb is useful where there has been acute blood loss, as in childbirth, miscarriage or a bad accident, or with chronic anemia owing to heavy periods, late pregnancy, or stomach or duodenal ulcers.

Taken with nettle, horsetail can build up hemoglobin levels in record time, so it’s extremely useful in simple iron deficiency anemia.

Useful in bladder and kidney infections, horsetail makes the urine more acidic, which prevents bacteria from flourishing. It’s also one of the herbs used to regulate sugar balance in the body.

As it’s a bone-builder, horsetail can be useful if taken in conjunction with comfrey and nettle in postmenopausal women with brittle bones. Combine these with exercise to bring blood to the skeletal tissue and encourage growth and renewal.

Taken over a period of months, horsetail will help to build up and repair damaged hair, nails and skin and speed up the healing of broken bones.

Horsetail is an astringent and will stop bleeding from the lungs, kidneys or digestive system. This trait also makes it useful in cases of stress incontinence (when urine leaks out due to coughing or sneezing, for example), or prolapse of the womb or bladder. Take internally (by mouth) and use as a douche.

Warning: Any woman who is an insulin-dependent diabetic should not try to regulate her blood sugar levels with horsetail unless supervised by a medical practitioner.

Recipes

For rheumatic pain

30 g (1¼ oz) dried horsetail

  1. Steep in boiling water for 1 hour.
  2. Strain and add to bathwater.
  3. Lie in the water for as long as possible.

For uterine prolapse

50 g (2 oz) horsetail
50 g (2 oz) shepherd’s purse
1 L (4½ cups) water

  1. Bring ingredients to a boil and simmer in a covered saucepan to reduce to half the quantity.
  2. Pour into a douche bag and douche once daily for several months, retaining the liquid for as long as possible.

How to make a tisane

It’s best to take a remedy in the form of a tisane, an herbal tea or infusion, as the plant is at its most active and potent in this form. A tisane is, however, less appropriate for long-term treatment, or for children, who will often refuse to take bitter-tasting herbs.

I have a special teapot I use for herbal teas, and when preparing them for myself, I make this into a ritual; preparing and drinking the tea is a self-affirming process, a way of taking control of your life and health and setting a time each day to focus on yourself and your own healing.

I use a large handful of the particular herb to be used, say 15 g (½ oz) to about 600 mL (2 cups) of boiling water. Pour the water on the herb and then cover carefully to stop any steam escaping. Let this stand for at least 10 minutes and drink a cupful three times a day unless otherwise indicated.

If you want, you can gently reheat the liquid, but be careful not to boil it, or you can drink it when it has cooled down. A tea made in this way will last two to three days in the fridge.

If it’s an emergency or you wish to make an extra-strong brew, you can put the same quantities in cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 minutes and let stand for a further 10 minutes, covered.

Most herbs are taken before meals, usually about 30 minutes before; some are taken at bedtime.

Where to get your herbs

Dried herbs and tinctures are widely available online, but you can also collect your own herbs, even if you live in a city. Most common herbs can be found within waste ground, in city gardens and parks, in the commons and marshlands, beside canals and rivers, and in the gardens of deserted houses.

One of the best patches of lady’s mantle I have found in London, where I live, grows in the flower beds of the Royal College of Physicians in Regent’s Park.

Collect flowers and leaves in the summer months. Any plant is at its most powerful when the flowers are just about to open. Collect roots in November, when the sap has descended for the winter, or in March, just before it rises again.

Choose your plants carefully: pick only the healthiest, and choose herbs growing in large clumps (which means the soil conditions are ideal for the plants).

Don’t uproot the plant unless you need the root—apart from being a thoughtless and uncaring act, it may also be illegal. Take care to leave some of the plant to propagate next year, and for the next herbalist who comes along.

Drying and storing herbs

Bunches of herbs are best dried hanging up or spread out on trays lined with paper. The plants need plenty of circulating air to dry thoroughly and to prevent them from going moldy.

I tie the herbs in small bunches and then attach them to coat hangers; this way, many plants can be hung from the same hanger.

Dry them in a sheltered place away from direct sunlight—a dry cupboard, attic or garden shed will do. Do not hang the herbs in the kitchen as fats from cooking will stick to them as they dry, making an unpleasant concoction. Be sure to label everything.

Herbs usually take six to eight weeks to dry thoroughly. To test their dryness, break a stem of an herb in half. If it breaks cleanly, without any fibers remaining, it’s dry.

Store the herbs in paper, wood or glass. Do not use plastic as plants react with the chemicals in this material. Glass jars in a cupboard or shady spot are ideal, but paper bags will suffice as long as they are kept away from dampness.

The aerial parts of dried herbs will last for one to two years, and the roots slightly longer. To tell the freshness of an herb sample, look at it, smell it and taste it; the aromatics, for example (those with volatile oils), should look bright, smell strongly and have a definite taste.

Anything that tastes or smells musty or looks pale and sun-bleached has probably been incorrectly stored or kept for too long.

Adapted from A Woman’s Book of Herbs by Elisabeth Brooke (Aeon Books, 2018). Use code WBH20 for 20 percent off at health.aeonbooks.co.uk (expires June 20, 2024)

 

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References
MAY24, 'Healing herbs for women'
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