If you are like many women, the time of your ‘moon’ can leave you feeling less like yourself and more like, well, a zombie. There are those women that are lucky and barely have any symptoms during their menstrual cycle, while others are buckled over with severe cramps, lower back pain, migraines… you name it, they have it! While most ladies just pop a Midol or other pain medication, it’s nice to know that there are some natural alternatives out there that can help relieve these symptoms. After all, Mother Nature has a remedy for basically everything, whether we know it or not.
There are many herbs such as black cohosh and red clover that are known to help women with menopausal symptoms, but what are the lesser known herbs for use during the reproductive years? I’ve compiled a list of herbs and their uses for excessive bleeding, cramping, migraines, and the other discomforts associated with your menstrual cycle. The use of these herbs has been either clinically tested or passed down as anecdotal remedies, meaning that they have been reported as being effective by multiple people throughout the years.
***Do not use herbs if you are pregnant, suspect you may be pregnant, or are trying to conceive. You should always consult with your doctor before using herbs and disclose all medications you may be on.
Menstrual discomforts and their herbal treatment:
Amenorrhea (absence of menstruation)
Blessed thistle, cramp bark, motherwort, ginkgo
Dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation and cramping)
Chasteberry, dong quai, chamomile, cramp bark, raspberry leaf, black haw, black cohosh, lady’s mantle, motherwort, white willow bark
Menorrhagia (heavy menstrual bleeding)
Shepherd’s purse, yarrow, chasteberry, lady’s mantle, blessed thistle
Butterbur, feverfew (possibly), evening primrose oil
Lower back pain
While willow bark, cramp bark, black haw
PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome) in general
Black cohosh, chasteberry (should be taken daily leading up to period), dong quai, evening primrose oil, lemon balm, motherwort, wild yam root, chamomile, St. John’s wort, ginkgo
These herbs can be taken in tea form, tinctures, or in capsules.
Magnesium, riboflavin, vitamin B6, COQ10 all in either food or supplement form may help with migraines as well, but I would consult with your doctor first and have your blood tested to see if you are deficient in any of these.
Let’s go into further detail about the actions of these herbs and what makes them so effective:
Raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus)
Raspberry leaf is a well-known herb associated with uterine health since it helps tone the uterine and pelvic muscles and strengthen the walls of the uterus.
A study done in Britain showed that taking raspberry leaf had a relaxing effect on uterine muscles due to its antispasmodic properties. Because of this, it can help alleviate cramps and has been used to ease the pain of labor.
Raspberry leaf is an astringent which means it has the ability to stop excessive bleeding.
(Clinical tests have proven it okay to take throughout pregnancy, but still consult with doctor before deciding to do so).
Blessed thistle (Cnicus benedictus)
Blessed thistle is a bitter herb that can be used to help digestion and that bloated feeling you may experience.
It has the potential to balance hormones and alleviate PMS-related headaches due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
Blessed thistle is an astringent so may help alleviate a heavy flow.
In large doses of more than 5 grams it may promote vomiting so use with caution and don’t exceed that amount.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Yarrow is well known for its ability to stop bleeding due to its strong astringent properties. It also tones the blood vessels.
Taking it for several days before your period can decrease the amount of flow experienced.
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium)
Feverfew has long been used in traditional medicine for treatment of headaches and migraines. It has been shown to contain complex compounds that may bring therapeutic relief as a prophylactic treatment.
2 trials showed use of feverfew to be effective at slightly decreasing the occurrence of migraines in patients that had already used it in the past to treat their migraines. Another trial was then conducted on patients that had never used the herb before and it showed no significant difference from those that took a placebo.
Since further test are needed to prove the effectiveness of feverfew, my suggestion is to just give it a try to see if it works for you. If it does, GREAT! If it doesn’t, then you can just discontinue its use.
Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris)
Lady’s Mantle has high concentrations of tannins which can help constrict blood tissue, curbing excessive bleeding.
It contains salicylic acid and has sedative properties that can help to alleviate painful menstrual cramps.
Dong quai (Angelica sinensis)
Dong quai may be used for excessive bleeding or cramping due to its vasodilator properties and anti-spasmodic effects. It usually works best in combination with other herbs.
Wild yam root (Dioscorea villosa)
Wild yam root functions as a phytohormone. It contains natural progesterone and effectively alleviates cramps, headache, mood swings, depression, irritability, and insomnia.
It may be used topically in poultice form as well.
White willow (Salix alba)
The bark of the white willow was used by both the Greeks and Native Americans to treat pain. This bark can be taken at a dosage of 120 mg – 240 mg.
A double-blind study of participants that took a low and high dose of white willow bark extract compared to those who took a placebo noticed significant decreases in their pain after 1 week of taking the higher dose of willow bark, signifying that it is a relatively effective and safe treatment for the condition.
Many people think that the active compound salicin in white willow bark is what gives you the same pain-relieving effects as aspirin; however, the combination of salicin, flavonoids, and polyphenols from the bark all work together to give the pain relieving and anti-inflammatory effects it’s known to have.
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)
Motherwort is a phytoestrogen helpful in maintaining a healthy cycle. It supports muscle function and how your body responds to pain.
Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris)
In clinical trials, shepherd’s purse has proven effective at treating a heavy flow.
Black haw (Viburnum prunifolium)
Black haw has antispasmodic constituents that allow it to relax the uterus and prevent cramping. Because of this, it has been used to treat severe pelvic pain and lower back pain during this time. It is often combined with cramp bark. Taken as a tincture, ½ tsp twice a day should be sufficient to help with symptoms.
Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa)
Black cohosh is well known for its use in menopausal symptoms, but it is also helpful during your cycle. It is known for its antispasmodic properties and ability to relax the uterus during cramping. ¼ tsp to ½ tsp every 2-4 hours should help relieve symptoms.
Butterbur (Petasites hybridus)
In a study of 250 migraine patients, butterbur proved effective at providing relief from the participant’s migraine symptoms when treated with 75 mg of the herb twice daily for 4 months. It showed to decrease migraine occurrence by 58%, with 71% of patients noticing some form of relief! It has been proven to be safe and effective and has even shown improvements in children and the elderly.
Evening primrose (Oenothera Biennis)
The oil of evening primrose can be used to treat PMS symptoms because it reduces your chances of becoming irritable and suffering from headaches and breast tenderness due to its pain relieving compound phenylalanine.
It contains a high amount of the fatty acid GLA and other nutrients which give it its healing properties and balance hormones.
Cramp bark (Viburnum opulus)
Cramp bark has antispasmodic properties that, as the name suggests, helps to alleviate cramps by relaxing the muscle in the uterus and ovaries. Can be ingested as a tea or you may also take ½ tsp of tincture twice a day before and during the period and every few hours until cramping subsides.
Its muscle relaxant properties are said to be good for lower back pain as well. It is often combined with black haw.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)
Ginkgo has been proven through tests to treat both the physical and mental aspects of PMS. It improves mood and depressed thoughts through the release of neurotransmitters.
It’s important to note that ginkgo may decrease the anti-coagulant effects of some medications and may increase bleeding. So if you suffer from excessive bleeding during your time of the month, it’s recommended to avoid this herb. It should also not be taken with any antidepressants.
Chaste tree/Chasteberry (Vitex agnus-castus)
Chasteberry has been used historically to treat severe cramping.
In a study of 120 women, participants taking the chasteberry extract in the form of capsules and liquid reported decreased symptoms of headache, cramping, irritability and other moodiness. A 20 mg dose of chasteberry was all it took to see these reduced PMS symptoms.
Fun fact: In a double-blind placebo-controlled study done on 52 women, chasteberry had the added benefit of helping 3 women conceive that before the study were having a hard time getting pregnant.
Other helpful herbs or vitamins
Stinging nettle – Rich in iron
Dandelion root – Diuretic that can be used for water retention
Alfalfa – Contains vitamin K, necessary for blood clotting and minerals
Chamomile – Calming effects
St. John’s wort – Helpful in depression and mood stability
Peppermint – Good for digestion and bloating
Magnesium – 2 controlled trials showed that supplementing with magnesium can be effective for preventing migraines in those that recurrently suffer from them.
Riboflavin, vitamin B6, coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) for migraines
Calcium, iron, and essential fatty acids are all important to make sure you are getting enough of during this time.
***Be careful if you are allergic to ragweed or other herbs. If an herb is in the same plant family, you might be allergic to it too. Start with small doses, and if you don’t notice any reactions, work your way up.
It’s important to note that natural remedies often take longer than medications to work; however most people usually suffer from less side effects from them as well. It’s best to start your herbal treatment a few days to a week before your cycle and only until symptoms subside. Do not use these herbs excessively or for regular everyday use. Like I mentioned earlier, avoid using herbs while pregnant or if you’re trying to become pregnant unless under direction and supervision of a trained medical professional. It’s best to consult with your doctor no matter what, especially if on any medications that may conflict with the herbal actions.
I hope these herbs can help you take a more natural approach to dealing with your monthly friend! I’d love to hear how they work for you!
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