Women's Health and Herbal Medicine
by Lee Warren
I decided to sit and eat lunch for a change – relaxing to digest food is always seems like a good idea but doesn’t always happen.
Equipped with a wayward 'Sounds True' catalog that had come in the mail for my friend and former housemate, I started flipping through.
By the third page, I could feel tension in my body. By page five it was full blown anxiety.
This catalog reads like the Spiritual version of a high-gloss women’s magazine. I felt barraged suddenly by a seemingly endless list of things I need to cure in order to be a functioning human being. The inner equivalent to white teeth and no-smell-armpits.
As I read the book titles, I watched my mind (in parentheses):
- Mindfulness meditations (Should I be more mindful?)
- Enlightenment and the Brain (Other people are enlightened – maybe there’s a secret.)
- Personal Transformation based on Kindness and Compassion (Am I kind enough to myself?)
- Freedom from Depression (Is that for me?)
- Living the Lakota Way (Maybe they know something I should learn.)
- Hold Nothing Back (Am I holding back?)
The more I read, the more contracted I felt. By page 15, I got up to throw the thing in the trash.
Suddenly my lunch was more peaceful.
Is it me? Am I just too sensitive? Or is everyone trying to fix and change and tweak and alter us? I’m sure there’s even a book entitled, “You’re Fine Exactly How You Are,” which would then bring up anxiety for even wanting to change ourselves.
The overall message seems to be that something is amiss. That someone else has the answer. There’s a sense of dis-empowerment about it. Approaching these books should be like approaching something dangerous. Proceed only if you’re feeling strong.
The Wise Woman Tradition reminds us that we have wisdom within us.
It reminds us that there’s nothing to fix. I’m grateful that this voice exists among the forest of fixing.
by Jackie Dobrinska
Lion heart (Leonurus cardiaca) is the botanical name for Motherwort, a mint with a reputed big heart who likes to impact the hearts of others.
A common “weed” found in most city lots and almost any disturbed area, Motherwort has a square stem and opposite leaves. The palmately lobed leaves have serrated margins with petioles. They are hairy, dull green on top, pale below and have an intensely bitter taste. On the upper portion of the plant, the small, pink to lilac colored flowers whirl and often have a furry lower lip. They bloom between June and August. Like the abundant mother who always have a gift to give without attachments, Motherwort self-sows very freely but doesn’t spread by her roots.
Wort is an Old English word often employed before the 17th century to refer to a plant with medicinal qualities. Mother, simply refers to her place as one of the triple goddesses – Chickweed (Maiden), Motherwort (Mother), Mugwort (Crone.)
The Japanese, who made Motherwort into a wine, drank her for longevity – illustrated in an old tale about a town whose water source is a stream flowing through banks of Motherwort. Many of the townspeople lived to be 130 years old and one reportedly lived to 300 years.
In Europe, Motherwort first became known for “hysterical” conditions and “melancholy” (since she can make you feel like you’re sitting in a mother’s lap). Colonists introduced Motherwort into North America and the 19th century Eclectics recommended it as a menstruation promoter and aid to expelling the afterbirth. The Cherokees used the herb as a sedative for nervous afflictions, and the Victorian Language of Flowers says it symbolizes concealed love.
Today, Motherwort is primarily used by herbalists as a heart tonic, studies showing that it can decrease muscle spasms and temporarily lower blood pressure.
Motherwort is specific for frenzied children, menopausal and premenstrual women, and pretty much any one who is feeling crazed. It is one of our favorite calmatives and versatile motherwort can ease discomfort in the lower back, moontime blues and crampiness, feelings of being troubled by traumatic memories, emotional heartbreak, tummy troubles, or oral "owies". A brief note though: many herbalists recommend avoiding it during pregnancy.
Motherwort reminds us to trust ourselves and have confidence that the ultimate outcome will be best for all involved in the fullness of time. This message in itself is calming to the heart and to any of our inner pain. Her ability to calm and nourish very much feels like the balm of a loving mother.
So many people are experiencing mood disturbances these days. While the choice to use anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication is a valid one, the increase in use over the past decade has doubled, along with our stress levels. How can we address this issue in our lives on deeper lifestyle level and create more sustainable solutions?
My favorite interpretation of the Wise Woman Tradition, which speaks to the heart of this issue, is to:
Live in your body. Speak your truth. Love yourself.
Living in your body is all about nourishment, the foundation of the Wise Woman Tradition. If we’re not deeply nourished, it’s very difficult for us to deal with the situational anxiety and depression that comes our way. Most women suffer from a lack of healthy fats in their diets. Healthy fats, like raw organic butter and coconut oil, contribute to a healthy nervous system unlike anything else. A robust nervous system helps us be less emotionally volatile or prone to extreme bouts of anxiety. Reducing or eliminating stimulants will also help get you off the up and down wheel of anxiety.
Speaking your truth. The Wise Woman Tradition teaches us to embrace both the light and dark sides of ourselves, even those so called ‘negative emotions’ such as grief and rage. Women and men have often been taught to suppress these parts which, stored in our bodies, can create anxiety and illness. Name the fears and dark emotions with your loved ones. Be vulnerable and real about who you are and what you feel. Try expressing this dark stuff in a safe way by lying on the earth and letting your tears and anger flow . . . the earth can take your pain and turn it into food and medicine!
Loving yourself. Where in your life are you being nourished? Accentuate those parts and begin to look at what drains your energy. Your job, your relationship, your community? Is there a way to live more authentically who you are? Is there a way to live more simply to reduce economic stress? Can you reach out to others to create more community in your life? Can you find a way to get nourishing non-sexual touch such as massage or cuddling? Can you do a daily movement or writing or art practice, which grounds your energy and frees your soul?
Herbs to Soothe the Nerves
Herbs alone, just like prescription medicine alone, will not be a miracle cure. In combination with the lifestyle issues above, herbs will encourage your body and mind towards wholeness.
Three of my favorite herbs to soothe the nerves and ease anxiety are lemon balm, skullcap and catnip, all gentle, safe herbs in the mint family. Lemon balm is known as a mood elevator–if you’ve had a sniff of a leaf from the garden, you understand what that means! Skullcap is used to ease nervous tension and help with headaches and sleep disturbances. Catnip is used to for calming, pain, and bellyaches, which often accompany mood disorders.
May you discover yourself more deeply on your journey through the light and dark spiral of life.