Herbs to Support YOUR Menstrual Cycle
Leaning into herbal allies during your menstrual cycle is only natural - and by natural, I mean this is actually something that people have been doing for eons. Reaching out for plant-based support during the various phases of your moon cycle was at one point instinctive, perhaps sucking on a knob of ginger (Zingiber officinale) - more on ginger below - to quell the mittelschmertz pangs that some can feel during ovulation or to ease painful PMS tendencies or making a strong brew from crampbark (Viburnum opulis) to address menstrual discomfort, before oral contraceptives or over-the-counter painkillers, of course. Adjusting this picture to fit the contemporary uterus owner, we find that herbs are no less useful.
Moon Cycle Tonic: Vitex, Dandelion, and Red Clover for Menstrual Health
You can't go very far in researching reproductive health and herbalism before running into vitex, or chasteberry (Vitex agnus-castus), and for good reason. Vitex has earned its reputation as the great normalizer or equalizer of hormones like estrogen and progesterone, and when taken on a long-term basis, is incredibly reliable for evening out and balancing the parts of the biphasic cycle. With something of an adaptogenic, restorative quality that is specific to the endocrine system, vitex is known to shorten cycles that are very long (34+ days) and lengthen cycles that are very short (26 days or less). Vitex can be slow-acting but is absolutely steady in its herbal energy and efficacy. This slightly bitter, pungent tasting berry can have a libido-stimulating effect on some, while conversely toning down the drive of others (which goes along with its nickname "monk's pepper" - originating from its use to flavor the food of monks), according to what is needed. Vitex is particularly useful for supporting healthy progesterone levels during the luteal phase, or second half of the cycle. The berry works through stimulating the pituitary gland, containing no active hormones or building blocks of hormones on its own.
Vitex berry is best taken in the morning and for the long-term to see profound results (at least 6-12 weeks but really 3-6 months is a good time-frame). The ideal method of ingestion is via tincture, which absorbs faster and more efficiently than the dried herb in capsule form. Vitex is generally safely used for years and we have even seen some customers who have been on it for over a decade or more with no ill effects, as it continues to work well to support hormonal balance over the years.
Vitex combines well with red clover (Trifolium pratense), a member of the bean or legume family known for its phytoestrogenic effects, which many herbalists believe include improving the balance of estrogens in the body, which impacts the menstrual cycle. One way red clover does this is by helping the body to clear out toxic and foreign xenoestrogens, which come from plastics, environmental hazards, etc. It does this by itself, as a phytosterol, filling estrogen receptor sites where xenoestrogens could potentially go. A friend to fertility and a proponent of hormone happiness, red clover is also rich in protein and minerals, and the flower can be consumed raw or cooked as well as taken in a tincture or tea form. Check out our blog post here on Protecting Yourself from Estrogen Dominance, which red clover does so beautifully.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) may not strike you at first as the most popular hormonal herb that you've come across, but hear us out: dandelion works its magic on the menstrual cycle through the liver, the optimization of which is critical for healthy menstruation. Since excess hormones are cleared through the liver, keeping this organ of elimination and detoxification happy and primed is key to keeping hormones in check and the endocrine system nurtured. You can do this by regularly taking bitter herbs before meals, or a formula like Deep Roots, our beloved all-purpose liver tonic, a balanced, bitter blend of burdock, yellow dock, and dandelion which helps the liver, kidneys, and the other eliminative organs to live their best life.
Vitex, red clover, and dandelion are all contained in our Moon Cycle Blend, where they work synergistically to promote hormonal balance and optimal health of the reproductive system. Whether your cycle matches the phases of the moon or not (ovulating around the full moon in the light of the moon, menstruating around the new moon in the dark of the moon), getting the support to help maintain its regularity can add stability and vibrant potency to your life.
If you find yourself in or circling around the crone/crown phase of the menopausal years, an herbal formula like Menopause Tonic can support the body in making that shift out of the reproductive era and in a new era of creativity, expansion, and health.
Motherwort: An Herbal Mama to Lean On
Increasing circulation to the pelvic and abdominal area and acting as a gentle nervine with a specific affinity for the reproductive system, motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) should be called on to soothe PMS signs and signals, regulate the nervous system, and calm the discomfort of spasms, occasional sleeplessness, digestive upset, or cardiac hiccups associated with menses. Motherwort calms both body and mind alike, very much akin to the herbal mama of its namesake: "mother-herb."
Yarrow: The Kitchen Sink Herb of the Menstrual Cycle
When it comes to the menstrual cycle, yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is so versatile an herb that it seems to do just about everything. Specifically influential on the blood, but with the ability to both bring forth blood and kickstart a sluggish cycle (an emmenagogue action) or slow or staunch bleeding that is too vigorous or heavy, yarrow is the ultimate balancer. Yarrow is considered by herbalists to be both a uterine tonic and a circulatory tonic, offering vitality and strength to the uterus and ensuring that the blood contained within the pelvic area does not stagnate.
More Herbs for Menstrual Cycle Optimization
Other considerations for broad-spectrum menstrual support include:
- Ginger: I am never caught without ginger on hand at home, because it's such a catch-all root. Ingest ginger (whether capsule, tea, in food, even candied) during the days leading up to your cycle to support a healthy response to PMS, or each day throughout the month if you tend to have ongoing discomfort over the long-haul. Try this for 2-3 months, making an experiential diary of your signs and signals, and see what difference simple ginger makes when incorporated into your daily routine.
- Red raspberry: all-round classic uterine strengthener and reproductive muscle tonic red raspberry is a star when it comes to the moon cycle, and nutritive to boot. Try drinking a leafy tea throughout the cycle including red raspberry, such as Vita-Min, which we formulated to bring hormone-friendly nutrition and minerals to a tea cup near you.
- Minerals: grounding the body in essentials like calcium and magnesium is key to the rhythm of a healthy menstrual cycle. One of the best herbal ways to do this is with nourishing herbal infusions, which are the body's key to bioavailable, mineral-dense nutrition that is as easy to make as a tea. Nourishing herbal infusions of nettle and oatstraw typically cost less than taking a multivitamin everyday, take about five minutes to make, and offer so much value. Don't forget your herbal vinegars on your salads and in soups or veggies for extra mineral goodness.
None of the above strategies take place in a vacuum, and if you only have the bandwidth/mental space/time/energy/wallet for one thing, focus on whole foods first! Herbs will have a much better chance to do their thing when the body is supported at its baseline with essential proteins and nutrients, whole grains, starches, dark leafy greens, and healthy fats. And don't forget to take the time to honor your moon cycle for exactly what it is with these Wise Woman Ways for Honoring Moontime, whether you'd like it be more in balance or you are happy with the equilibrium you have already found.
Further Reading and Resources
Aviva Romm's Hormone Intelligence
Aviva Romm's Botanical Medicine for Women's Health
Toni Weschler's Take Charge of Your Fertility
Lisa Hendrickson-Jack's The Fifth Vital Sign: Master Your Cycles & Optimize Your Fertility