Introductory Herbal Course Lesson Preview

This preview lesson has been taken from the Online Introductory Herbal Course. The Introductory Herbal Course is made up of 6 Units and over 30 Lessons and Bonus Lessons, dozens of charts and visuals, flipping books, and herbal monographs. To learn more about the Introductory Herbal Course, please visit the course registration page. We’d love to have you join our Herbal Academy family!

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For centuries women were the healers. They knew how to heal their children, their neighbors and their families. They knew how to heal themselves. They understood the natural rhythms of the earth and moon, and how a woman’s body is so intimately connected to these cycles. They knew the plants.

Woman-in-the-woodsThe herbs for all of a woman’s way — herbs to help a woman balance, birth, and age with grace were found and used in every culture and every corner of our earth. I believe the herbs that may nourish us and heal us may be found wherever we are. We just need to look… and listen.

The herbs that I have chosen for you to get to know are most often found, or are able to be grown here in North America and parts of Europe. There are also many powerful herbs from Asia and the other continents. I mention a few well known Chinese herbs that we have come to use. Somehow, though, I trust that we only need to look to find similar herbs right here and right now!

To begin to experience the healing power of the herbs for women’s health, we (women) need to choose to:

  • Celebrate our wonderfully intricate and unique bodies
  • Acknowledge our connectedness to our good earth and her moon
  • Trust the healing powers of the plants

Experiencing all three will bring us to a more vibrant, connected, and balanced place.

Important safety reminder: The below herbal information does not constitute medical advice and should not be misconstrued as such. Women attempting to conceive and pregnant women should consult the advice of a midwife or physician before taking any herbs.

One last word before we begin. Testimony to the popularity of herbs that have helped women over time, there are a few “at risk” plants that must not be wild-harvested. These are: beth root (Trillium erectum and T. pendulum), lady’s slipper (Cypripedium spp.), false unicorn root (Chamaelirium luteum), black cohosh (Actaea racemosa), blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) and wild yam (Dioscorea villosa).

Wonderfully Intricate and Unique

What distinguishes women from men, if nothing else, is, simply, our reproductive systems. For women, our breasts, uterus, and ovaries make up our reproductive system. However, we need the rest of our body’s organs to orchestrate our ability to reproduce. The production and balance of our hormones involves important organs such as the liver, adrenal glands, pancreas, ovaries, and the pituitary gland. When we are experiencing metabolic and physiologic imbalances, such as extreme changes in weight, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, or extreme stress in our lives, our body experiences dis-ease. As a result, our reproductive hormones also become imbalanced. There is dis-harmony and we begin to experience symptoms. We have heavy periods, no periods, painful periods, infertility, mood swings, or migraines. As we age, imbalances may be the cause for hot flashes, insomnia, heart palpations, and other menopausal disorders.

Often it may take only a health-filled lifestyle to remedy these problems. Rosemary Gladstar (2008) recommends that: “Tonic herbs, proper nutrition, adequate rest, connecting with self, and joyful exercise are our primary prescriptions for well-being.”

Tonic Herbs for Women’s Health: Herbs that Nourish and Balance

Herbal care for women’s health begins with the tonic herbs and this is a good place to begin. These herbs are the ones that we’ll come back to normalize hormones, stabilize imbalances and manage unwanted symptoms of a malfunctioning reproductive system.

Here are 5 reproductive tonic herbs that can keep us holistically vibrant and give us a sense of well-being as the wonderfully unique women that we each are.

Black Cohosh – Cimicifuga racemosa – Dried Root

Black cohosh is an herb native to the Americas that is the most well-known uterine tonic. Primarily understood to stimulate menstrual flow and activity, it is also indicated as a remedy that normalizes and tones the whole female reproductive system. Most of the research has been around its ability to help menopausal women cope with hot flashes. It is also used along with other herbs for dysfunctional labor, painful periods, and in combination with other herbs as a remedy for insomnia (Romm 2010).

Black cohosh root (dried only) is the part used and it is quite bitter and best taken as a capsule or as a tincture — that is, an extract of the herb in alcohol. Purchase black cohosh from only cultivated organic sources.

Safety: It is not advised to use black cohosh in pregnancy.

Dose: 2-4 mL 3x/day of a 1:5 in 60%. Decoct 1 teaspoon dried root in 8 ounces water for 15 minutes, 3x/day.

Chasteberry – Vitex agnus-castus – Berries

chaste-tree-aka-vitex-berry3The berries are the part that is used and are quite a powerful herb for normalizing hormone function. Chaste berries stimulate the pituitary gland which regulates the menstrual cycle and is considered one of the more powerful of the female hormone normalizers. Evidence supports its use for premenstrual syndrome (PMS) (Brown 2001) and other disorders related to hormone function including infertility (Hoffmann, 2003).

For a PMS-relieving tea that could be taken daily, blend chaste berries with nettles and a tension-relieving herb such as blue vervain or menstrual cramp-relieving herb such as chamomile.

Safety: Do not use if taking dopamine blocking medications.

Dose: 2.5 mL 3x/day of a 1:5 in 60%; 1 teaspoon of the berries per cup of boiled water steeped for 10-15 minutes 3x/day.


Nettle – Urtica dioica – Leaf

Nettles-herbsNettle is becoming one of the best all-around tonic herbs for virtually everyone. The herb strengthens and supports the whole body (Hoffmann, 2003) including liver health. Recent research includes nettles among the top 6 anti-inflammatory plant foods. Inflammation when it becomes chronic can lead to many different disease states (DiLorenzo et al. 2013). Nettle is a nourishing herb rich in iron, calcium, and vitamin A (Gladstar 2008).

Nettle leaves make a delicious tea either by itself or blended with other herbs. Nettles may be found growing near the compost pile or near moist low brambled borders between fields and forests. Purchase only certified organic cultivated sources. There are many!

Dose: Eat as you would spinach; 2.5 – 5 mL 3x/day of a 1:5 in 40%; 3 teaspoons dried herb steeped for 15 minutes in boiled water, 3x/day.


Red Clover – Trifolium pratense L. – Flower head

Popping up along garden beds or near the roadside, red clover blossoms bring a bit of joy to our eyes to see their rosy lavender blooms here and there . Though, if you want to harvest the blossoms yourself, make sure to collect them away from heavily used roadways.IMG_9129-1

Red clover is known to support the whole body and particularly the liver. It is rich in phytoestrogen isoflavones. Recent research reveals its many supportive properties for women’s health particularly by having protective effects against cardiovascular disease (Atkinsen, et al. 2004) and menopausal symptoms (Booth et al. 2006).

For gynecological support, red clover is often suggested to ease symptoms during menopause. In 2005, a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled study looked at the effects of red clover isoflavones on 60 postmenopausal women, concluding that supplementation “significantly decreased menopausal symptoms and had a positive effect on vaginal cytology and triglyceride levels” (Hidalgo, et al 2005). In 2009, red clover isoflavones were “effective in reducing depressive and anxiety symptoms among postmenopausal women” (Lipovac, 2009). However, other studies have demonstrated mixed results and the largest study to date showed no improvements with hot flashes. (Note that these studies investigated commercial red clover isoflavones and not the whole flower and therefore do not accurately reflect how the whole herb will act.)

Red clover is considered one of the traditional hormone normalizing herbs for women. Blossoms may be added to decorate a salad or blended with other herbs such as nettle and dandelion for a lovely spring tonic tea

Safety: Avoid in pregnancy or if you have a known hormone-sensitive condition. Do not use with pharmaceutical blood thinners or with the herb melilot (Melilotus officinalis). The coumarin derivatives in red clover may increase the chance of bleeding. Because red clover side effects may include slow blood clotting, stop taking it at least two weeks prior to surgery, and avoid if you have Protein S deficiency or any other type of coagulation disorder.

Dose: 2-4 mL 3x/day of a 1:5 in 40%. Tea is 3 teaspoons dried herb infused in boiled water for 10 minutes 3x/day.


Red Raspberry – Rubus idaeus – Leaf

CRW_3974The best known uterine tonic herb, red raspberry leaf is used most often in pregnancy to tone and strengthen the uterus for birth. It is safe to take red raspberry leaf any time during pregnancy though most women choose to start taking it by their third trimester (from 28 to 40 weeks gestation). Red raspberry also helps to nourish the uterus and pelvic region at any time. Many women take red raspberry to normalize their cycles and control menstrual bleeding.

Red raspberry can be taken as a tea. Loose dried leaves may be purchased which I prefer for tea, than tea bags.

Safety: None reported, though it should be noted that the leaf is high in tannins. Pregnant women should always check with their doctor before taking herbs in pregnancy.

Dose: Make up 1 teaspoon per cup and drink 1 or two cups each day or up to 3 to 4 cups each day when pregnant and in your third trimester.


The Moon Cycle: Menstruation

Nothing in nature – or with a woman’s body – works in isolation. As we seem to know intuitively – all of our body’s systems must be able to work together harmoniously and in a uniquely balanced way in order to reproduce our kind. It’s nature’s way. It’s a woman’s way to know this, and if not, we must reclaim this knowledge.

Seed cycling intro courseEach month our hormones are regulated through a feedback system that involves the ovaries which in turn communicate with our brain (the pituitary gland) and then back again to our ovaries. Menstruation occurs when estrogen and progesterone are cycling in complete harmony with the production of luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) to release one egg each lunar month.

While it may be inconvenient to bleed, it is a cyclic reminder of how we are connected to the pulse of the heavens. It is typically a 28 day cycle with ovulation occurring on day 14. Some women cycle a few days longer and others may be a few days shorter. Interestingly, in contrast, men have a daily hormonal pulse.

The herbs that help to manage problems with menstruation include herbs that may bring on menstruation, lessen heavy menstruation, normalize irregular menstruation, and manage painful menstruation. There are also herbs to manage premenstrual symptoms as well as approaches like seed cycling that may help bring the body into balance through nutritional support.

When working with women with menstrual problems, however, it is always recommended by herbalists to start with tonic support. That is, start with herbs that tone and balance the reproductive system then treat the symptoms.


Amenorrhea is the absence of menstruation for at least three periods in a row. The most common cause is pregnancy, but often the glands and organs of the reproductive system will be out of balance and cause amenorrhea. The herbs that may help a women menstruate are called emmenagogues. There are many plants that serve as emmenagogues including some culinary herbs like parsley. These herbs should, of course, be avoided in medicinal amounts and some should be avoided altogether in pregnancy. We will revisit this herbal action with our discussion about pregnancy and childbirth. For now, here are three powerful herbal emmenagogues:

Blue Cohosh – Caulophyllum thalictroides – Root, rhizome

Also known as squaw or papoose root, blue cohosh is a strong muscle relaxant and an emmenagogue. Only the root is used as the dark blue berries are poisonous. Native American women used blue cohosh to control profuse menstrual bleeding, painful menstruation, and pelvic fullness (Brinker 1997). Blue cohosh as an emmenagogue can also bring on menstruation (Gladstar, 2008; Hoffmann, 2003; Soule, 1998) and must be avoided in early pregnancy for it may induce uterine contractions. (Only use cultivated organic sources.)

The root is used so it is best taken as a tincture. Because this plant is at risk, only cultivated organic sources should be purchased.

Safety: Do not use in pregnancy.

Dose: Check with midwife or physician.


Chaste Tree Berry – Vitex agnus-castus – Berry

I must mention this herb again because, not only is it a powerful hormone normalizer, it is also a powerful emmenagogue. Chaste tree berries regulate levels of progesterone and estrogen by acting on the pituitary gland correcting for any relative progesterone deficiency (Hoffmann, 2003). The wonderful chaste tree is also useful for premenstrual symptoms, breast pain and menstrual irregularities (American Botanical Council review, 2009) and the German Commission E, the European-based authority for plant medicines approves chaste tree for these uses (Blumenthal, 2000 ).

See above for information on safety and dosing.


Yarrow – Achillea millefolium – Aerial parts

common-yarrow-167528_640Unlike conventional medications, the plants that help regulate the menstrual cycle have the peculiar ability to do both; bring on absent or delayed menstruation or help reduce excessive menstruation and cramping. Yarrow is one of these herbs. Yarrow has many other uses including being a powerful anti-inflammatory herb. Here it functions as an emmenagogue.

A blend of the above three herbs in a tincture form is a perfect prescription for Amenorrhea associated with hormonal imbalance. Combine 2 parts of blue cohosh, 2 parts of chaste tree and 1 part of yarrow tinctures (Hoffmann, 2003). Dosage is ½ teaspoon 3 times per day until menstruation begins.

Safety: Contraindicated in pregnancy.

Dose: 2-4 mL 3x/day of a 1:5 in 25%; 1-2 teaspoons dried yarrow infused in 8 ounces boiling water for 15 minutes 3x/day.



Menorrhagia is unusually heavy or prolonged menstruation that is sometimes associated with painful periods. There are a few causes of menorrhagia, including clotting disorders and hormonal disruptions. Herbs well known to control bleeding and hemorrhaging include the herbs above. Below I introduce three more herbs that are known to help control heavy bleeding.


Lady’s Mantle – Alchemilla vulgaris – Leaf, Flowers

Lady’s mantle as an herb is better known in Europe than here in America, where it is often planted as a shade-loving garden plant. Lovely lady’s mantle can help relieve cramping, spotting between periods and excessive bleeding from menstruation (Soule, 1998; Trickey, 1997). As an astringent, lady’s mantle, can tighten and tone breast and uterine tissue (Soule, 1998).

Lady’s mantle leaves and flowers are harvested in early spring and dried. This herb makes a lovely tea or may be taken as a tincture.

Safety: None known.

Dose: 2-4mL 3x/day of a 1:5 in 25%. For tea, 2 teaspoons dried herb steeped for 15 minutes in boiling water, 3x/day.


Shepherd’s Purse – Capsella bursa-pastoris – Aerial Parts

Shepherd’s purse is best known to arrest bleeding of all kinds. Here, shepherd’s purse is ideal for slowing or arresting the flow of a heavy period. It is also used after childbirth and can be found in many a homebirth midwife’s “tool bag.”  A roommate of mine who experienced a prolonged and heavy period one month told me she was starting to get very concerned. Losing blood is not trivial and being a slight woman and perhaps already with a low iron level, I started to become concerned, too. I advised her to start taking shepherd’s purse. In less than 12 hours her troubles were resolved.

Safety: Contains high amounts of oxalic acid – those with kidney stones may wish to avoid.

Dose: The tincture works best but a tea can also be made. In tincture form take 1 mL in intervals of 10 minutes apart until bleeding slows (Guido Mase, 2012 online).


Yarrow – Achillea millifolium – Aerial Parts

Here is yarrow again! How can the same herb do so many diverse tasks? Its modes of action are still being studied for it has many uses in traditional plant medicine that intrigue contemporary biochemists (Applequist, et al. 2011). The most impressive is that yarrow can also allay bleeding as it can bring on menstruation. Perhaps it is better known in this role in both Europe and America. One of the early (1830) Eclectic plant medicine physicians mentions yarrow’s effectiveness for “menstrual affections,” hemorrhoids, wounds, and even cancer (Erichsen-Brown, 1979). There is much more to say about yarrow!

See above for safety and dosing information.

Normalize The Flow Tea

Adapted from Brigitte Mars


1 teaspoon vitex berries
1 teaspoon wild yam root
2 teaspoons chamomile flowers
2 teaspoons nettle leaf
2 teaspoons raspberry
¼ teaspoon licorice
6 cups water

  • Decoct the vitex berries, wild yam, and licorice together in a covered pot at a low simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Add the remaining herbs and take off the heat.
  • Leave to steep for another 10 minutes.
  • Drink one quart per day and store extra tea in the refrigerator until ready to consume.

Dysmenorrhea and Premenstrual Syndrome

Dysmenorrhea is a term used to describe abnormally painful periods. My formal introduction into the power of herbal medicines came from a Swiss-born college roommate when she opened her bag of chamomile instead of her box of Midol for her menstrual cramps. Here was first hand evidence for me, as she chose to drink a strong brew of chamomile tea instead of taking one of our best known non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs at the time for premenstrual cramps. I haven’t used Midol since.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists estimates that at least 85% of menstruating women have at least one PMS symptom as part of their monthly cycle (online; That’s a lot of women! ACOG recommends diet modifications and exercise along with a nice strong non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication for treatment.

Wise women herbalists have known for centuries what herbs manage the painful difficult months of heavy bleeding and pain. These herbs are known in many cultures. Every woman from every corner of our earth has plants nearby to help her through her lunar month. Every woman across time has had her stressful month when she has felt a bit off and needs the relief and calming effect of the herbs where she resides. These plants grow near us. These plants are here for us. Why? Because we have evolved with the plants, and it is the reason why we are interconnected with them. They are here for us. We need to look and listen.

I have experienced that there is a moment when we arrive at this truth about our relationship with the plants in our life’s journey, and then life takes on a whole different form and meaning from there on. Many women will find joy, healing, and health when they find this truth. For some of us, discovering our interconnectedness with the plants happens when we are doubled over Monday morning, feeling bloated, achy and crampy with a headache and fatigue. We look at our watch and decide to call in to request a sick day from school or work. Then, we reach for the chamomile and give it a try. That’s how it happened for me.

PMS is a combination of physical and psychological symptoms occurring for up to 2 weeks before menses and relief experienced after menstruation has begun (Romm, 2010). Herbalist and physician Dr. Aviva Romm (2010) lists 35 symptoms associated with PMS! Among these include abdominal bloating, altered appetite, cyclic weight gain, headaches, joint pain or backache, premenstrual acne, anger, anxiety, depression, lack of concentration mood swings, and nervous tension (Romm, 2010).

Lifestyle and diet changes can go a long way towards easing PMS, and reframing the idea of PMS into a time when women need reflection and self-care allows us to honor and celebrate our natural ebbs and flows. Some tips for lessening the severity of symptoms:

  • Check in with your doctor to ensure there isn’t a serious underlying reason for your more debilitating symptoms.
  • Become aware of your hormonal shifts, and take the time to honor them through ritual or self-care.
  • Practice sleep hygiene. Turn down the lights at dusk and remove light-emitting devices from your bedroom (including smart phones and computers, etc.).
  • Look to the liver! Eat liver-friendly foods like beets and take bitters to keep your liver healthy.
  • Baby your intestinal flora with fermented and cultured foods.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight – neither too light nor too heavy.
  • Stay active and move your body daily. 
  • Minimize exposure to toxins in your daily life.

What herbs can function to help us allay our premenstrual symptoms? Let’s start with the lesser known black haw (Viburnum prunifolium).


Black Haw – Viburnum prunifolium – Dried trunk or stem bark

From the early accounts from our Eclectic herbal medicine practitioners, black haw has been used as an antispasmodic for painful periods and to prevent miscarriage. Painful menstruation is a result of the uterus making many small contractions. Black haw calms and quiets the uterus, relieving pain during menstruation. (It is also used to manage threatened miscarriage.)

The dried bark is used and bitter to taste so a tincture can be prepared and more easily taken. I have sprinkled in black haw with chaste tree berries and other herbs when creating a tea for women with PMS. Allowing the tea to steep at least 15 minutes will help to bring out the constituents of the tea when it contains bark and roots.

Safety: None reported.

Dose: 5-10 mL 3x/day of a 1:5 in 60%; decoction of 2 teaspoons bark simmered for 20 minutes in 10 ounces water, 3x/day.


Chamomile– Matricaria recutita – Flower heads

chamomileI mentioned the use of chamomile above for dysmenorrhea and it also must be recognized as a very useful herb for PMS. Lesser known here in the U.S. as an herb for premenstrual cramping, it is commonly used in Europe for this purpose. Chamomile has many uses. The German Commission E Monographs approves chamomile use as an antispasmodic – a plant that eases spasms or cramping . Remember Peter Rabbit? His mum gave him chamomile tea when he had a belly ache from overeating from the farmer’s garden nearby. Chamomile works just as well for uterine cramping as for abdominal bloating and cramping by calming overly spastic- functioning tissues.


PMS and its many symptoms have herbal remedies for all of them. Herbs such as dandelion and violet leaf are great for fluid retention, passion flower and blue vervain may be used for nervous tension. Migraine headaches are best managed with feverfew and skullcap . Painful cramping is managed with the above uterine relaxant herbs such as black haw or chamomile, as well as another herb that I will mention later in more detail; crampbark. Chaste tree, the great hormone regulator has also been shown to allay the symptoms of PMS (Shellenberg, 2001).

Tea For Menstrual Cramps


1 tablespoon chamomile
1 tablespoon catnip
2 tablespoons ginger, fresh rhizome or dried root, sliced or grated
4 cups water
Cramp bark tincture, optional

  • Decoct the ginger in a covered pot at a low simmer for 20 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat and add the chamomile and catnip.
  • Cover the pot and steep for another 5 to 8 minutes.
  • Strain and add honey to taste.
  • Drink ½ cup every 30 to 60 minutes for pain relief.
  • For additional relief add 10 drops of cramp bark tincture to tea before drinking.

Premenstrual Syndrome Formula

Adapted from Sharol Tilgner
Helpful for both emotional issues that arise before onset of menstruation as well as for cramping.


2 parts dong quai
2 parts dandelion root
1 part wild yam
1 part astragalus
1/2 part licorice
Vodka or brandy

  • Coarsely grind the herbs in a coffee or spice grinder. If this is not possible, simply skip this step.
  • Place the herbs in a Mason jar.
  • Cover with your chosen menstruum (vodka or brandy).
  • Place a tight-fitting lid on top and give it a shake.
  • Be sure to label your tincture including all the ingredients and the date you started the tincture.
  • Shake daily and after 4 to 6 weeks strain out the herbs.
  • Bottle your tincture with a proper label.
  • Take 30 to 60 drops 3x per day. Can start 5 days prior to menstruation if needed

PMS Nervous System Support

Adapted from Rosemary Gladstar


1 part oatstraw
3 parts chamomile
3 parts raspberry
1 part motherwort
3 parts lemon balm
3 parts peppermint
2 parts nettle
2 parts red clover

  • Blend herbs together.
  • Combine 4-6 tablespoon of herb blend for each quart of boiling hot water..
  • Let steep in a covered container for 20 minutes before straining.

Tonics for Pregnancy

We have said it once, and we’ll say it again: pregnant woman should consult with their midwife or physician before taking herbs. It is also recommended that women avoid taking herbs in the first trimester. 

Pregnancy and birth are miraculously complex. It’s an amazing integrated balance and harmony of our all of our body’s systems working together to, perfectly and succinctly, grow a baby in 9 months. How can we do this in the best way that we can?

I have always stood behind Thomas Brewer’s statement that “85% of all complications in pregnancy can be eliminated with good diet and nutrition alone.” For my entire career as a midwife, I have seen how poor diets, high in sugars, and refined carbohydrates have contributed to excessive weight gain, hypertension, and diabetes in pregnancy. Experience speaks louder than words. His words were wise and true and my experiences, over time, have proven his words to be true, loud and clear! A healthy pregnancy yields a healthy birth and yes, most often a healthy baby.

woman pregnant - Introductory Course

Herbal Safety in Pregnancy

When choosing herbs in pregnancy, it is even more important than ever before to ensure that your herbs are not adulterated or contaminated. Avoid herbs from China and India, many of which have been known to contain pharmaceutical medications and heavy metals. Because there aren’t many studies on pregnancy and herbs, it is advised to be conservative and avoid all herbs during the first trimester. If you do choose to take herbs in the first trimester, use low doses and only those known to be safe. Many naturally-incline women may opt for herbs when what they require is medical treatment, so any unusual symptoms should always be discussed with the health care provider. Digestion in pregnant women slows down considerably, which may affect dose.

There are many herbs that are contraindicated in pregnancy. They share nine characteristics that impose a potential risk.

  • Do not take herbs that contain high levels of certain alkaloids like comfrey, coltsfoot, or goldenseal.
  • Avoid herbs in large amounts that contain irritating volatile oils* like thuja, sage, oregano, thyme, or pennyroyal.
  • Do not take uterine stimulants like blue cohosh, tansy, or yarrow
  • Do not take emmenagogues like motherwort, mugwort, wormwood, yarrow, or pennyroyal
  • Do not take abortifacients like pennyroyal, tansy, rue, or angelica.
  • Do not take herbs that may be hormone mimics like hops and red clover.
  • Do not take laxatives like cascara, aloe, or rhubarb. Gentle laxatives like yellow dock are OK.
  • Do not take diuretics like buchu, cleavers, or meadowsweet.
  • Do not take herbs that may be teratogenic (cause birth defects) like Solanum spp. Nicotiana spp. or Datura sp., or are highly poisonous like pokeweed.

* Current consensus (Dr. Weil, Dr. Low Dog and NIH) is that peppermint leaf is likely safe in pregnancy in regular amounts. The only risk is that it might increase heartburn or reflux which would be true for anybody.

A very comprehensive and conservative list of herbs to avoid in pregnancy should be researched thoroughly in reputable sources and discussed with a woman’s health care provider. Two of our favorite books on pregnancy and herbs are Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health, and The Natural Pregnancy Book, both by Aviva Romm.

How do the herbs help pregnancy and birth? Despite the healthiest pregnancies and births there are herbs that can tone, nourish and aid along the way. It would take a separate book to delve into the herbs that help us through pregnancy and childbirth. However, there are a few herbs that stand out among many as tried and true that I will list now.

Here are my long-standing favorites that many women have benefited and who have sampled and can testify to their virtues. First we begin with the most well-known tonic herbs for pregnancy.

Red Raspberry Leaf (Rubus idaeus) – is the most well-known pregnancy uterine tonic. Red raspberry leaf is valuable for toning and strengthening the uterus for birth. These words may seem vague but all that I can tell you is that it works just in this way. In fact, it works so well, that women may experience that their labors are hastened, moving along more quickly than expected. No, it does not create premature labor. In its mysterious way and not well understood, red raspberry leaf strengthens the laxity of the uterus muscle and helps a woman progress through labor once it begins. Red raspberry leaf may be taken at any time during one’s pregnancy though it’s most commonly taken during a woman’s third trimester.

Nettle (Urtica dioica) – Nettles make a wonderfully nourishing tonic tea filled with valuable vitamins and minerals. Nettle tea may be taken in moderate amounts after the first trimester.

In addition, women in the late stages of pregnancy may wish to consider eating dates (Phoenix dactylifera), which are high in magnesium and other nutrients. In 2011, researchers found that women who consumed six dates per day one month before their due date, “significantly reduced the need for induction and augmentation of labour, and produced a more favourable, but non-significant, delivery outcome” (Al-Kuran et al, 2011).

Tonic Tea


1 part red raspberry leaf
1-2 parts nettle leaf
1 part oatstraw
1/2 part alfalfa
1/2 part rose hips
1/2 part lemon balm


  • Use one tablespoon per quart of water.
  • Steep covered for 30 minutes or 2 hours to overnight
  • Drink throughout day.

Nausea in Pregnancy

Many women experience nausea in early pregnancy, which is understood to be the result of rising human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) hormone levels. Midwives traditionally have been reassured when a woman experiences nausea, for this assures her that the woman is carrying her pregnancy!


Wild Yam – Dioscorea villosa – Dried Root

Dioscorea-villosa-Wild-YamIt is such a valuable herb that it is among the plants listed on the United Plant Saver’s “at risk” list. Only purchase this herb from cultivated organic sources. Why is it so valuable? Wild yam is the go-to herb for nausea in pregnancy, among its many uses. It has also been used for relieving ovarian pain and uterine cramps before and during menstruation and it has been used to prevent miscarriage when used with crampbark (Soule, 1998).

I have made an anti-nausea tea that includes wild yam, fennel, peppermint, rosemary, nettle, chamomile, lemon grass, and ginger. These herbs aid in nausea, digestion, and calming spastic cramping.

Safety: None known. Pregnant women should speak with midwife or physician.

Dose: 2-4 mL 3x/day of a 1:5 in 40%. Decoction: 2 teaspoons decocted in 8 ounces of water for 15 minutes; 3x/day.


Miscarriage and Preterm Labor

Crampbark (Viburnum opulus-trilobum) and Black haw (Viburnum prunifolium). Crampbark is a very effective uterine relaxant as well as the lesser known black haw. Black haw is the ideal herb to use for either threatened miscarriage. Its use in this way is not well known. Both herbs may be used for threatened miscarriage or possibly preterm labor by calming the uterus.

Labor and Birth

The traditional midwife has always had a selection of herbs in her birth bag to aid a mother through labor and birth from the beginning of time. A “natural birth” was not always one without interventions. Surely, there may have been interventions; but they didn’t require a needle and a tube to administer.

Herbs are given as either teas or tinctures most often. Contemporary herbal therapy may include herbs prepared in capsule form or as commercial homeopathic preparations along with tinctures, teas, and topical applications.

What are the essential herbs for birth? Here are the basics. Again, please consult your midwife or physician!

  • Herbs to ripen the cervix and prepare the uterus include red raspberry leaf, evening primrose (the oil), and black cohosh. Red raspberry is safe to take as a tea throughout pregnancy though many women prefer to start well into their third trimester. Evening primrose oil may be purchased in capsule form. I will admit I need to caution its use as I have found it to cause premature rupture of membranes. Black cohosh root is bitter as a tea. As a tincture, black cohosh is used occasionally the last month of pregnancy to avoid a post-date pregnancy.
  • To stimulate contractions or attempt an induction of labor, black cohosh (Actea racemosa) and blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) are used and sometimes interchangeably until contractions reach a regular pattern. Caution is used here. I do not advise fulfilling the woman’s desire to end her termpregnancy (which is a pregnancy lasting at least 37 weeks) without the direction and guidance of her midwife.
  • Herbs that may be used for labor pain include California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) which is a lovely relaxant. (Though, I have found that a large Jacuzzi of warm water is just as good or better than epidural anesthesia.)
  • Tension and anxiety may be relieved with motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) or passionflower (Passiflora incarnata). These herbs help to relax nervous tension and help to create a calm sense of well-being. Lavender helps create a calm environment.
  • A “Birth Room Spray” may be made up containing calming essential oils such as lavender and geranium. I am unaware of hospital-based practices in the U.S. using aromatherapy in the birth room. We should use aromatherapy, particularly, in hospital settings! It would be like giving everybody, including the nurses and doctors, a tiny little bit of Demerol without getting the side effects.


The uterus is the strongest muscle that women have in their bodies and it is designed and grown during pregnancy just for childbirth. When childbirth is complete, its job is done and it begins to involute, or contract down to its original size before birth. Many women don’t experience uterine cramping pain after their first baby but often after the second or third, the pain from post-birth uterine involution is, by some standards, worse than childbirth.

Crampbark is the remedy for uterine cramping after birth. Crampbark is also helpful to relieve menstrual cramps but has earned its hallmark among post birth mamas. Crampbark is more commonly used for postpartum cramping due to uterine involution.

Immediately postpartum shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) is most commonly used for heavy than normal postpartum bleeding. In tincture form dosages are given in a pulsatory manner like with heavy menstrual bleeding and continued until bleeding slows.

During the first few days postpartum, herbs to relax uterine cramping pain include crampbark (Vibernum opulus var. triloba) or black haw (Viburnum prunifolium) as mentioned above. Again, dosages need to be repeated every 10-15 minutes until relieved and then repeated in an hour or two.


Every culture has its remedies for improving milk flow for women who are breastfeeding. From a midwife’s perspective; if a woman can conceive on her own, she can produce enough milk on her own. She won’t need pills or pumps. She won’t need herbs to stimulate milk production. In fact, often the baby is the better pump and getting adequate rest is a better stimulant for milk flow than fenugreek, a common ingredient used for the milk-making teas out there on the shelves.

Though, herbs can surely help. Interestingly not one herb works best for all women. I believe this is true because the cause for the perceived decrease in milk supply is different between women. Sometimes the problem doesn’t rest with the mother but rather with the baby! Like, with other health realms in herbalism, it is very important to identify the cause.

Common western herbs known to help with milk supply if the cause has been identified to rest with the mother, include fenugreek, milk thistle, blessed thistle herb, and goat’s rue herb. Other seeds that also help with milk flow include fennel, anise, and dill. Relaxing and anti-stress herbs are sometimes combined with these seeds and may include hops, chamomile, passionflower, or motherwort.


Menopause is defined as the first full year that a woman is without one menstrual period. (Spotting counts, which means the clock then gets reset.) The average time is 51 years of age. Western women experience menopausal symptoms that we associate with the change such as hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, anxiety, depression, vaginal dryness, memory problems, and heart palpations. It has been hypothesized that Asian cultures have a higher intake of soy-based foods which function preventatively for particularly the hot flash/night sweat symptoms.

There are many herbs that can help women through their menopausal years. Each of the above symptoms listed have many paragraphs of suggested remedies. There is also a lot to be said about the herbs that can help maintain bone health, cardiac health, correct pelvic floor laxity problems or, even, prevent breast cancer (Romm, 2010) Again we will look at a few key beneficial herbs for this time in a women’s life.

The now classic herbs for relieving hot flashes, hight sweats and the accompanying symptoms are our now familiar herb; black cohosh. “Remifem” is the commercial product. Black cohosh may be taken in tablet form commercially produced. It doesn’t work for all women but consistency and dosage is key. Other herbs that contain phytoestrogens which are the plants that allay vasomotor symptoms include red clover and dong quai (Angelica sinensis). Sage (Salvia officinalis) is included due its drying nature, inhibiting sweating.

Woman-hands-resting“Insomnia,” said one midwife in conversation a long time ago, “is the number one reason why women come into my office.” It’s common and night after night of interrupted sleep is debilitating over time. How many of us are there? The Sleep Foundation states that 61% of women by the time that they are post-menopausal suffer from insomnia!

My favorite herbs for sleep associated with anxiety and irritability include hops, passionflower, chamomile, blue vervain, and kava. Daytime anti-stress herbs may include motherwort (one of my favorites), lavender, linden, and lemon balm. In fact, combining these last three herbs make up an amazingly delicious tea. For a bit of a pick- up, sprinkle in a bit of spearmint. Ahhh.

Motherwort is also a cardiotonic herb, so this is an ideal herb for women that have associated heart palpitations. Hawthorn is the most researched for cardiac health and should be mentioned. Its leaves, flowers, and fruits are all used. It makes a lovely tea and often is combined with other herbs to improve circulation cardiac muscle tone.

In my opinion, one of the more disturbing symptoms, memory loss, comes along with menopause. Short term memory recollection is the most noticed. The proverbial “where did I put my….” has been experienced by almost everyone over 50! Absentmindedness and memory loss have propelled research to explore the traditional uses of such herbs as gingko to verify its effectiveness. It turns out that ginkgo has been shown to improve circulation rather memory. Though, this makes sense since we need oxygenated blood to reach our brain in order to think clearly.

There are many nourishing and strengthening herbs for women. We are wonderfully complex while being intimately connected to the cycles of the moon and earth. It seems mysterious but wonderfully so, that we can find plants that are here uniquely for us.

A Word about Purchasing and Wild-harvesting Herbs

Be mindful where you purchase your herbs. Make sure that they are cultivated and organic. Herbs that are wild-harvested that can be purchased must not be among those listed on “at-risk”, rare or endangered species lists. Do not wild-harvest plants yourself that are on these lists. An old Native American proverb is to pick every third plant. My version is similar; only harvest a species if there is more than 10 plants of its kind in an area.


When discussing “herbs for men,” it’s important to note that first and foremost, we’re dealing with human problems. Men and women aren’t as different in the ways society might have us believe, and you’ll see many “women’s herbs” here again in the men’s section. That said, there are some specific issues that men face as the move through life. And putting aside all of that, there are just some parts that men have to worry about and women don’t (and vice versa), and different hormonal components as well.

man intro course

The most important way to keep your body healthy is to keep in mind the holistic viewpoint. A pinch of good sleep, good food, and adequate exercise go further than a pinch of even the most potent herbs to help cure our body’s ills, and prevent future problems.

So in order to keep ourselves in good health, we must sleep well, be mindful of what we put into our body, make sure to set aside time to exercise and play, and most difficult of all for many men, we must properly express emotion. In a world where men are told that “real men” don’t show emotion, we’re taught to bottle up feelings of sadness, frustration, and even joy, and that is actively harmful to our health. It takes a real man to be sincere about his emotions, and to give himself permission to cry in times of grief, joy, empathy, or extreme stress. Tears are a natural relief valve for our emotions, and if we let them out instead of keeping them in, we decrease our risk of heart disease, hypertension, and many other common problems. Many herbs like rose and hawthorn are useful for “opening the heart,” allowing one to be present with their emotions.

Grief Relief Blend

Adapted from David Winston

Combine equal parts:
Hawthorn berry tincture
Rose petal glycerite
Mimosa bark (and flowers if available) tincture

Suggested use: 40-60 drops 3 times per day.

Managing Stress for a Healthy Heart

Stress is a common, everyday thing for many of us, we live our lives stressed about the next paycheck, or what’s for dinner, or any number of things. Stress can cause blood pressure to rise, which is the beginning of some major heart problems if it’s left untreated. Cholesterol build-up also leads to many problems, and the best way to counteract that is with exercise, followed by a diet of quality greens. (The more wild the greens, the better, according to James Green, author of Male Herbal.) Wild harvested stinging nettle can be steamed up and enjoyed as a post-run snack, lightly seasoned with apple cider vinegar.

Other common herbs for keeping your heart healthy include garlic, ginger, yarrow, ginkgo, horse chestnut, and hawthorn. For the latter, the berries, blossoms and leaves are all useful! Hawthorn’s action strengthens the cardiac muscles and arterial tissue, linden has a similar action and is specifically useful to deal with arteriosclerosis, yarrow flowers have a beneficial hypotensive, astringent, and diuretic effect, and ginkgo supports the other three. Thus, a basic formula for heart health might be:

2 parts hawthorn berries and/or flowers
1 part linden flowers
1 part ginkgo leaves
1 part yarrow flowers

To this formula, you can add whatever herbs work holistically with your full symptoms, remembering to treat the whole person, not just the disease symptoms.

The last bit to add to heart health is a little tip about digestion. If you have indigestion, gas, or similar symptoms, it can put undue stress on your heart and cardiovascular system. Many of the herbs recommended for heart health also help your digestive system. So remember, good digestion equals a healthy heart.

Man-hiking-by-oceanStress and anger are two feelings that society tell us men are allowed to have, and in fact society praises us for over-stressing ourselves, and has normalized a kind of violent anger that is harmful to everyone involved. So what can be done to make sure feelings of frustration, stress, and anger are appropriately handled? Well to reiterate what we said above, expressing your emotions as they come up is the first step. Laughter and play, particularly spontaneous play, have been proven to be effective stress relievers.

Stress can be caused by the unexpended energy from adrenal secretions, pent up “fight or flight” response. If this is the case, that physical stress can be worked off, short term, by exercise, which also releases endorphins. Another short term solution is to try any of the nervines, herbs which relax and can help soften the physical response to stress. These two methods aren’t best if combined of course, because the relaxing action of the herbs makes it more difficult to exercise.

When looking for long term solutions, the best way to select herbs is by their secondary actions. Many herbs can help with anxiety, but finding one that will appropriately address other issues is important. For example, St. John’s wort is a nervine that will help with stress, and also has antidepressant properties, so it would be a good herb to treat both long term stress and depression that could be a resultant symptom of that constant stress. On the other hand, if long term anxiety has been putting stress on your immune system, echinacea may be the herb to go with.

Herbs to help with long term stress:

Antidepressant Action

St. John’s wort
Lemon Balm

Immune Boosting

Astragalus root
Echinacea root
Pau d’Arco bark

Adrenal Gland Support

Eleuthero root
Ginseng root
Licorice root
Suma root

Non herbal holistic therapies for alleviating stress are numerous, and can be used in conjunction with appropriate tonics as part of a holistic treatment regimen. These include massage, meditation, stretching, tai-chi, yoga, aromatherapy, gardening, and nature walks.

Along with the steps and herbs listed for stress management, there are a few holistic helpers for those of us who find ourselves angry, either too often or to an unhealthy degree. Herbs such as skullcap, along with the nervines mentioned above, can help calm and soothe angry feelings when they’re becoming hard to handle. This is important, because it allows you to approach the situation and express your frustrations or concerns in a rational manner.

To go along with this, identifying the true source of anger is an important step to dealing with it. Many things can “trigger” angry feelings within us, but the thing that pushes us over the edge is rarely the root cause. Meditation, which will also help with calming yourself down, can be a good tool for introspection.

The amino acid tryptophan, found in egg whites, chickpeas, sunflower seeds, and even bananas, can increase the production and uptake of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that helps maintain happy and stable moods.

The Prostate Gland

The prostate gland may be small but nevertheless, causes big issues in many men. This chestnut-shaped organ sits below the bladder, and the urethra, the tube that drains the bladder, runs through the middle of it. Urination needs a nicely open urethra. Diseases of the prostate can squeeze the urethra causing lots of problems with urination.

The prostate is also intimately involved with ejaculation. The ejaculate or semen is a milky fluid comprised of sperm with supporting fluids from the sperm sacs (seminal vesicles) and the prostate.

Benign Prostate Hyperplasia

In many men as they age, the prostate gland enlarges and compresses the urethra, which as we mentioned above, runs through the center of the prostate.

Normal urination needs a nicely open urethra and a squashed and constricted urethra can mean a lot of difficulty with urination. Enlargement of the prostate occurs from an increase in the number of cells. This condition is called benign prostate hyperplasia or BPH. The exact causeof BPH is still unclear, but is correlated to changes in hormone levels as men age. By the age of 60, over 50% of men will have BPH, and by the age 85 over 85% of men.

retired - intro courseWhile the enlargement itself is benign and doesn’t lead to or increase the risk of cancer, the compression on the urethra can lead to discomfort related to urinary urgency, straining, feeling of an incompletely emptied bladder, dribbling, weakness in the bladder, and lower urinary tract infections. Severe BPH can lead to complete inability to void, a condition called acute urinary retention that requires immediate medical attention.

There are various cell types that comprise the structure of the prostate:

1) Glandular tissue cells which make secretions.
2) Lining cells that make ducts that convey the secretions.
3) Smooth muscle cells, which are responsible for the pumping action that pushes secretions through and out. This tissue responds well to herbal smooth muscle antispasmodics (also called spasmolytics) that are also anti-inflammatory like chamomile, wild yam, dong quai (Angelica sinensis), and black cohosh.

When people hear “prostate” and “herbs” there is one herbs that likely comes to mind: saw palmetto. A current men’s “herb du jour” as herbalists like to call those herbs that are promoted and often overly hyped by mainstream marketing, saw palmetto berries were used as both food and as medicine by indigenous people of southeast United States.

Saw Palmetto – Serenoa repens– Berry

Saw palmetto, as the name suggests, is a palm-like plant whose berries were used to treat UT problems and enhance libido, and later, BPH. Saw palmetto berries are anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, diuretic, and tonic to the male urogenital organs and to the reproductive systems in both sexes.

While a number of studies have suggested potential benefit to the prostate, a major review in 2009 concluded that saw palmetto acted no better than placebo in the treatment of BPH (Tacklind, 2009). However, as is the problem with many of these studies, it is unclear if the saw palmetto berries were prepared in the methods and forms used traditionally and successfully by herbalists.

Dose: 1-2 mL 3x/day of a 1:5 in 60%. Decoction is 2-4 teaspoons berries in 1 cup water simmered for 5 minutes, 3x/day.


BPH Sitz Bath

Adapted from David Hoffmann


1 part horsetail
1 part couch grass
1 part uva ursi


  • Mix all herbs together for storage.
  • When ready for sitz bath, to each 1 pint boiling water, add 2 ounces of blend and infuse.
  • Strain and add to sitz bath.



Prostatitis is swelling and inflammation of the prostate gland and can be caused by several factors including infection, injury, disorders of the immune or nervous systems, and food sensitivities that case inflammation.

Symptoms of prostatitis include pain or difficulty when urinating, frequent urination, pain in the perineum, penis, testicles, groin area, lower back, or abdomen. When the prostatitis is bacterial, flu-like symptoms may present. It is important to see a doctor when bacterial prostatitis is suspected because this condition can be life-threatening.

The herbal actions called for when addressing any condition ending in “itis” (which denotes inflammation) would again be spasmolytics to ease muscle spasms, and of course, anti-inflammatory herbs to quench inflammation. If the underlying cause of the prostatitis is bacteria in the urinary tract (UT), herbalists would first use antibacterial herbs with an affinity for the UT, like juniper berry and uva ursi (neither to be used more than a week). If food sensitivities are suspected, one should work with a practitioner to identify the source of the irritation.

Avoiding prolonged sitting, especially on cushy chairs, and avoiding stress and irritating foods and drink are all important lifestyle considerations during prostatitis. In addition, herbalist James Green recommends alternating the application of ice and hot packs to the prostate area: hot packs applied for 4-8 minutes, and ice pack applied for 1-2 minutes. This application can be repeated 2-3 times a session as frequently as desired (Green, 1991).

Prostate Infection Tea Formula

This can also be prepared as a tincture.

2 parts saw palmetto berries
2 parts Echinacea angustifolia root
1 part damiana leaf
1 part yarrow
1 part crampbark


  • Decoct the echinacea and crampbark for 15-20 minutes.
  • Add the saw palmetto berries in for the last five minutes.
  • Pour the decoction over the remaining herbs and steep for 20 minutes.
  • Strain and serve. Drink 1 cup three times a day.


Orchitis, Epididymitis, Epididymorchitis

The testes produce both sperm (direct production) and male hormones (endocrine function), The epididymis drains the sperm and matures it and the sperm then travels into the vas deferens and down into the sperm sacs (seminal vesicles) where it is stored.Inflammation of the testicle is called orchitis. Orchitis can be caused by the mumps virus or by secondary bacterial infections related to sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia and gonorrhea, but it is most commonly associated with bacterial urinary tract infections.

Epididymitis is inflammation of the epididymis and is most often due to bacterial infection. The epididymis becomes enlarged and painful and tender. Commonly epididymitis leads to orchitis and the condition is then called epididymorchitis. Both conditions are characterized by pain and swelling. There may also be nausea, fever, discharge, and pain and tenderness when sitting.

Again, anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial herbs like uva ursi are called for, and lifestyle considerations to improve blood and lymph flow should be employed. Black cohosh, smilax, yarrow, baikal skullcap are also useful. When pain is caused by loose “boggy” tissue, red raspberry leaf can be taken as an astringent and tonic for the pelvic area.



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Introductory Herbal Course Lesson Preview

This preview lesson has been taken from the Online Introductory Herbal Course. The Introductory Herbal Course is made up of 6 Units and over 30 Lessons and Bonus Lessons, dozens of charts and visuals, flipping books, and herbal monographs. To learn more about the Introductory Herbal Course, please visit the course registration page. We’d love to have you join our Herbal Academy family!

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I just wanted to express my gratitude to you for creating such an informative, organized, and beautiful herbalism program. Your Introductory Course was one of my first real open doors into the world of Herbalism, and I found it to be a clear and concise glimpse into the beautiful experience that we may have with the natural world. Thank you for being a part of my journey!
- Jean Introductory Student