As a nurse, I spent the first 8 years of my career scoffing at herbal remedies. Then I had a baby. After my first, I struggled with a lot of anxiety, pelvic pain, and fluid retention. After my second, I struggled with some wild hormonal issues including really short cycles and twice-monthly migraines. I've sought out pretty much every professional you can think of for answers, both within familiar Western medicine and the more esoteric fields I would've rolled my eyes at 13 years ago, fresh out of school.
Long story short, this insane journey has brought me to the wonderful world of plant medicine. Herbalists refer to the tools of their trade as plant allies and often talk about them as living things with unique personalities. Today, I want to dip your toes in the water of plant medicine with the least threatening, most accessible modality out there: a cup of tea.
Self-care has a way of going into free fall in the early postpartum days, and while moms are learning what their new normal looks like, I like to encourage the 5 minute ritual of drinking a warm beverage a few times a day, and nettle leaf, red raspberry leaf, chamomile, and oat straw are particularly beneficial to the postpartum mother.
Nettle leaf is one of the most nourishing plants out there and it's my personal favorite. It's full of vitamins and minerals including calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron, selenium, and B vitamins. Nettle mediates inflammation and histamine and acts as a mild diuretic and laxative. It builds energy without caffeine, strengthens the adrenal glands, and supports a healthy milk supply. Traditional midwives used nettle infusions to reduce postpartum bleeding. One herbalist says that nettle "acts like an old grandmother whipping you into shape. Coming from love and nourishment, she gives organs, muscles, skin, blood, and limbs the medicine they need. She doesn't waste time, she gets right to the task at hand of cleaning the house."
Red raspberry leaf is growing in its popularity as a uterine tonic during pregnancy, but its benefits certainly carry into the postpartum period. This astringent herb helps restore tone to uterine and pelvic muscles, may curb excessive bleeding, and assist with wound healing. This herb contains highly bioavailable forms of calcium, magnesium, zinc, potassium, Vitamin C, iron, and B vitamins. Red raspberry leaf can act as an anti-diarrheal, antiemetic, and as a galactagogue. One herbalist notes that, "red raspberry leaf is a wisdom keeper who helps us pick through what we've experienced with clear sight, allowing us to let go of what's not useful so we can preserve our energy rather than allowing it to drain away."
Most people are familiar with chamomile tea, but don't realize that it's one of the most widely used nervine herbs out there. It can also help ease any tension and achiness in the body that may be preventing sleep-- and it can reduce gas pains! I always considered it a sleepy time tea, but it actually makes me more calm than sleepy and now that I know more about it, that makes so much sense. Chamomile can relieve mood swings and cramps and is beneficial for moms who are tearful or who are so sensitive to energy and pain that they can't focus or work properly when experiencing discomfort.
Finally, we have oat straw. It's a demulcent herb that also acts as a bit of a nervine and can stop bleeding and promote wound healing. Oat straw treats nervous exhaustion, nourishes the body, and rebuilds adrenals, increasing attention and decreasing brain fog. It's rich in calcium, magnesium, iron, and B vitamins, which we lose quickly in times of stress. It also contains silica which is a major component of hair and nails! It it a gentle diuretic, is protective of gut lining, and can reduce menstrual cramps and hormonal headaches. One herbalist notes that this herb is for "the type of person who has pushed and pushed and now feels tired, out of sorts, or disconnected no matter how much they rest or sleep."
I love having a variety of herbs to chose from in my pantry! Even as I write this, I'm reminded that a cup of oat straw tea would serve me really well right now. I hope something stood out to you as well. You can find organic versions of most of these at Natural Grocers, Whole Foods, and even Target! If you're breastfeeding, make sure that you aren't drinking tea blends that include peppermint or sage, since those can decrease milk supply. But otherwise, the best way to know what herb is best for you is to "meet" it in one form or another and make note of how your body responds!
I'm excited that awareness of herbal medicine is growing again. If you're interested in more, here are some resources:
-My friend and fellow nurse, Amanda Radan, offers personal herbal consults via Tree Mama Herbals and specializes in postpartum women! I highly recommend an individualized session with her.
-Milk Moon is a company the specifically caters to postpartum moms and their Postpartum Tonic and No Worries tincture are daily must-haves for me.
-Oat Mama is possibly more well known for their granola bars, but I love their line of pregnancy and postpartum teas as well.
-Organic Olivia is an awesome Instagram account to follow, and her "What's the Juice" podcast is a great way to dive into plant medicine.
-If you're local to the Omaha area, Prairie Star Botanicals is a great resource for herbal products and they also provide a thorough list of herbalists in the area.
-Melissa Cole at Luna Lactation is an IBCLC with a Master's degree in herbal medicine. She offers herbal consults for postpartum moms who are struggling with complex issues or diagnoses. She is also developing a virtual herbal course for healthcare professionals that I can't wait to take!
-Finally, Aviva Romm offers blog posts and podcasts about numerous hormonal issues and offers numerous courses for amateurs and professionals alike.
I am a mom, a nurse, and a lactation consultant. I am not an herbalist, so please double check with your healthcare provider if you have specific health issues or are on any medications.
Recourses used in this article:
-Herbal Healing for Women by Rosemary Gladstar
-The Nursing Mother's Herbal by Sheila Humphrey
-photo credit Best Health Magazine