You’re 34 weeks pregnant and your belly is pleasingly round. You’re glowing with vibrant health and you love feeling the little person within roll, kick and tickle. Sure, there’s a touch of unpleasant heartburn sometimes and an ache in your sacrum. Getting comfy to sleep is not always easy – especially when you keep having to get up to wee! But the sun’s out and you want to walk barefoot on the warm grass and feel the wind on your face. You feel alive!
May I walk with you through your garden? See the flower over here, the shrubs over there, and this tangle of weeds right here? Did you know that even the most common little weed, that normally just gets obliterated by the lawn-mower, is actually Nature’s abundance for human health and well-being – with special qualities just to help women through the baby-having journey?
Down through history from ancient times, plants were the basis for human medicine and healing. The village midwives who supported women through birth were very often the same ‘wise women’ who had a knowledge of what weeds, petals, roots and barks yielded healing oils and alkaloids. However, just as we have seen birthing wisdom suppressed and almost lost with the rise of institutionalised obstetrics, so too has the healing potential of herbs been overlooked with the modern dependence on manufactured pharmaceuticals.
Now, we all realise there is certainly a place for modern medicine and obstetrics. The difference is that while our foremothers *had* to rely on midwifery wisdom and plant lore for healing, we moderns are twice-blest. We can benefit from the best of both worlds: the benefits of plants to prevent disease and enhance wellness AND the craft of modern surgery and pharmaceuticals, when needed. The art and science of unhindered, gentle birth practices – AND the back-up of obstetric technology when desired or needed.
So back to your sunny back yard. I see you there, stretched out on a picnic rug, watching your toddler enjoying her water play. Even from there, I can spot healing herbs just waiting for you to pick and enjoy.
This is Plantain (Plantago lanceolate).
We’ve spotted all these herbs, which are common weeds, just within your own back yard! I’d love to take you for a walk down the gully, through the park and, er, “into the woods”! There’s much more out there, but I don’t want to over-load you. Before I leave you to soak up your Vitamin D, let me just share with you some other lovely herbs that are especially beneficial during pregnancy.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) - choose some nice organic root from your green-grocer or farmer’s market. Ginger root is excellent for soothing nausea. Try adding a little chamomile or peppermint if you like it. I add lemon and a dab of honey – delicious! Hot Ginger tea from grated ginger root, with natural raw honey and lemon is a wonderful remedy for coughs and colds.
Generally, when you make herbal teas, you use about 1 tablespoon of fresh or dried plant matter to 250 ml or so of hot water. The basic rule is: boil roots, seeds and barks in a saucepan (we call this a decoction) and make tisane infusions from leaves and petals – the aerial parts, the same way you’d make your Madura black tea, right? Cover the herbs so the essential oils can’t escape, and let them steep for a good 10 minutes or longer.
Red Raspberry Leaf (Rubus idaeus) - I’m sure you’ve heard about this nutrient-rich uterine tonic. Women have used this literally for centuries to see them through the demands of pregnancy, birthing and mothering. It’s really a woman-loving herb. I use it in blends for fertility, menstruation and menopause too. It contains an alkaloid called fragrine which is an astringent and tonic for the whole reproductive system. You might have noticed some sources suggesting not to use it until the last month of pregnancy. Common sense applies here – if Raspberry Leaf was really so great at inducing labour early, wouldn’t it be used more? Raspberry Leaf won’t force your body to do what it’s not already doing. So avoid it if you have any history of premature labour. Otherwise, join with women down through the centuries who have drunk Raspberry Leaf in moderation through the whole pregnancy, increasing the amount gradually towards the end of pregnancy. What’s moderation, I hear you ask? Well, you use about 5 grams per cup of tea with most herbs. So one cup per day in the first trimester, 2 cups per day in the second, 3 cups per day in the third or more if you wish. (By Week 40, I was drinking litres of the stuff!)
Oatstraw (Avena sativa) – this humble herb is an excellent nervine tonic and rich in B vitamins, magnesium and calcium. As well as helping remain calm and centred, the silica content can be helpful for skin and capilliaries, which ca help reduce variscose veins and haemorrhoids. It doesn’t taste of much – but added with other pleasant-tasting herbs it’s a lovely addition to your store of pregnancy herbs.
Nettle (Urtica dioica) – my Irish midwife swore by this nourishing tonic herb. In Europe, it is taken throughout pregnancy and well into the breastfeeding year and beyond, to build up mothers after all that childbearing takes out of your body. It grows everywhere, so historically, even the poorest of the poor could benefit from it nourishing goodness. Nettle is rich in chlorophyll, iron, calcium, potassium and more. It has gentle diuretic action, although I don’t believe it is strong enough to produce issues for hypertension in pregnancy. Unlike pharmaceutical diuretics, which can indeed exacerbate pregnancy-induced hypertension, Nettle has synergistic and counter-balancing effects within its chemical complexity which help to moderate rather than exacerbate hypertension in pregnancy.
Echinacea – during pregnancy, you want to avoid most OTC cold preparations. Echinacea has been shown to reduce the length of colds and also prevent them from recurring. It can be used either during a cold or to prevent them. Echinacea is safe to use during pregnancy to boost your immunity and well-being generally, and can be taken in tea or tincture form.
There are plenty of herbal tea companies, like my own Blissful Herbs, offering delightful tea blends and bath herbs for you to enjoy and benefit from. However, I believe that the health benefits of herbs are like food, water and sunshine: they are there in abundance for everyone’s well-being. I encourage you to become familiar with the offerings around your own garden and town. Choose one herb, research it, experiment with it until you feel confident using it. Then move on to a different herb. Herbs are for everyone!
There are some basic safety rules to follow. Avoid herbs that have ever been near pesticides, herbicides, road pollution or any other kind of pollution. Be certain you’ve identified the plant correctly. If in doubt, leave it out. It helps to find an experienced herby-type person, such as a herbalist, naturopath, botanist or herby- midwife, who has an extensive knowledge of plants, to consult. Also, not all herbs are safe during pregnancy, so make up a list of herbs to avoid – especially Barberry, Blue Cohosh, Dong Quai, Ephedra, Feverfew, Ginseng, Goldenseal, Pennyroyal, Tansy, Wormwood & Yarrow. See here for a comprehensive list.
There are a few herbs, like Peppermint, Sage and Lemon Balm, which are best avoided during breastfeeding, because they reduce milk supply in some women. See here for more info.
One day I must write a little booklet, something like, “A Mother’s Guide to Everyday Herbs for Family Well-being.” (Although, not to be sexist, should I make that “A Parent’s Guide …”?) In the meantime, I warmly recommend to you the following books and websites that I am sure will pique your curiosity and cause you to embark on a wonderful journey of discovery.
Part 2, in which we’ll discuss herbs for the post-natal and babymoon time, is coming soon!