Healthy moms, healthy babies - herbs in pregnancy

 I am planning on writing a few posts on children's health and I though the best place to start is at the beginning. Mom's health and nutrition during pregnancy is very important for the future health of the baby and a lot of women are trying to avoid any exposure to potentially toxic ingredients in their diet, including OTC or prescription medications.
 Every time I think of motherhood, or even womanhood, I am reminded of the beautiful words of herbalist Rosemary Gladstar :  " As a woman, I feel the answers for our inner balance come to us from our relationship to the Moon, the Earth, our relationship with the feminine and masculine energy within us, and our ancient memory as "green women", healers of the Earth....By reclaiming our heritage as healers , by loving the Earth and listening to her teachings, and by caring for ourselves with loving compassion, and with the use of gentle, natural remedies, we create the balance that brings well-being and vitality in all its fullness."

Pregnancy for me was a magical experience. I always tell other women that ask me to share experience or give them advice, that I am the worst person to ask. I enjoyed every day of my pregnancy and I felt a constant sense of fulfillment and pride ( which I find is not that common and women often thing of pregnancy as something unpleasant they need to go through). I was tired a lot during my first trimester but had an amazing amount of energy for the rest of my pregnancy . I craved only fruits and vegetables and tried to be on the go as  much as possible. Yoga helped me keep my body flexible and pain free. I can't say that I did not experience any discomfort. My belly was so big by the middle of the third trimester that I thought it almost impossible for my skin to stretch any further. Max was a very active baby even in the womb and he would move from side to side , making it hard to sleep and eat . All of this I consider part of the miracle of life. It is impossible to describe the feeling of being a vessel of creation or the look in my husband's eyes every time he looks at me , even now, when our son is almost three.
 If you are on this magical journey , or are planning to be a parent one day, I can't emphasize how important it is to make friends with a few useful herbs.Pregnancy is a natural process and who's better at providing nourishment and all the building blocks for creation than the Earth, the ultimate Mother.
 There is a wonderful recipe that I've seen shared by herbalists for a nourishing tea for women. It is called Yoni Tea and  has all the amazing herbs that support a woman's reproductive system before pregnancy and nourish her whole body during the time of change and growth. It also supports the transition from pregnancy to motherhood by helping the body to heal.
 This recipe you see below is from the book "The Roots of Healing : A Woman's Book of Herbs" by herbalist Deb Soule. I recommend this book to any woman that wants to know her body and how to use herbal medicine to be healthy and strong.
 And here is the recipe :
It is easy to buy herbs in bulk and  make a bigger batch of the tea blend and keep in an airtight container. Drink a few cups a day. This tea is useful for women in any stage of their life , so you can benefit from it even if you are not pregnant or trying to conceive.
 Red Raspberry Leaf is a wonderful uterine tonic. It will strengthen the uterus and keep it healthy. It works with you body to prepare it for the birth and will strengthen the muscle in order to make contractions more productive and the birth easier.
 Alfalfa is an amazing herb. It is full of nutrients and minerals that are easily absorbed by the body. Women often say that they are "eating for two" during pregnancy. This is partially true , since we don't need the extra calories as much as the extra nutrients. So I am sorry to say this, but put the pint of Ben and Jerry ice cream down and drink your alfalfa. It is rich in vitamins and minerals, like vitamin K , calcium, and magnesium, that are essential for building strong bones. It helps to regulate blood sugar levels, which is very important during pregnancy. If you drink this tea during and post pregnancy, alfalfa will also help you build and maintain a healthy breast milk supply.
Nettles and Red Clover are wonderful blood building herbs. They will gently cleanse any toxins out which is why is good to start drinking this tea before you conceive. A lot of women become anemic during pregnancy or after birth, especially if they loose a lot of blood. Chlorophyll is the best way to prevent becoming anemic and to build the blood up after a hard delivery.Nettles is a wonderful source of chlorophyll. It will also bring more oxygen into your blood, which is important during pregnancy, in order to develop a healthy, strong baby.
Peppermint will tame those weird bouts of nausea that every woman experiences during her pregnancy. It will calm down the digestion and help deal with the occasional heart burn.

In addition to this tea , I will also recommend getting a good whole foods vitamin supplement. I used Rainbow Light Prenatal during my pregnancy and my doctor very much approved of it. It has all the vitamins and minerals, that you would get from a prescription prenatal vitamin, without the artificial dyes and sweeteners, and whatever else they add. It also has whole herbs like Red Raspberry Leaf and Ginger added to it. If you experience a lot of nausea , Ginger should become your best friend. Taking it in a prenatal formula is easy and it actually helps you stomach the supplement. I know a lot of my friends , that were taking prescription prenatal vitamins, had problems with the supplement itself causing nausea. This was never an issue for me , while taking  a whole foods prenatal vitamin.

 Whether you decide to have the baby at the hospital, or at home;whether you decide to have anesthesia or not, it is a very personal choice. But you can still bring herbs with you and use them to assist you during delivery. Most hospitals and birth centers will respect the mother's preference to create the atmosphere she is comfortable with in the birth room. Lavender oil in an infuser or mixed in a massage oil blend is great. It will help you relax and release the tension in your body. Make a little pillow filled with lavender flowers and a grain , like rice, to use as a massage tool that will help you get through painful contractions. Stress can affect labor in many ways , even to the point of slowing it down.
 Another great herb to have with you during delivery is Shepherd's Purse. Tincture of the fresh herb has been used by midwives for centuries. It will stop vaginal bleeding and hemorrhaging. Modern doctors often don't wait for the placenta to naturally detach itself and try to get it out as soon as the baby is born. If the body is not ready , this can cause heavy bleeding and can lead to a surgical intervention. Shepherd's Purse tincture can help slow the bleeding and lower the risk for the mother.

A lot of women think that once they have the baby , things will be back to normal in no time. This is not exactly the case. For some women , the transition happens naturally. I didn't feel stressed at all during my delivery ( even though I was in labor for 36 hours and had a 9 lbs baby , and a pretty bad tear). I think creating an instant connection with your baby is very important and if you have the option , you have to do it. The first time I held my son, he was still connected to me with the umbilical cord. I breast fed within maybe 30-40 minutes after delivery. This first connection is important for both the mom and baby. Your body continues to change hormone levels, now that it is no longer pregnant, but the natural process of breastfeeding and the hormones produced by your body when you connect with your baby , help you to transition smoothly from one stage to the next. A lot of women miss the opportunities that i was lucky to have and their bodies need something extra to help them make the transition.
 Continuing the Yoni Tea after delivery is very beneficial. You can also add an adaptogenic herb like Astragalus root to the mix. Adaptogens will bring balance to the body wherever it is needed. They will regulate stress hormones and adapt your body to this transition period before things go back to normal.
 Some women will also benefit from taking Wild Yams as a supplement in order to help regulate any hormonal imbalances. If you are experiencing any symptoms of anxiety or depression,or if you have headaches, you might want to try Wild Yam.
 Remember that during pregnancy and when breastfeeding pospartum, everything you put in your body goes into the baby's body. If you think that enough rest will help you deal with any discomfort, try and rest while the baby is sleeping. also try gentle teas like Chamomile, Lemon Balm, Catnip. Those will even benefit the baby  if she/he has colic or any other discomforts in the digestive tract.
 Another helpful postpartum tool that has somewhat been forgotten are Sitz Baths. It helps speed up the healing process, especially after delivering a heavier child and a bad tear. Sitz Baths use herbs and are very similar to using a cold and warm compresses but instead you sit in a special tub ( if you have a tub at home you can create your own makeshift Sitz Bath). Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar has a great video explaining the benefits of Sitz Baths. ( click here for the link)

 As you can see, the topic about the benefits of herbs during pregnancy, can be very extensive. This was just a brief overview and I hope it will trigger your desire to do some more research and bring healthy , happy babies into this world.

What herbs do you use during this time of change and creation?

Backyard Medicine : Mullein

   Today I wanted to share with you some information about one of my most beloved herbal allies - Mullein. Let's start with some basic but important information.

Common name: Mullein, Candelaria, Hedge Torch, Our Lady's flanel, and others

Botanical Name: Verbascum spp. ( most commonly used by herbalists is Verbascum thapsus, but you can use the species that grow locally with the same effect)

Parts used: use the whole plant - leaves, roots, and flowers

Energetics: The root is neutral, slightly drying; the leaves are cool and slightly moistening ; the flowers are cool, neutral.

 Mullein is not native to the United States but it adapted very well to all the different micro climates. Since it is kind of an invasive species,it is actually considered a noxious weed. But, what's a noxious weed for some, is often a treasure for the herbalist.
 Mullein is a good friend of mine and I have to tell you a little story in order to tell you why. I was a sick child. I've had allergy triggered asthma since the age of two and my parents tried everything to make me feel better - every medicine , every procedure, even relocation to a more suitable climate. Nothing really worked in the long run and I still suffer the consequences of some of the treatments ( like too many antibiotics at an young age and a tonsillectomy at age 5). When I was in high school I discovered that I can manage my asthma and allergies by eating clean , real food , detoxing my body at least once a year and avoiding adding toxins back by choosing all natural body products. I still carried my inhaler in my purse and unfortunately I had to use it every once in awhile. If any of you has ever used an inhaler you know that horrible jittery feeling you get after you use it. I hated it, it made me lightheaded and shaky, and I needed a day or two to recover from a single dose. And then one day I met Mullein. This wonderful herb, that I have known for so long, but have never thought of taking in my body. I was browsing through the tincture section of the health food store, since I had forgotten my inhaler at home, and I found a Lung formula that had Mullein as a primary ingredient. I took it and ten minutes later I could breathe, my lungs opened, I could take deep fulfilling breaths. It doesn't have the instant effect of the inhaler but I take some when I start to feel a tightness in my chest and I haven't had a full blown asthma attack since.
 So, here is the first application of the Verbascum species. Mullein does a wonderful job alleviating any lung problems. If you have a lot of mucous and a wet cough , Mullein will dry it up. If you have a dry cough and a tightness in the chest, Mullein will open your lungs .
 I prefer to take Mullein in tincture form. It is quite bitter and unpleasant ( sure sign that it will work, right ;)), so it is easier to take the necessary dose, than drinking cup after cup of the tea. Some people smoke the leaves or light them up , like you would a smudge stick and inhale the smoke.
 If you decide to make your own tincture , you can use the whole plant and infuse it in 80-100 proof alcohol for at least six weeks. Make sure you strain it really well after that, like through a cheesecloth and a coffee filter. You don't want any of the fuzzy hairs to remain in the tincture as they can be irritating to some people.
 Ever since I became a mommy, Mullein has another use in our household. I started making Mullein infused oil in order to deal with ear infections and swollen lymph nodes. My little boy is pretty healthy, he loves his Echinacea tincture and bugs don't stand a chance with him, but we had to deal with an ear infection and badly swollen lymph nodes once. The Mullein oil worked amazingly well. He was almost back to normal within 24 hours. The swollen lymph nodes were almost the size of walnuts , visibly sticking out of his tiny neck. Poor baby, he was in pain. I rubbed Mullein oil over the glands and did a couple of drops of the oil in each ear a few times a day, and he was back to his wild self within 24 hours.

 Mullein oil is easy to prepare but is a little more time consuming than other preparations. It is made from the flowers of the Mullein plant which are collected one by one and infused in olive oil for at least a couple of weeks. Mullein is a biennial plant and during its second year it shoots this long stalk ( up to 6 ft tall sometimes) that is covered in tiny yellow flowers. You can gather the flowers and infuse them in olive oil. It take a while to collect enough flowers since they don't all open up at once , but a few open each day.
 If you are an enthusiast like me, gathering hundreds of tiny flowers might actually sound like fun. But if it seems like too much trouble , I would definitely recommend GaiaKids Ear Drops. They have a wonderful blend of Mullein and Garlic oil, with a few other herbs added.
  Those are basically the two most common uses for Mullein. Herbalist Jim McDonald  uses Mullein root to re-align his achy back and swears by this particular benefit of the plant. I haven't had any experience with this particular application, but guess who's digging some Mullein roots this fall. ;) If you want to try making Mullein root tincture, you will have to dig up the plant in the fall of its first year or the spring of the second year. This is when the root is most potent. It is a good rule to remember - dig roots up in the spring or the fall , when the vital juices and all the nutrients are actually in the root.Once the plant shoots up and starts blooming all the vital powers are focused in those aerial parts and in the production of seeds.

So make Mullein your friend ! The plants love sharing their healing power , if we only dare to ask. Be happy and healthy, and one with the Earth!

Do you have a Mullein story?

What is Backyard Medicine?

 Renowned herbalist and wise woman Susun Weed always says : "Herbal medicine is people's medicine". Unfortunately, nowadays most people are more familiar with the complicated names on the pharmacy shelves than what's in their own back yard. Think about this, we've been here for thousands of years living off the Earth and then , about a hundred and fifty years ago, somehow vanity took over and we decided that we have to be separate from Nature in order to prove ourselves. Today, we are dependent on the word "artificial" - pills, food dyes, sweeteners, oils, genetically modified this and that. But our bodies still keep the sweet memories of fresh mornings with cold dew in the grass and the smell of pine trees. they remember the bright colors of summer when the grasses are waist high and the shade of the oak trees is cool and inviting. It's like a story book childhood that we are meant to have but instead we grew up with the smell of asphalt and the sense of always being late for the most important moments of our life.
 It is time to start a Health Revolution. It is time to reclaim our patch of green. It is time to go back to the roots , sometimes literally. Find a place around you and explore - your own back yard, the park, an empty lot in the suburbs, the mountains, a friend's farm.Use all of your five senses to invoke those memories that are deep in our cells and our heart.
 Medicine is all around us. Nature always give us a solution to our problems. My little boy and I were playing by the river the other day, early evening actually, and there was a lot of mosquitoes out. Poor thing got bit on his ear and was scratching like crazy. I looked around for something that can help and sure enough there was a big patch of plantain growing steps away from the river. Plantain is the most wonderful plant to have around when you have a bug bite. You just pick a leaf, chew on it to release the juices ( or you can rub it in your hands to bruise the leaf) , and put it on the bite. There was barely any trace of the bite left by the time we got home. Isn't it amazing? That is "backyard medicine" in action.
 I started exploring my neighborhood just to see how many healing plants I can find without going out in nature. I have to say , I was more than amazed. Dandelion, Mullein, Alfalfa, Yarrow, Plantain, Red Clover, Nettles, Shepherd's Purse, Willow. I am sure there are many more I haven't found yet.
 I will try and show you all my finds in the next few posts, so we can reclaim our neighborhoods and the connection with the earth, even if it's just a dandelion plant growing by the sidewalk. So think again before you maw the lawn and don't be afraid to go on a treasure hunt in the empty lot in your neighborhood. Wonders await!
 Be healthy and happy! See you soon!