Susun Weed, an herbalist in Woodstock, New York, teaches an ancient course of study called “The Wise Woman Way” via workshops, correspondence courses and live-in apprenticeships. She is the author of Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year, New Menopausal Years: The Wise Woman Way and Breast Cancer? Breast Health! The Wise Woman Way (all books from Ash Tree Publishing). She also runs the Wise Woman Center in upstate New York. Visit her website at www.SusunWeed.com.
RANDY PEYSER: What are women most concerned about regarding their health?
SUSUN WEED: Women are concerned about menopause, and how to stay healthy during and after menopause. Women are concerned about their bones, their hearts and their breasts. They want to know how to stay juicy.
R.P.: My own concern with menopause is weight gain.
S.W.: Gaining weight during menopause actually is quite natural and healthy. As one’s estrogen production shifts away from being ovarian-focused, we need more estrogen that is produced by fat cells, and the adrenals. The adrenals are very hardworking organs. They help us deal with stress. A lot of women feel very stressed, and what happens is that they gain weight because the adrenals aren’t quite up to the job.
R.P.: How can we best deal with this?
S.W.: Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) infusion, which strengthens and builds up the adrenals, is very nourishing and helpful.
R.P.: What is an infusion?
S.W.: An infusion is like a strong tea, but it’s not a tea because we brew the herb for a much longer time. During menopause, we produce a lot of hormones. We have to be nourished enough to make those hormones, because hormones require a lot of minerals and protein. We may crave more protein-rich foods, which usually come with a lot of fat. Working with the nourishing herbal infusions, like stinging nettle, gives us a lot of protein, without the fat and without the calories. It’s a form of protein that comes with a high mineral and vitamin content. Within seven to 10 days of starting to drink herbal infusions, one of the first things that women notice is their hair and skin starts to look far healthier.
R.P.: Can you give an example of making an infusion?
Nourishing infusions are easy to make at home.
S.W.: Absolutely (see recipe on Page 48). Infusions are easy to make at home.
R.P.: How often do you drink it?
S.W.: I usually drink about a quart of nourishing herbal infusion daily. I rotate. One day, I have nettle, which provides energy, helps us look as good as we can and helps create a strong cardiovascular system; then another day, I have oatstraw (Avena fatua), which strengthens the nervous system and restores that juicy libido.
Oatstraw is very important to women. Christiane Northrup, author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom (Bantam, 2006), said that when she went through menopause, she could not have done it without her oatstraw infusion.
The third day, I have red clover (Trifolium pratense) infusion. Red clover is everything we hoped soy would be with none of soy’s problems. Red clover is the world’s leading anti-cancer and cancer-preventive herb, and yet, it’s one of the world’s safest herbs. I like to drink a quart of red clover a week to protect my breasts.
I also really like linden (Tilia spp.) infusion. Linden is one of the world’s leading anti-cold and anti-flu barks. It’s not a well-known herb in the United States, but it deserves a lot more attention. It’s good for the mucous membranes, the digestive system and the breathing system. It also helps the cardiovascular system.
R.P.: Are herbs safe?
S.W.: The herbs that I use for the nourishing herbal infusions are very safe herbs. They’re like foods. One of the things that keeps them safe is that we do not use them in pills or tinctures. It’s certainly possible to go out and buy stinging nettle capsules or tinctures, but they won’t have the same effect as the stinging nettle infusion. In the infusion, we use a large amount of herb. One ounce of dried herb is the equivalent of a quarter pound of fresh herbs. Therefore, we’re gaining a large amount of nutrition from it.
Cost-wise, at many stores, it can be expensive if we buy the dried herbs by the ounce, since we’re using approximately two pounds of herb a month if we’re making an infusion every evening. You can ask your health-food store to special order the herbs by the pound to bring your cost down.
I want to share an example of the effects of stinging nettle: In 1997, a woman who was diagnosed with severe osteoporosis was instructed to take drugs, but refused. Over the next three years, her doctor chronicled her loss of 3½ inches in height. One day, she said to her daughter, who was doing an apprenticeship with me, “I’m feeling very tired. Is there any herb that you’ve learned about that could give me more energy?”
Instead of recommending any stimulant herbs that would further drain her vitality, the daughter recommended that she drink stinging nettle infusion, which builds energy from the inside out by nourishing and restoring the adrenals.
The woman loved the stinging nettle infusion, and quickly felt like she had the energy of a 30-year-old. At that time, she was in her 50s. Since she tried, and also liked, the oatstraw and red clover infusions, she started alternating them every second or third day. Three years later, when she went for her physical, her doctor said, “I can’t explain it to you, but your osteoporosis seems to be reversing.”
Recently, I received a letter from her. Her doctor told her that she now has the bones of a 40-year-old woman. I was thrilled to hear her news because it shows that drinking the nourishing herbal infusions is a simple and inexpensive way for us to take care of ourselves.
R.P.: What do you think about supplements?
S.W.: I don’t take any supplements. I urge people to get as much nutrition as they can from their food, but also to rely on the nourishing herbal infusions, which bring in a large amount of vitamins and minerals, proteins, phytonutrients and phytoestrogens.
Let me tell you about a group of apprentices I’ve had in Florida for 13 years: Two of them worked for companies that changed insurance providers, and each had to go for a physical. After their physicals, both of them received calls from their doctors because their blood tests showed such high mineral and vitamin contents. One of the doctors had the apprentice undergo various tests because he didn’t believe that an herb could produce such a high vitamin and mineral content. He was sure that something was wrong, but of course, all her tests came back fine. The doctor for my other apprentice immediately complimented her, saying it was rare for him to see anyone of any age with such healthy blood as hers. He was quite impressed; she was the healthiest mid-50s woman he had ever seen. When he lowered his voice and asked, “What brand of supplements do you take?” she replied, “I don’t take any supplements at all; I drink nourishing herbal infusions.”
R.P.: What about flaxseed oil and the omega-3s?
S.W.: It’s important for us to get essential fatty acids and other key nutrients that we can’t manufacture ourselves, like vitamin B12. However, for most people, getting those essential fatty acids from isolated substances is not as successful as getting them from integrated things. In other words, a capsule of fish liver oil is never going to take the place of eating fish, nor is flaxseed oil ever going to take the place of eating whole grains. We can get the essential fatty acids we need if we’re eating whole-grain products, such as whole grain pasta or breads. If we have some beans and roots in our diet, and wild seeds, we’re going to be getting those things; there are many sources for essential fatty acids.
We tend to live in a culture that isolates things and puts them in pills and bottles, then passes them off as health. My experience is that health has never come in a bottle or pill. Health is something that we build, that we nourish. That’s not to say that I’m against drugs or surgery. I am very much for those things when they are needed. What I’m talking about is people taking things like flaxseed oil, supplements or fish liver oils, rather than spending their energy and money on creating a healthy lifestyle, which includes eating well, exercising well and relaxing well.
R.P.: Well, there goes our chocolate.
STINGING NETTLE INFUSION
1 ounce dried stinging nettle
1 quart boiling water
Place nettle in a quart-sized canning jar. Pour water over the herb (you won’t be able to get all of the water into the jar because the herb will take up some room). Stir the herb to get the air bubbles out. There will now be room to pour some more water in.
Put a tight lid on the jar and let it steep for a minimum of 4 hours. I make it in the evening and let it steep all night. The next morning, strain out the plant material and remove it. Squeeze any liquid from the plant material back into the jar. Give the plant material back to the earth.
The liquid, which is the infusion, can be strained into another quart jar. You can drink it at room temperature, heat it up or ice it. You can put honey, milk or salt in it. One of my students even put her husband’s instant coffee in it to get him to drink it. Refrigerate what you do not drink.
S.W.: Actually, dark chocolate is one of the best foods we can eat to remain strong-hearted, strong-boned and juicy. Three quarters of an ounce of chocolate, (which is a tiny amount since most chocolate bars are 3 or 4 ounces) has more polyphenols than a cup of green tea or a glass of red wine. Polyphenols prevent heart disease. An ounce of dark chocolate also has more anti-inflammatory power than two aspirin, and is a better antioxidant than 500 milligrams of vitamin C.
R.P.: I know a lot of women suffer from migraines. What herbs can help?
S.W.: Herbs like feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) can help, but feverfew must be taken on a daily basis. It is not something that can be taken in an acute situation. I’ll often ask a woman with a migraine, “What other way do you have of getting time alone?” Many women don’t have any way of getting time alone besides being sick. I encourage women with migraines (or women on their menses) to take a retreat day, a creative day or a day where you just stay in bed and read.
Of course, that is not the only reason for a migraine. One of the difficulties about answering a question about a specific disease is that in the Wise Woman Tradition, we don’t actually treat diseases, because diseases don’t exist without beings. Each woman is different. Drugs are very effective at eliminating problems and dealing with diseases, while herbs, in my estimation, are better at nourishing wholeness.
In order to nourish wholeness, I need to focus on what it is that I can nourish within the woman as a whole—within her body/mind/spirit—so that I don’t just eliminate her pain by the clever use of herbs. Herbs might eliminate the migraine, but I really want to speak to her as a whole person and find the hidden gift of her problem.
R.P.: Nourishing wholeness seems like a worthy goal.
S.W.: The Wise Woman Tradition goes back to our very distant past, where it was understood that being a woman meant that we had a powerful kind of energy. This was an energy that nourished wholeness, that looked deeply into the beingness of another and understood where things were missing. Then those missing parts could be nourished. This was an energy that helped others to come to bud, to blossom. All manner of different medicines were used, but they were all used to nourish. It’s not that we have to eliminate white sugar or white flour from anyone’s diet. We simply want to introduce nourishing herbal infusions. When we bring splendid nourishment into the person, everything begins to shift and change. •
Randy Peyser edits books and helps authors find agents and publishers. Visit her website at www.RandyPeyser.com.