Women’s Herbal Wisdom

Transformations and alterations mark a woman’s path through life. Every step of the way, herbs can enhance the quality of the journey.

| March/April 2005

  • Vitex helps relieve PMS symptoms.
  • St. John’s wort can help premenstrual mood problems, according to a 2003 study.
    Karen Bergeron, www.AltNature.com

  • Red raspberry leaf is rich in vitamins and minerals.
    Karen Bergeron, www.AltNature.com
  • Soy can help ease menopausal symptoms.
  • Black cohosh is a well-researched herb that helps control hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause.
    Karen Bergeron, www.AltNature.com
  • Dong quai is another favorite herb for helping women through menopause.
    Karen Bergeron, www.AltNature.com

Being a woman has certain advantages. Compared to men, we have more range — that is, society tolerates a greater range of emotional, stylistic, recreational and vocational expressions. We feel freer to express joy, anger, love, sadness, jealousy and full-throttle hysteria (hystera is, after all, Greek for “womb”). We dress in denim, taffeta, corduroy, lace, leather and silk. We hold dominion over the color pink, polka dots, floral prints and rhinestones. We wear work boots, heels, clogs, running shoes and slippers. We carry briefcases, tool belts and evening bags. We style our hair (dyed or not) in braids, crew cuts, pageboys, French twists and pigtails.

Compared to men, our reproductive processes are also more complex, more cyclical. When we’re young, our hormones wax and wane each month. Ovaries release eggs, breasts periodically swell, the uterus cramps and bleeds, ballooning with pregnancy and contracting with childbirth. Moods shift — one moment we’re humming “I enjoy being a girl” from The Flower Drum Song; the next, we’re fantasizing acts that make Steven King’s character Carrie look like a lamb.

In middle life, as ovaries head into retirement, cycles go erratic. We open windows, turn down thermostats, dress in layers for the inevitable flash of body heat. We awaken tangled in damp sheets, while our male partners slumber on comfortably beside us.

Over the ages, women have learned how to enlist herbs to ease cycles and changes. Recently, scientific research has validated many of these remedies.


Premenstrual syndrome (PMS), if you include mild forms, troubles more than 40 percent of the menstruating population during the last week or two of each cycle. Some women experience primarily physical symptoms: headaches, bloating, water retention, breast tenderness, acne and craving for sweets. Some women are bothered more by intense emotional responses: irritability, anger, sadness and nervousness. More severe monthly mood symptoms that significantly disrupt a woman’s life are known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder. The exact cause of PMS is unclear but may involve imbalances of female hormones, adrenal hormones, brain chemicals and deficiencies in various nutrients.

A thoroughly researched article published in the May 2003 issue of the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology reviewed an integrative approach to PMS. One of the three authors is Roberta Lee, M.D., the medical director of the Continuum Center for Health and Healing in New York. For her patients with PMS, Lee first encourages healthy lifestyle habits — diet, exercise and sufficient sleep. Based upon the available research and her clinical experience, she counsels women to emphasize dietary intake of legumes, vegetables, whole grains and cold-water fish (which contain inflammation-lowering omega-3 fatty acids) and to limit intake of red meat, sugar, salt and caffeine. Another lifestyle habit — regular exercise — is cheap and has been shown to improve all symptoms of PMS. “These basic lifestyle changes can help significantly change symptoms of PMS,” Lee says. If these changes aren’t effective, she turns to vitamins and herbs.

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