At long last, A Year of Herbs begins! Thanks to all who entered the herbal prints giveaway. The lucky winner is Kate (jknh78@), who will soon be receiving her choice of beautiful art prints from L.Herbert Designs!
Though I am eager to begin to study about individual herbs and their specific uses, my formal study of herbs has begun in a much more practical manner... finding and learning to use herbs that are helpful for both mother and baby in the early weeks and months after birth!
I've mentioned a couple of times that life has been particularly busy and stressful over the last month or so, just with some current circumstances, recovering from giving birth, and adjusting to life with a new (and fussy) baby in general and I have been feeling quite worn out as a result. In the midst of all this I was beginning to really struggle with my emotions-- sad and weepy one minute, angry and very irritable the next. I felt perpetually overwhelmed and like I was breaking a bit under the pressure of it all. In speaking with my husband and midwife, I recognized that what I was experiencing was the beginnings of post-partum depression.
I am so grateful to have realized this before things got any worse. My midwife encouraged me to discuss with my husband how I could find more times for rest and just ways to feel more like myself again and remove some of the stress I was feeling (which we did, and he was so supportive and loving to allow me to do that). She also gave me the go-ahead to do some research into herbs that I could try, that might assist my body in coping with the stress, bringing my hormones and emotions more under control, and just continuing to strengthen and rejuvenate my body so that I could better handle the demands that were on me.
I borrowed a book from the library called Natural Health after Birth by Aviva Jill Romm, a practicing midwife and herbalist. The focus of the book is on the post-partum period, a season of life that is often overlooked by most people, including new moms (and yes, especially me!). A wonderful aspect of the book is the use of herbal remedies to aid the mother's body in recovering physically and emotionally, as well as for increasing milk supply, helping fussy and colicky babies and more (though I can't recommend the book in it's entirety, as she is not a believer and there are some new age aspects of the book in some chapters).
With the blessing of my midwife, I decided last week to put together one of the herbal tea mixes in the book, intended for helping with the symptoms of post-partum depression. Here is what I put together, partly from one of the book's specific recipes, and with some of my own substitutions (due to not being able to easily purchase all of the exact suggested herbs).
Keeping-Your-Balance Blend (slightly altered)
2 parts chamomile flowers (for relaxation)
2 parts nettle (for nutritive purposes, includes trace minerals and vitamins, to treat anemia, weakness and stabilize blood sugar. Also helpful for those feeling stressed and physically or emotionally drained)
2 parts peppermint (to energize and also soothe the nerves at the same time)
2 parts red raspberry leaves (rich in minerals, tonifying to the uterus, aids in balancing hormones, as well as adding a nice flavor to the tea)
1 part dandelion leaves (highly nutritive with trace minerals and iron)
I also added in:
2 parts catnip (a nervine herb, meant to relax and de-stress)
1 part yarrow (for reproductive organs and hormone balancing, immune boosting and digestion)
I mixed all of the dry herbs together in a glass jar and keep it on the counter with a measuring spoon. Whenever I want to make some, I boil some water and place 1 Tbsp of tea per cup of water into a french press. I let the kettle sit for a moment after turning it off so that it is no longer at a rolling boil (because this can damage the volatile oils in many herbs and reduce their effectiveness), then pour it over the herbs. With the lid on (but not pressed down), I let it sit and steep for 10-20 minutes before pressing it and pouring myself a mug. I aim to drink 2-4 cups of this tea a day.
**The original recipe did not include the catnip or yarrow, and also includes 2 parts of chrysanthemum flowers (for anger, stress and related emotions), oatstraw (nutritive, provides vigor and energy) and strawberry leaves (as a tonic and for nerves), and 1 part of both gingerroot (improves and stimulates circulation) and rose petals (relaxation, taste and possibly hormonal balancing). One substitute for oatstraw is to simply eat more oats, as they also contain most of the same qualities.
I am amazed at how much better I am feeling after only a week! Of course, it is not just the herbs. I have really been crying out to the Lord in prayer, playing worship music and meditating on Scripture truths, talking about how I'm doing with my husband and several friends, as well as just trying to take little breaks whenever I feel my emotions starting to rise up and become out of control.
I do feel, though, that the herbs I've been taking this past week have contributed to feeling much more calm and emotionally steady and more physically well than I did before. There have been many trying moments, but in general, I don't feel as overwhelmed as I did before and am more able to use self-control in how I respond to difficult situations.
As I've been reading and studying more about herbs lately, I've also been coming across some others that may be particularly useful for new mamas:
Nutritive (herbs with nourishing qualities, including protein, vitamins, minerals, etc.): Alfalfa, Ashwaganda, Gotu Kola, Hawthorn berries (and leaves and flowers), Milky oats (and oats in general), Nettle, , Red Raspberry leaf, Rose hips.
Nervines (herbs which support the nervous system, have a calming effect and help to relieve stress and tension): Ashwaganda, Catnip, Chamomile, Hops, Lavender, Lemon balm, Milky oats, Motherwort, Skullcap, Vervain
Galactagogues (herbs which support the nursing mother, particularly with maintaing an ample milk supply): Blessed thistle, Dandelion leaf, Fennel, Fenugreek, Nettle, Saw palmetto, Vervain, Vitex (this one is a little more controversial)
Herbs to AVOID while nursing:
Alkanet, Aloe Vera (externally is fine, but not internally), Aloes, Basil (as a food seasoning it's fine), Black Cohosh, Bladderwrack, Borage**, Bugleweed, Cascara sagrada (again, externally is fine), Chinese rhubarb, Coltsfoot, Comfrey**, Elecampane, Ephedra, Garlic (as with basil, fine for use as a food seasoning or ingredient), Joe Pye, Licorice, Male fern, Pugring buckthorn, Senna, Stillingia, Wormwood.
**I have seen conflicting information about comfrey and borage. Some books say they are fine, and even recommended for use as galactagogues. However, Romm suggests in Natural Health after Birth that they should not be used, though no specific reasons are given and I cannot seem to find any in my own research. I will have to continue to study, and so I can't really recommend them to you, one way or the other. Use your discernment in choosing whether to use them or not.
I am currently also taking a herbal nursing tea, made by Rhea's Herbals Extractions (the products are great, but the site doesn't offer much information). I began taking it right after Johanna was born, to help establish a really solid milk supply, something which I struggled with a bit after Caden's birth for various reasons. It includes:
Red Raspberry, Chamomile, Lemon Grass, Borage Leaf, Fenugreek Seed, Star Anise, Marshmallow, Coriander, Fennel Seed, Galega.
I have found that, despite feeling quite stressed and busy (usually not helpful for maintaining a good milk supply), I haven't really had any problems with having enough milk. There have been only a few days (and really, only one or two feeds on those days) where I felt it was a bit lacking, and I usually felt that was in response to me being too on-the-go, and not having had enough to eat and drink.
For more great information on maintaining a good milk supply and a wonderful recipe for homemade mother's milk tea, check out this post.
My next herb post will focus on some things that I have been learning about herbs for soothing the fussy, colicky or restless baby!
Has anyone else found herbs to be helpful in recovering after giving birth, for post-partum depression or for increasing milk supply?