Having a female reproductive system is spectacular. Cycles surround us — the moon, the sun, the seasons — and there is a raw pleasure in feeling a cycle occurring within the body. It can be difficult to appreciate female anatomy and cycles amidst taboo culture, but not impossible. Perhaps the best way to celebrate the female body is by keeping it healthy.
This column includes practical advice on using herbal medicine to treat common complaints of our reproductive systems. Female anatomy is often more susceptible to infection than is male, thus I will pay it slightly more attention, but every herb that is beneficial for females is also beneficial for males. Here are some simple, inexpensive ways to effectively treat the body and prevent complaints in the future.
Spring seems to be upon us in Davis only because winter never appeared. Those who have lived in Davis long enough will recognize the seasonal blossoming of sexual relationships that accompany Spring Quarter. Those who have not will be pleasantly surprised. Many sexual encounters carry the risk of uterine tract infections (UTIs), but there are many ways we can help ourselves to avoid them.
Thankfully, we can rid ourselves of UTIs without troublesome antibiotics and expensive doctor visits. If you are certain you have a UTI — characterized by a burning sensation while peeing and needing to pee often — try treating it with cranberry juice or extract.
Pure cranberry juice (not the sugary cocktail blend) is incredibly effective at clearing out infections of the urinary tract. Drink four cups a day for two days. If you find cranberry juice too bitter, try watering it down or taking cranberry extract capsules.
Uva ursi, also called bearberry, is another herb that has been used to treat urinary tract and bladder infections for centuries. Uva ursi can be drunk as a tea or taken as a tincture (an herb dissolved in alcohol). I’ve used all three methods with wild success after struggling with recurrent UTIs.
The best way to prevent UTIs is to pee after sex and drink plenty of water to keep the urinary tract flushed. Cranberry pills can be taken more regularly if you are looking for even more preventative measures. Now, please enjoy spring without painful urinary tract infections.
Next, we can discuss the menstrual cycle. It need not be a troublesome time if we take the time to care for ourselves beforehand and during bleeding. Menstrual cramps are often linked to a lack of calcium and magnesium in the body.
The best way to avoid cramps is to eat a bounty of foods that contain these two nutrients before menstruation. For calcium, drink milk and eat leafy greens such as kale and spinach. For magnesium, eat dark chocolate and drink spearmint tea. These are just some common sources of calcium and magnesium, but there are many more.
When cramps can’t be prevented, the best remedy I’ve found is an herb duly named cramp bark. In Davis, the only way to find cramp bark is at the Food Co-op as a tincture. Tinctures are convenient to carry and easy to take. Cramp bark will effectively relieve cramps in about 20 minutes.
Another common complaint is that of delayed menstruation. Emmenagogues are herbs that can be used to induce menstruation. They can range in their severity, but mild emmenagogues are safe to use in virtually any dosage. A common mild emmenagogue is parsley, which induces menstruation by stimulating uterine contractions. Drinking several cups of parsley tea at the end of the one’s cycle can induce late menstruation.
All herbal treatments work best when paired with an informed biological understanding of the body. After all, you must understand what you are actually treating in order to treat it effectively. For many of us, education on our reproductive parts was severely lacking (if not purposefully withheld). Thus, I encourage anyone interested in herbal medicine to also delve into learning about the basic anatomy of their own bodies. You may be surprised how empowered you feel.
Editor’s note: ELLI PEARSON is not a doctor or medical practitioner.
To talk herbs and reproductive justice email ELLI PEARSON at firstname.lastname@example.org.