THERE ARE FOUR phases that make up the menstrual cycle (which lasts an average of 28 days), each with a different purpose. Each phase supports the one that follows, and in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which I practice as a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist, herbs are believed to be warming or cooling, and can also be used to move qi (the body’s life force). Here are some of my favorite herbs* for each phase of the menstrual sycle. By honoring each part of the whole cycle, you can recalibrate your body and your hormones to do what they do best—maintain balance.
Each of these herbs can be prepared as a tea or an herbal infusion (which is stronger in taste and effect) and enjoyed daily as needed. To make a tea, steep about 1½ tablespoons of dried herbs in a cup of hot water for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove strainer and drink hot. To make an infusion, scoop about 3 tablespoons of dried herbs into a lidded glass jar. Add a cup of hot water and steep for 30 minutes. Strain the herbs and drink hot or chill to enjoy cold.
Phase One: Menstruation
Clearing and moving are key to fully shedding the uterine lining to make way for a new cycle. Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale) which is believed to aid the liver in detoxing old hormones that have built up over the past month. Red raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus) is high in the alkaloid fragrine, which is thought to help reduce cramping by relaxing the uterus.
Phase Two: The Follicular Phase
Supporting growth and follicle maturation are the priorities here as the body prepares for ovulation. Since the loss of blood may have left you feeling depleted, the high iron and vitamin B content in nettle leaf (Urtica dioica) is helpful. Red clover (Trifolium pratense) is high in isoflavones similar to estrogen and helps support the estrogen-powered processes of this stage (it’s also great during menopause to help decrease hot flashes and night sweats).
Phase Three: Ovulation
This is the culmination of all the hard work that the brain and reproductive organs have been doing for the past two weeks. Blood sugar dysregulation is a common ovulation impediment; studies show that cinnamon bark (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) can improve the body’s ability to process glucose and can reduce insulin resistance. It’s also warm in nature, which supports progesterone. Ovulation requires a lot of energy from the body and a strong immune system. Astragalus root (Astragalus membranaceus) has tonic superpower, boosting both.
Phase Four: Luteal Phase
This phase is an equal effort to maintain the uterine lining (in preparation for implantation) and then move through stagnation (if implantation doesn’t occur). Damask rose buds (Rosa x damascena) are believed to treat common PMS symptoms like breast tenderness, irritability, and fatigue (considered the manifestations of stagnation in TCM). The tiny but mighty schisandra berry (Schisandra chinensis) helps clear what TCM regards as excess heat that builds up due to hormone fluctuations leading to night sweats, anxiety, and insomnia. Because of its anti-inflammatory properties it’s also great if you’re prone to premenstrual breakouts.
*These herbs are safe for those taking hormonal birth control, but it’s best to work with a licensed herbalist who can target your specific issues based on your symptoms and type of birth control.
This piece originally appeared in the Winter 2020 print edition of BUST Magazine. Subscribe today!
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