An integrative approach to healing ourselves and our world: honoring people, plants, planet

Posts tagged ‘women’s reproductive health’

Love Medicine: Traditional and Scientific Uses of Herbs for Love

Nature loves. It shows its heart if you look.

Nature loves. It shows its heart if you look.

In his song “Nature Boy,” Nat King Cole sings, “The greatest thing you have to learn is just to love, and be loved in return.” Nature is abundant with plants that help us learn to love and be loved in return—and not all of them are for the Viagra-kind of love.

The quest for romantic love is a part of the human condition. Daniel Moerman, author of Native American Ethnobotany, recorded over a hundred stories of Native American tribes using plants as love charms to lure a potential suitor. For instance, the Iroquois considered asters, which are daisy-like flowers, to be love medicine. Perhaps asters were used like the he-loves-me-he-loves-me-not daisy method of divining a suitor’s sincerity, or they could have been knotted into chains like dandelion-flower necklaces.

Several tribes used powdered seeds of Columbine to be sprinkled as a kind of love-dust. Other tribes marked a man’s palm with bloodroot, a native wildflower aptly named for the blood-red liquid which oozes from a cut root.

As a more drastic measure—and maybe a last resort for the desperate and restless—yellow dock root was boiled and splashed on the face and clothes to make one more appealing to a love interest. Though, anyone who has seen yellow dock root knows it makes a yellow-staining dye, and therefore, it seems the amorous seeker would be made quite obvious.

Contemporary use of aphrodisiac herbs include performance-enhancing herbs, such as yohimbe or Asian ginseng, which increase virility for men, or female tonics, which help maintain sexual function, such as an herb from India called shatavari, which means “she who has a hundred husbands.” The name conveys its efficacy.

For relaxing into a romantic relationship, damiana (Turnera aphrodisiaca or Turnera diffusa) is a traditional herbal beverage, either as a tea or as a Mexican herbal liqueur. Supported by scientific studies, damiana is considered to be a mild antidepressant and nervine, which relaxes and calms the nerves so that a couple isn’t too stressed out to be interested in each other.

Passionflower helps with marriage maintenance.

Passionflower helps with marriage maintenance.

For marriage maintenance, old-timey Appalachian herbalists revived tired domestic partnerships with passionflower vine, appropriate for couples who’ve grown bored in a relationship, having lost the appreciation for the familiar. A recent clinical trial has proven passionflower as effective for anxiety as an anti-anxiety pharmaceutical benzodiazepine, which would likely help the relationship, as well.

More than just finding and keeping a romance, love medicine can foster a sense of togetherness, which is needed in building and maintaining all relationships. Since communication is the key to maintaining healthy relationships, kava kava, a Polynesian herb which means “talk talk,” could be of value. Kava kava has been traditionally used to ease communication and facilitate a win-win conversation when different tribes join together in conversation.

A farmer's market potato heart.

A farmer’s market potato heart.

Most importantly, all love is built upon a compassionate, forgiving self-love. Cultivating self-love involves physically, spiritually and emotionally healing the wounds of the heart, so that one can be open to feeling love for others and allowing oneself to receive love. Reishi mushroom and hawthorn are used as herbal tonics to heal and support the heart on a physical, emotional and spiritual level. By nourishing the heart with antioxidants, and calming the emotional and spiritual mind which, according to Traditional Chinese medicine, resides in the heart, reishi and hawthorn prepare someone to learn to love and be loved in return.

Partridge berry for women’s health

Partridge berry, Mitchella repens, an edible berry in North Georgia.

Just beyond the city sidewalks and landscaped developments, where the soil is relatively undisturbed, one can discover plants which contain stories of cultural interaction for the sake of healing. Partridge berry (Mitchella repens), a charming groundcover native to eastern North America holds within its evergreen leaves and scarlet berries nature’s best-kept secret for women’s health.

Partridge berry trails along the forest ground with attractive opposite, dark-green, oval leaves, with a thin white vein. Delicate pinkish-white, furry flowers bloom in pairs from spring through mid-summer, later forming edible, red berries, noticeable into the winter months. The berries are often the distinguishing, identifiable feature hikers notice in the woods.

As a food, the edible berries, though bland, can be prepared in cakes, beverages, or dried for storage. The scarlet-red color indicates the presence of antioxidant polyphenols. The berries may not be super tasty, but they do offer some wild-plant nutrition.

Although a valuable plant among American Indian women of several nations whose knowledge was shared with generations of American women from other cultures, partridge berry has been neglected by the biomedical community for the last eighty years, and remains in the category of domestic medicine, a term for medicine practiced within the home.

Through the late 1800s and early 1900s, pharmaceutical companies offered Extract of Mitchella, or partridgeberry, for women’s health. Early medical doctors and pharmaceutical companies based their knowledge of partridge berry on its reputation as a long-standing traditional remedy among American Indian women for regulating menstrual cycles, easing pain, and preparing a pregnant woman for labor.

Ethnobotanical accounts of American Indian use of partridge berry state the whole plant was also used as an antirheumatic remedy for stiff joints and muscular pain, as a sedative for insomnia, and as a gastrointestinal aid for stomachaches.

After a superlative reputation stemming from centuries of medicinal use for common complaints among women, partridge berry’s curious omission from medical research leads one to question. In 1916 and 1918, researchers Picher and Mauer performed experiments using partridge berry extract on isolated uterine muscle, finding no effect, according to John Crellin and Jane Philpott’s text, A Reference Guide to Medicinal Plants (1990). Did one or two experiments performed almost a century ago on a tissue sample negate the wealth of traditional use in live women?

If one were to harvest partridge berry for medicinal use, be extremely careful to tediously cut the stems, and leave the roots intact in the soil. This plant is threatened in some states and is not exactly easy to cultivate. I don’t recommend anyone to take partridge berry, anyway, without consulting her health practitioner.

Cultivating partridge berry in shade gardens is a challenge in the South due to its preference for rich, moist soils, and frequent watering requirements in order to become established. If one conscientiously tends to its needs, partridge berry rewards with its year-round beauty and its traditional medicinal significance.

The above article originally appeared in the Urban Forager Column of the Athens Banner-Herald, Sunday, November 14, 2010.

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