Western medicine doesn’t have much to offer women who suffer from painful periods. Anti-inflammatory pharmaceuticals and hormonal birth control are often considered the only options for relief.
These solutions, however, do not take into account that painful menstruation is often an indicator of underlying issues. Thus, the medications would have to be continued indefinitely for long term relief. Lasting improvement of this issue can typically only be achieved by taking the whole woman into account.
The following suggestions focus on improving overall well-being, in addition to strengthening and toning the reproductive organs.
Make these changes, as appropriate, and stick to them for at least 3-4 months, as it often will take a couple of cycles before you notice a difference.
Nourish your well-being
Are you eating a balanced diet, moving your body regularly, getting plenty of fresh air & sunshine, drinking enough water, tending to your emotional health, surrounding yourself with lovely people, and living a life that brings you joy & fulfillment?
Modern medicine operates under the assumption that all of these pieces are separate and unrelated, but truly the body is a whole and when these basic things aren’t in place, we can start to to feel the effects arise in a variety of ways. The first step to healing any “issue” we’re having with our bodies is to make sure there is a strong foundation of healthy habits to promote overall well being. This is true self care!
Reframe negative attitudes/feelings about menstruation
There is a lot of shame around menstruation in our society. For many women, this goes back as far as their first period. Over the course of our lives as women, we will spend about 4-5 years bleeding. That’s a significant amount of time! It is essential that we fully honor ourselves by embracing our menstruation for what it truly is, the blood of life.
I recently heard this discussed on an episode of the Medicine Stories podcast (Episode 20). In that interview, herbalist, Kami McBride, said in regards to menstruation “when we have shame around a body process it creates a block and blocks create pain.” She also discusses how PMS symptoms are often a manifestation of us “going to war with our bodies.”
The following questions are helpful when beginning to examine our feelings about menstruation:
Remember back to your first period. What was that experience like?
How did your mother/the woman who raised you feel about menstruation?
Do you feel shame around bleeding?
Are you embarrassed to tell people if you’re menstruating?
Do you try to carry out life as normal while bleeding or do you create extra space to nurture yourself during this time?
If we do recognize that we have shame or other negative associations around menstruation, the next step is unpacking why we feel this way, and moving into a space where we are able to accept and value this important time. Be gentle with yourself! This is a process that may take awhile to fully unfold.
If you feel that you could use some guidance in this area, herbalist, Asia Sueler, has a lovely online course that delves deeply into the emotional and spiritual healing that happens when you mend your relationship with your vagina.
Supplement Calcium Daily
Rosemary Gladstar’s Iron Plus Syrup is a calcium/iron supplement you can make yourself.
To Make, combine:
3 parts nettle
3 parts dandelion leaf
3 parts dandelion root
3 parts raspberry leaf
2 parts watercress
2 parts alfalfa leaf
1 part hawthorn berries
1 part yellow dock root
1 part dulse
1/4 part horsetail
Prepare as a syrup. Add 2 tsp each of spirulina powder & nutritional yeast per pint of syrup. Add 1/4 cup each of brandy and fruit concentrate. Take 3-6 Tbsp daily.
Increase calcium intake 10 days prior to menstruation.
Include foods like yogurt; seaweeds, especially kelp; dark leafy greens, such as kale, parsley, dandelion greens, beet greens, & turnip greens; sesame seeds; sesame butter; tahini; milk, cheese, fresh sprouts; salmon; sardines; and gomasio (sesame salt) in your diet. Drink daily infusions of calcium rich herbs like: comfrey, raspberry leaf, red clover, and nettle.
Drink the following tea blend in the 10 days prior to menstruation
(discontinue drinking hormone balancing tea during this time)
2 parts oat straw
1 part horsetail
2 parts comfrey
2 parts nettle
4 parts peppermint
2 parts pennyroyal (herb, NOT oil)
4 parts raspberry leaf
If cramping occurs:
• Avoid cold food and drinks
• Take 1/2 tsp valerian tincture every 20 minutes until cramping ceases
• Drink 1/4 cup of the following tea every 15 minutes until cramps subside
— 1 part valerian root
— 1 part cramp bark
— 1 part grated fresh ginger root
— 1/2 part cinnamon bark
• Place a hot water bottle or heating pad on low back & a freshly grated ginger poultice on the pelvic area for quick relief
Our society prioritizes productivity over rest and relaxation, so it is no surprise that women feel like they need to “plug up and drug up” (I love this fitting phrase Kami McBride uses to describe our culture’s attitude about how women should handle their periods) and keep charging ahead with their lives when they’re bleeding. Simply taking time to rest and recharge during menstruation can make a huge difference. This can be difficult for many women due to their busy lives and schedules, but setting aside even a little extra time to rest is worth it. Just like a car can’t run without gas, our bodies can’t continue to keep up with everything we juggle if we don’t take the time to “refuel.”
Honor yourself during your period with rituals to help make the time more special and sacred. There are endless options for moontime rituals. Some of my favorites are:
• cleansing my space with handmade smudge sticks
• setting up an altar with crystals, flowers, feathers, shells, my late
grandmother’s beautiful handkerchiefs, or other special items
• diluting my blood with spring water and offering it to my plants & the Earth
• journaling about any thoughts and emotions that are coming up
• laying in the grass and basking in the warm sunshine
• applying a facial & taking a bath with some of my handmade body scrub & soaps
Consider ditching/switching tampons
Your body is trying to release your menstrual blood during your period, but when you use tampons, you’re preventing that process. Blood holds a lot of heat, so retaining it causes excess heat, tension & pressure. I have heard many cases of women experiencing less/no cramping when they stopped using tampons.
If you do use tampons, do your research and find a brand made without fragrances and other toxic chemicals or switch to a menstrual cup. The vagina is incredibly absorbant, so any chemicals used in manufacturing your tampons will be able to pass almost directly into the bloodstream and can have long term health effects.
Cloth pads are another eco-friendly, cost effective non-toxic option. They are easily found for sale online and come in many fun fabrics.
Lay or recline somewhere comfortable. With a loving touch massage oil or salve into your lower abdomen. I like to do this the first few days of my period, regardless of whether I’m already feeling crampy as I have noticed massaging before I get cramps often seems to keep them from coming on later. You can use valerian-ginger infused massage oil or another whole plant infused oil of your choosing.
I made a special moontime balm for this occasion with some of my favorite plant & crystal allies for this time of the month.
Drink 3-4 cups daily of the following tea blend for about 3 weeks after mestruation to help balance hormones:
1 part wild yam
1 part ginger
2 parts dandelion root (raw)
2parts burdock root (raw)
2 parts licorice root
2 parts sassafras
1 part yellow dock
1/4 part vitex
I hope you find these suggestions helpful in resolving menstrual pain, so that you can more fully appreciate the wisdom of your body and the miracle that is menstruation.
Gladstar, Rosemary. Herbal Healing for Women. November 10, 1993.
“Herbalism, Menstruation, and Innate Knowing — Kami McBride.” Mythic Medicine Podcast. Episode 20. July 11, 2018.