with herbalist Susun Weed
I know you like to use minerals for bone health after menopause. Can you talk more about that and share some recipes? Also, are hormonal supplements necessary when you reach menopause? Thank you for all your wisdom.
By 2015 half of the female population of the United States will be post-menopausal. But this group of post-menopausal women won’t be old fuddy-duddies with broken hips, heart attacks, and failing memories. Women of today expect to emerge from menopause energetic, zesty, and passionate! Are hormones necessary? No! Wise women nourish their hearts, bones, and spirits with simple, safe mineral-rich herbs.
The secret to keeping your bones flexible, your spirits high, your sleep deep, and your elder years free of chronic problems is not complicated. It doesn’t require a vast knowledge of herbs. It can be summed up in a single word: minerals.
Minerals are critical building blocks needed for optimum functioning of the nervous system, the immune system, and all muscles — including the heart. The production of hormones also requires large amounts of minerals. During menopause 30 to 60 times more hormones are produced than at any other time of a woman’s life. If the diet is not mineral-rich the deficit is drawn out of women’s bones.
Minerals are plentiful in well-balanced diets composed of organic whole grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, dairy products (especially yogurt), seafoods (especially seaweeds), and small amounts of meat. But if your diet is only partially organic, or if you limit it (by choice or necessity), or if you are menopausal, you need extra minerals.
Herbs, especially the weedy ones, are minerals powerhouses. Getting those minerals isn’t as easy as taking a tincture (alcohol extracts little to no minerals) or swallowing a pill (minerals are poorly utilized from encapsulated herbs) but it isn’t difficult either. At the Wise Woman Center we include mineral-rich herbs in our daily diet; it’s easy, tasty, and very rewarding. How do we do it? 1) Drink 1-2 cups nourishing herbal infusion each day. 2) Eat wild plants in salad. 3) Dress salads with olive oil, tamari, and 1-2 tablespoons of a tonifying herbal vinegar.
Herbal infusions differ from herbal teas: They are darker in color and richer tasting because their long brewing extracts many more nutrients — especially minerals. My favorite nourishing herbal infusions for menopausal women are oatstraw, red clover blossoms, stinging nettle leaves, and comfrey leaves.
To prepare your infusion: Put a quart of cold water up to boil. Weigh one ounce of dried (not fresh!) herb into a quart canning jar. Go brush your teeth and count your grey hairs until the teapot whistles. Pour the boiling water into the jar with your herb (only one herb at a time, please!), screw on a tight lid, turn off the light, and go to bed. Next morning strain out the herb and drink the liquid: cold, hot, or at room temperature. Add honey, tamari, or milk if desired.
Oatstraw (Avena sativa) has a mellow taste. It eases frazzled nerves, lowers cholesterol, improves circulation, strengthens bones, eases headaches, relieves depression and encourages us to be sexy old ladies!
Red clover (Trifolium pratense) infusion not only builds bones, and prevents cancer, it reduces serum cholesterol (protecting heart health) and helps maintain strong pelvic tissues –thus preventing incontinence, lowered libido, atrophic vaginitis, and uterine prolapse. Red clover contains ten times more phytoestrogens than soy, without soy’s bone-damaging, thyroid-impairing side-effects.
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) infusion contains more than 500 milligrams of calcium per cup. (Nettle tea has none, neither does the tincture.) Nettle strengthens adrenal functioning, promotes sound sleep, increases overall energy, prevents allergic reactions, strengthens the blood vessels, and prevents hair loss.
Comfrey (Symphytum uplandicum x) is controversial. Ingestion of its roots can cause severe liver congestion. The leaves are safe, though labeled otherwise. Comfrey leaf infusion helps maintain good vaginal lubrication, strengthens the bones, protects against cancer, soothes painful joints, and improves mental functioning.
Information on preparing infusions and vinegars is in my book Menopausal Years the WiseWoman Way. Or you can come take a class with me and learn how. (For a free schedule, write Weed, P.O. Box 64, Woodstock, NY 12498 or visit us online at: susunweed.com.
Eat Wild Salads During Menopause
Eating a few wild leaves in my salads helps keep me connected to the earth even when I’m in the city. (I figure the pollution on the plants is the same stuff I’m breathing!) Wild foods nourish the wild woman within and help me remember that Mother Nature does, indeed, provide.
It’s easy to find chickweed (Stellaria media) in large planters on street corners and in gardens. Mince her stalks and leaves into your salads to nourish your thyroid and help prevent excess weight gain during menopause. (Ten to fifteen pounds can be normal and healthy however.)
Mallow (Malva neglecta) likes city parks as well as country farms and is often found in drainage ditches. Both the roots, thinly sliced, and the leaves (flowers, too!) can be added to salads to soothe and strengthen intestines and reproductive organs, to ease nerves, and to cool our hot flashes.
The two similiar tasting but unrelated sour grasses — sheep sorrel (Rumex acetosella) and wood sorrel (Oxalis) — are vitamin C rich additions to salads found under trees and shrubs.
Spicy cresses — such as wintercress (Barbarea vulgaris), cowcress (Lepidium campestre), and garlic mustard (Allaria officinalis) — are common weeds throughout much of the world and renowned as cancer preventatives.
And, of course, the seaweeds, added to salads either fresh or dried. Some of my favorites include hijiki/celery/shitake salad and seapalm fronds soaked, sliced and tossed with salad greens.
Use Tonifying Herbal Vinegars During Menopause
Vinegar is the ideal medium for extracting minerals from fresh herbs. Making them is easy and fun. Chop the herb finely, enough to fill any jar. Add enough room temperature pasteurized apple cider vinegar to fill the jar to the top. (Be careful not to put in too much herb; an 8 ounce jar will hold a cup of chopped herb and about 6 ounces of vinegar.) Cork your jar or cover it with plastic wrap, and don’t forget the label. For best mineral extraction, wait at least six weeks before using the vinegar. (You can eat the pickled roots and leaves or discard them.)
Tonifying herbs add specific effects to their mineral-rich properties. Fresh leaves of any mint (including motherwort, rosemary, lavender, thyme, sage, lemon balm, and bergamot) are excellent tonics. So are dandelion, burdock, and yellow dock roots. And everyone lives near my favorite tonic: the herb I call cronewort — in honor of the visionary powers of old women.
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) may be the single most useful herb for menopausal women. Taken as a vinegar or as a tincture (dose is 5-25 drops as needed), motherwort leaves and flowers act to calm the nerves, relieve premenstrual tension, ease menstrual cramping, restore lubrication and elasticity to the vagina, strengthen the heart, and maintain hormonal balance. Motherwort vinegar is exceptionally rich in minerals, too.
Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis) is a powerful ally for the menopausal woman who suffers from endless hot flashes. All parts of the herb — leaves, roots, and flowers — can be used to strengthen the liver, aid digestion, and cool off those volcanic flashes. Dandelion also helps promote healthy breasts and clear skin. It’s rich in bone-building minerals and contains enormous amounts of cancer-preventing carotenes (14,000 units of pro-vitamin A in 100 grams of leaves).
Burdock (Arctium lappa) roots may be, with great difficulty, dug out of the ground at the end of their first year of growth. Or they may be, fairly easily, bought in health food stores and Oriental markets. Cook the fresh roots as a tasty vegetable (see Healing Wise for recipes), preserve them in vinegar, or tincture them (a dose is 10-50 drops, up to three times a day). All will help strengthen the liver, clear the skin, promote regrowth of thinning hair, cool hot flashes, ease mood swings, and reverse pre-cancerous changes.
Yellow dock (Rumex crispus and other species) roots are intensely bitter, suggesting moderation. The vinegar is delicious as a condiment with beans and cooked greens. Both tincture and vinegar encourage the blood to utilize more iron, important for the menopausal woman who’s bothered by flooding or fibroids.
Cronewort/mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) is an ideal tonic for older women: It strengthens the cardiovascular, urinary, and nervous systems. Mineral-rich cronewort builds steady nerves as it relaxes. As with all Artemisias, cronewort has visionary properties and can be used to help us see menopause differently: More than the end of physical fertility, menopause is also the beginning of one of the most creative, productive times of a woman’s life.
To learn more, read: Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way, Alternative Approaches for Women 30-90.
1. Bergner, Paul, The Healing Power of Minerals, Prima, Rocklin CA, 1997
2. Crawford, Amanda McQuade, The Herbal Menopause Book, Crossing Press, Freedom CA, 1996
3. National Research Council, Diet and Health, National Academy Press, Washington DC, 1989
4. Pedersen, Mark, Nutritional Herbology, Pedersen Publ, Bountiful UT, 1987
5. Weed, Susun S., Breast Cancer? Breast Health! The Wise Woman Way, Ash Tree, Woodstock NY, 1996
6. Weed, Susun S., Healing Wise, The Second Wise Woman Herbal, Ash Tree, Woodstock NY, 1989
7. Weed, Susun S., Menopausal Years The Wise Woman Way, Ash Tree, Woodstock NY, 1992
photos: Wise Woman Spiral © iStockphoto.com / Chuck Spidell | Three Seeds © Krista Lynn Brown