Spring is truly springing and, like me, you may be thinking about which plants to have in your garden this year. Here are the three herbs I think every woman should have - all easy to grow, easy to use and a pleasure to behold. You can also grow them in pots!
Calendula (Calendula officinalis)
Calendula is easy peasy to grow from seed, does well in shade as well as sun and, if harvested regularly, will continue to bloom all through summer, into the autumn and beyond.
This herb is like an infusion of sunshine, and one of the most versatile and useful medicines you can have in your garden.
The bright orange and yellow flowers, along with the resinous ‘bracts’ that make up the green base of the flower head, have been used for centuries for their innumerable healing properties - from skin healing to supporting immunity to lifting the spirits.
Perhaps the most indispensable use of calendula for women’s health is its stimulating effect on the lymphatic system, which helps to clear congestion and inflammation in the pelvic area. This helps with congestive period pain and endometriosis, and also to clear ovarian cysts and polyps.
Calendula resin is also extremely anti-bacterial and anti-fungal - combined with its regenerative properties on connective tissue, it heals wounds, clears infection and prevents scarring, making it my go-to remedy for uterine and vaginal infections, healing post-surgery or after traumatic deliveries or Caesarean sections.
It can be very useful in the treatment of intestinal candidiasis as well, which has a knock-on effect on liver function and therefore hormone balance.
Speaking of liver function - calendula also helps with PMS, since often this can be a result of insufficient breakdown of oestrogen in the liver, causing a build up over time. Calendula promotes liver detoxification and heals inflammatory conditions like ulcerative colitis, contributing to a healthier digestion.
Calendula is safe to use during pregnancy and can be taken as a tincture, tea, oil, salve, pessary, medicinal bath or steam.
Dry the flower heads thoroughly before using as tea, and simply infuse in olive or almond oil for a few weeks on a windowsill or heat over a bain marie for a few hours to make a medicinal oil.
You can then add beeswax to make a salve, or make into pessaries to effectively treat thrush and post-menopausal dryness.
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Sage is another herb we are all familiar with - its deliciously aromatic yet earthy volatile oils and their warming, digestive properties make it a wonderful herb to cook with.
An ancient Latin saying about Salvia, which comes from the verb ‘salvere’, ‘to save’, translates:
Against the power of death
sage grows in the garden
Why would men die
when sage grows in the garden?
And it’s good for women too! Sage is oestrogenic and can relieve menopausal symptoms like hot flushes, anxiety and insomnia that happen due to declining oestrogen levels.
Sage is also a powerful nervine and brain tonic, clearing stress & tension in the body and helping to repair a frayed nervous system and poor memory. It is considered an ‘adaptogen’ - a herb that increases resilience by working on the endocrine, nervous and immune systems of the body.
For hot flushes, chop 5-6 fresh leaves and soak overnight in lemon juice. In the morning, strain and drink - do this for 7-10 days to control sweating as well as improve digestion and concentration.
Fresh sage tea is also wonderful for a sore throat or tonsillitis due to it’s soothing, anti-bacterial and anti-viral volatile oils.
Sage likes full sun, and not too much water. It grows better from a cutting, and your sage bush can be trimmed back heavily each year to make way for new growth.
Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris)
Alchemilla was the fascination of alchemists of old - the dew that collects on the leaves was believed to have magical properties.
Lady’s mantle is a great herb for gynaecological conditions of all kinds due to its astringent, healing, antispasmodic and lymphatic stimulant properties. It’s really helpful for painful periods, heavy flow, and uterine trauma due to abortion, miscarriage, thrush, coil insertion, pelvic inflammatory disease or fibroids.
In terms of its hormonal action it is progesterogenic, which means it increases natural progesterone levels - this helps treat PMS, as progesterone is often low in women who suffer from bad PMS.
Its progesterogenic action also helps to counteract the effect of high, ‘unopposed’ oestrogen in the body - this explains its effectiveness in conditions like heavy periods, endometriosis and fibroids in which unopposed oestrogen is a factor.
Lady’s mantle prefers partial shade to full sun, and can be grown from seed though it’s quicker to start from a cutting or root division. It is very low maintenance - to harvest, just gather the whole plant in one hand and chop a couple of centimetres from the ground.
Dry the herb or use fresh for tea, or make into a tincture by steeping in vodka or brandy for 4 weeks before straining. Most herbs can be made into a tincture this way. Take 5 mls of the tincture 3 times a day for any of the above conditions.
Getting good quality herbs
If you’d like to grow these herbs in your garden to use medicinally, try to buy organic seeds or plants or take cuttings from a friend who doesn’t use pesticides in their garden.
Alternatively, if you think you might benefit from these herbs but don’t want to wait until summer to harvest them yourself, come and see me for a holistic consultation, after which I can prescribe a course of pharmaceutical grade tinctures.
Happy spring planting!