Many women experience some form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) each month, which flares up when estrogen and progesterone levels drop dramatically after ovulation. PMS is defined as having recurrent symptoms 7 to 14 days before menstruation begins. Behavioral changes during this time include nervousness, anxiety, irritability, mood swings, mild-to-severe personality changes, fatigue, lethargy, and depression. Gastrointestinal changes include abdominal bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation, or a change in appetite (usually cravings for sugar). Other PMS symptoms can include tender and/or enlarged breasts, uterine cramps, headache, backache, acne, and edema.
The negative side effects of monthly menstruation can be a pain, but luckily there are several supportive herbs that help to ease the transition through each phase. Here are a few favorites:
This leaf has been used in herbal medicine for centuries to help strengthen the wall of the uterus. It is a wonderful tea to drink one week before your period if you suffer from heavy bleeding or cramping. It’s also lovely the first few days of menstruation.
How to use : Drink daily as an infusion, during your cycle or just before.
The name says it all! The bark of this plant contains the same components found in common over-the-counter pain relievers. Use it during your period to help ease cramps and menstrual pain. Cramp bark is especially effective for those suffering from dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation) and lower back pain at the beginning of menstruation. This herb is safe to use repeatedly and does not carry the risk of liver damage that comes with over-the-counter medication.
How to use : Take in tincture form (60-90 drops per day), to relieve menstrual cramps.
The leaves work as a natural diuretic, relieving bloating and excess water retention. Unlike synthetic diuretics they also contain potassium, so natural stores are not depleted as water is expelled. Dandelion root works on the liver, where excess estrogen and other hormones are broken down for elimination. Try the leaves if you experience water retention and bloating. Use the root if you experience heavy bleeding, acne, mood swings, and irritability.
How to use : Drink as a tea (leaves), tincture, or decoction (root) prior to your cycle in cases of issues with liver stagnation, constipation, and severe PMS.
Passionflower is effective for high stress, poor sleep, and anxiety. Use during menses if you have pain, insomnia or racing thoughts. A natural sedative, it’s effective in tea or tincture form right before bed.
How to use : Take as a tincture or tea at bedtime.
Chaste Tree Berry (also known as Vitex) affects the pituitary gland and stimulates progesterone production. Many women take this herb for months at a time to help balance and normalize their estrogen and progesterone levels. This berry is especially beneficial for estrogen-dominant conditions, acne, PCOS and heavy bleeding. It helps to reduce PMS symptoms and also improves fertility. *Consult with a holistic practitioner or herbalist before using, as you may only need to take chaste tree berry during part of your cycle. Many women also take it for 7 to 10 days prior to their cycle for PMDD.
How to use : Take as a tincture (60-90 drops per day) for up to 6 months.
*While many of these herbs may help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with PMS, they may not be the herbs right for you to balance your hormones and get to the root of your monthly PMS symptoms. Consult with a holistic healthcare practitioner to create an individualized plan best suited to your body and needs.
photo: Sebastian Sammer