Natural herbs have been used for thousands of years to restore health and vitality.  There are several herbs that support women’s health providing benefits like supporting fertility, boosting the immune system, boosting energy levels, fighting free radicals, help skin look younger and radiant, rebalancing hormones, pain relief, combatting depression and anxiety and aiding restful sleep.

Here are four herbs that can help support health and well-being.

Vervain

Vervain has a long history of medicinal purposes.  It has been used to treat headaches, insomnia, depression, anxiety, kidney stones, gout, jaundice and more.  It has also been used to help improve lactation for nursing mothers and as a natural treatment for painful menstrual cycles.

Inflammation is the root of most diseases which derives from foods like sugar, processed foods, trans fats in fried foods, white bread, white pasta and gluten.  When you decrease inflammation in the body, you can improve many different common, chronic and even major health concerns.  One of Vervain’s health benefits is the ability to decrease inflammation both externally and internally

Researchers have found that an extract of vervain in it’s raw state helped improve seizure responses.  It also can decrease how long it takes to fall asleep while increasing the duration of ones sleep pattern.  Overall study concluded that results indicate that Verbena Officinalis contains anticonvulsant, anxiolytic and sedative activities, which provides scientific background for its medicinal application in various neurological ailments, such as epilepsy, anxiety and insomnia.

Vervain has also been used to improve gum health.   The early Celtic people used it in a mouth wash to help with their oral problems.  Chewing the plant’s roots was believed to strengthen gums and teeth.  A 2016 study validates this. Patients with chronic gum disease were asked to brush and floss their teeth and rinse with vervain mouthwash.  The results showed those who used the mouthwash had lower scores of gum disease.  Some sources suggest that vervain can also treat bad breath, mouth ulcers and even tonsillitis.

Vervain can stimulate your appetite and promote digestive health as well and rid of intestinal worms as it contains antiparasitic properties.  The diuretic properties of vervain also help in digestive health.  The health promotes the release of urine and water from the body assisting diarrhoea relief.

Herbalist consider vervain to boost the function of a sluggish liver.  This also has a positive effect on hormonal metabolism and balance.  It also helps to cleanse the kidneys and the bladder cutting the risk of kidney stones.

The antimicrobial properties of vervain help cleanse the liver and kidneys of toxins and prevents infections.  Aucubin and oleanolic acid found in vervain also have the ability to protect the liver from damage.

Ashwagandha

Ashwagandha is also known as Indian Ginseng and sometimes Winter Cherry. It is part of the Nightshade family. It has an array of potential benefits for women and boasts complex and subtle effects on the individual physiology and works on a subtle but measurable way on many of the body’s systems, giving wide ranging benefits for health and well-being.  It is renowned as an adaptogen. Adaptogens are nature’s all-rounders and can either stimulate or calm you down, depending on your need at the time. They respond to what your body needs in any given moment. Through these effects the herb helps with hormonal balance above all, with subsequent benefits for women in particular, both mental and physical. The plant’s biology is complex, and on being consumed it releases a wad of antioxidants, and a cocktail of health boosting phytochemicals. Ashwagandha is well established in the Ayurvedic medicine tradition, and it is even said that it gives you “the strength of stallions”.

Ashwagandha is full of good stuff like iron, fatty acids, glucose, nitrates, potassium, and tannins. The plant’s active compounds have some steroid effects too, and include anferin, sominine, somniferine, and withanolides. There are also a whole host of flavonoids.

The name Ashwagandha comes from the Sanskrit word for horse, Ashva, hinting at the plants potent energising effects. Root, leaf, and berry all carry the active compounds, and these can be used therapeutically as an oil, or more commonly as a powder which is traditionally eaten when mixed with ghee, but there is nothing stopping you from whipping  up a smoothie, tea, or a latte with Ashwagandha instead, if that is more your thing. Ashwagandha can be infused in a sugar cane alcohol tincture too, but to avoid taking too much or too little, and to ensure, the recommended dose, many people prefer to take capsules. There are some really high quality organic Ashwagandha capsules available on the market.

The menopause affects women as their fertility cycle slows down. Hormone levels can really peak and trough and this can spark psychological as well as physical changes. If approaching the menopause, you may want to consider taking Ashwagandha regularly. The plant targets the endocrine system to balance hormone secretion, and also boost circulation, and reduce stress. These help balance the effects of the menopause, such as mood swings, hot flushes, sleep disturbance, and sexual issues. Ashwagandha’s potency during the menopause comes from its stress reducing properties, while it promotes hormonal balance, and it is suggested to take it early and regularly when the menopause hits.

Whenever you get ill or hurt the body leaps into action to with fight off pathogens or repair itself. One of the side effects of this is inflammation. There is also lower level inflammation that you may not notice, as the body deals with the stresses it faces daily. Ashwagandha has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects, to aid the body’s natural healing. Studies have shown that Ashwagandha helps the body produce more ‘killer cells’ that fight infection and reduce proteins that cause unhelpful levels of inflammation.

Ashwagandha has a range of anti-inflammatory properties that can help stave off infections, keeping skin healthy. When used daily in a water solution, it also removes Keratin, when this has built up on the skin. This has been used as part of Ayurvedic medical practice. As mentioned before Ashwagandha is a hormone balancer so it can boost flagging levels of estrogen and collagen, which gives skin that feminine glow. Stress also leads to wrinkles and dry skin, and as Ashwagandha reduces the stress hormone cortisol, to help keep you at your best.  

Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, which in means that the way it works on me will be different from how it works on you. It can boost energy, or calm, depending on your requirements. Some women have been concerned that as Ashwagandha boosts testosterone it may also boost the same hormone in women. It is important to remember that ultimately Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic hormone balancer- that targets the endocrine system, to get it firing on all cylinders. This helps stabilise hormone levels based on where they should be, so while it raises testosterone in men that need that, it can similarly raise estrogen in women that need it too. Ashwagandha is beneficial to both men and women, but the form those benefits take is different. This is the beauty of this powerful plant.

Maca

Maca is often thought of a superfood because of it’s array of nutrients and health benefits. It belongs to the same cruciferous family as kale and cauliflower. However, maca is most closely associated with mustard, turnip, cabbage, garden cress and watercress

Grown in the Peruvian mountains, Maca’s history is long and distinguished, as it was used even earlier than the Incans for both food and traditional medicine. Its most notable use was to increase fertility and increase sexual desire. That may be why another name for it is Peruvian ginseng. Today, maca is taking on new life with clinically proven and remarkable health benefits, both as a food and supplement. Studies show it to improve mood and memory, lower stress levels, treat osteoporosis, protect against UV radiation, help balance hormones and perform a dozen other functions.

It is rich in sugars, protein, starches, and essential nutrients (especially iodine and iron). The tuber or root is consumed fresh or dried. The fresh roots are considered a treat and are baked or roasted in ashes (in the same manner as sweet potatoes).

The dried roots are stored and, later, boiled in water or milk to make porridge. They also are made into a popular sweet, fragrant, fermented drink called mace chichi. In Peru even mace jam, pudding and sodas are popular. The tuberous roots have a tangy, sweet taste and an aroma similar to that of butterscotch.

Mace roots are still grown, harvested, sun-dried and ground down to powder form. Its earthy, nutty powder is often sprinkled in such dishes as oatmeal, smoothies and trail mix. A good place to start might be 1 tablespoon daily, working up to three per day for maximum benefits

There’s a reason mace is considered a superfood. It’s rich in calcium and potassium, contains trace elements of iron, iodine, copper, manganese, and zinc, as well as vitamins B1, B2, C, and D. Mace is also a complete protein, containing the nine essential amino acids that the body can’t produce on its own. A rounded diet, rich in vitamins and minerals, is key to reproductive health. Plus, many of the nutrients available in maca also support hormonal balance which can lead to healthier eggs.

Helping the body to cope with the stress and balance hormones can be key benefits in improving your chance of conceiving. Research has shown that using maca can reduce depression and anxiety. How does maca achieve this? Like traditional ginseng, maca is a herb that helps the body regulate stress. More specifically, maca supports the endocrine system, regulating communication between the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, which helps balance the production of hormones. In addition to its regulating qualities, a small study on postmenopausal when showed that maca was able to lower blood pressure.

Maca’s nutritional value (particularly its high levels of magnesium, a known immune system booster and stress regulating qualities that assist with hormone balancing and stress reduction, can also help to support your immune system. This is particularly important for those experiencing immune-related fertility issues.

Women who are trying to conceive are often advised to reduce their caffeine intake. If you have a daily coffee habit and are looking for a replacement for coffee or other forms of caffeine (yep, matcha contains caffeine, too), maca may help. Maca doesn’t contain any stimulants like caffeine, but energizes the body through its nutritional value and possibly by stabilizing blood sugar levels to avoid peaks and crashes. These qualities also make maca a long-lasting energizer, helping you maintain energy levels throughout the day instead of spiking and crashing as you might from coffee.

Fenugreek

Fenugreek is an annual plant belonging to the legume family, found through various parts of Asia as the Middle East. It’s exact origins however, remains a point for debate, although its origins are most likely in the regions of Iraq. Evidence of dried fennel has been found in the sarcophagus of Egypt’s King Tut, suggesting its usage dating back millennia. Today, fennel is mainly used as a spice or herb, but its health benefits warrant it more than just occasional use.

While many herbs and spices are contraindicated or need to be used cautiously while breast feeding, fenugreek is encouraged to be used. This is because it is said to be able to stimulate milk production, owing to the presence of a compound named diosgenin. This coupled with fenugreek generous level of vitamins and minerals make it highly nutritious to the newborn and mother.

Fenugreek may be helpful for people who suffer with diabetes as the seeds contain fibre and other chemicals that may slow down digestion and the body’s absorption of carbs and sugar.  It may also help improve how the body uses sugar and increases the amount of insulin released.

When people think of heartburn relief, their thoughts typically include reaching for over the counter remedies that contain calcium but fenugreek may actually be better for you. This is because fenugreek is said to be able to reduce acid secretion in the first instance. This, plus the ability to neutralize acid means it is in many ways better than what people opt for as their first choice.

Studies have confirmed that frequent use of fenugreek can help to reduce the development of Neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s via multiple mechanisms. Among those were the inhibition of an enzyme known as acetylcholinesterase, which allows for enhanced function of the important brain neurotransmitter acetylcholine, and reduction in the production of proteins that foster plaque development in the brain. As a result, brain inflammation was significantly reduced, along with possible mental deficits and cognitive impairment.

 Fenugreek may be able to help with weight loss thanks to its effects on insulin and blood sugar. Insulin is a major barrier that many people do not realise impairs weight loss, with improved blood glucose control normally balancing to greater weight loss.

Fenugreek goes a step beyond what is considered standard in many other products for skin health as it contains the extremely rare fibre type known as mucilage, a sticky fiber that gels in the presence of water, forming a sort of paste. While this is good for intestinal health, it can be even better on the skin. Mucilage is an excellent moisturizing agent, as it traps water in its matrix structure and allows for ample hydration.

Cancer is a very sensitive topic, but it is hopeful to see so many natural products being mentioned for their potential in treating the disease. Compounds found in fenugreek known as saponins stop the multiplication of cancer cells, and start a cycle of self-death (or apoptosis). Fenugreek also shows potential in reducing the occurrence of various cancers, including breast, colon and prostate cancers.

Its effects on programmed cell death seem to be most pronounced when use of the plant is followed up with radiation.

Fenugreek actually prevents the formation of platelets together, which is the mechanism by which one of the most common blood thinners aspirin works. This in turn reduces the likelihood of these clots blocking tiny blood vessels, or even larger blood vessels which are important to the brain or heart itself. This is how strokes or heart attacks occur, when blood supply is restricted to a certain part, causing asphyxiation and death of the affected tissue.

Kidney damage is usually a worrying sign, as frequently it is an indication of multi-system organ failure brought on by a build up of waste material. Frequently, kidney damage occurs from over usage of medications or drugs, which may cause a build up of excess salts in the filtration apparatus of the kidneys. Calcium is by far the most common residue that causes kidney failure, but not standard calcium oxide, but rather calcium oxalate stones. Aluminum salts help to break down these residual stones, and can improve kidney health a bit, but then cause their own set of adverse effects. Fenugreek intake increases the amount of red blood cells that can deliver oxygenated blood to the kidneys, reduce stone formation and promotes excretion of nitrogen compounds and normalise creatinine excretion as well. Coupled with reducing oxidative damage, and increasing kidney mass, fenugreek offers powerful support for your kidneys.

Menstruation is a nightmare for many women due to the frequent mood swings, pain and cramps. While some over the counter remedies can help, they can also increase bleeding but fenugreek appears to be able to relieve the pain and cramping without adverse effects, as observed in a study done on college aged women.

Fenugreek has a lot to offer with the possibility that many more benefits lie yet undiscovered. If one thing is for sure, is that you can take advantage of what’s on offer today and improve your life with this little miracle herb.

NB: Never use these herbs as a replacement for prescribed medicine. Always discuss the supplement with your GP before taking if suffering from a chronic condition.

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