I love herbs! I have personally used them my entire adult life to treat and cure a variety of things, from an infected eyelid to eczema, PMS, major fatigue, insomnia, etc. I feel very strongly that because of our symbiotic relationship with them, plants as food, tea, tinctures or capsules offer us something very powerful! They are exactly what we need to optimize our health!
This guide will be broken out over a series of 3 different posts: Using Herbs during Pregnancy, Herbs for General Health during Pregnancy, and Pregnancy Side Effects and How Herbs Can Help. In this first post I will outline some general guidelines for what to expect from herbs and some of the different forms they can be administered.
Before you can successfully start using herbs, you need to first understand what to expect from them and how to use them. Most of the herbs that are safe in pregnancy are tonic; so when it comes to deciding on the proper dose you can think of them like eating your veggies – it’s hard to take too much. They are highly nutritious and upon taking them you may not feel an immediate effect, but just like food, they are providing your body with essential nutrients for long-term health. The herbs I will share in the second post, Herbs for General Health During Pregnancy, all fall into this category, and include: burdock, dandelion, nettle, oat straw, shave grass, red raspberry leaf, squaw vine and rose hips.
Other herbs, such as red marine algae, slippery elm and vitex are more medicinal and will improve the way you feel or how your body is functioning. For these herbs it is typical to need to take 6 capsules or 2 droppersful of tincture throughout the day for weeks, or even months in order to achieve optimal effects. I will go into more detail on these herbs in the final post, Pregnancy Side Effects and How Herbs Can Help.
Others, such as ginger, cramp bark, black haw and valerian root act within hours of taking only 1 or 2 capsules or ½ – 1 dropperful of tincture. It is always wise when starting a new herb or supplement to start with a small dose to ensure that you don’t have a negative reaction, then increase your dose until you are at the recommended dose, or have achieved your desired results. Herbs are, nonetheless, powerful and you should always exercise caution when using them, as well as consult your healthcare provider before beginning any regimen. One website, in particular, that I have found to be a good source (with a ton of references) in regards to herbs and their use during pregnancy or while breastfeeding is kellymom.com.
Herbs can be taken in a few different forms. Tinctures, for instance, are easy and convenient to use, and may give you more of an immediate result, as in the case of using herbs for relaxation or sleep. For nutritive purposes, herbs can be taken as capsules, tinctures, teas, or even eaten.
Start by taking 1 per day, assuming you do not have any negative reactions, you can increase up to 6 capsules daily, either taken all at once, or spread out throughout the day. You can find empty gelatin capsules online here.
Tinctures – Tinctures are concentrated liquid extracts of herbs. They are very powerful and administered by the dropperful, usually diluted in warm water. Because of their high concentration, they should be used sparingly. Start out with a ½ dropperful per day, increasing incrementally to a dose of no more than 2 droppersful per day, if no negative reactions are present.
Most tinctures use alcohol as the primary solvent, which is the main ingredient. The amount of alcohol is very small, but if you prefer an alcohol-free tincture, you can use vegetable glycerin or apple cider vinegar as the solvent. They are not as strong as their alcohol-based counterparts, but they are still effective and are a great alternative for children and people with alcohol sensitivities.
If you use alcohol as your tincture solvent, it should be 80 to 100 proof, such as vodka, gin or brandy. DO NOT USE RUBBING ALCOHOL OR NON-CONSUMABLE ALCOHOL.
To make a tincture you only need 3 items; herbs, solvent (alcohol, glycerin or vinegar base) and a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Fresh herbs are best, but high-quality dried herbs will work. I would suggest either ethically harvested wild herbs or organic, especially if using them for medicinal purposes.
1. Place the herbs in a clean, dry jar.
2. Add boiled water, just enough to cover the herbs (stir if necessary) and let steep a few minutes.
3. Add enough solvent to fill the jar. Cover with a tight-fitting lid.
Note: If using vegetable glycerin, dilute with an equal amount of water before adding. If using vinegar, warm it first as it will better help with extraction.
4. Place the jar in a warm location and let the herbs macerate for 4 to 6 weeks — the longer, the better.
5. Shake jar daily during the maceration period.
6. At the end of maceration period, strain the herbs using a stainless-steel strainer lined with muslin or cheesecloth. The reserved liquid is your tincture. Rebottle and label. You can pick up dropper bottles here. Store out of the reach of children in a cool, dark place. In these conditions the tincture should keep almost indefinitely.
Teas – Medicinal teas are very effective, however, making herbal tea by the cupful is time-consuming and impractical. Instead, make a quart at a time. Once brewed, herbal tea should be stored in an airtight jar in the refrigerator and should keep for 2 days.
To make medicinal tea, place about 1 tablespoon dried herb(s) (per cup of water), in a glass jar. Boil the water and pour over herbs. Then cover tightly with a lid so as not to let the volatile oils escape and let steep for 6-12 hours, then strain.
To be effective, medicinal teas should be drank in small amounts several times a day. For treatment of chronic problems, drink 3-4 times per day and for acute ailments (morning sickness, colds, fevers, headaches, etc.) take several small sips every 30 minutes until the symptoms subside.
Whether you are buying capsules, tinctures or tea, or making your own, preparing and taking herbs can provide a much needed relaxing ritual and form of self-care to expectant mothers. It’s so important for women to set aside time to take a few deep breaths and nurture themselves, especially when they are preparing for a new baby.
Check back next week for part two of this 3-part series entitled, Herbs for General Health during Pregnancy, where I will cover getting good nutrition during pregnancy from herbs. People who hate taking pills or just believe in getting their nutrition from food sources will definitely want to tune in!
What regimens have you found helpful to rejuvenate you during pregnancy? We want to hear from you! Please share your comments below.
About the Author:
Karly Nuttall is a licensed midwife in the Greater San Diego area, who provides prenatal, home birth, postpartum and monitrice services, as well as breastfeeding support and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition (FDN) services. When not busy delivering babies and caring for their families, Karly likes to get outdoors and travel. She also enjoys writing and playing music, singing, taking hip hop dance classes, meditating and book shopping on Amazon. You can connect with Karly online at www.KarlyNuttall.com, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.
Sources for this 3-part series include: Gladstar, Rosemary. Herbal Healing for Women: Simple Home Remedies for Women of All Ages. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993. Print., www.susunweed.com, www.motherearthnews.com, www.herblore.com, www.kellymom.com, http://wellnessmama.com, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, http://justherpes.com
Disclaimer: These statements, products and stated indications are based solely on tradition, studies and clinical experience and have not been evaluated by the FDA. They are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition. Always consult a healthcare professional before taking any supplements.