by Ellie Martin, certified clinical herbalist
Oh, those fun aspects of pregnancy that nobody has ever mentioned before- the nausea, heartburn, swelling of random parts of our body… and sometimes we even end up with a cold or flu on top of all of this! Is a mama supposed to just stand by and endure this discomfort for 10 whole months?? Nope… it doesn’t have to be that way. There are things that you can do, believe it or not, to alleviate some of this discomfort. And these remedies are safe and gentle on you and your developing baby.
Safety of herbs during pregnancy:
The good news is that there are many safe herbs that have been traditionally used for common complaints during this pregnancy. While there isn’t a lot of scientific study on these herbs, the historical use provides us with evidence that they are safe and gentle. If you have any concerns, however, it is best to find an herbalist, midwife, or doctor that you trust to see if these herbs are right for you. There are definitely herbs out there that aren’t safe for pregnancy, so know your plant before you use it!
Here are my four favorite herbs for pregnancy:
This wonderful- and nutritive – herb is high in vitamins C, B complex and E as well as Calcium, Iron, Potassium, Copper, and Magnesium. It tastes great, with a subtle hint of the berry flavor. This herb is the most commonly heard about when it comes to pregnancy. It is a uterine tonic, astringent, and is supportive in a variety of ways. Aviva Romm says that Raspberry has been used to ‘nourish the muscles of the uterus and to prevent miscarriage due to both its high iron content and its astringent qualities’ (1). It can gently ease nausea and morning sickness by providing the body with important nutrients that can be more readily absorbed in tea form when it’s hard for a mama to get food down!
The astringency, or ability to tone and constrict tissues in the body, can also help with morning sickness by toning the digestive tract at a time where tissues can become lax and atonic. Another benefit to Raspberry’s astringency comes in the postpartum period. Many midwives recommend that their clients use a strong infusion of raspberry leaf tea to help reduce blood loss after birth.
One of the alkaloids in Raspberry that we are aware of is called fragrine. Fragrine gives tone to the muscles in the pelvis, and tones the uterus as well. This can help to make contractions more efficient and reduce instances of false labor.
Raspberry leaf tea can also help with lactation through its nutritive mechanism – it provides some of the vitamins and minerals that aid in the process of producing healthy, quality milk. Some have said that it can increase the amount of colostrum that a new mom produces in the days following birth.
Consider adding Raspberry Leaf to your daily infusion! You can take the tincture if you would like, but in my opinion you get more of the nutrients out of an infusion. Raspberry pairs very nicely with the herbs mentioned below…
Supportive for the immune system, very tasty, and beautiful to look at, Elderberry is a great ally to have during pregnancy. You have probably seen it on the shelf at your local health food store – though you may not know that the package that says “Sambucus” is made from Elderberry! Lots of products out there use the latin name for this herb, which sounds exotic and has a notable dark purple color, but good old Elderberry is very easy to use in your own home. You can make your own cough/cold/flu syrup with this herb, you can add it to an immune tea blend, and you can even make or buy Elderberry preserves (just keep an eye on sugar intake if this is your preparation of choice). Elderberry is also one that you can take in tincture form if you are interested in a more portable mode of consumption.
So – what benefits do you get from Elderberry during pregnancy? More often, this herb is known for its ability to strengthen the immune system during a bout with a cold or flu. It is a traditional folk remedy that has been used for centuries to treat symptoms associated with upper respiratory infections. According to the University of Maryland (2), “Some evidence suggests that chemicals in elder flower and berries may help reduce swelling in mucous membranes, such as the sinuses, and help relieve nasal congestion”.
The flowers of the Elder plant have a different action than the berries, in that they focus more on a feverish, restless state. They are diffusive in nature, meaning that they can open the pores and help the body to sweat in order to reduce a high fever. The flowers are gentle, and are a great remedy to use when you or your child has a fever.
Maude Grieve in “A Modern Herbal” mentions that Elderflowers and Peppermint are a great remedy for influenza in the first stages. To make an infusion, put 2-3 Tbsp of each herb into a glass jar or coffee press. Pour boiling water over them to fill the container, and steep for 20-30 mins. Strain and sweeten with honey as needed. Maude says to drink as hot as possible to bring on perspiration (helping to lower a fever) and deep sleep.
Nettle is an all-around great nutritive herb. It can be used anytime by men or women to boost vitamin and mineral intake, and is a wonderful addition to any tea blend during pregnancy. Susan Weed says that Nettle (urtica dioica) may have more chlorophyll than any other herb, and that the list of vitamins and minerals in Nettle includes nearly every one necessary for human health and growth.
That’s a big claim! But Nettle is worthy of it… it tastes ‘green’ in an infusion (which I love!) and creates a deep green color as well. It is considered a ‘diuretic’ herb, meaning that it promotes the flow of urine, but along with this label (and in contrast to most over the counter diuretics) it helps to rebuild and strengthen the kidneys as well. There is a lot of pressure on the kidneys during pregnancy, and they need all the help they can get!
Nettle can help with hemorrhoids and potentially varicose veins as well, since it can tighten and strengthen blood vessels and reduce varicosities. The nutritive quality in this herb may also help with some of the painful leg cramps that happen during pregnancy. On top of these benefits, these days nettles is consumed in commerce (tea or capsule) to help with seasonal allergies and asthma.
Nettles is high in vitamin K, which humans need for healthy blood clotting. This may help with bleeding after childbirth. Vitamin K is also something that doctors give to infants just after birth – in the form of an injection -as infants are born with a small amount in their little bodies. Some women drink nettle infusions during their third trimester to boost the amount of vitamin K in their system, and potentially in their baby’s body as well.
There is one thing that I like to tell people who live in a dry climate like the one we have here in Colorado, Nettles can be a bit drying since it is diuretic and astringent. If you find that you have dry skin, eyes, etc. while taking nettles, you can lessen the amount you are taking, or you can add a little bit of Marshmallow Root to balance out the dryness. We will discuss Marshmallow further in this article.
Marshmallow root, leaf, or flower
This is one plant that I tell everyone about. First of all, where I live, the climate tends to be very dry. There is also a good chance that the person I’m talking to is living or visiting a place at higher elevation. For these reasons, I like to educate people about the wonderful moistening properties of the marshmallow plant. It isn’t exactly what you would normally think of when you hear the word ‘marshmallow’ (though it is said to have once been a main ingredient in the sweet white puffballs we find at the grocery store). No, this herb – known as Althea officinalis – is a very soft and pallatable plant. The leaves are very soft and a little furry to the touch, and the flowers are a gorgeous mix of delicacy and strength. You typically see the roots, leaves and flowers in medicinal use, and it all has a very soothing effect on mucous membranes throughout your whole body. Have dry skin? Maybe dry eyes or even dry mouth? Try a cup or two of marshmallow tea. In my opinion, this is the best way to prepare this herb – the mucilage (which is a polysaccharide substance extracted as a viscous or gelatinous solution from a plant) extracts more readily into water than any other solution… and even moreso into cold water.
This plant has been found in greek writings and was believed to be part of their traditional medical system. It has been used as a food in times of famine, and can soothe sore throats and dry coughs. Sometimes when I’m feeling dehydrated and water doesn’t seem to help, a little marshmallow tea cooled to room temperature can really hit the spot. I also find that it helps my body to utilize water more effectively… I don’t necessarily ‘retain’ water, but I also don’t have to pee so often and I feel like my tissues are more hydrated. Add marshmallow to your next infusion and see how you feel!
These are just a few of the herbs that I find very helpful during the months before, during, and after pregnancy (also referred to as ‘the pregnancy year’). Pregnancy can be so joyful and really exciting, but if you start to have some discomfort or if you feel a cold or flu coming on, remember our plant friends are there to help in a gentle and effective way! There are, of course, more herbal options out there than I have listed here, and if you are interested in hearing about those, talk to a local practitioner in your area. I also LOVE to talk about herbs and am happy to have a skype consult or see women in person at the Joy Collective here in Boulder, CO.
Ellie Martin, Certified Herbalist + Nutritionist in Boulder went to school at the North American Institute for Medical Herbalism. Over the past seven years she has helped clients with a variety of conditions, although her focus is on pregnancy and postpartum health as well as the effects that proper nutrition has on vitality and well-being. She also uses herbs, flower essences, ritual and lifestyle changes as additional support to help maintain lasting positive changes in one’s health. Ellie offers consultations through her company called Koru Health and Botanicals and practices at the Joy Collective in Boulder, CO.
She offers support for the following conditions:
- Pregnancy and Postpartum Health
- Chronic and Acute illness
- Digestive issues
- Food allergies
- Skin issues
- Sleep disturbances
- and many more
Read more about Ellie Martin and her nutrition and herb practice in Boulder at korubotanicals.com