Holy Basil! For stress support in uncertain times

Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum, Ocimum tenuiflorum) is a wonderful herb to discuss at this moment in time. Seasonally because it’s currently taking over my garden, but also because it’s a supportive, tonic herb that has application during today’s troubling challenges.

What is Holy Basil?

Holy basil, like its cousin culinary basil (Ocimum sanctum), is a member of the mint family. As such, it is extremely easy to grow, but has a tendency to take over in the garden like most mints (you have been warned!). Unlike many mints, though, it’s my experience that holy basil only spreads through seeds – it does NOT send out runners in the ground to perpetuate itself. But spread by seeds it does! Every year, when the soil gets warm enough – which seems to be around mid-late May in central Maryland – the tiny seeds begin to sprout all over my garden. I never have to worry about re-seeding them each year – they do very well on their own. Photos throughout this post are from random areas of my garden in 2020.

What is Holy Basil good for?

ATH has previously written a lovely article about holy basil’s therapeutic benefits, and I recommend that you revisit it

Holy basil is perhaps best known as an ‘adaptogen’ (a fancy word for what I like to call a ‘stress modulator’). Over time, with regular ingestion, holy basil can even out bumps in the road by making it easier for a person to respond to stress. After a few weeks taking an adaptogenic formula containing holy basil, my clients have often reported that they are “less reactive” than they usually are when faced with a stressful situation.

On a related note, Braun and Cohen (2015) discuss several studies regarding anti-depressant/anxiolytic properties of holy basil, including a study of 35 humans that showed a reduction in anxiety, stress, and depression symptoms. Renowned herbalist,

Sounds like a great herbal ally during a pandemic?

What do I do with Holy Basil?

Though a relative of the common, culinary basil (Ocimum officinalis) that most of us are familiar with, holy basil (sometimes also known as ‘tulsi’) has a distinct flavor profile. Personally, I would not swap culinary basil for holy basil, but herbalist, president of the American Herbalists’ Guild, and my friend,

Alternately, rather than cooking with holy basil, I enjoy it as a tea. It is lovely hot in an herbal blend – it pairs well with mint,

Finally, if you grow fresh holy basil, pull off a leaf or two daily and eat for overall health.

Where can I get Holy Basil?

Holy basil is easy to grow. Mountain Rose Herbs sells

If you’d like the dried herb, here again

For a convenient, concentrated method, try a holy basil tincture or extract. David Winston’s Herbalist & Alchemist carries

References:

Braun, L. and Cohen, M. (2015). Herbs and Natural Supplements: An evidence-based guide. (4th Ed.). Elsevier

Clare, B. (2020). Spice Apothecary: Blending and Using Common Spices for Everyday Health. Storey Publishing.

BIO:

Donna Koczaja, M.S., RH(AHG) graduated from Maryland University of Integrative Health (formerly Tai Sophia Institute) with a Master of Science in Therapeutic Herbalism and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Clinical Herbalism. She earned Registered Herbalist status from the American Herbalists’ Guild in 2018. Originally educated as a mechanical engineer, she combines the rigor of her original scientific training with the traditional healing art of herbal medicine to partner with her clients to uncover the root cause of their underlying health issues. Also a Master Gardener since 2008, her primary interest is in inspiring others to improve their health and sense of wellbeing through the joys of gardening and the power of natural medicine.

Donna is currently doing virtual consultations from her home office in Maryland. Read more about her, what she does, and why she does it at

Holistic Help for Uterine Fibroids?

Image by

An ATH reader asks if there might be a natural solution for recurring uterine fibroids.

This is a really good question. Fibroid uterine fibroids affect a lot of women, estimates range from 50 to 80% depending on life stage and other demographic factors. Medical treatments can relieve symptoms and reduce fibroid size but they have concerning side effects, including bone loss and are generally recommended only for short term use or to reduce fibroid size before surgery. Surgical options may endanger fertility and are indicated for women past childbearing age who experience severe symptoms.

There are several factors that can potentially come together to influence the development and progression of uterine fibroids. These include:

· Genetic variations

· Inflammation

· Oxidative stress

· Estrogen/progesterone balance

· Exposure to xenoestrogens like bisphenols, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), phthalates, and others

· Cardiometabolic risk factors like elevated insulin and obesity

A holistic or integrative approach will include an evaluation of environmental factors, optimization of diet, herbal protocols, and possibly other therapeutic modalities like acupuncture, and should address all the above factors (except genetic variations)

Environment

Xenoestrogens are ubiquitous in modern life. They’re in the plastics, household cleaners, toiletries, cosmetics, and more. You’ll want to evaluate your environment for the presence of xenoestrogens and do your best to eliminate them. You can find help in

Diet

Vitamin D

Vitamin D has well established anti-inflammatory and anti-fibrotic activities. There is an association between vitamin d deficiency and uterine fibroids, and recent research suggest that vitamin D inhibits the expression of certain inflammatory mediators, enzymes, genes, and cell receptors that are involved in the growth of fibroid cells. There are some promising clinical trials in which treatment with vitamin D either slowed progression of fibroid growth or decreased fibroid volume. (Ciebiera et al., 2020) So maintaining optimal levels of vitamin D is an important part of a holistic approach.

The best way to ensure adequate vitamin D is sunlight exposure. It’s worthwhile to have your physician test your vitamin D levels and they may recommend supplementation. You can learn more about optimal vitamin D levels and supplementation in

Anti-inflammatories and antioxidants

Like many disease processes inflammation and oxidative stress play an important role. The good news is that we can get loads of anti-inflammatories and antioxidants in our food. Eat a whole food diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables (they can be cooked, when appropriate. Just make sure you’re starting out with whole, fresh food). Try to eat two or more servings with every meal and get a variety of colors each day. Culinary herbs are loaded with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds so incorporate them into your diet generously. Check out the beautifully illustrated

Crucifers and fiber

Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli kale and cabbage stimulate our natural detoxification and elimination processes, and in doing so they facilitate the metabolism and elimination of hormones which will help improve estrogen/progesterone balance. Soluble fiber, like the type found in oats and flax seeds increases levels of a protein called sex hormone binding globulin, or SHBG, which binds excess estrogen, making it inactive.

Herbal Protocols

Here I will outline the goals of an herbal protocol for uterine fibroids and while I can offer some examples of herbs that could help accomplish those goals, this is not a suggestion for a formula.

Goals of western herbal protocol for uterine fibroids:

Promote healthy estrogen/progesterone balance. Excess estrogen seems to be the driving factor under which the other factors come together to contribute to fibroid development and growth. Examples of herbs that might be considered include chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus), white peony (Paeonia lactiflora) and black cohosh (Actea racemosa) are common choices in western herbal medicine.

I

mprove metabolism and elimination of hormones. This contributes healthy hormone balance. Examples include dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale) and Schisandra (Schisandra sinensis).

Improve uterine tone and reduce heavy menstrual bleeding (if present). Uterine tonics like raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus) and motherwort (Leonorus cardiaca), and uterine astringents like Yarrow (Achillea millefoleum) or lady’s mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris)

Improve pelvic circulation. Cinnamon (Cinnamomum spp.) is a classic herb for encouraging healthy pelvic circulation.

Since fibroids are a complex condition and there are many herbs that could serve each of the functions mentioned above and choice of specific herbs and effective combinations depend on your unique circumstances. I encourage you to work with a qualified herbalist to help you sort through contributing influences and design the right herbal protocol for you. Check out

Hope this Helps!

References

Romm, Aviva Jill. (2018) Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health 2nd Edition: Elsevier, Inc

Bone, K., & Mills, S. (2013). 1—Herbal therapeutic systems. In Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy (Second Edition). Churchill Livingstone.

Trickey, R. (2011). Women, Hormones and the Menstrual Cycle. Trickey Enterprises (Victoria) Pty, Limited.

Ciebiera, M., Ali, M., Prince, L., Jackson-Bey, T., Atabiekov, I., Zgliczyński, S., & Al-Hendy, A. (2020). The Evolving Role of Natural Compounds in the Medical Treatment of Uterine Fibroids. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 9(5). https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm9051479

Renata is a clinical herbalist with a private practice in Greenbelt, MD. She helps women build a solid foundation of wellness while working together to address their unique health concerns so they can live life with vibrance and vitality. She has a BS in Chemistry from University of Maryland, a MS in Therapeutic Herbalism, and a Post Masters Certificate in Clinical Herbalism from Maryland University of Integrative Health. Find her at

,Menopausal/perimenopausal symptoms have you feeling anxious and run down?

Meadowsweet — by any other name?

Erin asks “Can Spiraea Alba) (also known as white meadowsweet) be used in the same herbal manner as Filipendula ulmaria (Queen of the Meadow/Meadowsweet)? Or are they greatly different in any distinctive herbal applications? After researching high and low, it seems as if Filipendula ulmaria is the only “meadowsweet” used in herbal applications today.

This is a great question because this is a very confusing plant! Although there are websites that say Spirea Alba has been used as a traditional medicine, I simply could not corroborate, in the over 15 books I have on herbal medicine, any medicinal use of Spiraea alba. In addition, ,I have searched the American Botanical Council database and nowhere, in its vast database, can I find anything on the use of ,Spiraea alba,. Of course there is so much literature on ,Filipendula ulmaria,, also known as ,Spirea ulmaria,, and commonly known as Queen of the Meadow, or meadowsweet as you pointed out.

,,Filipendula rubra,.

There is some information on Filipendula rubra, however. According to Daniel Moerman, author of Native American Ethnobotany, Filipendula rubra was used as a heart medicine and as a love potion. It’s interesting to see that in Native American culture, as well as other cultures, the physical heart and the emotional heart are linked.

Spiraea tomentosa.

Yet another relative, Spiraea tomentosa was also referred to as meadowsweet in the King’s American Dispensatory (Felter/Lloyd). The uses here were for summer diarrhea and as a tonic in cases of dysentery and diarrhea. It was thought to improve digestion as well so extremely similar to the uses of Filipendula ulmaria. (Page 1809, Vol II).

Finally there are some other spiraeas mentioned in A Modern Herbal by M. Grieve. Here is the link:

,Filipendula ulmaria,.

For those who aren’t familiar with meadowsweet (,Filipendula ulmaria,), it has long been used as a digestive aid and is often blended with chamomile and peppermint for a general upper and lower GI tonic. It too, has been used in acute cases of diarrhea or dysentery very similar to the above mentioned ,Spiraea tomentosa,.

Thanks for the interesting question! Jayne Tamburello, RH(AHG), LDN, CNS

An Herbalist’s thoughts on botanically-induced abortion

An ATH reader recently inquired about “herbal remedies that may help induce a miscarriage” because “I want to take care of womb space and have this experience not be so unnatural as it would be at the clinic.”

This is a sensitive and controversial topic that, as an herbalist, has been brought to my attention three times in as many months by potential clients. As such, recently I have spent considerable time pondering this topic. What follows is my personal position.

First, and most important, because something is considered “natural” does not automatically mean that it is “safe”. I reached out to my herbal peers for wisdom, and their general consensus is that using herbs to induce a miscarriage/abortion is particularly dangerous and requires proper training and experience by the practitioner.

While most of us learn about herbs that were traditionally used by indigenous or slave populations to terminate unwanted pregnancy, a method of safely doing so is not generally taught in modern curricula. A quick check for “herbal abortion” in my treasured, trusted resources (See References) came up dry in terms of direction on how to safely induce an abortion. There was only discussion on how to use herbs to prevent a threatened miscarriage or support the body and mind post-abortion.

When asked if I could assist herbally with an abortion, I knew from a training standpoint that I was not qualified. But the question opened up a greater, ethical question of whether I would be comfortable assisting even if I could. In the general sense, I am strongly pro-choice as I just cannot fathom having someone make a deeply personal, heartbreaking decision for someone else.

As a woman, I also get my own choice. Personally, I would not choose abortion. But the question of whether I would help facilitate abortion in another has never come up until now. To answer that question I searched deep into my heart and spoke with fellow herbalists. Ultimately, I determined that I would not, on personal belief, assist with this process. Every woman and herbalist are free to make the decision that is best for them; this is where I stand.

Having said that, it’s important to mention another point that came up in my peer conversations. In recent months, the legality of abortion is being threatened in some areas of the United States. Historically, women turned to herbalists and other alternative practitioners when the medical system had failed them. In the case where a botanical option facilitated by a trained herbalist was the ONLY option, perhaps that would change the landscape in terms of who would be willing to assist.

Not long ago the idea of abortion being illegal in the United States would have been farfetched. In today’s uncertain, turbulent times, it seems that anything could happen. But for now, the best, safest means of having an abortion is to consult with your doctor or abortion clinic for properly trained, safe assistance.

In closing, I offer up a few herbs that may be beneficial post-abortion:

Uterine tonics:

1. Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus)

2. Red raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus)

Female hormone balancers:

1. Black cohosh (Actaea racemose)

2. Chaste tree berry (Vitex agnus-castus)

Nervines (calming in stressful times)

1. Milky oats (Avena sativa) – see my

2. Scullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)

3. Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) – another prior

Finally, for overall women’s health, chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is a nurturing herb that calms the mind, digestion, reproductive organs, skin (topically).

References:

McQuade Crawford, A. (1997), Herbal Remedies for Women, Three Rivers Press.

Romm, A. (2010), Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health, Churchill Livingstone.

Trickey, R. (2003), Women, Hormones, and the Menstrual Cycle (Herbal and Medical Solutions from Adolescence to Menopause), Second Edition, Allen and Unwin.

BIO:

Donna Koczaja, M.S., RH(AHG) graduated from Maryland University of Integrative Health (formerly Tai Sophia Institute) with a Master of Science in Therapeutic Herbalism and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Clinical Herbalism. She earned Registered Herbalist status from the American Herbalists’ Guild in 2018. Originally educated as a mechanical engineer, she combines the rigor of her original scientific training with the traditional healing art of herbal medicine to partner with her clients to uncover the root cause of their underlying health issues. Also a Master Gardener since 2008, her primary interest is in inspiring others to improve their health and sense of wellbeing through the joys of gardening and the power of natural medicine.

Donna currently practices at the MUIH Natural Care Center in Laurel, Maryland and also does virtual consultations.Read more about her, what she does, and why she does it at

Can Cabbage Juice Heal an Ulcer?

,Image by

An ATH reader asks if cabbage juice can heal a medication-induced ulcer.

Before we get to cabbage, it is important to be under the care of a qualified health professional if you have an active ulcer, and I encourage you to seek care if you have not already done so. And be sure to avoid caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods during your healing process.

With that said, let’s talk about cabbage juice.

Studies conducted from the 1930s through the 1950s demonstrated that the juice of cabbage leaves prevented the development of new ulcers and healed existing ulcers faster than the standard therapy of the time.

The healing effect of cabbage juice was attributed to an unidentified substance in cabbage leaves that, at the time, was dubbed vitamin U. We now know that “vitamin U” is actually s-methylmethionine, a derivative of the amino acid methionine that prevents damage to, and promotes healing of, the lining of the digestive tract.

These studies wouldn’t meet the rigor we expect today, nevertheless they do provide convincing evidence that cabbage juice does indeed speed the healing of gastric ulcers. The main difficulty in the human trials was compliance. Most patients found the cabbage juice unpalatable, even objectionable. The treatment required drinking a liter of juice in divided doses each day and many patients did not complete the trials.

Fortunately, cabbage juice is not the only option to support healing of an ulcer. Here are a few herbs that can help.

Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) Due to its anti-inflammatory, astringent, and antacid properties, meadowsweet helps protect and heal the upper GI mucosal lining. Meadowsweet was traditionally used to treat upper GI maladies, including ulcers and gastric reflux and while no human trials exist, contemporary animal studies support traditional use.

Calendula (Calendula officinalis) has anti-inflammatory and vulnerary properties; It promotes regeneration of the epithelial tissue that forms the outer layer of our skin and the lining of hollow organs, like the stomach. Numerous contemporary studies confirm this activity.

Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) also has anti-inflammatory and vulnerary properties. Its antispasmodic and sedative properties soothe tension and anxiety and it is especially helpful when tension affects the digestive tract. Animal studies have demonstrated a protective effect against gastric ulcer formation.

Spearmint (Mentha spicata) Gentler than its cousin peppermint, spearmint is gently astringent and relieves nausea, which can sometimes accompany gastric ulcers.

A blend of 2 parts meadowsweet, and 1 part each of the other herbs should do nicely. You can blend a large batch and store it in a glass jar out of direct light. For daily use infuse ½ cup of the herb blend in 1 quart of covered, just boiled water for 20 minutes. Strain and drink in 8-12-ounce portions throughout the day. These herbs can be purchased in bulk from

Deglycyrrhized licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) Licorice has protective and healing action on the upper GI mucosal lining through increasing the levels of compounds that promote mucous secretion and tissue regeneration. Deglycyrrized licorice (DGL) is available in capsules. You might be able to find it at your local health food store and it can easily be ordered online. Take as directed on the bottle.

Safety note: Higher doses and long-term use of licorice can lead to water and sodium retention, loss of potassium and elevated blood pressure. The compounds responsible for these effects have been (mostly) removed from DGL though a small amount remains.

Hope this helps!

Have a question?

Cheney, G. (1949). RAPID HEALING OF PEPTIC ULCERS IN PATIENTS RECEIVING FRESH CABBAGE JUICE. California Medicine, 70(1), 10–15.

Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy. (2013). Elsevier. https://doi.org/10.1016/C2009-0-48725-7

Renata is a clinical herbalist with a private practice in Greenbelt, MD. She helps women build a solid foundation of wellness while working together to address their unique health concerns so they can live life with vibrance and vitality. She has a BS in Chemistry from University of Maryland, a MS in Therapeutic Herbalism, and a Post Masters Certificate in Clinical Herbalism from Maryland University of Integrative Health. Find her online at

Fire and Ice, Livermore.

Question submitted by Edwin,:

,Asking for suggestions for liver cancer.

The liver is the largest solid organ of the human body and a powerful organ that performs numerous functions for our body. It is the principal blood filtering organ and a powerhouse for the conversion nutrients, production of bile for digestion, storage of glucose, management of blood clotting, clearance of metabolic biproducts and toxins. As such, the liver is exposed to the best and the worst compounds and must sort them out to maintain good vitality. The very redundancy of the organ makes it resilient to repeated cellular damage until it reaches a tipping point. Only approximately 2% of liver cancer originates in the liver. In most cases the liver cancer it has started somewhere else in the body and has taken hold in its secondary location through metastasis. This is generally an indication of an aggressive cancer.

Liver cancer is a serious and life-threatening disease. You have to take take appropriate measures in strict consultation with your doctor, be it conventional therapy or herbal remedies. Taking any herbal supplements should be vetted through your medical team to be sure not to cause adverse herb-drug interactions. Great care must be taken to not potentiate medical therapies by use of herbs that have similar mechanism of action as pharmaceutical drugs (conventional therapies).

Ideally, herbs should only be taken after peak levels of drugs have passed; this information can be provided by your medical team. It helps to have the support of family and friends. Get the prognosis of your case from your doctor and plan for all eventualities.

As the liver is the main organ of filtration and digestion, many strong hepatic herbs are contraindicated in the case of liver cancer as the bile duct may be compromised. That means avoid strong bitter herbs. ,Presented here are a list of single herbs that could be used in an herbal protocol.

· Mild hepatic support herbs: Burdock root, dandelion root, turmeric, diet rich in brassica family (cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts), caraway seeds.

· Hepato-protective herb: Milk Thistle (,Silybum marianum,), Artichoke leaf (,Cynara)

· Hepato-detox support herb: Buplurem, Danshen (,salvia miltiorrhiza,) Baikal skullcap, schizandra berry, globe artichoke, diet rich in vitamin B3, B1 & C, citrus fruits, rosemary, St. John’s wort.

Generally speaking, follow these recommendations:

· Collaborate & communicate with your physician(s).

· Introduce dietary changes: increased brassicas, increase citrus and legumes.

· Herbal supplements may need to change during treatment to address therapeutic side-effects. Starting at low dosage. Take milk thistle capsules at off peak times. Changes include dietary changes, reduce animal protein, increase legumes.

· Only introduce herbs at off peak of drug therapies.

· Hot or warm water infusions may be best way to take herbs.

In addition, a review of 876 journal publications on herbal supplements and treatment for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) found 100 articles worth including in a therapeutic summary. Briefly, the most successful phytochemicals used in the treatment or in vitro studies against HCC include: Curcumin (derived from turmeric), Resveratrol (derived from grape peel), Silibinin (derived from milk thistle) and Tanshinone (derived from ,salvia miltiorrhiza,). See reference 4 below from Yi and Martin.

,References

1. Hoffmann; Medical Herbalism, Healing Arts Press, 2003

2. Mills & Bone; Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy, Churchhill Livingston, 2000

3. The Complete Natural Medicine Gude to Breast Cancer, Robert Rose, 2003

4. Li & Martin; Herbal Medicine and Hepatocellular Carcinoma: Applications and Challenges; Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011; 2011: 541209. Published online 2011 Feb 20. doi: 10.1093/ecam/neq044

,Judith Fox Smith, MS, is the founder of Foxsmyth Herbal, in Stoneham, MA. Judy is a biological research scientist and clinical herbalist. She is the founder and past president of the Eastern PA chapter of American Herbalist Guild, the Herb Gatherers of Lansdale, PA and past Vice President of San Antonio Herb Society. She combines her knowledge of biology and botany with her passion to provide practical herbal and lifestyle recommendations for a holistic balance in today’s techno-driven world.

At Ask The Herbalists, your questions are answered for free by professional herbalists, with advanced degrees. Ask us a question! Tell your friends about us! Donate to support our work to create an online space for reliable information on herbal medicine.

,Before I came to know you, love,

,Little my life was worth to me.

,I prize it now all things above,

,And wish long in this world to be.

,Fujuwara-no Yoshitaka

Herbal Supplements and Birth Control

We’ve received a few questions recently about interactions between herbs and hormonal birth control, so I’ll address them all here.

Erica would like to use Shakeology but wonders if some of its herbal ingredients – ashwaganda (Withania somnifera), reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), and chaga (,Inonotus obliquus) – are safe to use together and if they might interfere with the Xulane patch she is using since an ashwagandha-containing supplement interfered with a birth control pill in the past.

Rachel would like to use a supplement called Mental Clarity but has read that the rhodiolia it contains will decrease the effectiveness of the birth control pill that she is taking.

And Lori is concerned that the ashwagandha supplement she uses will interfere with the progesterone only birth control pill that she takes.

The main types of interactions that hormonal contraceptives are vulnerable to are with substances that affect detoxification enzymes in the liver and substances that affect levels of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), a protein that transports hormones through the bloodstream.

The relevant interaction for botanicals is the one related to liver detoxification enzymes, so let’s focus on that. Hormones are broken down through detoxification pathways in the liver, which employ a family of enzymes called cytochrome P450 or CYP for short. The specific enzyme that breaks down hormones so they can be excreted is called CYP3A4. Any substance that affects the activity of CYP3A4 can interfere with hormonal contraceptives. If CYP3A4 activity is inhibited the result is too much drug in the bloodstream, if CYP3A4 activity is induced the result is too little drug in the bloodstream. The main concern with herbs and hormonal contraceptives is St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), which is a potent inducer of CYP3A4 activity.

Ashwaganda, reishi, chaga, and rhodiola are not known to interact with CYP450 enzymes or SHBG, so I wouldn’t expect them to interfere with hormonal birth control. A quick internet search suggests that these concerns stem from a misunderstanding of herbal adaptogenic activity in the body. Adaptogens have a general normalizing effect, primarily resulting from modulation of the neuro-endocrine stress response. This can have an indirect, normalizing effect on the reproductive system and other body systems but is not known to alter the levels or activity of birth control.

An important caveat: Every body is different. If you and/or your physician believe that an herb has interfered with your birth control in the past it is reasonable to think it could interfere with your current prescription and it would be advisable to avoid it.

You may also be interested this

Renata is a clinical herbalist with a private practice in Greenbelt, MD. She helps women build a solid foundation of wellness while working together to address their unique health concerns so they can live life with vibrance and vitality. She has a BS in Chemistry from University of Maryland, a MS in Therapeutic Herbalism, and a Post Masters Certificate in Clinical Herbalism from Maryland University of Integrative Health. Find her at

No period? No problem!

ATH thanks Theresa for asking: “What is the best herb for a 24 year old female for amenorrhea due to low body weight, low body fat, with very poor eating habits?” “Amenorrhea” is a fancy word for a woman (of childbearing age) not having her period over at least several months. As noted in the question, sometimes low body weight/fat can cause this condition because resources are being conserved. Still, there are many other potential causes of amenorrhea, and Dr. Aviva Romm reminds us in her excellent book that it is a symptom of an imbalance and not a disease in itself. From an herbal medicine perspective, to select an appropriate strategy one must do a little detective work to uncover potential causes. For the purpose of the rest of this discussion, I will assume that pregnancy and/or a serious medical problem is NOT the cause of amenorrhea and focus on low body weight. If a serious medical issue is suspected, please seek assistance from a trusted medical professional. I appreciated the note in the question about ‘poor eating habits’, because it provides an opportunity for the young woman to be empowered to take personal action toward improving her condition. Unfortunately, there is no herb to compensate for ‘poor eating habits’, so my first recommendation would be to review the diet and perhaps work with a certified nutritionist or dietician for an appropriate food plan. In conjunction with reviewing the diet I would explore why this woman has low body weight/body fat. Is stress, anxiety, or depression involved? Is she an athlete? Is there suspected (reproductive) hormonal imbalance? An eating disorder? Some other medical condition such as hyperthyroidism? The latter two possibilities require assistance from a medical practitioner to diagnose the cause, but the remainder can be explored with an herbalist directly. If stress is a possibility, refer to this ATH post by my friend and excellent herbalist Renata that provides plenty of diet, lifestyle, and herbal strategies to balance mood. For an ‘undernourished’ scenario, in conjunction with a robust diet strategy, there are some particularly nutritive herbs that can build vitality and strengthen the body as a whole. Burdock root (Arctium lappa) – contains polysaccharides and inulin which are nutritious energy sources. Burdock is also known as a ‘blood cleanser’ that can help remove toxins as well as support digestion and absorption of fats Milky oats spikelets (Avena sativa) – also rich in polysaccharides, oats is known as an overall body tonic as well as for general or nervous exhaustion (I like to call it a “hug in a cup”) Stinging nettles herb (Urtica dioica) – high in several essential minerals, including magnesium, calcium, potassium, iron, and manganese Yarrow herb (Achillea millefolium) – another body tonic, with an affinity to balance blood in the body (either over or underproduction) All of these herbs would be lovely in a tea format, so steep up and drink up! Finally, if other disorders can be ruled out or the above diet, lifestyle, and nourishing herbs are insufficient, there are several herbs that are known to encourage reproductive hormone-balancing to assist in recommencing menses. Please note that this is not where I would start, as a whole body solution will be most effective in restoring balance in the long term. Black cohosh root (Actaea racemosa) – a traditional hormone modulator used to relieve symptoms of menopause. Aviva Romm indicates that while black cohosh is NOT an estrogen, it does appear to exhibit estrogenic activity. This may be useful in normalizing the menstrual cycle. Chaste tree berry (Vitex agnus-castus) – another traditionally-used hormone modulator which is shown to influence prolactin as well as progesterone production over time. Dong quai root (Angelica chinensis) – used extensively in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), dong quai is indicated for conditions of ‘blood stasis’ (deficiency) and has been clinically noted to increase blood flow during menses. Reference: Romm, A. (2010), Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health, Churchill Livingstone. BIO: Donna Koczaja, M.S., RH(AHG) graduated from Maryland University of Integrative Health (formerly Tai Sophia Institute) with a Master of Science in Therapeutic Herbalism and a Post-Master’s Certificate in Clinical Herbalism. She earned Registered Herbalist status from the American Herbalists’ Guild in 2018. Originally educated as a mechanical engineer, she combines the rigor of her original scientific training with the traditional healing art of herbal medicine to partner with her clients to uncover the root cause of their underlying health issues. Also a Master Gardener since 2008, her primary interest is in inspiring others to improve their health and sense of wellbeing through the joys of gardening and the power of natural medicine. Donna currently practices at the MUIH Natural Care Center in Laurel, Maryland and also does virtual consultations. Read more about her, what she does, and why she does it at www.greenhavenherbalist.com, or contact her directly at donna@greenhavenherbalist.com or 240-353-8754.

Under active thyroid in mother.

Missy writes: My mom has an under active thyroid. I have purchased ashwagandha, brahmi, and bladderwrack in powdered form. I’m looking for advice on dosages, & any other suggestions. She is not currently on any other medications. Thanks for your question. An under-active thyroid is not uncommon in post menopausal women; however, I am not sure how you’ve determined that her thyroid is under-active nor what symptoms she might be experiencing thus making your question difficult to answer. If she has not been seen by her doctor this is where I would start. They should recommend that she have a complete blood panel done as many factors can influence the thyroid and cause secondary hypothyroidism. Her doctor will also check to see if there is a lack of iodine in her diet and do a physical exam to see if she may have a goiter. Some hypothyroidism is due to an autoimmune issues, so it’s very important that she consult her doctor to find the root cause. Next I would ask if she is under a stress. Stress can definitely affect all aspects of the body and could indirectly affect the thyroid. Herbs known as adaptogens might be helpful in this case. This would include (as you mentioned), but not limited to ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), holy basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum), a/k/a tulsi. There are two wonderful books on adaptogens which I’ve listed below. (1) Weight gain can be a function of an underachieve thyroid. She should make sure that she eats a nutritious diet and gets daily exercise if possible. Again, I have listed several helpful books. (2) Good luck. (1) Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief by David Winston and Steven Maimes Adaptogens in Medical Herbalism by Donald Yance (2) The Thyroid Diet Revolution by Mary J. Shomon Menopausal Years, the Wise Woman Way, by Susan S. Weed Is Your Thyroid Making You Fat? by Sanford Siegal, DO, MD Jayne Tamburello has a master’s degree in Herbal Medicine from Maryland University of Integrative Health (MUIH) and is the founder of Invibe Herbal, THE one-stop shop for healthy, organic herbal tea blends. Please visit our website at: www.invibeherbal.com. Jayne is also a licensed nutritionist (LDN), a certified nutritionist specialist (CNS) and a registered herbalist with the American Herbalist Guild, RH(AHG). She can be reached customercare@invibeherbal.com.

A different type of weight loss “pyramid”

With all the choices out there, eating healthy and losing weight can be a challenge. Therefore, I have put together a food pyramid to help make sense of it all. I’ve added my name to this one in order to differentiate it from the one the USDA (US Department of Agriculture) puts out. If you follow this pyramid, you most likely will lose weight and support proper blood sugar levels. I would also recommend consuming herbal teas depending on your goal (weight loss, stress reduction, etc.). One of the benefits of this pyramid is that the longer you stay on it, the more you will find that your desire for sweets, alcohol and baked goods will decrease. Good luck!! Jayne Tamburello has a master’s degree in Herbal Medicine from Maryland University of Integrative Health (MUIH) and is the founder of Invibe Herbal, THE one-stop shop for healthy, organic herbal tea blends. Please visit our website at: www.invibeherbal.com. Jayne is also a licensed nutritionist (LDN), a certified nutritionist specialist (CNS) and a registered herbalist with the American Herbalist Guild, RH(AHG). She can be reached customercare@invibeherbal.com.