Herbal Medicine

St. John's Wort in flowerAs a skilled herbalist, with years of experience harvesting and preparing her own plant medicine, Linda understands women’s desires to use natural means to treat conditions amenable to alternative therapies. As a nurse practitioner with full prescriptive privileges, Linda can assist women in choosing options for the best possible outcomes, including prescription medications, natural remedies, vitamins, nutritional supplementation and innovative first aid.

Latin Name(s):
Calendula officinalis
Common Name(s):
Pot Marigold
antiseptic, styptic, vulnerary

If you have beautiful orange and yellow calendula flowers blooming in your garden, now is the time to make medicine! Even a couple of handfuls of fresh blossoms stuffed into an 8 oz. glass jar and covered with 65% grain alcohol will provide enough calendula tincture to experiment with, using it liberally for first aid and observing its well established healing properties. Making a pint will be beneficial if you have chronic conditions to treat. Making a quart, if you have enough blossoms, will provide your family with tincture for several years.

Calendula will tincture out well in 65% grain alcohol; I like to use a 75% solution. When making a tincture, be sure the alcohol covers all of the plant material. Tightly cap your jar and place in a cool, dark cupboard for 2-3 weeks. You may shake it occasionally, or just leave it to steep during this time. Strain the finished medicine through cheesecloth and place in tincture bottles labeled with date, alcohol percentage, ratio of plant material to alcohol, and location of harvest.

If you prefer you can make calendula salve. Measure out 2-3 ozs. of a natural oil (like olive, sesame, or almond) in a non-metal pot. Place oil on LOW for a few minutes. Place one petal of calendula into the oil and see if it sizzles. (If it does, the oil is too hot. For good medicine, you do not want to fry your plant materials.) When a petal tossed into the oil just wilts without sizzling, then toss in plenty of fresh or dried blossoms and heat on low for an hour or two. Remove blossoms, squeezing out all the oil, and discard. Add grated beeswax, 1 tbsp to every 1 oz (30 cc) of warm oil and let the beeswax melt down on low heat. Remove from heat, pour into your container(s) of choice (preferably non-metal), label, and refrigerate. This salve will keep quite nicely unrefrigerated for several weeks, but keeping it refrigerated extends its availability for use throughout the year.

So what is this wonderful medicine best used for? Dilute some tincture in warm water, soak a cloth in this, and apply to sprains. Apply full strength to varicosities and bruises; try it on spider angiomas. Apply to wasp or bee stings. Swab the excoriated or irritated penis or vulva with diluted tincture using just a finger or a cotton ball, or use it to heal stitches in the skin or mucus membranes. Try the tincture on herpes simplex ulcerations. If applied liberally with frequency it will cut healing time in half. If applied to a herpes chancre at the very initial onset, and the diet and stress level improve, it can prevent the further development of the lesion.

Use the salve regularly on sore nipples, chapped hands and lips, dotty-type diaper rash, or to poorly healing scar tissue. The salve is useful applied to burns if you have no aloe vera around. It's hemostatic effect is useful in tooth extraction. Other uses include infusion of calendula internally to induce perspiration, break fevers, reduce dysmennorhea, treat stomach ulcers, and externally to treat conjunctivitis, bleeding hemorrhoids, and burns. If you have calendula around when preparing a sitz bath, toss it in.

Calendula officinalis is bushy and grows to about 2 feet, with a somewhat sticky quality to its greenery and brilliant flowers which open and close with the sunlight. It is a hardy annual and easy to grow, germinating in about 4-6 days. Calendula's odor is faint, and its taste is slightly bitter. It should not be confused with the common garden marigold, which is an African variety effective against insect pests. I would advise growing calendula away from your vegetables, as it reseeds itself liberally and will take over garden areas in subsequent years (although it is easy to pull out). Collecting seed in the fall is easy and packets of seed make nice gifts. As a midwife and herbalist I like to remember calendula's beneficial properties in medical terms: antiseptic, anti inflammatory, spasmolytic, antihemorrhagic, styptic, vulnerary. Very good medicine!

Latin Name(s):
Urtica dioica
Common Name(s):
Nettles, Stinging Nettles
pectoral, diuretic, astringent, tonic, styptic, rubifacient

Nettles are supreme weeds that offer us nourishment and inner body toning for a healthier life. This lovely plant provides an abundance of necessary nutrients and is a wonderful tonic and vitamin supplement for the pregnant woman. Do encourage women of any age to drink nettle tea. For pregnant women, the ideal combination is nettle and red raspberry leaves, steeped about 30 minutes, made fresh daily. Encourage your clients to drink nettle tea throughout their pregnancy and postpartum period, as it promotes the production of breastmilk and is an excellent source of assimilable iron, complete with abundant vitamin C. Nettles are also high in vitamin A, vitamin K, calcium, protein, chlorophyll, and dietary fiber. They can be steamed and eaten as a dark leafy green, as well.

Nettles' diuretic properties are effective in treating edema and they have a mild tendency to lower blood sugar. They tone the liver, adrenals and kidneys, and are wisely used in treating anemia. Their styptic quality can be effective on postpartum hemorrhage as well as excessive menstrual flow. This can be accomplished by drinking strong infusions of the dried leaf.

Recent success has been documented using freeze dried nettles in treating hay fever. Effective in treating dandruff, nettles can be steeped before your shower and used as a final rinse, for healthy glowing hair. Nettles can also be used as a rubifacient in treating arthritic joints, rubbing the fresh leaves on the painful area. In a nutshell, nettles truly represent one of the most powerful and expansive healers of the nourishing herbs.

Nettles are a deep green with serrated leaf edges and have a soft appearance. They are found growing throughout North America, Europe, Asia, and parts of Africa. They like partial shade as well as full sunlight and prefer moist, nitrogen-rich soil, growing 3-5 feet in the wild. In the patch I harvest, they grow to 6 feet due to their location in an irrigated sheep pasture. In the Northwest, nettles for drying are best harvested in mid April to mid June. They can be gathered to eat steamed when even younger, and up until the leaves begin yellowing with maturity. Nettle stalks can also be used like flax to make cloth. However, nettles harbor heavy metals and toxins if they are growing near dumps or in soil with contaminants. Be careful that you harvest nettles in a clean ecosystem, or ingesting them could add toxins to your body.

Nettles are an incredibly viable food source and if your neighborhood patch becomes over-picked or eradicated you may want to grow some in the corner of your yard. As painful as these plants are when they come in contact with the skin, it can be remembered that their nourishing qualities far outweigh their sting. I try to think that nettles' sting is there to alert us very smartly of their presence, so we will remember to come back for the harvest! If you do brush against them with your bare skin, the stinging hairs on the leaves and stems will only cause a mild sensation in the moment, but within minutes the skin becomes reddened and an intense, tingly, and quite unpleasant burning sensation will persist for hours. If you get stung, look for dock or plantain growing nearby and chew and apply these weed leaves to the sting for moderate relief in the present.

For the past few years I have made a point of inviting different women friends along to harvest nettles. My love of being outdoors and sharing friendships is heightened by the ritual of my annual nettle harvest. Be sure to go forth into the woods and fields well prepared. Avoiding the sting requires conscious attentiveness in the entirety of the process. Wear an extra-long sleeved shirt with button cuffs. Take medium to heavy gloves that have cuffs that can be covered with the tightly buttoned shirt sleeves. Wrists seem most at risk for stings during harvest. Take a hand pruning shear, preferably with spring action. Utility scissors can be a substitute, but may not be as easy to use on the taller, more thickly stemmed plants. Wear long, medium weight pants, and socks long enough to protect your ankles. Nettles do seem to be able to penetrate thin material. Plan enough time to pick, wash, and hang your nettles in the same day, and stay protectively dressed during the entire process.

When harvesting nettles I cut where the leaves start looking shabby, with enough stem left to tie onto when I hang them up. While cutting, I place them stem end down into a large paper bag. When the bag is full I place another bag over the tops, to protect folks from being stung during transportation. At home I swish my nettles through a cold water rinse. Nettles seem to hide lots of little critters that come off easily with a quickie bath. Shake off excess water, move them to your prep table, and tie them in bundles of 3-5 stalks, staying gloved and cuffed at all times. Set some aside to steam fresh for dinner that night. Hang the rest to dry in a clean, dark, out-of-the-way place, assuring that no one will run into them by accident. The rich, pungent, deeply earthy aroma that exudes from drying nettles is one of my all-time favorite scents. Anything that smells this good has to be an incredible source of health!

When the nettles are crackly dry, glove up and, using scissors, cut the entire harvest into brown paper bags. Line dry another week, with bag tops well folded over and labeled. Most dry herbs can be stored in a paper bag, but they're better kept stuffed into glass gallons. Use nettles liberally every week when brewing tea for your entire family. The infusion is a rich dark green that turns to almost black if left to steep for hours.

For those enjoying hardy wild culinary delights try steaming the leaves, nipped off of the stems. The sting is totally disarmed when nettles are exposed to moist heat. Nettles are a tasty pot herb and can be cooked into soups or used as a cooked spinach substitute in dishes like lasagne, manicotti, or vegetable pot pie. Midwives are on the front line for guiding folks into healthier eating habits. Sometimes it's as easy as taking a short walk on the wild side. Here's to your health!

Dried Raspberry Leaves
Latin Name(s):
Rubus strigosus, Rubus idaeus
Common Name(s):
Red raspberry
astringent, alterative, nutritive, parturient, stimulant

Red Raspberry, a member of the Rose family, is renowned for it's beneficial effects upon pregnancy, and is recommended to pregnant women in China and Europe, as well as in North America. Raspberry leaves are rich in vitamins and minerals, especially calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, and vitamins B, C, and E. They contain an alkaloid known as fragerine which relaxes and strengthens the uterus and tones the pelvic muscles. In their toning action on the reproductive system, raspberry leaves promote an easier labor and delivery by reducing uterine tension and increasing uterine effectiveness.

Because raspberry leaf provides dual qualities as a mild stimulant and a gentle relaxant it has a regulating effect on the uterus. Raspberry remains one of the safest and most effective herbs for use in the entire course of pregnancy. A recommended usage of this tea is one cup three times daily in the first trimester, one to two cups three times daily in the second trimester, and two to three cups three times daily through the third trimester and postpartum. A few women have found that they are especially sensitive to red raspberry's toning effect in the first trimester and tend to have too much uterine stimulation. If red raspberry is being used and uterine cramping is experienced in the first trimester, it's best to lighten up or stop using this herb until later in the pregnancy. Raspberry can, however, have a reasonably good effect in preventing miscarriage and hemorrhage, so careful history taking and evaluation on the part of the care provider is important.

Raspberry's use as a galactogogue is related to it's high mineral content. It may be used independently to increase breast milk, or combined with other excellent galactagogues like fenugreek seed, nettles, hops, or blessed thistle. However, if a nursing mother drinking daily raspberry leaf tea comments that she is not making enough milk, discontinue raspberry leaf for about a week to determine if its astringent qualities are counteracting its milk producing qualities.

Several other beneficial uses of raspberry leaf infusion arise from its stature as a nourishing herb. An excellent source of calcium and vitamin C, it will enhance any person's dietary intake. Its astringent property is effective as a gargle or mouthwash, as well as for diarrhea in both children and adults. When caring for an ill child, brew up a pot of raspberry leaf tea and serve it throughout the day. As with raspberry tea in pregnancy, it can be used as a basic herbal infusion to which other medicinal herbs or tinctures may be added as needed.

Raspberry leaf has been associated with an increase in fertility in both men and women, may alleviate morning sickness when sipped before rising, may reduce menstrual cramping, can significantly reduce postpartum bleeding, can be combined with angelica root to facilitate delivery of the placenta, and can be employed as a gentle douche for leukorrhea. Raspberry can also be taken in capsule form, but in pregnancy it's very beneficial to hydrate the body regularly, so the preparation of a daily tea is a wise form of consumption.

European raspberry is Rubus idaeus, a common cultivated variety in this country. Other species include Rubus villosus, Rubus leucodermis, and the North American wild raspberry - Rubus strigosus, which, being wild, is generally more potent with a stronger flavor.

Raspberries grow from a perennial root, sending up erect spiny shoots called canes. Raspberry leaves are a bit hairy with irregular, serrated leaf edges; they are distinctly green on the upper side and frosty white underneath. When transplanting, space raspberry canes about 2 feet apart in the early spring in a sunny location. Add lots of compost. The year raspberries are planted they will not usually bear fruit, but with a reasonable amount of care they will provide an abundance of leaves and berries each subsequent summer season thereafter.

In the winter cut back the old cane, and in the early spring keep grass from choking them out. Several plant blights effect raspberries, as well as iron deficiency from over-alkaline soils. Add pine or fir needles or peat moss to lower the soil pH. Alkaline soils result in yellowing in the leaf veins. Funguses can discolor leaves as well. Curling and red and yellow mottling on the leaves can be indicative of mosaic disease. Remove any diseased plants from the patch and destroy.

If you already have access to a patch, harvest the leaves before the plants set flower in mid-spring. Since the berries are highly nutritious and a compliment to any diet, be careful not to harvest too many leaves. Take only a quarter of the leaves from any one cane, to protect plant productivity. Using scissors or spring-action nippers, snip the leaves into a bowl or paper bag. Screen drying is the best option for raspberry leaves, or they may be used fresh. The stalks are left well foliated to produce the berries, which are high in vitamin C and iron. Raspberries are delightfully easy for children to pick for their cereal in the mornings, and make spendid, nutrient-rich jam.

There has been an increase in interest in raspberry leaf and its role in pregnancy and parturition. I discovered midwifery students intent upon researching raspberry usage and outcomes for their master's degree requirements. This represents a sizable gain in the stature of herbs in the scientific/medical model. Midwives in general are becoming more aware of their capacity to heal within the natural world. Raspberry leaves are a mainstay component for pregnant women worldwide with that simple statement: Each one, teach one.