Archive for May, 2011

I remember when I was pregnant all I could think about was labor. I was fascinated and frightened by birth. How in the world would I manage to get another human being out of my body? Birth seemed like the ultimate challenge, the ultimate transformation. I spent months poring over books trying to prepare myself mentally and spiritually. In the end my experience of birth was one of deep surrender and power. When I finally held my child in my arms, I felt as though I had gone through an incredible journey.

Then my midwife put my first daughter on my breast and that little girl latched on for dear life; I was immediately put on notice that we were embarking on another powerful journey. In all my preparation for birth I had barely read a word about breastfeeding. I took for granted that since it was natural it would be easy. But I learned that breastfeeding was work. I think half of the work of breastfeeding is making sure that we are well-rested, well-fed and hydrated. Many of us have a hard time taking good care of ourselves before we have children and after we have them…well, the center of our worlds shift.

Below is my list of seven herbs that supported me through over four years of nursing. Most of these herbs are not specifically related to breastfeeding, they are about making sure that we get the nutrients and nourishment that we need.  Then while we are taking our first steps in a new dance with a newborn, our bodies can go about the work of producing good breast milk.

Nursing Mother’s Care Package:

Fenugreek (Trigonellaum foenumgraecum)-These bitter seeds did such a great job at boosting my milk supply that I had to stop taking them at one point! I prepared them by putting a teaspoon of them in a cup and pouring just-boiled water over them. I let this sit for about 15 minutes.

Oat Straw (Avena sativa)- In her book, Family Herbal, Rosemary Gladstar writes “Oats provide energy by increasing our overall health and vitality.” Indeed. Oat straw does wonders for our nervous systems, it’s mineral rich and deeply nourishing.  It’s great for the skin and hair and has a reputation for boosting the libido. It’s one of my favorite herbs to drink. I prepare this as an infusion, using one part herb to five parts just-boiled water and letting it sit overnight. (I do this with the next three herbs on the list as well.)

Stinging Nettles (Urtica Dioica)-This herb has been my best friend ever since I started drinking it. Packed with iron, calcium, protein, potassium and more vitamins than I can name, nettles are a busy woman’s best friend. This plant works wonders for our entire bodies and I can’t extol its healing virtues enough. I know that my energy level has been profoundly changed by the presence of nettles in my life.

Dandelion leaves and blossoms (Taraxacum Officianale)-I adore dandelion. I think I had the energy to care for two young children, run a household, take herbal classes and write a booklet on mothering largely because of my regular infusions of dandelion and nettle leaves. Dandelion leaves contain potassium, iron, clacium and are rich in vitamins A,B,C,D. Dandelion also helps keep things moving in our lymph systems.

I once had an incredible experience using home made dandelion blossom oil on a blocked duct. I had been following the standard advice for dealing with a blocked duct: I nursed my daughter on the blocked breast first, I showered with warm water and tried to unblock the area with massage but to no avail. The breast was still hard and still hurting. Finally, I massaged a small amount of dandelion blossom oil on the swollen part of my breast and lay down to rest. When I woke up and nursed my daughter again, the swelling and pain went away. Just like that!

Red Clover Blossoms (Trifolium Pratense)-This herb is well-known for its anti-cancer properties. It is also refreshing, hormone balancing, rich in calcium and protein. These cheerful blossoms were a sweet ally for me when I was nursing. But under no circumstances should anyone with thin blood or on blood thinners use it.

Fennel (Foenicullum vulgare)- I added this tasty seed to my rotation of herbal teas when my baby was colicky. Not only was it  a delicious digestive aid,  it also helped increase my milk supply. I made fennel tea the same way I did the fenugreek tea.

Sage (Salvia officinalis)-Drinking simple tea from sage or using it as a ticnture will decrease or dry up your milk supply. I used a sage tincture when I was going to be away from my daughter for almost three days. Although she was two, she was still nursing frquently. My teacher, Robin, suggested I take sage tincture every few hours to keep the milk supply in check until I got home. It worked fantastically! No engorgement or painful breasts and when I got home my milk flowed as usual. This experience taught me a lot about the power of intentions when using herbs as well.

Mamas, I wish you deep joy, abundant rest and flowing breastmilk.

What herbs have you used during breastfeeding?

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“In order to plant you have a have a free spirit,” my neighbor said to me recently. Something about the statement resonated. I am a born and raised city dweller. Working with the earth, honoring her seasons and cycles, knowing what grows and when it grows never seemed like a necessity. The supermarket carried peaches and apples all year round. carrots, greens and broccoli were always on the shelves. Organic? Local? Farming? Huh?

Last year I managed two farmers’ markets. During that time I ate what was in season, tried vegetables and fruit that I’d never heard of, tasted fresh tomatoes, took home greens that didn’t pass out as soon as they hit the refrigerator, and saw what broccoli looks like before all its leaves are cut away. It was an incredible education. I worked with the very people who planted, harvested, transported and  sold the food my neighbors and I were eating. I was amazed by their hard work, in awe of the flavors of the food, and saddened by how divorced I had been from the entire process of how food gets from the soil to our plates.

What does this have to do with herbs? Well, so many of our ailments have their roots in the supermarket. When I started paying more attention to what I ate, my first rule was that if I couldn’t pronounce something on the label, I’d put it back. Now I tend to say that if it has a label, I probably won’t pick it up.

Having children makes me even more conscious of the foods I buy. How can I expect my child to behave in a classroom if she had a bowl full of sugar with milk for breakfast? Why are people shocked at childhood obesity and early onset of pubery when the children are being fed regular doses of hormones in their meat? And what about the drinks labeled juice? Just water, high fructose corn syrup and red #40. This stuff is piled high on the aisles of the supermarkets in my neighborhood.

I’ve watched folks in my family turn to doctors for help although healing could have been found in the kitchen. Maybe the cure was at the farmers’ market. The prescription might have been planting seeds in a community garden.

A few weeks ago I was in a greenhouse carefully planting basil and bok choy seeds. I walked back and forth getting water from a creek to water newly emerging plants. It felt like a homecoming. That night I ate kale and bok choy harvested from a friend’s garden. She is able to feed her family because she has a close relationship with the earth and this seems to me like one of the ultimate freedoms.

So this year while I vow to keep learning about herbs and have my hands in the earth more, I also want to figure out how to help improve the health of  my community. My local farmers’ market is located between two fast food joints. I guess there is more than one way to plant a seed.

How do you plant seeds of health in your community?

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