The best thing about having an herbalist husband is that every sneeze, cough, or headache I have is an opportunity for him to try out or perfect a remedy. Our greatest success so far has been in treating menstrual cramps, and I've learned quite a bit through the process. Calcium is an important mineral for women, not only in relation to menstruation but in pregnancy and throughout our lives. We hear all the time about how important calcium is for bone health, but it also has a huge impact on how women experience menstruation. Herbalist Susun Weed in her wonderful book Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year writes that calcium deficiencies are linked to backache, high blood pressure, painful labor and afterbirth pain. PMS and menstrual cramps are also related to a lack of calcium, and some have suggested that simply taking a supplement is enough to improve symptoms.
Though supplements may be useful, there are reasons why we use herbs instead of isolated supplements. One of those reasons is that there are all sorts of relationships between minerals, plants, foods overall, their effects, and so on, that are even more beneficial to the body than any one thing alone. In fact, without taking into account these connections and taking a supplement on its own, we may be putting ourselves at risk. As said husband reminded me the other day when we were discussing this issue, "the whole is more than the sum of its parts."
For example, calcium absorption is influenced by other factors, including stress and levels of vitamin C and magnesium.. Therefore, successful treatment for something like cramps should take into account and support these relationships. Raspberry leaf, which is recommended for use throughout pregnancy as well, contains easily assimilated calcium as well as vitamins C, B1 and B3, and E, as well as iron, phosphorus and magnesium, making it an exceptional women's friend. Nettle contains much of the same, as well as high levels of vitamin K.
So, we've been making teas from herbalist Rosemary Gladstar's book Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health. She recommends regularly drinking a calcium-rich tea of nettle, oatstraw, pennyroyal, horsetail, peppermint and raspberry beginning ten days before the onset of menstruation. This reduces the severity of cramps. When they do start, I'm ready with her cramp-relief formula. Not only does this relax cramping muscles, but it relaxes the rest of me (especially when the tea is very concentrated), and I sleep easily and very deeply.
It's easy to reach for a bottle of pills, but they may have unwanted or unknown side effects. Enormous benefit comes with learning how to heal ourselves and others, including the peace of mind and confidence of a practical awareness of our bodies.