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Exploring Womanhood
from Carol:
"For decades, standard-practice medicine has advocated some form of hormone replacement as an almost routine protocol for women transitioning through their menopausal journeys. Since April 2002, a series of pronouncements from the conventional medical community itself has shed a glaringly bright light onto this wholesale prescribing of pharmaceutical hormone therapy to address women's health. Women, as always, are left to their own best judgment as to their personal course." - Carol Trasatto

Recommended Reading:

*The Herbal Menopause Book: Herbs, Nutrition and Other Natural Therapies by Amanda McQuade Crawford

*The Complete Woman's Herbal: A Manual of Healing Herbs and Nutrition for Personal Well-Being and Family Care by Anne McIntyre.

*Herbal Healing for Women: Simple Home Remedies for Women of All Ages by Rosemary Gladstar

*New Menopausal Years, The Wise Woman Way: Alternative Approaches for Women 30-90 by Susun Weed

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Exploring Womanhood > Interviews

Exploring Womanhood Interviews
Carol Trasatto, herbalist

Herbalist Carol Trasatto been studying and practicing the healing plant arts for almost 25 years. Currently, she works several days a week at Radiance Herbs and Massage in Olympia, WA as an herbal educator and buyer. She also writes, maintains a private wellness counseling practice, teaches in the community, and works with interns on a tutorial basis.

Carol recently wrote a brief review of the new developments regarding hormone replacement therapy, which she has shared with us on Exploring Womanhood.

We have invited Carol to join us in a discussion about ways to benefit our ongoing health using natural plant-life. We may discuss using mineral-rich herbs to enhance bone and muscle strength, gentle teas and infusions to help lessen hot flashes, meditations and relaxation to calm our frazzled nerves and busy minds... and much more. Her caring nature, nurturing and giving spirit, and healthy knowledge of Mother Earth will give us some much needed direction so that we can begin our path toward healthier and more natural living.

Carol has a few more questions coming in and we'll update this page shortly. Many thanks to Carol Trasatto for joining us!

Jen: Hi Carol, My son turned two at the end of November and I am thinking about weaning because my nipples are very sensitive lately and I am feeling like I want my body back. My son seems ready and is beginning to be less interested. I was wondering if you know of any herb I can take to help with swelling and engorgement, and something that will help dry me up gradually, or if that's even a good idea to do that. The only reason I ask is that I am unsure of how much milk I have left even though my breasts are still pretty big. Thank you, Jen

Carol: Jen, one of the tried-and-true traditional remedies for weaning a babe is garden sage [Salvia officinalis]. One of its keynote uses is to lessen excess secretions throughout the body. Women have relied on it for generations. You can work with this as a simple tea or as a tincture diluted in a bit of water. A typical dose of 2-3 cups per day of the tea-or one dropperful of tincture 2-3 times per day-should be sufficient for you to see a gradual lessening of your milk supply. Eating fresh parsley on a daily basis is another simple way to reduce your milk flow in addition to supplying abundant nutrition!


EW Reader: Carol, I am starting my menopause journey. So far, so good. I've read Christiane Northrup's books and I can see that there are many benefits to "going natural." There are so many products springing up now on the market that I feel like companies are taking advantage of the new statements on HRT. It scares me. If I were to make my own herbal remedy for hot flashes and mood swings, where would I find good information?

Carol: We are blessed with so many wonderful books at this time that are penned by long-time practicing herbalists. Here are three of my favorites that would give you solid information on formulating an herbal remedy to address your sensations:

  1. The Herbal Menopause Book: Herbs, Nutrition and Other Natural Therapies by Amanda McQuade Crawford.
  2. The Complete Woman's Herbal: A Manual of Healing Herbs and Nutrition for Personal Well-Being and Family Care by Anne McIntyre.
  3. Herbal Healing for Women: Simple Home Remedies for Women of All Ages by Rosemary Gladstar.

Stella: Hello. I am 14 and have bad pms each month. Is there something to take for cramps that is natural? Thank you. Stella.

Carol: Stella, cramps most likely do not need to be a moontime experience for you. From an herbal perspective, there are two main ways to approach PMS and menstrual symptoms like uterine cramping. With cramping, one approach is to act directly on the uterine muscle itself, working with herbs with antispasmodic properties such as cramp bark [Viburnum opulus] or black haw [Viburnum prunifolium]. These plants act in the moment and can be taken repeatedly throughout the day when uterine spasms occur. They help moderate the acute discomfort, which can be a very good thing indeed. However, they don't address underlying factors-hormonal or otherwise-that are provoking the cramps in the first place. For that, we turn to tonifying herbs such as red raspberry leaf [Rubus idaeus], partridge berry [Mitchella repens], black cohosh [Cimicifuga racemosa], chastetree berry [Vitex agnus-castus], dong quai [Angelica sinensis] and other plants with affinity to female reproductive health. Tonics supporting the liver and nervous system may also be indicated.

Refer to Ann McIntyre's or Rosemary Gladstar's books listed above to fine-tune which plants are appropriate for you or, if new to natural healing, consult with an herbalist or naturopathic physician specializing in herbal therapies for personalized guidance.

Denise: I was wondering what is generally used for nasal congestion. I am also getting sinus headaches. I understand that most herbs on the market are over-harvested. I would like to stay away from those herbs (i.e. echinacea) for that reason. Any suggestions? I am not pregnant or nursing. Thanks! Denise

Carol: Addressing chronic nasal congestion and nasal headaches is one of those very multi-faceted and individualized explorations. First, we need to look at possible environmental provocations such as air-borne allergens like dust, mold, woodsmoke, pollens. Next, we need to consider possible dietary contributions, such as sensitivities to wheat, dairy, and so on. Having information from those two major perspectives, we can then tailor specific herbal and dietary and lifestyle suggestions. As with menstrual cramps discussed earlier, we can work to lessen acute discomfort but for long-term relief we need to look deeper. For short-term relief, try nasal rinse with a warm saline solution, inhalation of camphorous essential oils such as eucalyptus or pine-breathing vapors straight from the bottle or via drops of oil in steams, and herbal teas such as elder flower, eyebright, red raspberry leaf, sage, yarrow, peppermint, or ginger. In addition, try eliminating cow's milk dairy products as an experiment and see if that lessens your discomfort.

EW Reader: Which herbs are dangerous during pregnancy? Which are good during this time?

Carol: The question of using herbs during pregnancy is complex. The issue is most definitely not black and white. An herb which might be contraindicated during the first trimester might be appropriate in the third. Or an herb which might generally be avoided during an uneventful pregnancy still might be a more benign choice when compared to a drug prescribed to address an unexpected acute situation during pregnancy. Sometimes an herb capable of stimulating uterine contractions in high doses could be just the right medicine in a carefully administered smaller dose. Other variables include: the overall constitution and sensitivity of the woman, whether she has used herbs previously, whether this is her first pregnancy, the character of any previous pregnancies, what other options a woman is considering to address an acute situation, and so on. Women have eaten plants and have drunk herbal brews for thousands of years to strengthen them during pregnancy and prepare themselves for an easier birth. Healing plants are not to be feared during pregnancy, but used with knowledge, skill and discernment. Especially if you have not worked with herbs before, this is not a time to self-medicate. Enter into the stream of women's wisdom and find an experienced practitioner to help guide you in this.

There are multiple ways to think about herbs and pregnancy. Some women start regularly drinking infusions of red raspberry leaf, oatstraw, nettles, and other highly food-like herbs when they begin intentionally opening to conception. They are looking for the abundant nutrients in these plants to strengthen their uterine muscle, to build bone and mineral reserves, and to enhance their overall vitality. Some women begin such a routine once they have conceived. Others wait until the second or even the third trimester to work with these plants. If a woman has never worked with herbs before, and there are no specific needs to address such as nausea or a threatened miscarriage, some herbalists would recommend simply foregoing any new herbs during the first trimester. But for the common complaints of pregnancy-such as nausea, indigestion, constipation, fatigue, cramping, spasms, anxiety, sleeplessness, low iron, exposure to infectious disease, and so on, herbal remedies can be a blessing of the goddess. Some plants are typically reserved for the final weeks before birth to help ripen and prepare the mother's body for labor.

Having said all that, let me summarize by saying that lists of herbs to avoid are just the starting point and are not written in stone. There are some rules of thumb, however, to guide you in understanding the logic of those lists. Certain categories of plant activity which can be otherwise beneficial are generally contraindicated during pregnancy. These remedies may in some way irritate the placenta or provoke premature muscular contractions in the uterus. It is obvious to avoid abortifacients. Beyond that, it is generally advisable to avoid emmenagogues or uterine stimulants, plants with strong alkaloids such as goldenseal and coffee, plants which constrict blood flow, irritating anthraquinone laxatives such as senna and Cascara sagrada, potent herbs such as poke root with very selective therapeutic use and narrow windows of safe dosing, bitters, many stimulants, and certain plants containing essential oils such as juniper berries, nutmeg [in large amounts], and pennyroyal.

Again, choices about herbs during pregnancy are always relative and subjective, specific to a particular woman, her circumstances, and the skill of her practitioner in offering guidance.

Kathy: As I move into peri-menopause I have found that soy milk seems to reduce my premenstrual emotional fragility. My concern though is that this phytoestrogen may carry the same risks as synthetic estrogens. What do you think? Any other suggestions on what to do for PMS besides healthy living and a good attitude? Thank You Kathy

Carol: Your question offers several branches to explore: the issue of soy in the diet, the safety of phytoestrogens, and approaches for alleviating pre-menstrual complaints. Let me take them one at a time.

On soy: I do not suggest relying on soymilk as a source of phytosterols, compounds in plants which can have mild estrogenic effects. For one thing, it is a heavily processed food. Often, the soy is mixed with honey or some other sweetener and that food combination can prove devastating to many women's digestive tracts, resulting in painful gas and bloating. Abstaining from soymilk resolves the discomfort. Another piece about soy is that most, if not all, of the studies on the health benefits of soy were looking at fermented soy products. Tempeh, miso, and cultured soy milk are examples. Tempeh is much more of a whole food than soymilk or tofu. It consists of mashed cooked soybeans made into cakes, either alone or combined with grain, and fermented with a beneficial organism which partially digests the protein and makes it very assimilable to the human gut. Most legumes are rich in phytosterols such as the isoflavonoids celebrated in soybeans. Sprouting the legumes before cooking increases the level of phytosterols present in the food. These days, there is also the unfortunate issue of avoiding the unknown consequences of eating foods which have been genetically modified. Soy is one of the chief food crops being experimented with--and, of course--by ingesting genetically modified soybeans the experiment continues in our bodies. Look for GMO-free labeling.

As to the question of plant-based molecules carrying the same risk as synthetic estrogens, I'm assuming you're particularly referring to the scenario of a woman with an estrogen-responsive cancer, such as breast or ovarian cancer, or the genetic predisposition to manifest them. Synthetic estrogens strongly turn on the hormonally sensitive tissue and are therefore contraindicated. Phytosterols, on the other hand, compete with naturally occurring, strongly acting estrogens and environmentally sourced xenoestrogens [such as pesticides] for cellular receptor sites, occupying those sites and gently tweaking them in a limited way--thus offering what is seen as a protective effect on estrogen-sensitive tissue. Phytosterols can ease the symptoms of declining levels of endogenous estrogens circulating in the bloodstream which is the case during perimenopause. I do not fear them. There is more that could be said here, but I think this may address your concern.

There are many foods and herbs which can address the discomforts that may arise during perimenopause. The list is long--what a blessing! One key piece in any formula for women's hormonal balance is support for optimum liver function. Basic support for the liver begins with avoiding chemicals in food and drink, avoiding fried foods and alcohol, avoiding rancid foods. There are many liver-tonifying herbs which might be appropriate for a given woman including dandelion root, milk thistle seed, burdock root, schizandra berries, turmeric rhizome, and so on. When formulating an herbal compound, it is ideal to customize the blend to match the individual's specific constitution and experience of body/mind/spirit. Check out the books I mentioned in a previous discussion or consult with someone trained in herbal/natural medicine.

EW Reader: Hi Carol! Thanks for taking the time to answer all these questions. I am nursing and was wondering if there is anything you suggest on an herbal basis that is good for producing more milk or "better quality" milk (if there is such a thing : )). Thank you!

Carol: The plant world is generous in its gifts to women--for our own health and the health of our babies and children. There are plants both to stimulate increased production of breast milk and to enhance the nutritional content of your milk. These allies are used by wise women in many traditions around the world. Some typical herbs to increase production include fennel seed, blessed thistle leaf, fenugreek seed, borage, or goat's rue. Nutrient-rich plants include nettle leaf, red raspberry or thimbleberry leaves, alfalfa leaf, oatstraw, rosehips. Herbs to help calm the baby's gut and prevent colic include chamomile blossoms, fennel seed, and catnip leaf. These plants can be combined as desired to support your intention. Enjoy these precious days!

EW Reader: Is there an herbal tea that I can make (preferable) or buy that would increase my milk supply? I am currently nursing my 7-month-old. Also, what would be a good way to head off tummy troubles such as pain, bloating and gas (probably due to a gallbladder problem) after eating? Again, I would prefer a tea that I could make myself. Are there any herbs that are known to be poisonous to a child?

Carol: For the question about nursing, please see my previous response. As to abdominal distress after eating, we would need to rule out any physical obstruction to the bile duct itself. Barring that, there are herbs that may be of benefit that are also safe to use during lactation: Liquid extracts of dandelion root alone or in combination with milk thistle seed, yellow dock root, and/or Oregon grape root can be ingested in a little water 15-20 minutes before each meal to encourage sufficient secretion of digestive juices. These bitters need to be tasted to do their job. Alternately, a cup of rosemary tea before each meal, especially before those containing fats or oils, is lovely.

Yes, there are certainly plants that are poisonous to a child [or adult, for that matter], including some common houseplants and landscape foliage. Clearly, poisons in the natural world are simply a part of life and they have particular functions to serve. Children must be taught at an early age, I believe, only to eat leaves, berries, fruits or flowers that have been given to them by their trusted adults. It is wise to keep in the medicine chest the phone number of Poison Control, as well as activated charcoal capsules [to absorb toxins in the gut], milk thistle seed extract [helps detoxify harmful chemicals such as amanita poison], ipecac [where regurgitation is appropriate].

Any herb, no matter how benign, can cause problems if taken in excessive doses. In addition, there are herbs that we would not use with children under almost any circumstances. All herbal medicines, nutritional supplements, and essential oils should be stored well out of a child's reach. Rather than list plants to avoid, let me suggest that in thinking about herbal medicine and children, you invest in one or two high quality books on herbal healing and children. You will refer to them often over the years and having more than one voice to reference is an added benefit. Check out The Encyclopedia of Natural Healing for Children and Infants by Mary Bove, ND and Kids, Herbs and Health by Linda White, MD and Sunny Mavor, herbalist.

Unfortunately, several other wonderful books are no longer in print-such as The Herbal for Mother and Child by Anne McIntyre and Natural Childcare by Maribeth Riggs. Look for them in used bookstores and snap them up if you find them. Each practitioner/writer has their own precious jewels of wisdom to share.

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