Wise women believe that most of the problems of pregnancy can be prevented by attention to nutrition. Morning sickness and mood swings are connected to low blood sugar; backaches and severe labor pains often result from insufficient calcium; varicose veins, hemorrhoids, constipation, skin discoloration and anemia are evidence of lack of specific nutrients; preeclampsia, the most severe problem of pregnancy, is a form of acute malnutrition. Excellent nutrition includes pure water, controlled breath, abundant light, loving and respectful relationships, beauty and harmony in daily life, joyous thoughts and vital foodstuffs.

During pregnancy nutrients are required to create the cells needed to form two extra pounds of uterine muscle, the nerves, bones, organs, muscles, glands and skin of the fetus, several pounds of amniotic fluid, a placenta and a 50 percent increase in blood volume. In addition, extra kidney and liver cells are needed to process the waste of' two beings instead of one.

Wild foods and organically grown produce, grains and herbs are the best source of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients needed during pregnancy. All the better if the expectant mother can get out and gather her own herbs: stretching, bending, breathing, moving, touching the earth, taking time to talk with the plants and to open herself to their spiritual world.

TONICS DURING PREGNANCY

Wise women have recommended herbal tonics for childbearing for thousands of years. These herbs are empirically safe and notably effective. Tonic herbs improve general health by balancing and sustaining energy flow and focus in the body.

Tonics allay annoyances and prevent major problems. They can boost the supply of vital minerals and vitamins, increase energy and improve uterine tone. Some uterine tonics are contraindicated during pregnancy or are restricted to the last few weeks of pregnancy.

The tonics indicated for pregnancy need to be used regularly; a tonic is to the cells much as exercise is to the muscles: not much use when done erratically. Of course even occasional use of tonics during pregnancy will be of benefit, since they do contain nourishing factors. Better benefit will come from using them 5 times a week or more.

Some simple suggestions to get into the habit of' using tonics: pregnant women could replace the morning cup of coffee with a rich Nettle infusion. Or she could brew up some raspberry leaf tea and put it in the refrigerator to drink instead of soda, wine, or beer. Wild greens can be added to the diet. Women in many cultures have used the following herbs for centuries to have a healthier pregnancy.

RED RASPBERRY LEAVES (Rubus spp.)

Brewed as a tea or as an infusion, raspberry is tile best known, most widely used, and safest of all uterine and pregnancy tonic herbs. It contains fragrine, an alkaloid which gives tone to the muscles of the pelvic region, including the uterus itself.

Most of the benefits ascribed to regular use of Raspberry tea through pregnancy are traced to the nourishing source of vitamins and minerals found in this plant and to the strengthening power of fragrine - an alkaloid which gives tone to the muscles of the pelvic region, including the uterus itself. Of special note are the rich concentration of vitamin C, the presence of vitamin E and the easily assimilated calcium and iron. Raspberry leaves also contain vitamins A and B complex and many minerals, including phosphorous and potassium.

The benefits of drinking a raspberry leaf brew before and throughout pregnancy include:

„c Increasing fertility in both men and women. Raspberry leaf is an excellent fertility herb when combined with Red Clover.

„c Preventing miscarriage and hemorrhage. Raspberry leaf tones the uterus and helps prevent miscarriage and postpartum hemorrhage from a relaxed or atonic uterus.

„c Easing of morning sickness. Many attest to raspberry leaves' gentle relief of nausea and stomach distress throughout pregnancy.

„c Reducing pain during labor and after birth. By toning the muscles used during labor and delivery, Raspberry leaf eliminates many of the reasons for a painful delivery and prolonged recovery. It does not, however, counter the pain of pelvic dilation.

„c Assisting in the production of plentiful breast milk. The high mineral content of Raspberry leaf assist in milk production, but its astringency may counter that for some women.

„c Providing a safe and speedy pariuntion. Raspberry leaf works to encourage the uterus to let go and function without tension. It does not strengthen contractions, but does allow the contracting uterus to work more effective and so may make the birth easier and faster.

NETTLE LEAVES (Urtica Diotca)

Less well known as a pregnancy ionic but deserving a kinder reputation and use, Urtica is one of the finest nourishing tonics known. It is reputed to have more chlorophyll than any other herb. The list of vitamins and minerals in this herb includes nearly every one known to necessary for human health and growth.

Vitamins A, C, D and K, calcium, potassium, phosphorous, iron and sulphur are particularly abundant in nettles. The infusion is a dark green color approaching black. The taste is deep and rich. If you are blessed with a nettle patch near you, use the fresh plant as a pot herb in the spring.

Some pregnant women alternate weeks of nettle and raspberry brews; others drink raspberry until the last month and then switch to nettles to insure large amounts of vitamin K in the blood before birth. The benefits of drinking nettle infusion before and throughout pregnancy include:

„c Aiding the kidneys. Nettle infusions were instrumental in rebuilding the kidneys of a woman who was told she would have to be put on a dialysis machine. Since the kidneys must cleanse 150 percent of the normal blood supply for most of the pregnancy, nettle's ability to nourish and strengthen them is of major importance. Any accumulation of minerals in the kidneys, such as gravel or stones, is gently loosened, dissolved and eliminated by the consistent use of nettle infusions.

„c Increasing fertility in women and men.

„c Nourishing mother and fetus.

„c Easing leg cramps and other spasms.

„c Diminishing pain during and after birth. The high calcium content, which is readily assimilated, helps diminish muscle pains in the uterus, in the legs and elsewhere.

„c Preventing hemorrhage after birth. Nettle is a superb source of vitamin K, and increases available hemoglobin, both of which decrease the likelihood of postpartum hemorrhage. Fresh Nettle Juice, in teaspoon doses, slows postpartum bleeding.

„c Reducing hemorrhoids. Nettle's mild astringency and general nourishing action tightens and strengthens blood vessels, helps maintain arterial elasticity and improves venous resilience.

„c Increasing the richness and amount of breast milk.

CALCIUM

Of course calcium is a mineral, not an herbal tonic, but it is so important during pregnancy and throughout our woman lives that I consider it a tonic. Lack of adequate calcium during pregnancy is associated with muscle cramps, backache, high blood pressure, intense labor and afterbirth pains, osteoporosis, tooth problems, and preeclampsia.

Calcium assimilation is governed by exercise, stress, acidity during digestion, availability of' Vitamin C, A and especially D, and availability of magnesium and phosphorous in the body and the diet. Getting 1000 to 2000 mg of calcium every day is not hard with the help of Wise Woman herbs:

„c The best food sources of calcium are fish dairy products, but there is controversy about the assimilability of calcium from pasteurized, homogenized milk. My preferred food sources include goal milk and goat cheese, salmon, sardines, mackerel, seaweed (especially kelp), sesame salt (gomasio), tahini and dark leafy greens Such as turnip tops, beet greens and kale.

„c There are roughly 2(X) grams of' calcium in two ounces of nuts (excluding peanuts), one ounce of dried seaweed, two ounces of carob powder, one ounce of cheese, half a cup of cooked greens, (kale, collards and especially dandelion) half a cup of milk, three eggs, four ounces of fish, or one tablespoon of molasses.

„c Most wild greens are exceptionally rich in calcium arid the factors need for calcium absorption and use. lambs quarters, mallow, galinsoga, shepherd's purse, knotweed, bidens, amaranth and dandelion leaves all supply more calcium per 100 grams than does milk.

„c Bones soaked in apple cider vinegar release their calcium into the acidic vinegar. A tablespoon of this vinegar in a glass of water supplies needed calcium and relieves morning sickness too.

„c Many fruits are rich in calcium (though not as rich as the above foods). Dried dates, figs raisins, prunes, papaya and elderberries are the best source.

„c Raspberry leaf infusion contains calcium in its most assimilable form. Assimilation is further enhanced by the presence of phosphorous and vitamins A and C in the raspberry leaves.

„c Fresh parsley and watercress are available in most grocery stores year round. They are both good sources of many minerals and vitamins, including calcium, phosphorous, vitamin A and vitamin C.

„c Nettle Infusion supplies calcium and phosphorous, vitamin A and the vital vitamin D, in a readily assimilable form.

„c Foods that are thought to interfere with absorption of calcium should be avoided: spinach, chocolate, rhubarb and brewer's yeast.

„c Do not use bone meal or oyster shell tablets as sources of supplemental calcium. They have been found to be high in lead, mercury, cadmium and other toxic metals.

TONICS TO USE WITH CAUTION

Squaw Vine (Mitchella repens), Blue Cohosh (Caulophyflum thalicotroides), and Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) all should be avoided until the last 4 to 6 weeks of pregnancy. Even then, they should be used only when indicated, and under the supervision of someone experienced in their use. Some midwives report that the Cohoshes must be used together (not interchangeably). Others have reported premature labor when Blue Cohosh was taken in combination with Penrlyroyal. False Unicorn Root (Helonias dioica), Dong Quai (Angelica spp.) and PN6 capsules are considered too strong for use during pregnancy.

I harvest the flowering stalks when they are fully formed; and I am careful to use the cultivated garden comfrey, which grows very tall and has purplish, pinkish, bluish flowers. I avoid wild comfrey which stays rather small, even when flowering, and has cream-colored, white, or yellowish flowers.

Some people feel that comfrey is not safe to use during pregnancy. Some people feel comfrey is not safe to use internally at all. I disagree. The roots of comfrey do contain compounds that are best avoided during pregnancy. (As do all parts of the wild plant.) In fact, I rarely use comfrey root because of the possibility of liver congestion, and I strongly caution those who have had hepatitis, chemotherapy, or alcohol problems to strictly avoid comfrey root. Yet even these people can benefit from use of comfrey leaf infusions.

* Another important herbal ally for women over forty who desire a child is chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castii). It has been used in Africa and parts of Europe for several thousand years to discourage the male libido. In women, the effects seem to be the opposite! It may also be a fertility enhancer. Most importantly, chaste tree is a strengthening tonic for the pituitary gland, the master control gland for the endocrine system. Daily use of the tincture of the berries (1 dropperful/1 ml 2-3 times daily) had been shown to increase progesterone--the hormone of pregnancy--and luteinizing hormone--which promotes conception. Because it can lower prolactin levels, chaste tree is best discontinues during the last trimester of pregnancy.

* Dong quai (Angelica sinensis) is not recommended for women over forty. In general, this herb promotes blood flow to the uterus and surrounding tissues. This can promote the growth of fibroids and increase the risk of post-partum hemorrhage. Ginger is a better warming tonic; motherwort is better at relieving pain; and raspberry is better at preparing the uterus for birth.

Susun Weed - PO Box 64, Woodstock, NY 12498 (fax) 1-845-246-8081

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Susun Weed¡¦s books include:

Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year
Author: Susun S. Weed. Simple, safe remedies for pregnancy, childbirth, lactation, and newborns. Includes herbs for fertility and birth control. Foreword by Jeannine Parvati Baker. 196 pages, index, illustrations. Retails for $9.95 Get 20% off at: www.ash-tree-publishing.com

Healing Wise
Author: Susun S. Weed. Superb herbal in the feminine-intuitive mode. Complete instructions for using common plants for food, beauty, medicine, and longevity. Introduction by Jean Houston. 312 pages, index, illustrations. Retails for $12.95 Get 20% off at: www.ash-tree-publishing.com

NEW Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way
Author: Susun S. Weed. The best book on menopause is now better. Completely revised with 100 new pages. All the remedies women know and trust plus hundreds of new ones. New sections on thyroid health, fibromyalgia, hairy problems, male menopause, and herbs for women taking hormones. Recommended by Susan Love MD and Christiane Northrup MD. Foreword by Juliette de Bairacli Levy. 304 pages, index, illustrations. Retails for $12.95 order at: www.ash-tree-publishing.com For more great info on menopause, visit: www.menopause-metamorphosis.com

Breast Cancer? Breast Health!
Author: Susun S. Weed. Foods, exercises, and attitudes to keep your breasts healthy. Supportive complimentary medicines to ease side-effects of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or tamoxifen. Foreword by Christiane Northrup, M.D. 380 pages, index, illustrations. Retails for $14.95 Get 20% off at: www.ash-tree-publishing.com

Winter is when we are most likely to catch a cold or the flu. With Susun Weed's help, you can prepare yourself with herbs and home remedies to avoid infection and to build a strong immune system.

Ms. Weed prefers safe antibacterial herbs such as echinacea, usnea, or poke root, which not only kill infection, but also help us keep our immune systems strong. These herbs have an extensive history of countering resistant bacteria and strengthening the body's natural defenses. She also recommends medicinal mushrooms, garlic, and ginseng to help you during the winter season. And, she reminds us that our thoughts affect our health too!

Echinacea root is the all-American immune system strengthener. It triggers production of white blood cells, interferon, leukocytes, T-cells, and B-lymphocytes, as well as directly inhibiting the growth of most bacteria and viruses. Peter Holmes, author of Energetics of Western Herbs, cites it as being effective against anthrax. Echinacea tincture is my first choice for countering infection. (Capsules and pills of echinacea, if used for lengthy periods, may be counterproductive.) A dose of the tincture is one drop for every pound of body weight. I take this several times a week as a preventative, several times daily when there is active infection.

Usnea, a common lichen, is especially rich in a powerful antibacterial bitter called usnic acid (also usinic acid). I use the tincture of Usnea barbata (a dose is 1-2 dropperfuls), but other lichens show similar immune-enhancing and tonifying properties. There are no side effects reported from use of even large amounts of usnea tincture.

Poke root tincture (Phytolacca americana) kicks the immune system into gear incredibly fast. I've seen chronic infection of many years' standing resolve after only one dose, and acute infection subside in a matter of hours. Poke's effect seems to be focused on the lymphatic and glandular tissues of the throat and chest, making it the perfect counter to inhaled anthrax, which attacks the lymph nodes around the lungs. Poke is a specific against pneumonia and a protector of the lungs. It contains an antibacterial alkaloid and a special antiviral protein. It is magnifies the effects of echinacea and they work wonderfully well together.

Poke root is powerful medicine, in fact, a potential poison, and the dose is very small. One drop of poke tincture may be taken daily for no more than three months as a counter to possible infection. Alkaloids in poke root tincture can accumulate in the kidneys, making extended use risky. Caution: You can feel spacy and out of your body when taking poke, especially at higher doses. The first few times, take it after dinner and stay home so you can judge your reaction.

Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus) is widely considered the single most effective immune tonic and adaptogen in the herbal realm. Safe and inexpensive, it helps the immune system respond quickly to infection and mitigates the effects of stress. Astragalus root is also an excellent ally for building powerful immunity. Both, or either, may be taken daily for extended periods with no ill effects. I throw several pieces of these roots in every pot of soup I cook.

Ginseng root (Panax quinquefolius or Panax ginseng) is another exceptional ally for the immune system, especially when there is physical or emotional stress. In any form (tincture, tea, extract) it nourishes production of interferon, phagocytes, antibodies, and killer T-cells. So long as you need ginseng, there's no overdose; if you take it when you don't need it however, it may produce an unpleasant, jittery, speedy sensation.

Garlic has been used to prevent infection for thousands of years; and it still works! No need to upset your stomach (and loved ones) by eating it raw; cooked garlic retains its antibacterial powers, so long as you eat enough of it. During plague times, healers in some areas wore a "bird's beak:" a stiff cone was made of paper or bark, stuffed with garlic and spices (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg), and tied on over the nose to help prevent contagion. That's a little cumbersome for modern times, but inhaling the aroma of a cup of spicy tea (there are many blends available, or make your own) could help you avoid catching contagious disease.

Medicinal mushrooms are not only immune system tonics, they possess antibacterial properties which make them ideal for preventing anthrax infection, according to expert Paul Stametes. A tincture or strong infusion of any shelf fungus with pores can be used, he says. If you prefer to buy your mushrooms, rather than hunt for them, look for reishii (Ganoderma lucidum) or shiitake (Lentinus edodes). Both are adaptogenic, revitalizing, regenerative, and able to directly suppress infection. Side effects, even from large doses, are rare.

But herbs and medicinal foods alone are not enough. What we think, and what we consume, are also important parts of building strong immunity. Candace Pert, visiting professor of neuroscience at Rutgers University, has proven that every cell of the body participates in the immune system through an integrated network of chemical, electrical, and hormonal signals. The immune system is a network, she says, which resonates with the vibrations that surround it. It is as affected by emotions as by bacteria, as impacted by thoughts as by drugs.

Long-standing low-level depression, smoldering anger that is never expressed, bitterness and vengeance projected into the future are all known to depress immune functioning. Prayer, affirmations, positive thinking -- no matter what you call it, talking lovingly to yourself builds powerful immunity. One of the fiercest old women I know, healer Margo Geiger, taught me to not only think good thoughts but also to unthink immune system stressing phrases like: "This is killing me," or "I'm dying to . . ." ("Let's live for it!" she'd say.)

Specialized cells which eliminate bacterial and viral infections are made as needed by the immune system. Richly supply your immune system with nutrients, and it easily counters infection, building healthy white blood cells to kill anthrax and other germs. Starve your immune system and it will falter, leaving your lymph nodes and other tissues open to infection and destruction.

My favorite foods for nourishing the immune system include beets, carrots, garlic, medicinal mushrooms, seaweeds, and dark leafy greens (including nettle infusion). For rapid results, try miso soup with seaweed and wild mushrooms. Try Immune A Go Go Soup from Susun Weed's book Breast Cancer? Breast Health!

Carotenes strengthen and activate all parts of the immune system, especially the thymus (the "master gland of immunity"). A half-cup of dandelion greens, two cups of nettle infusion, a small baked sweet potato, or two large cooked carrots or beets is a "dose;" but ten times that much can be consumed safely. Repeated doses provide a cumulative effect starting about a week after you begin.

Selenium is a trace mineral with special abilities for building a healthy immune system. Best sources are organic garlic, medicinal mushrooms, and astragalus. Zinc helps build energetic white blood cells (which eliminate bacterial infections). Best sources are echinacea, nettles, and seaweed.

The B-vitamin complex, especially B6 (pyridoxine), is critical to immune system health. Best sources are potato skins, broccoli, prunes, and lentils.

Virtually all drugs depress the immune system. This includes caffeine and nicotine, alcohol, prescribed drugs, "recreational" drugs, and vitamin/mineral supplements. For a healthy immune system, eat nourishing food and forgo the pills.

Both light and dark are necessary for a strong immune system. For optimum immune system strength, sleep in a totally dark room at night, and spend at least 15 minutes a day outside without glasses or contacts. Full spectrum sunlight is needed to trigger the production of important immune system components.

Exercise is an excellent way to tonify the immune system. A number of clinical trials have shown regular exercise to be strongly linked to heightened immunity. The emphasis is on regular. It is better to walk one mile four times a week for a month than to jog 16 miles once a month.

In Summary, strengthen you immune system with a good diet, adequate sleep, regular physical activity, emotional well-being, and a few of the recommended herbal allies of your choice. Always remember to use herbs and herbal preparations simply and safely. Avoid immune compromising substances such as coffee, tobacco and medications. With a strengthened immune system you will not only enjoy better health, but you will be less likely to be susceptible to infection and possible death from bacterial and/or viral invasions. Faith in your body's ability to protect itself will continue to bolster and reinforce the immune system as your mental well-being improves. Enjoy the upward spiral of health as you follow the path of the Wise Woman Way.

Legal Disclaimer: This content is not intended to replace conventional western medical treatment. Any suggestions made and all herbs listed are not intended to diagnose, treat,cure or prevent any disease, condition or symptom. Personal directions and use should be provided by clinical herbalist or other qualified healthcare practitioner with a specific formula for you. All material on this website/email is provided for general information purposes only and should not be considered medical advice or consultation. Always check with your personal physician when you have a question pertaining to your health and healthcare.

Susun Weed is a contributor to the Routledge International Encyclopedia of Women's Studies and the author of four highly acclaimed herbal medicine handbooks. She has been at the forefront of the herbal renaissance for 35 years. Return to homepage

Author's Bio: 

Susun Weed, green witch and wise woman, is an extraordinary teacher with a joyous spirit, a powerful presence, and an encyclopedic knowledge of herbs and health. She is the voice of the Wise Woman Way, where common weeds, simple ceremony, and compassionate listening support and nourish health/wholeness/holiness. She has opened hearts to the magic and medicine of the green nations for three decades. Ms. Weed's four herbal medicine books focus on women's health topics including: menopause, childbearing, and breast health. Visit her site www.susunweed.com for information on her workshops, apprenticeships, correspondence courses and more! Browse the publishing site www.ashtreepublishing.com to learn more about her alternative health books. Venture into the NEW Menopause site www.menopause-metamorphosis.com to learn all about the Menopausal Years the Wise Woman Way.