Love planted a rose, and the world turned sweet. Katharine Lee Bates
Ah the scent of roses! Love and beauty and English country gardens. The rose however originated in China but of course is now grown worldwide with hundreds of different varieties. As well as a token of love and the subject of copious amounts of love poetry, the rose is also used extensively in cooking and beauty products. As it’s Valentines day this week, I wanted to write about the Rose as a medicinal herb.
In Chinese herbal medicine it is called Mei Gui Hua. It is described as a ‘docile’ herb, gentle in it’s nature. Most commonly, it’s included in formulas for Women with menstrual irregularities, menstrual pain and pre-menstrual breast tenderness. It can also be included for patients with digestive problems especially stomach distension and heartburn. It has a very mild laxative effect but generally calming for the stomach especially when stress is a factor.
It is said to ‘regulate the qi’ and relieve constraint. It is thought to have a balancing effect on the endocrine system which helps to regulate the menstrual cycle and has also been shown to help clear up the skin. I consider it to be a fertility herb as our goal when supporting Women trying to conceive is to regulate the menstrual cycle. I’m always conscious too, that the fertility journey is often an emotional one. Rose therefore seems appropriate.
I love rose as part of a herbal tea. On it’s own it has a strong bitter flavour but combined with other herbs such as lime flower, chamomile and perhaps a little lavender, it’s delicate flavour is revealed. It’s an excellent tea to drink in the evening to ease away the days stresses. I’d recommend to people who emotionally overeat in the evening to make a pot when they get in from work.
Mei Gui Hua, the rose, to me is a Woman’s herb. Gentle and compassionate. So instead of a bunch of roses this valentine’s day, how about a delicious rose tea blend instead?
A patient of mine recently asked if I could help her 17-year-old daughter. Probably due to medication for her epilepsy she had been having a continuous heavy menstrual bleed for about 3 years. (It is here I bite my tongue and make no comment about her consultant advising her to “just put up with it”!) So I said of course and two treatments later, the bleeding had stopped.
However, three years of heavy menstrual bleeding had taken its toll. This poor young lady was incredibly pale in the face. Examining her tongue, it was again pale with an orangey colour. She was also exhausted. It was fairly obvious that she was very anaemic or as we would diagnose in TCM, Blood deficient.
Blood deficiency represents a little more than just anaemia. It refers to the lack of available nutrients in the blood. Symptoms may include: muscle cramps, spasms, muscle weakness, numbness and tingling in the limbs, dry hair and skin, hair loss, blurred vision, floaters, tired, dry or gritty eyes, dry brittle or withered nails, infrequent, scanty or lack of periods (amenorrhea), dizziness, fainting, poor memory, tiredness and vivid dreams.
This case though, got me revisiting Blood nourishing foods. Telling a teenager they’re having Liver and onions for tea might not go down too well but the fact is that Liver is one of the best sources of iron along with shellfish, beans, nuts and seeds and good news…dark chocolate!
So I’ve been hunting for a good hassle free liver pate recipe and found this:
When I first had acupuncture, my chief complaint was the uncontrollable, out of character, unbearable PMT that I experienced each month. My acupuncturist was interested in the way I described myself, in a word: ‘nasty’! I found that my life was being disrupted 2 weeks of every month. I would have 2 perfectly normal, happy weeks, then a week of paranoia and uncontrollable anger resulting in vicious verbal attacks on unsuspecting friends and colleagues. The following week I would feel exhausted, embarrassed and full of remorse and apology.
Like many women, I believed this to be the norm. Interestingly, if you look up PMT on wikipedia, it states:
Only a small percentage of women (2 to 5%) have significant premenstrual symptoms that are separate from the normal discomfort associated with menstruation in healthy women.
I don’t consider ‘discomfort’ to be normal. Certainly now, thanks to some excellent acupuncture treatment my PMT rarely shows itself. Rather than dread my premenstrual week, I consider it a wonderful time of increased energy and creativity.
PMT is regarded as something that women have to put up with. It can range from mild irritability to a raging fury, tears and irrational tantrums. There are a number of criminal cases where women have committed murder and in some cases, have been aquitted on the grounds of diminished responsibilty due to their PMT.
Although PMT is seen as mainly an emotional problem, for many women it is accompanied by physical problems such as pain, migraines, skin problems, constipation/diarrhoea, breast distension, weight gain, water retention and so on, in varying degrees of severity. There has been a tendancy to treat these problems with the contraceptive pill, strong pain killers or long term low dose anti-biotics for skin issues. In some cases this is successful but most women I encounter found it made little difference especially as a long term solution.
Chinese medicine sees the menstrual cycle comprised of 2 phases:
The Yin phase (roughly days 1-14) begins with the shedding of the endometrium i.e the period. At the same time the body is already drawing on it’s resources to replenish the lining of the womb. Although I don’t advocate ‘shutting women away’ during period time, I personally think a couple of quiet days don’t go amiss, perhaps with attention to Blood nourishing foods such as a little red meat, dark beans and leafy greens.
The Yang phase (roughly 14-28) sees the release of the egg, i.e ovulation occurs. The Yang energy brings an increase in temperature and a rise in progesterone. This is signalled by a noticeable thickening of cervical mucus and most women report also, an increase in libido. (Isn’t nature clever?)
The latter half of the Yang phase, sees a gathering of Yang energy. This is of course the pre-menstrual phase and I liken it to the gathering of a wave just before it breaks. In Chinese medicine, we use the term ‘stagnation’ to describe the patholgy which relates to the lack of harmonious flow of either physical or emotional processes. In simplistic terms, stress or pre-existing unresolved emotional factors and also diet/lifestyle factors lead to ‘stagnation ‘ which amplifies and interupts the Yang energy’s movement. This leads to emotional outbursts, increased heat affecting stools leading to constipation or prompting skin eruptions, interupting water balance, or manifesting as pain in the form of menstrual cramps or rising to the head to produce migraines.
Acupuncture is extremely effective at harmonising the menstrual cycle and relieving this stagnation and I would recommend it as a front-line treatment. Once the cycle is smooth and harmonious (usually 6-12 treatments over a 2-3 month period) I encourage women to have a maintanance session at the start of the pre-menstrual phase either each month or every few months.
General tips to improve PMT are:
exercise; preferrably in the form of deep stretching such as Yoga/Pilates
avoidance of stimulants such as coffee and alcohol
attention to diet: moderate dairy, fatty and high sugar foods, increase essential fatty acids (evening primrose oil has been suggested to be effective) as well as attention to blood nourishing foods
particularly in relation to pre-menstrual/menstrual pain: avoid sex and overly strenuous exercise during your period, use sanitary towels instead of tampons at least some of the time
A smooth menstrual cycle is vital and empowering for a woman. It signifies our ability to bear life and should be regarded as a gift, not a dreaded curse.