How to Use Food and Herbs as Medicine During Each Phase of Your Feminine Cycle
BY AHNA KENNEDY
Like so many women, I was never really encouraged to honor or give grace to my feminine cycle growing up. During those tender years where our bodies change so rapidly, society feeds us the idea that our cycle is a time of the month to dread and fear. We’re told that there are two stages to our cycle – bleeding or not bleeding – and that PMS symptoms like bloating and fatigue are to be accepted and endured. With this lack of knowledge comes a disempowerment and a detachment from the beauty of our own bodies.
Therefore when we nourish ourselves and connect with each stage of our cycle, we can begin to understand our bodies and recognize our own intuitive needs more clearly.
The Four Phases of the Feminine Cycle:
Average Duration: 3-7 days
Nourishment for the Menstrual Phase: Your body goes through an intense process as it sheds the lining of the uterus, so it’s important to eat mineral-rich and grounding foods during this phase. As your body loses blood, focus on foods that are high in iron and zinc. Warming foods and beverages are also really beneficial, and I especially love eating lots of smoothie bowls and potato stews. Avoid alcohol, sugar (rely on dark chocolate if you have cravings), and processed foods that are high in sodium, gluten, and dairy, which contribute to inflammation and bloating.
Foods: root vegetables, beets, potatoes, legumes, dark greens, kale, mushroom, seaweeds, black beans, kidney beans, blueberries, pomegranates, blackberries, cacao, and tamari.
Average Duration: 7-10 days
Nourishment for the Follicular Phase: To support healthy estrogen levels and build the uterine lining, focus on fresh, light foods that will keep you energized and hydrated. All your hormone levels are at their lowest, so your body can easily tolerate different types of foods. If you want to add in some detoxifying green juices or smoothies, your body will thank you for it!
Foods: dark leafy greens, celery, fennel, broccoli, carrot, parsley, lettuce, avocado, citrus fruits, mung beans, split peas, olives, brazil nuts, and cashews.
Average Duration: 3-4 days
Nourishment for the Ovulatory Phase: As estrogen levels are high, most women have more energy during this time frame, and sticking to foods like lean proteins and greens will help support this. You also want to help your body eliminate any excess estrogen, so eating a lot of fiber-dense and zinc-rich foods will help with the elimination process.
Foods: quinoa, lentils, flaxseeds, spinach, tomato, peppers, fish, strawberries, raspberries, almonds, pecans, and pistachios.
Average Duration: 10-14 days
Nourishment for the Luteal Phase: Many women experience heightened cravings for sugar, specifically chocolate, during this phase. You can navigate this in a nourishing way by eating foods that are rich in B vitamins and complex carbohydrates. These natural sugars will help balance dopamine levels and prevent any mood swings and/or depression. I especially love eating a plethora of roasted sweet potatoes and oat bowls with dates, fruits, and walnuts.
Foods: brown rice, millet, cauliflower, celery, cucumber, ginger, leek, onion, parsnip, pumpkin, squash, sweet potato, apples, dates, oats, peaches, pears, chickpeas, and walnuts.
Herbal Remedies According to Symptoms:
Note: None of these herbs should be used during pregnancy unless directed to do so under the care of a qualified health care practitioner skilled in the use of herbal remedies.
Pain Relief & Cramp Relaxing Herbs
Cramp Bark & Black Haw: These sister herbs bring relief to pain and muscle spasms in the uterus and can be compared to the effects of traditional NSAIDs. I personally feel that these herbs are the best to have on hand at all times for any sort of menstrual pain or discomfort. This can be consumed in tea form up to three times per day for cramping and muscle spasms during the luteal and menstrual phases.
Red Raspberry Leaf: For centuries , Red Raspberry Leaf has been used to help women with various health issues such as infertility, irregular cycle, PMS symptoms, postpartum health issues, hormonal imbalances, particularly in menstrual camp cramping, vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea. It is recommended to drink in tea form throughout the month or during menstruation to relieve these symptoms.
Black Cohosh: This plant is very anti-inflammatory and wonderful at reducing spasms in both the smooth muscles and the skeletal muscles, which are associated with pain that radiates to the lower back and down the thighs. It is recommended to drink this tea at least 3 times a day during the premenstrual, follicular, and luteal stages of the cycle.
Wild Yam: Wild Yam has a wonderful ability to reduce muscle spasms of the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries, aiding in painful menstruation and chronic pelvic pain. This uterine support allows for the proper function of the uterus while working to prevent uterine cramping or spasm. Best taken in tea or capsule form during the luteal and menstrual phases.
Red Clover Blossom: A hormone-balancing herb that helps relieve PMS symptoms and correct irregular periods. It’s also great for eliminating toxins in the body while cleansing the blood. Best taken in the form of tea, tincture, or capsule during all 4 phases.
Note: If you have a very heavy menstrual blood flow, avoid this herb as it has blood-thinning properties.
Nettle Leaf: This leaf is full of vitamins and minerals (even protein!) and helps to restore healthy adrenal function to balance hormones and ease menstrual cramping – in addition to other symptoms. Drink one to two cups of nettle tea daily during the luteal and menstrual phases.
Digestive Upset with Inflammation
Ginger: If you experience nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea due to painful cramping and hormonal changes, ginger is one of the best herbs to soothe the stomach. It is also tremendously anti-inflammatory. Enjoy up to 4 cups of tea a day during the luteal and menstrual phases.
Chamomile: This flower is both anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic and is also helpful for women with digestive constipation contributing to pain. Because this herb is also a nervine and mild sedative it may help to reduce stress, relax the nervous system and induce a restful state in the body. This can be very useful when experiencing menstrual cramping accompanied by anxiety and irritability. Chamomile is best sipped as a tea during the menstruation phase.
Anxiety, Nervous Tension, Irritability, and Insomnia with Menstrual Cramps
Lemon Balm: One of my favorite herbs of all time, lemon balm, is a fragrant herb that helps calm and nourish the nervous system (particularly in the luteal phase of your cycle leading up to your bleed). I also think it’s helpful to drink lemon balm during your bleed when your body wants to rest and repair. Enjoy in the form of tea or tincture within the luteal and menstrual phases.
Skullcap: Known as a healing tonic for the central nervous system and can be particularly beneficial in providing relief for nerve pain, nervous tension, muscle cramps, twitches, tics, and spasms. Scullcap is a great alternative herbal health remedy for insomnia as it promotes deep sleep with no unwanted side effects, unlike other conventional treatments. Enjoy in capsule or tea form during the luteal or menstrual phase.
Motherwort: Very effective for reducing uterine muscle spasm, cramping, and improving uterine tone. It is also a wonderful mild sedative, that aids in insomnia, headache, and dizziness. It is a specific remedy for heart palpitations, stress, and anxiety associated with pelvic pain. Consume in the form of tea, tincture, or capsule during the menstrual phase.
I hope this information can help you to navigate your monthly cycle with more intention and ease. Blessings on your health!