Nourishing body and soul—menstruation & menopause
Most women can feel it coming on . . . the dark time. Our partners may comment that we don’t seem to want their company—or anyone else’s for that matter. We get caught up in our emotions—we’re not usual selves. We’re hypersensitive. We weep, and we bleed.
Modern society tries to minimize this experience. Women attempt to suppress the wave of feelings that surge to the surface, to put on a happy face and push through. But stoic as we may be, we’re often forced to acknowledge the power of our bodies and our emotions. Cramps, headaches and fatigue drive us to our beds or into the bath, soaking away our woes.
You would think we could take a hint; our bodies and spirits are crying out for sanctuary and succor. Somehow, we’ve come to view menstruation as an aberration rather than a grace.
Ancient wisdom rediscovered
Yet the ancient wisdom, that many women today are rediscovering, is that the Moontime is when the veils between the worlds are at their thinnest, when we as women have a unique window into our own souls, our inner guidance, our divine wisdom. The physical and emotional intensity of this time is an opportunity for healing and release—when we nourish ourselves, body and soul, and allow all of who we are.
Interestingly, we also tend to approach menopause as an ending, even a disease, rather than an ushering into a rich and fulfilling phase of our journey. It wasn’t always so.
In traditional societies without artificial lights at night, women’s cycles of fertility are directly synchronized to the phases of the moon: ovulating when it is full and bleeding during the dark.
The Wise Woman tradition invites us to embrace this spiral of our lives—the ebb and flow of light and dark. It isn’t ‘just’ your hormones, dear one—it’s you. To be all of who we are, we need to look beyond the denial and consider ways to nourish ourselves deeply—body and soul.
Physical support from herbs and nourishing foods
On the physical level, we can find support for our specialized needs through wholesome foods and nourishing herbs that nurture the body and encourage optimum health—the bridge where food and medicine meet. For the sake of expediency, many women turn to drugs or supplements—the silver bullet of a precise, tasteless, odorless capsule. But our bodies are designed to absorb necessary nutrients in a gentler, more integrative way. We need whole foods, and food-like herbs.
My favorite herbal allies for women are nourishing herbs such as Nettle, Oatstraw, Raspberry and Red Clover. These are dense with nutrients, including chlorophyll, minerals, vitamins, phytosterols. Infusions are the most effective way to fully extract their benefits, to enjoy on a daily basis (see the below for instructions). For strong bones, try vinegar enriched with the extractions of Nettle, Chickweed or Mugwort.
The trend towards low fat/fat free diets, which echoes the dictate that women must be extremely thin in order to be attractive, is a particular threat to our well-being. Aesthetics are a matter of opinion, but being emaciated certainly isn’t healthy. Among its other dangers, low body fat is directly linked with amenorrhea (lack of a period), osteoporosis, and infertility. Not surprising. Sex hormones are manufactured from fat-soluble nutrients.
We need to consume healthy fats to keep our hormonal rhythms in sync. This is especially important during menopause, when our fat cells (along with our adrenals) take over the job of producing a form of estrogen. Healthy animal fats can be found in organic dairy products such as butter and raw cheese as well as yogurt. Yogurt is a good choice for those with lactose concerns since the fermentation process provides the lactase enzymes necessary for easy digestion.
So herbs, yes. Good nutrition, yes. And there’s more. To be fully realized as women, we need to access the inner knowing that our lunar rhythms offer us. Rather than rushing blindly through our moon times, we can sink into the gifts of this dark time.
Taking time to rest and retreat
During menstruation, pregnancy and menopause, our emotions and perceptions are heightened. There is a primal urge to remove ourselves from the daily routine and allow these feelings to move through our bodies and our spirits. We crave the Moon Lodge—also known today as the Red Tent.
In societies where the natural order of things is revered, the Moon Lodge or Red Tent offered a retreat—a cradle to receive us when we felt most vulnerable, when the veil between our inner and outer worlds was thin. Women would gather there during their menses, but not as an exile imposed upon the ‘unclean’. The Moon Lodge offered a sacred space to be immersed in reflection, to be still and truly be in our bodies.
These days, our busy lives don’t always afford us the option of leaving our responsibilities behind for a week, but we can honor this need by taking a Moon Day (or even an hour!), either just before our bleeding begins or at its height (usually the second day). Many women find taking a Moon Day does wonders to prevent menstrual woes & pains—when we’re already in the Moon Lodge, our bodies don’t need to yell so loudly to call us back there!
Throughout the mothering years, whether we are nurturing children or careers, we’re extending our energies outward—giving of ourselves Women hold so much inside. With the high incidence of stress related illness, and so many women challenged by reproductive issues ranging from infertility to menstrual disorders to endometriosis, it is simply good common sense to take some time to care for ourselves, whether as a preventative or a restorative.
Honoring the menopausal transition
This is also true during the climax menopausal years, which often include huge physical and emotional upheavals. Some women compare it to having PMS times ten over for an extended period of time—and we can shed the tears of a lifetime.
Herbalist and Wise Woman Susun Weed suggests that, like taking a Moon Day, menopausal women take a Crone’s Year Away to nourish themselves and reevaluate their lives before moving on to the next stage. In this way, we can replenish our cup until it runs over again and we can share our blessings with the world in a different way.
The key to creating a healthy, embracing approach to our life-long, lunar dance is to treat it, and ourselves, with the respect and nurturing that we extend to all those we care for.
Nourish your body, nourish your soul, and you will be well prepared to nourish others.
Green velvet: making a nettle infusion
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) is one of my favorite herbal allies – an excellent overall tonic for women. You’ll need to wear gloves to harvest her, but after she’s dried (or cooked), she loses her sting and can be handled without concern.
Nettle gives us many gifts, among them . . .
- Support for strong kidneys and adrenals
- Nourishing the blood—especially around times of anemia, menopause, pregnancy, lactation, abortion, or miscarriage
- Increased energy and libido
- Increased fertility
- Regular menstruation and regulation of the hormonal system
- Easing the menopausal transition
- Strong bones
- Healthy hair, skin, teeth, and gums
- Relief from hay fever and other allergies
Nettle can be prepared like most greens—sautéed, steamed or as a base for soups, and she makes a lovely tea, but I find it most convenient to take my daily portion of nettle as an infusion—a strong, medicinal tea made from dried herb.
Infusions are easy to make. Always use dried nettle—save the fresh nettle for cooking. To make an infusion, follow these easy steps:
1) Place an ounce of dried herb (a large handful) into a quart mason jar. If you like, you may add some mint leaves or licorice root for added flavor.
2) Fill the jar with boiling water, cap it, and let it steep for four hours or more. I often leave it overnight
3) Strain out the plant material, compost it, and drink one or more cups of the liquid daily.
The resulting beverage is smooth, deep green and velvety. It’s delicious when warm and, with a touch of mint and honey, cold nettle infusion is a refreshing summer cooler. A pint per day is recommended, but it’s so tasty, you may find yourself drinking more.
Your nettle infusion will keep for several days in the refrigerator, and a quick sniff will tell you if it’s still in it’s prime. If not, use the leftover as a hair rinse for shine and body, or feed it to your plants—it’s a renowned biodynamic fertilizer, as deeply nourishing for plants as it is for people.
Before you head out to the natural food store for your bag of nettles, you may want to grab my one page handout to keep the infusion making how-to on your fridge: Wise Woman Medicine Making Chart. My students love to keep this concise guide close at hand as a clear reference on the why's and how's of using and making the various herbal preparations.
Here’s to your health! Drink up.
Corinna Wood, seasoned teacher and mentor along the wise woman path–from herbs to self love
"I was initiated into the Wise Woman Tradition at the tender age of 22, by Susun Weed and a beloved patch of nettles. Today, I support women with inner growth and healing tools to ground you in your own innate wisdom, needs and desires. My teachings on heart and soul healing draw on earth wisdom of our foremothers––the shoulders on which we stand––to navigate the challenges we face as women in the world today."