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Fibrocystic Breast & Cleavers: A Premier Spring Lymph Tonic

 

Galium aparine2

Galium aparine

“What herbs would you recommend for breast cysts?” Dr. Mary inquired during our recent phone conversation. It is the type of question I get asked a lot. Especially from those who want to replace a pharmaceutical with an herb, thinking it would be a more “natural” approach and healthier alternative.

Initially I tried to divert the question by suggesting that her patient’s caffeine intake might be looked at, since it is a known agravator of breast cysts. I, myself, have resolved this issue simply by eliminating coffee and chocolate. But I knew that in order to recommend the herbs that Dr. Mary was inquiring about we would need to have a deeper conversation.

I am an herbalist, not a medical doctor, and a medical doctor is not an herbalist. One practices in a mechanistic (Allopathic) model and the other in an energetic model. Understanding a few basic concepts of how herbal medicine functions in an energetic model can help us to understand the long-lasting results that can be achieved from taking a more natural approach.

So, I asked Dr. Mary is she would be willing to make the time to have this conversation and she was. Healing takes time, as do most natural processes. The good news is what took decades to manifest as illness may only take months or possibly years to restore to wellness.

I began by explaining that the longest lasting result from herbal medicine is in its tonic ability to restore whole bodily systems. A tonic is something that is taken consistently over time, not the quick fix that our fast-paced world demands. The affinity of herbs for certain body systems (circulatory, respiratory, urinary, etc.) and their actions (lymphatic, hepatic, tonic, etc.) illustrates their intelligence and aids us in choosing the best ones.

Healing is also about relationships and it takes time to be in relationship. An herb taken over time brings you into closer relationship with it, especially if you are growing, harvesting, making, smelling, tasting, drinking, digesting and eliminating it. Pharmaceuticals that go directly into the blood stream bypass most of these checks and balances. Locally grown and seasonal herbs are exponentially more potent energetically. Herbs are some of our greatest allies if we are willing to take the time to get to know them.

“Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. It takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” – Georgia O’Keeffe

Dr. Mary’s timing for asking about breast cysts the week of Spring Equinox couldn’t have been more perfect. The action of herbal lymphatics is almost always indicated when there is breast congestion. The plants that nature gives us in Spring deliver a number of lymphatic system and liver tonics for clearing the congestion of Winter.

Fibrocystic Breast chart

Source: Mayo Clinic

For women, the largest reservoir of lymph is located in the tissues of the breast. Lymph drains away from the breast and breast cysts develop as a result of fluid accumulation inside the glands in the breasts. Fibrocystic breast is not a disease and may be the result of hormonal changes aggravated by weight gain, stress, caffeine, chocolate, smoking, and poor diet. In addition, restrictive clothing that presses on lymph nodes can impede lymph flow. Research studies show that hormones tend to collect in breast tissue, a good reason to eat organic hormone free meat and dairy, and a lymphatic self-breast massage is recommended. Having cysts doesn’t increase your risk of breast cancer. They may, however, make it more difficult to find new lumps or other changes that might need evaluated by a doctor, so be familiar with how your breasts normally feel so you will know when something changes. One of the ways to identify a cyst is that they tend to feel fluid-filled with distinct edges and move more freely than a hard mass.

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One of the herbal allies that I was excited to share with Dr. Mary was Galium aparine, commonly known as Cleavers, and with a special affinity for the breasts and lymphatic system. It grows abundantly in our Appalachian Mountains and I gather it every spring. An herbaceous annual it can be found in moist wild areas of all temperate zones worldwide. Not surprisingly it is considered a common weed, as are many of our medicinal plants. Cleavers, or more affectionately, Velcro Weed, are one of the easiest herbs to identify because of their straggling stems and branches that grow close to the ground, their whorls of leaves, and their clinging nature by which they attach themselves readily with small hooked hairs. The entire aerial plant is harvested in spring in early flowering and used fresh or dried. The fresh herb has a high-water content so care must be taken not to crush during harvest and to dry quickly in order to avoid spoilage. Geese love the seeding plant, hence the common name of Goosegrass.

“Cleavers is a very valuable plant, being perhaps the best tonic available for the lymphatic system.” – David Hoffmann

Cleavers is especially useful for breast cysts and as a premier Spring Tonic is rich in chlorophyll, promoting lymph drainage. It strengthens lymphatic circulation, eases breast congestion, tonifies veins, counters blood clots and has the ability to work fibrosities out of the tissues including uterine fibroids. Useful for urinary tract infections and prostatitis it is a diuretic that cools and shrinks inflamed tissues of the urinary tract.

While Galium aparine may have an affinity for the lymphatic and urinary tract system, I, personally, have an affinity with the herb because it is known as a “deer medicine” in Native American herbalism. This is partially because in the spring-time deer find it sweet scented and like to bed down in its dense patches. It has also been used throughout our human history as bedding material, giving yet another common name to this common weed, Bedstraw. To whatever name you cleave, may it encourage your waters to flow clear and current, and restore you once again to wellness.

Learn more: Love Your Liver: Spring & The Wood Element at Wise Woman University

cleavers-juice-002

How to use:

Dried herb infusion: 3 teaspoons dried herb to 1 cup of water, infuse 3-4 hours or overnight. Drink 1 cup, 3x/day. Boiling destroys medicinal value of cleavers, use dried herb with warm or cold-water infusion.

Tincture of dried herb, 1:5 in 25%, 4-8ml 3x/day

Fresh plant juice: 1-2 teaspoonful (5-15 ml)

No known contraindications

For relief from breast pain and lymphedema use 20 drops every 2 hours.

To shrink cysts and other benign lumps 20 drops/day is usually effective within a few days. More than this may thin the blood. Cleavers contain coumarin, a blood thinner* useful for cancer, stroke and heart disease prevention but increases risk of hemorrhage during surgery. Some women report increased menstrual flow after using cleavers to relieve premenstrual breast tenderness.

*Anticoagulant – thinning the blood, reducing risk of stroke, helps prevent the initiation of cancerous tumors.

Assist immune system when glands are swollen by taking 10 drops of cleavers tincture 1-2x/day for up to a month.

References:

Breast Cancer? Breast Health! By Susun Weed

Making Plant Medicine by Richo Cech

Mayo Clinic https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/breast-cysts/symptoms-causes/syc-20370284

The Earthwise Herbal, A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants, by Matthew Wood

The Herbal Handbook, A User’s Guide to Medical Herbalism, by David Hoffmann

Lymphatic Drainage Massage of the Breast https://youtu.be/uXB6LTAjARU

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A Mid-Summer’s Evening Primrose and Menopausal Ally

PrimroseThea_8084

Photo by Nicholas

Hiking in the high desert with renowned herbalist, Susun Weed, at the beginning of my menopausal years was a gift from the goddess. Susun had come to Tucson, AZ to meet with her editor, Betsy Sandlin, in order to put the finishing touches on The Menopausal Years manuscript. With Betsy in the midst of her change it couldn’t have been better timing.

Pollinator bee approaching

Pollinator bee approaching

A mutual friend had gathered us together for a morning hike through the saguaros in the Santa Catalina Mountains beneath Mount Lemmon, named for the botanist and mountain trekker, Sarah Plummer Lemmon. Sarah trekked to the top by mule and foot in the late 1880’s with Native American guides who called this granite mountain above the heart of the city, “Frog Mountain.”

Oenothera biennis

Oenothera biennis

As we retraced Sarah’s footsteps at the base of this city’s backyard wilderness, I confessed to Susun that I was experiencing heavy menstrual bleeding and was concerned. “Oh! You’re experiencing menstrual flooding, are you?” she responded. A flood it was. Welcome to perimenopause. I was relieved to have the diagnosis, but I was only in my late thirties and wondered if it was normal to be experiencing this kind of bleeding. She reassured me that it was a symptom of early menopause and suggested that I take capsules of Evening Primrose seed oil daily for six weeks, coupled with Vitex berries (aka Chasteberry) to stabilize progesterone shifts and decrease flooding. She even gave me a Xeroxed copy of her as yet unpublished manuscript with the protocol (see below). It worked like a miracle. I will be forever grateful for the synchronicity of that morning and the information that I now get to share with you as we pass it down the Wise Woman way.

Evening Primrose, Oenothera biennis, is a biennial wildflower that blooms in mid-summer. The Evening Primrose that most of us are familiar with is the yellow flowering variety in a genus of about 125 species. Native to North and South America it is not closely related to the true primroses (Primula). In the Desert Southwest the fragrant tufted Evening Primrose, Oenothera caespitosa, is a southwestern species that first blooms white, but turns pink or light magenta. Most native desert species are white.

Primrose_0944True to its name the flowers open in the evening but will stay open for most of the following day. They can be seen on a dark night from a distance possibly due to some phosphorescence in the flowers. Moths and certain bees that are specifically designed to gather pollen from the Evening Primrose flowers are effective pollinators. Evening primrose tends to germinate in disturbed soil, growing wild throughout North America in pastures and fields. Seeds ripen from late summer to fall and it is cultivated in North and South America and Europe for its seed oil.

Primrose_0948Evening Primrose oil, an omega-6 EFA, contains high amounts of GLA. The mature seeds contain up to 10% GLA and 70% linoleic acid. This rich source of GLA, the precursor of linoleic acid, and an unusual long-chain fatty acid is found in only three other plants: black currants, borage seeds, and hemp seeds. Because the human body needs a balance between omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids it is recommended to use evening primrose in combination with fish oil containing omega-3 EFA’s.

The seed oil of O. biennis is used clinically in Britain to reduce the symptoms of PMS, most notably the pain of menstrual cramps and breast tenderness. It may even protect against breast cancer. Additionally, evening primrose oil is thought to aid in fertility by improving the quality of the mucus lining the cervix. The oil extracted from its seeds has long been a favorite of women for female reproductive disorders. Midwives use it both orally and topically to aid the cervix in ripening for birth.

This natural polyunsaturated fatty acid is an effective anti-inflammatory used to ease the symptoms of arthritis, colitis, diabetic neuropathy, hypertension and high cholesterol as well as dry skin conditions and eczema. It eases prostate swelling in older men, too. Evening primrose oil is considered a carrier oil in the world of aromatherapy and is prized for its abundant food, health, cosmetic and medicinal benefits.

Evening Primrose Photos by Thea

Evening Primrose
Photos by Thea

Back home in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina Evening Primrose grows abundantly all around me. The Cherokee use it as a food source eating the leaves as greens and boiling the young root. While I had been introduced to many naturalized European imports in my herbal studies, it was refreshing to discover a native of North America that had been successfully introduced in Europe and naturalized in England as a garden escapee.

Evening Primrose continues to be an ally for me, even after menopause aiding in keeping my heart healthy, reducing inflammation and alleviating joint pain. As I was reviewing my notes for this article I found the Xeroxed copy of the manuscript Susun had shared with me. In the margin was a handwritten note from Susun and I quote:

“Betsy and I discovered we both thought of you as anything but ‘Cynthia!’ Hope you don’t object to my shortening your name to ‘goddess,’ Thea.”

Well, of course I didn’t object to being called a goddess! And that’s how I not only met a new herbal ally, but also claimed a new name. So, if you should happen to meet her on a mid-summer’s eve, Evening Primrose is an ally that serves the goddess well.

Recommendations:

Please consult with your healthcare practitioner for recommended dosages for specific needs.

Evening Primrose seed oil 1,300mg softgel 2x/day (Solgar or Barlean’s) up to 3,000/daily

Chasteberry, Vitex agnus-castus is a slow acting herb and it may take up to 3 months to see an effect. Supports women achieving menopause either naturally or through surgery, radiation or drugs. Naturally increases levels of progesterone and luteinizing hormone in the blood (by nourishing and increasing the responsiveness of the body’s own feedback systems). While this can be helpful during early menopause it needs to be used more judiciously during the “melt-down” years when too much LH is dilating the blood vessels causing hot flashes and palpitations. Inhibits prolactin and over 50% of women experiencing PMS have high levels of prolactin. Helps to keep cycles more regular. Especially useful for women experiencing fibroids, endometriosis (anti-inflammatory effect on the endometrium), emotional mood swings or hysteria, and fertility issues. Long term results come from long term use up to two years. Not for use during pregnancy except as directed by your midwife or health care practitioner. Is an anti-aphrodisiac for men hence the name “chasteberry,” yet increases women’s libido when taken over time.

Vitex Extract: 1000 mg. daily (Gaia Herbs) Vitex Tincture: 1:4 Take 1 dropperful/1 ml (approx. 30 drops) of tincture 3-4/x day.

References:

New Menopausal Years, by Susun Weed

Delmar’s Integrative Herb Guide for Nurses, by Martha Libster

A Modern Herbal ,Volume 1, by Mrs. M. Grieve

Frog Mountain Blues, by Charles Bowden

Register now for Thea Summer Deer’s work-at-your-own-pace class, Heal Your Heart: Summer & the Fire Element at Wise Woman University.