I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again — you do NOT have to suffer through another month of period pain!
That’s the patriarchy trying to keep you down, my friend. Because we’ve been told that it’s just something natural we have to go through, we just accept it and let it take us out of commission for ¼ of the year.
But it’s actually indicative of an imbalanced cycle, not a normal occurrence.
There are many potential underlying causes of menstrual pain, but most of it boils down to hormonal imbalance. It may take some time to sort out as you start living cyclically and working with a holistic health practitioner (why yes, I am accepting new clients for fall!), but in the meantime, you can work with the following herbs to alleviate symptoms.
***Please note, if you are taking any medications or if you are pregnant, you must check with your doctor before trying any new herbal remedy.
Herbs for period pain
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)
Motherwort is an antispasmodic herb used for painful cramps(1) and the anxiety that may arise as a result. It contains compounds that stimulate the release of oxytocin (our “love” hormone), and is a uterotonic, meaning it “tones” the uterus to help reduce future cramps. It can also stimulate blood flow if menstruation is delayed. It’s often taken as a tincture but you can purchase loose herb to make tea.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
Chamomile is an all-around great herb for relaxation, and just because you can get it at the grocery store doesn’t mean it isn’t powerful. It’s another antispasmodic herb, helping to relieve cramps during your period(2). It’s always nice as a tea, but can be just as effective used as a tincture. Even the essential oil has pain-reducing properties, so if you’re someone who likes to make body care products at home, add it to a salve recipe.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
You probably already know all about ginger’s anti-inflammatory action, but did you know it’s actually as effective as ibuprofen(3)? It helps relieve cramps by decreasing the production of prostaglandins, which constrict blood vessels and cause the uterus to contract.
There are three types of prostaglandins, one of which is what causes the pain and the other two relieve that pain — your body is pretty smart in its processes. But those who experience cramps (if not due to issues like endometriosis or fibroids) have more of the prostaglandins that hurt (usually diet-related), and ginger can help you feel a bit better.
It’s also helpful lower back pain(4) associated with menstruation, as well as nausea, so if your period pain is bad enough to get you feeling woozy, this will be great to try. It’s best to start a few days before your period arrives.
Nettle (Urtica dioica)
Nettle is an herbalist’s best friend. It is highly nourishing and rich in vitamins and minerals and protein — the superfood of the herb world. Because cramps are often associated with mineral depletion, nettles can help replenish them.
Magnesium, in particular, is notable for its muscle-relaxing qualities and it reduces the painful prostaglandins as well(5). Nettle also protects the liver, the importance of which you’ll learn shortly!
If you’re drinking nettle tea, it’s definitely… an acquired taste. I always like to have it in a blend with better-tasting herbs, and you can check out the tea recipe at the end of this post.
Dandelion root (Taraxacum spp.)
I love teaching people about the medicine right in their backyards, the ones they think of as weeds! The root of this yellow flower primarily works on the liver(6), which has over 500 jobs to do in the body.
What does the liver have to do with your menstrual cycle? One of its main jobs is detoxification, and through that process, we eliminate waste like excess hormones through sweat, urine, and bowel movements.
A sluggish liver, and also sluggish digestion (read: if you’re not pooping enough), can lead to estrogen dominance when these systems are overburdened, which causes PMS symptoms and other more serious issues if left untreated.
If you’re going to make tea out of dandelion root, you’ll need to decoct it (boil for 20+ minutes) to extract all the good stuff, or you can buy it in teabags. It’s also available as a tincture.
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum)
Cinnamon is a great anti-inflammatory herb for period pain, especially when taken the first few days of your cycle.
A 2018 study in the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice
noted that 1000mg capsules per day can reduce the intensity of cramps(7).
Alternatively, you could decoct a big batch of cinnamon tea to sip on throughout the day, which can also be useful for slowing a heavy flow. Cinnamon is known to improve insulin sensitivity as well, which is super important for hormone balance.
Evening primrose oil (Oenothera biennis)
Several studies have found that this edible oil is effective for relieving PMS symptoms like cramps(8). Its omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids make it an anti-inflammatory solution that promotes hormone balance. You can usually find this in soft gel form for easy supplementation.
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)
As metal as it sounds, this is actually a pretty relaxing herb. It’s anti-inflammatory, mineral-rich, muscle-relaxing, and slightly sedative, with antispasmodic qualities too.
Now that you’ve read about all the other herbs above, I don’t need to tell you why those qualities are helpful for period pain again. You’re an expert now! It’s also really helpful outside of menstruation, for when you’re feeling burnt out and need help shutting off your racing mind for a little while.
Chaste berry (Vitex agnus-castus)
Chaste berry is the ripe, dried fruit of the chaste tree. Used medicinally, it stimulates the pituitary gland to regulate hormones and the menstrual cycle, improving the estrogen:progesterone ratio. Thus, it can help with painful PMS symptoms. It’s also a liver tonic, which aids in hormone detoxification as I explained above.
Reminder: I stress, check with your doctor before beginning any herbal remedy! I say this because I don’t want you to sue me, but also because you may be taking a medication that can interact with the above herbs and reduce its effectiveness, or they may be contraindicated for a health condition you may have (fancy way of saying “not recommended”).
This list is for educational purposes only and the final decision, when considering any course of therapy, whether it’s discussed on the internet or prescribed by a physician, is always yours.
Herbal tea recipe for period cramps
Out of all of the above herbs, I find nettle to be the most difficult to figure out what to do with. It’s quite bitter with a grassy flavor and takes some getting used to if you’re having it on its own. I never got past it, so I prefer to blend it with other herbs. Makes your tea more powerful too!
- 1 tbsp dried nettle
- 1 tbsp dried rose
- 1″ piece of fresh ginger, grated or minced (1-2 tsp)
Steep nettle, rose, and ginger, in 2-3 cups of hot water for 15 minutes covered. Sip throughout the day.