Susun Weed is an internationally renowned medicine woman and herbalist who is known for her work, the Wise Woman Way. In this edition of the series called “Herbs for Labor” written for Birth Institute, she explores the medicinal powers of two vines: passion flower and hops. Both vines are excellent relaxing herbs, helping moms to be at ease throughout labor and birth.
Welcome to my cave. Or, more correctly, the cave of Grandmother. Do come in and join us. We were just having some venison stew with wild leeks. After we will fill our bellies with good nourishing food, we can fill our heads with stories and information. Grandmother Growth knows a lot about labor and about herbs that can assist women in labor.
She knows that we have already met and spent time with some of her favorite herbs: blue cohosh, black cohosh, catnip, skullcap, motherwort, liferoot, and wild ginger. What other herbs for labor are there in her bag of remedies? When I close my eyes, what do I see? An image of a vines. Vines in my mind’s eye. Vines with leaves like hands. Vines reaching out to me. Vines, vines. Passionflower vines. Hops vines.
Both are native to North America and both may be found growing wild, as well as in cultivation. (Hops is commercially valuable and is grown on a large scale.) Both of these vines, especially in tincture form though tea may be used, are capable of altering mood and calming frantic energy.
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) is the milder of these two relaxing herbs. Passionflower vines produce passion fruits; yummy. But it is the leaves and flowers that are used medicinally. Since it is killed by frost, northern gardeners like myself must be content with passionflower plants in pots. But those in Hawaii, Florida, Arizona and similar hot climates, will find passionflower growing as a weed in vacant lots. My favorite passionflower plant was trained to vine across a pergola where it gave beautiful shade and produced armloads of leaves and flowers for the pharmacy. If you haven’t seen the flower of passionflower, find a minute sometime soon to look at a photo (or at the actual flower). It is surely one of the most amazing blossoms ever.
Passionflower is considered an anticonvulsant and an analgesic; properties that recommend it for laboring women, who find it does indeed help ease the stress and pain of contractions. Passionflower tincture calms like motherwort, coordinates contractions like raspberry, takes the edge off an overwrought, fearful woman like valerian, and brings rest when needed like skullcap, but with a cooler hand and faster action.
Passionflower tincture reduces anxiety as well as benzodiazepine, according to a study cited by Roberta Lee in Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health, page 488. In the same book, Aviva Romm writes about the value of passionflower for women dealing with postpartum depression.
Doses start at five drops, but dropperfuls may be needed in some cases.
Passiflora tea is also useful, though slower acting.
Hops (Humulus lupulus) is a vine in the Cannabaceae family, the same family as marijuana. Like marijuana, it is the female flowers of the hops vine that are used for medicine. (And like marijuana, there are female plants and male plants.) If you are not living in a state where marijuana is legal (yet), then hops is the obvious alternative. Hops is more sedative than marijuana, but both help to create an attitude of acceptance that helps move labor along at just the right pace.
Hops tea is effective but very bitter; it is best sipped and taken as hot as possible. Hops tincture, in tiny doses, repeated as needed, can be used to take the tension out of the woman laboring and help her “go along for the ride.” Larger doses bring sleep when it is called for, as during a slow or extended labor, easing an exhausted mother-to-be down into the arms of oblivion for a brief while.
Hops is estrogenic and demonstrates strong estrogen receptor binding activity. Most so-called estrogenic herbs, like red clover, contain phytosterols, which can be bio-converted (by the right bacteria) into bio-active hormones. Not so hops, which contains the estrogen 8-prenylnaringenin.
Hops is, of course, a main ingredient in beer. Studies of men, looking at the connection between beer consumption and likelihood of prostate cancer, found these hops estrogens to be active in the blood of beer drinkers. Would they be active from hops tea or tincture? Would they affect labor?
Our knowledge expands and settles, it spins and spirals. What was old becomes new again, and what is new will surely grow old. The Grandmother Growth smiles and nods, her eyes twinkling and her fringes fluttering, as she waves us goodbye. Until we meet again: Green blessings.
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