Green blessings, plant medicines, are everywhere and are instrumental during pregnancy, labor and the postpartum. In this edition of the series called “Herbs for Pregnancy written for Midwife International, Susun Weed describes the usages of three herbs for labor in the mint family: catnip, skullcap, and motherwort. Natural remedies like herbal medicine are a welcome addition to any midwife’s birth bag, and an important part of midwife training.
Every indigenous midwife, and many modern midwives, relies on members of the mint family whenever a woman needs a healing natural remedy. Make yourself a cup of mint tea, and let’s chat about the uses of mint family plants during labor.
The mint family is enormous in size and full of enormously helpful herbs for pregnancy and labor. Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist who had the task of giving names to all the plants and putting them in families, called it the Labiatae, the family of lipped flowers. (Labia is “lip.”) You will have to look closely, for the flowers in this family are often small, but you can easily see the two lips of the flower getting ready to kiss you. Nowadays we call them the Lamiaceae.
All mint family plants are antispasmodic, that is, they coordinate the muscles of the uterus so they contract usefully rather than spastically. During labor, they offer pain relief that is quite safe for mom and babe. Since mint is so well known, it is more acceptable to medical professionals in hospital settings. The Wise use of mint family plants creates a more efficient, less protracted labor. All mint family plants are calming. They ease away anxiety, bring a lighter mood and gladden the heart – always welcome in the labor room.
The mint family is not just about mint and spearmint. Basil, lavender, rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano are in the mint family. As are shiso, bergamot, self-heal, ground ivy, lemon balm, yerba santa, and hyssop. Many mints are scented and their medicinal value is due to those aromatic, volatile oils, but some of the most medicinal mints have little or no scent.
Mint family plants, especially the scented ones, make delightful and useful fresh teas, so much so that their effectiveness in tincture form is sometime overlooked. Yet tinctures made from dried mint family plants are useless, so far as I am concerned. Unfortunately, that is what you will most likely find for sale. This is why I urge you to make your own; it is simple and easy, and there are probably one or more mint family plants growing right outside your door! You can purchase tinctures made from fresh plants from Catskill Mountain Herbs or Red Moon Herbs; businesses run by past apprentices of mine.
My favorite herbs for labor
Of my three favorite mints for helping with labor – and after labor too, when we need delivery of the placenta – one is scented (catnip) and two are unscented (skullcap and motherwort). You can use my favorites or substitute any other mint family plant that grows around you.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria)
A hot tea of fresh catnip, briefly brewed and served with honey, will calm mom, coordinate labor contractions and ease labor pain. Don’t have any fresh catnip? Dried catnip rolled into a joint and smoked works just as well. (But doesn’t smell nearly as nice.) Don’t bother making tea of dried catnip; it loses up to three-quarters of its effective volatile oils during drying.
Some enterprising midwives have experimented with catnip tincture. Doses of 10-30 drops, repeated as needed, offer stronger pain relief than the tea, but can be so calming that the mom falls asleep. If she needs the rest, fine, if not, rely on drinking tea or smoking the herb. Catnip tincture also seems helpful to children with ADD and ADHD.
Find catnip growing wild or grow it yourself from seeds. Cats routinely kill transplanted catnip, so don’t bother with that.
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)
This scentless mint is a powerhouse of activity. It is my go-to herb when pain relief is needed. A dose is 5-10 drops of tincture of the fresh plant; any more will almost always bring sleep. Stephen Buhner writes that Chinese skullcap is a respected antiviral and that S. lateriflora has the same constituents. Like all mints, skullcap lightens the mood of the laboring mom, while organizing labor behind the scenes. Its signature is the headache, which it relieves promptly, but skullcap is nourishing and revitalizing to the entire nervous system. Think of using it when the laboring mom seems fragile or panicky.
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)
This scentless mint helps women in all stages of their lives. It eases puberty, eliminates menstrual cramps and PMS, restores calm when nerves are jangled during labor and postpartum, smooth’s menopausal bumps and strengthens the heart for a long, healthy life. The taste is bitter, so forget tea. Instead, tincture the flowering tops anytime from mid-summer through fall. Alcohol draws the “active” alkaloids – leonurine and stachydrine – out of motherwort far better than water anyway. Both alkaloids promote uterine contractions, making motherwort a great labor companion.
Need to calm a mom (or yourself)? Try a dropperful of motherwort tincture.
Labor losing steam? Try a dropperful of motherwort tincture.
Blood pressure problematic as labor progresses? Try motherwort tincture.
Yes, it is true. Green blessings are everywhere. See you again soon. There is so much more to share.
Susun Weed has appeared on numerous national radio, television, and new-media venues, including National Public Radio, NBC News, CNN, and ABCNews.com. She has been quoted and interviewed in many major magazines, including Natural Health, Woman’s Day, First for Women, and Herbs for Health. She is a contributor to the Routledge International Encyclopedia of Women’s Studies, and writes a regular column in Sagewoman and for Awakened Woman online. Visit her at www.susunweed.com or buy her books Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year (Weed) and Herbal Healing for Women (Gladstar) at www.wisewomanbookshop.com.