Sandra is a medical herbalist, medical anthropologist, and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Your health: Herbal tea helps during pregnancy

3 comments
Raspberry leaf tea works to build up uterine muscles. Photo / iStock
Raspberry leaf tea works to build up uterine muscles. Photo / iStock

Hi Sandra, I'm expecting my first baby in a few weeks and am a little nervous about keeping myself and my baby healthy. My pregnancy has been difficult and I'm already exhausted. I understand I need to eat well and rest where I can, but I was wondering what plant medicine may help new mothers?
Nicky, Wellington

Congratulations on your first baby and the exciting times you have ahead. It's normal for most first time mothers to feel nervous, especially if your pregnancy has been difficult.

Eating well and resting are more important than ever and this is where daily rituals of self-care with nutritive medicinal herbal teas can strengthen you.

Traditional plant medicines have been used by women for generations to help mitigate issues through pregnancy and post birth fatigue. In Switzerland, where traditional plant remedies are a part of the mainstream medical system, a medicinal tea is recommended for pregnant women as part of their obstetric care.

This traditional midwifery formula includes raspberry leaf and lady's mantle to build up the uterine muscle, horsetail for connective tissue strength and yarrow as a circulatory tonic and to prevent excessive bleeding at birth, as well as nourishing nettle, calming lemon balm and uplifting St. John's Wort.

This specialised Swiss pregnancy tea is deemed highly effective in mitigating common complaints during pregnancy and shown empirically to facilitate a swift birth whilst being absolutely safe.

For these reasons, this traditional herbal combination is recommended at Zurich's University Hospital, a teaching hospital for doctors, nurses and midwives.

St John's wort is also an important traditional remedy used in pregnancy. We have referenced medical use of St John's Wort in pregnancy and child birth going back to the 16th century. It is an amazing plant that has benefitted many women to better tolerate the changes that pregnancy brings and it is entirely safe when taken in tea form, even when you are taking pharmaceuticals.

St. John's Wort is an energising tonic that is scientifically proven to alleviate fatigue, anxiety, mild to moderate depression and tiredness. It may also help to strengthen your nervous system to make you more resilient when you are experiencing stress and anxiety.

St John's Wort oil is also a lifesaver that can help prepare your body for childbirth by reducing stretchmarks during pregnancy and also by reducing the chance of perineum tearing at birth. You could ask your midwife to help show you the best way to massage this oil into your perineum. It is best applied twice daily for the last six-eight weeks before birth, in order to build good elasticity in this area.

The 100 per cent organic plant oil is free of mineral oil such as liquid paraffin. You can also use this oil to help healing in sensitive areas post birth. Using St. John's Wort oil on your baby is another great use as their skin is five times thinner at birth than ours and needs nourishment and protection. An additional benefit is that the oil has a calming influence on baby.

Nettle is also a nourishing plant that has been used safely for thousands of years as a traditional medicine - making it perfect for pregnant and new mums. It is high in strengthening minerals including iron, calcium, magnesium, and vitamins A and C, enzymes and important nutrients.

The need for highly nutritive and nourishing foods increase at times of stress and when extra demands are placed on the body, so including nettle into your daily regime is a great way of topping up your stores as you welcome your new baby to the world.

Lemon balm is an excellent herb that helps to soothe your nerves during pregnancy and post child birth as it can really help with that sudden mood shift that some pregnant women experience. It may help relieve depression, relax muscle spasms and ease fluid retention as well.

Remember that hydration is important, so keep up your fluid intake through water, teas, smoothies or high water content fruit and vegetables.

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• Talk to your midwife, or seek advice from your health practitioner for support and always call 111 in health emergencies.
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Hi Sandra I am wondering what is the difference between vitamin supplements and herbal remedies?
Margaret, Whangarei

I get asked this question a lot, medicinal plants contain nourishing nutrients, including naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, trace elements, as well as unique phytochemicals that effectively re-balance and strengthen your body.

They are quite different from modern vitamin pills, which will cover a nutritional gap but don't have the additional deeper and long-term benefits that medicinal herbs have.

Contemporary scientific research confirms that medicinal plants can reduce stress, improve sleep, strengthen the immune system and improve digestion.

In Switzerland, where I come from, plant medicine is a living tradition that is part of everyday life. It co-exists alongside the newer pharmaceutical medicines. It is not unusual that doctors and GPs provide patients with plant medicine prescriptions filled at their local pharmacy, as well as pharmaceutical medicines where needed. Around 60 per cent of the remedies dispensed in a typical Swiss pharmacy are plant medicines.

Nutritional supplements are a recent development and are designed to address a lack of micronutrients in many people's diets that may be an underlying factor for an illness.

Most vitamins are nature identical but are often made synthetically. The widespread use of nutritional supplementation is relatively new, and has only really emerged with the pharmaceutical manufacturing know-how in this field.

In saying that, there are concentrated food based vitamins in the market, which are often preferable over synthetically prepared alternatives as they tend to be better tolerated by people and contain natural co-factors that a straight vitamin formula does not.

Coming back to traditional plant medicines, they have served mankind for thousands of years and have shown a profound and long lasting beneficial effect on our bodies. They are the first port of call for immediate and long-term health as they provide extra benefits compared with a single vitamin.

- nzherald.co.nz

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Sandra is a medical herbalist, medical anthropologist, and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Sandra Clair is the founder of Artemis (artemis.co.nz) offering New Zealanders a premium range of traditional plant medicine products. She is one of New Zealand’s most highly qualified health professionals in her field, as a Swiss trained medical herbalist and a medical anthropologist (M.A.). Sandra is currently completing a PhD in health science at the University of Canterbury in collaboration with the Chair for Natural Medicine of the University of Zürich, Switzerland.

Read more by Sandra Clair

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