by Susun S. Weed

It's big news when a favored medical treatment - HRT for menopausal women - is found to be harmful. But it's no news to readers of Susun Weed. She's been blowing the whistle on both scientific and alternative treatments of menopause for nearly two decades. As recently quoted in Newsweek Magazine, Susun maintains: "Menopause is not a 'pathology', but a passage to power. Like puberty, menopause is a natural - and healthy - change. Wise women the world over herald menopause as a health-promoting event. They see hot flashes as 'power surges' and menopause as an intense spiritual journey. Most treatments - including ERT, HRT, isoflavone, and progesterone creams - disrupt this process and can do severe damage to a woman's health."

Susun Weed, wise woman, herbalist, author, and mother, has been at the forefront of the natural menopause revolution for the past fifteen years. She plays with the fairies and her goats at her 55-acre homestead in New York's Catskill mountains, where she coordinates events at the Wise Woman Center, including monthly moonlodge gatherings and a variety of healing workshops. She has dedicated her life to the reweaving of the cloak of the Ancients and to making the Wise Woman available to all women.

MENOPAUSE IS ENLIGHTENMENT

The energy aspects of menopause are of special interest to me.

As a long-time student of yoga, I was struck by the many similarities between menopausal symptoms and the well-known esoteric goal of "awakening of the kundalini." Though the ideas presented in this section may seem strange or difficult to comprehend, they contain powerful messages about menopause, which lie at the heart of the Wise Woman approach.

Kundalini [is] the root [of] all spiritual experiences ... Kundalini is a special kind of energy known in many cultures, including Tibetan, Indian, Sumerian, Chinese, Irish, Aztec, and Greek. Kundalini is said to be hot, fast, powerful, and large. It exists within the earth, within all life, and within each person. Psychoanalyst Carl G. Jung called kundalini anima. Kundalini is usually represented as a serpent coiled at the base of the spine, but women's mystery stories locate it in the uterus - or the area where the uterus was, if a hysterectomy has occurred. During both puberty and menopause, a woman's kundalini is difficult to control and may cause a great number of symptoms.

East Indian yogis spend lifetimes learning to activate, or wake up, their kundalini. This is also called "achieving enlightenment". When they succeed, a surge of super-heated energy goes up the spine, throughout the nerves, dilating blood vessels, and fueling itself with hormones. As kundalini continues to travel up the spine, it changes the functioning of the endocrine, cardiovascular, and nervous systems. Not just in yogis, but in any woman who allows herself to become aware of it. Menopause is a kind of enlightenment. Hot flashes are kundalini training sessions.

TAKING HORMONES? THESE HERBS ARE FOR YOU

More and more American women are using herbal remedies to help them with menopausal problems. Those who do take ERT (estrogen replacement) or HRT (hormone replacement) may be surprised to discover that herbal medicine has a lot to offer them as well.

Herbs for women on ERT/HRT include those that alleviate side-effects as well as those that counter problems caused by the hormones.

Herbal Helpers Counter Side-Effects

Water retention is the symptom most often cited for dissatisfaction with hormone replacement. Herbal tinctures and tea, such as dandelion or cleavers, and ordinary foods can not only relieve the distress, they will go to the root of the problem and help prevent recurrences.

Dandelion root tincture (Taraxacum officinale) strengthens the liver and helps it process out the excess hormones you are taking. When the liver works well, the kidneys work better, and tissues no longer bloat. A dose is 10-20 drops in several ounces of water or juice 2-3 three times a day. If you have any digestion problems, take your dandelion before meals; otherwise, anytime is fine. You can safely take dandelion daily for months or years if you need or want to.

Cleavers herb tincture (Galium molluga) tells the lymphatic tissues to get moving. Relief from edema is usually rapid when 20-30 drops are taken in several ounces of water or juice. Repeat up to six times at hourly intervals if needed. Cleavers is especially helpful for easing swollen, sore breasts.

Foods that relieve water retention include (in order of effectiveness): asparagus, nettles, corn (and corn silk tea), grapes, cucumbers, watermelon (and watermelon seed tea), parsley, celery, black tea, and green tea.

Headaches are the second most common side-effect of hormone use. Unfortunately, they are common among menopausal women not taking hormones, too. Herbs that help relieve headache without a drug-like action - such as dandelion, yellow dock, milk thistle, burdock, garden sage, skullcap, and St. John's/Joan's wort - are generally considered safe to take with hormones.

Chinese herbalists say headaches are caused by liver stress. My favorite liver-strengthening herbs are dandelion, yellow dock, milk thistle seed, and burdock. I use one at a time, a 15-25 drops of the tincture several times a day, for two weeks. If symptoms continue, I switch to a different herb.

A strong tea of garden sage leaves (Salvia officinalis) offers immediate relief from headaches and helps prevent future ones. It also reduces night sweats. Tinctures of skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) and St. Joan's/John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) ease pain and relieve muscle spasms. Use 5-20 drops of skullcap and a dropperful of St.J's at the very first sign - no, the very first thought - of a headache. Repeat the doses every five minutes until pain free. Skullcap can be quite sedative, especially in large doses.

Herbal Allies to Prevent Problems Caused by Taking Hormones

Breast cancer risk is increased 20% in women who use ERT for five or more years. Use of HRT for five or more years increases breast cancer risk by 40%. Each five years of continued use increases the risk. In addition, women who take ERT are far more likely to get uterine or endometrial cancers. All women on hormones increase their risks of lung and ovarian cancer, too. Nourishing herbs such as red clover, and foods such as beans and yogurt, offer easy ways to stay cancer-free.

Red clover blossoms (Trifolium pratense), when dried and brewed into a strong infusion (one ounce herb steeped an a quart of boiling water for at least four hours) prevent cancer by providing phytoestrogens that counter the cancer-promoting effects of oral hormones. Usual dose is 2-4 cups a day. The infusion tastes like black tea and can be flavored with mint if you like.

Since uncooked beans and unfermented soy contain anti-nutritional factors that may promote bone loss and dementia, soy "milk" and tofu are not recommended. Miso and tamari definitely help to prevent breast cancer but soy isoflavones may promote it.

Yogurt helps build powerful immunity. Women who eat a quart of yogurt a week have 700% less cancer than women who eat no yogurt.

Dry eyes afflict more than 9% of women using ERT and over 7% of those on HRT. Risk increases by 70% for every year of continued use. And the longer a woman uses hormones, the greater her risk. Herbs such as oatstraw, chamomile, and chickweed can help relieve and prevent this problem.

Oatstraw infusion (Avena sativa) cools and moistens your eyes from the inside out, builds strong bones too. Use one ounce of dried herb in a quart jar; fill to the top with boiling water and cap tightly. Let steep four or more hours. Dose is 2-4 cups a day. Refrigerate after straining.

Cucumber slices ease dry eyes; so do chamomile tea bags.

The ultimate ally for women with dry eyes is fresh chickweed (Stellaria media), applied as a poultice to the closed eyes. Leave on for five minutes, or until the plant material feels warm (it will heat up). Repeat as needed.

Stroke and heart attack are actually increased by use of ERT/HRT, though modern medicine has long proclaimed the opposite. Every major double-blind study done to date has created a larger and larger gap between ERT/HRT's supposed ability to help cardiovascular health and its actual results. Protect your heart with nourishing and tonifying herbs and foods such as motherwort, hawthorn, and cherries.

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) tincture helps the heart. The Japanese claim it is their secret of longevity. A dose is 5-15 drops, twice a day. Motherwort also relieves hot flashes, calms tachycardiia, and eases anxiety. It's an all-in-one remedy for menopausal women.

Hawthorn (Crataegus oxycantha) flowers, leaves, and fruits are all used to maintain heart health and control fluid build-up in heart tissues. A dose is 20- 30 drops of tincture 2-4 times a day, or a cup of tea with meals. This widespread shrub is considered one of the finest heart tonics in the world.

Cherries are even better than apples at keeping the doctor away. Dried cherries and cherry juice, even tincture of cherries.

More than three-quarters of the women in America over the age of fifty have refused ERT/HRT. If you want to join them, taper off your dosage slowly, while continuing to use nourishing and tonifying herbs such as dandelion, motherwort, red clover, oatstraw, and seaweed.