Know me by name
I’ve always been intrigued by plants ~ every since my mom began pointing out flowers and announcing their majestic, exotic names: “hyacinth”, “agapanthus”, “hydrangea”. So it wasn’t a leap for me when I started to learn about the medicinal properties of the plants ~ that people had been using them to treat everything from bruises to insecurities since time immemorial.
Modern herbalists come in all shades. My yearly dive into plants happens at the Northern Californian Women’s Herbal Symposium where practitioners teach about herbal traditions from all over the world – including Ayurveda (India), Traditional Chinese Medicine, European, Western (Native American). Then there are the ethnobotanists, nutritionists, sea weed specialists, Mayan uterine practitioners, and more. Common to each is her appreciation of the symbiotic relationship we’ve been having with plants since time began.
I want to share with you, my menopausal sisters, my take-away from the blend of these century-rich traditions and modern scientific explorations. As with any distilled wisdom, it’s really simple. The key to a healthy perimenopause, according to Sarah Holmes, co-founder of The Blue Otter School of Herbal Medicine, is to support our body’s natural tendency to maintain homeostasis as our bodies are always trying to stay in balance. In other words, our task at menopause is to focus on balance.
Balance is a continuum
As we come into this next phase of our life cycle, balance starts with coming into a compassionate relationship with ourselves. We accept this is happening, we bitch and complain about its inevitability, we mourn and regret ~ and then we put on our big girl panties and figure out how best to navigate this turn of the tide. Identifying how to bring more balance is the first step. But we’re going to need a good store of resilience and flexibility to maintain that balance. Step two is to expand our range of balance, that is, to actually increase our cache of balance. Similar to having bolsters in the hull, so to speak, when it comes to keeping ourselves upright no matter how choppy the waters get.
Okay, got the metaphor. But how does that translate into what’s happening now? What do the plants say about these fluctuations that are turning me into someone I don’t recognize?
Patterns of balance and imbalance
Since our bodies speak, we notice, in our bodies, emotions and spirits, repetitive patterns that are pointing to imbalance. Herbally speaking, the task at hand is to support our bodies until balance is restored. (This approach is in contrast to the pharmacological way of taking over or suppression the functions of our bodies, until balance is restored).
Let’s break that down a little more: When we experience inflammation, pain or heat (that includes hot flashes and being pissed off) that’s imbalance. When we don’t rest or spend time with friends, that’s imbalance. When we don’t pay attention to what our body’s trying to communicate to us, that’s imbalance.
If our task at menopause is to show up, become our true selves and be in our power to be examples for the younger generations, balance includes: resolving our unresolved trauma and family stuff; stepping away from outgrown jobs or environments, especially ones where we’re disrespected; and being brave and trusting enough to look at those shadowy areas that we’ve hoped would go away by now. It’s time for us to figure out how to a good, wholesome, healthy human in this day and age. No mean feat, mind you.
That’s where the plants want to help out. Using herbs to support our bodies until balance is restored can occur in many forms: it can be making dietary changes; it can be mixing your own herbal teas (infusing flowers and leaves in hot water overnight or simmering roots and berries for 4-8 hours); it can be consulting with a herbalist in your area; and it can be growing your own plants and being ‘fed’ by your relationship with them. There are wonderful resources, books, websites to explore outside the scope of this overview of plants at menopause, many of which you can find in our archives here at MGB.
Herbalists have introduced me to perspectives that seem so simple, but as I mature they guide me with renewed depth and wisdom. Their message: we are an integral part of nature, over the millennia our bodies and the plants have evolved together, the plants are our allies and our healing is intimately linked with and dependent on them.
Thank you, Mom, for introducing me to them by name.