As the summer blooms start to fade and the fall harvest begins, plants that help promote women’s health come to mind.
Many of these botanicals have been used for centuries in traditional medicine. And in recent years, there’s been a growing body of research backing up their ancient uses. So today, I’d like to highlight three key (and well-studied) botanicals for women’s health.
1.) Hibiscus for urinary tract infections
Hibiscus is a spectacular flowering plant that grows throughout the U.S. It’s a member of the rose family and is the national flower of Malaysia, where it’s known as bunga raya, which translates to “celebratory flower.”
Traditionally, all parts of the hibiscus plant are used for food and medicine:
- Seeds are boiled and eaten in soups
- Flowers are used in drinks, herbal teas (cold or hot), jams, jellies, and sauces, or made into a brilliant pink-red-fuchsia natural food coloring
While some data shows that hibiscus has potential as a fertility treatment, most research has focused on preventing and treating urinary tract infections (UTIs).
One study on older residents in a long-term care facility found that a hibiscus drink substantially reduced the amount of UTIs. Researchers thought this was due to hibiscus’ ability to reduce renal inflammation.1
Hibiscus may also have a diuretic effect that helps prevent UTIs. And other studies show that hibiscus’ ability to decrease inflammation may help prevent chronic kidney disease.
Hibiscus is available as a supplement and appears to be safe at 1,000 mg or less daily.
Although there’s no scientific information on effective dosages for hibiscus in teas and beverages, just follow our ancestors’ lead and make an infusion…using a glass jar, combine dried hibiscus and boiling hot water. Seal the container with a tight lid, and allow to steep until the water cools to room temperature.
2.) Chamomile for PCOS
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is an increasingly common hormonal disorder in women. The exact cause of PCOS is unknown, but excess insulin, low-grade inflammation, heredity, and too much of the androgen hormone may be factors.
PCOS symptoms include irregular or infrequent menstruation, infertility, hair growth or loss, acne, and weight gain. PCOS also has longer-term risks for diabetes, heart disease, and uterine cancer—so catching and treating it early is imperative.
Mainstream medicine prescribes a cornucopia of drugs for PCOS, including birth control pills, hormone therapy, and even breast cancer treatments. But, of course, the mainstream ignores the significant amount of science on natural substances that lower androgen hormone levels and improve insulin resistance in women with PCOS.
Specifically, chamomile contains natural phytoestrogens that have hormonal and metabolic effects. This flowering herb is traditionally used for allergies, anxiety, digestion, and painful menstruation. And a recent clinical trial found that chamomile is also effective for PCOS.
Researchers randomly assigned 90 women with PCOS to take 370 mg of dried chamomile flower, or a placebo, three times daily for 12 weeks.2 At the end of the study, researchers discovered that androgen hormone levels declined significantly in the women taking the chamomile supplements.
So, along with a balanced, low-sugar diet that reduces inflammation and helps you maintain a healthy weight, chamomile may also be a powerful, drug-free way to prevent PCOS.
Chamomile is available as a supplement. I recommend 350 to 400 mg daily. Or, chamomile is also available as a tasty tea, which you can brew to taste.
3.) Citrus fruit for endometriosis
Endometriosis is a disorder where the uterine tissue starts growing outside of the uterus. This displaced tissue can spread into the pelvis and wrap around organs, creating painful periods, intercourse, bowel movements, and urination.
As many as 50 percent of all women with endometriosis have difficulty getting pregnant. And the condition is associated with higher rates of uterine cancer, too.
As with PCOS, mainstream medical treatment for endometriosis includes hormone therapy—which has dangerous side effects, including cancer. Some women with endometriosis may even have to undergo a hysterectomy.
But a recent study shows that something as simple as increasing your consumption of citrus fruit can substantially lower your risk of endometriosis.
Researchers gave food-frequency questionnaires to nearly 71,000 women who participated in the Nurses’ Health Study II.3 The questionnaires showed that the women who consumed one or more servings of citrus fruit daily had a 22 percent lower risk of endometriosis compared to those who ate less than one serving of citrus per week.
The researchers noted that citrus fruit is high in vitamin A-precursor nutrients like carotenoids, and women with endometriosis tend to have lower vitamin A levels.
So, if you’re at risk for endometriosis, I recommend at least two servings of citrus fruit daily—such as an orange, grapefruit, kumquat, tangerine, or a sweet lemon or lime.
The bottom line is, if you or a loved one suffers from any of these common women’s health conditions, look to your garden—rather than your medicine cabinet—for a simple (and tasty) cure.
1“Exploring the effect and mechanism of Hibiscus sabdariffa on urinary tract infection and experimental renal inflammation.” J Ethnopharmacol. 2016 Dec 24;194:617-625.
2Effect of chamomile capsule on lipid- and hormonal-related parameters among women of reproductive age with polycystic ovary syndrome.” J Res Med Sci. 2018 Apr 26;23:33.
3“Fruit and vegetable consumption and risk of endometriosis.” Hum Reprod. 2018 Apr 1;33(4):715-727.