In general terms, emmenagogues are herbs that stimulate menstrual flow. While this is not always their use, most of them support and tone the tissue of the female reproductive system. Toning herbs and bitter herbs both generally have effects on the female reproductive system as well. Many emmenagogue herbs need to be highly controlled during pregnancy as they may over stimulate the uterus into labor. Only use these herbs during pregnancy with the guidance of a professional or registered herbalist of The American Herbalist’s Guild.
Red raspberry leaf is a uterine tonic herb. This is particularly helpful to support carrying a child prior to pregnancy. During labor, it may be used to strengthen contraction and reduce the chance of hemorrhage. Being an astringent herb, red raspberry can also be used for diarrhea, mouth ulcers, or any other bleeding conditions of the digestive tract.
While red raspberry works through its astringent properties, yarrow works more through its bitter principles. These herbs cause mild irritation to bring on menstruation. Yarrow is also thought of as a styptic, to reduce bleeding, but also for hypertension by dilating blood vessels. This amphoteric, both increasing and decreasing, effect on blood flow is one of the main actions that makes yarrow unique.
Vitex, now the more common name, also is known by the common name chaste tree berry. This is an emmenagogue of a different sort as it acts on the hormone balance in female bodies. Just like yarrow’s effect on blood flow, vitex has an amphoteric effect on estrogen levels in the body. As such it is not just used for toning the uterus but also for PMS related symptoms that are associated with hormone levels. Very small amounts of vitex are needed on a daily basis for this effect. You can almost consider it an herbal version of ‘the pill’ except it wont stop you from getting pregnant, just keep your emotions and pain under control.
Motherwort is another bitter herb often used for the female reproductive system. This plant is easy to remember its general uses if you can remember its scientific name: Leonurus cardiaca. Not only is it used for menstrual related challenges (mother___) it is also used for various circulatory system aggravations (___ cardiaca). When menstruation is just not happening due to stress or other reasons, motherwort can encourage menstruation to occur. When taking motherwort it is important to pay attention to changes in heart rate and lower the dose if there are changes. Do not take motherwort in excess if you are also taking other cardiovascular treatments.
For more information on herbal actions such as emmenagogue herbs, please consult the book “Medical Herbalism” by David Hoffmann. If you are interested in using these and other herbs on a daily basis, please consult with a professional herbalist.