I’ve avoided writing “best of” lists for years but was inspired last weekend by naturopathic elder and women’s health expert Tori Hudson, ND, speaking at a conference here in Toronto.

Whenever I’m coming up with a treatment plan for a patient, I always think about using the fewest number of remedies possible to address the whole person sitting across from me. (I also think about the least invasive thing I can start with, though that is for another article.) In other words, I’m looking for one or two herbs to address multiple symptoms or health problems at the same time. John Scudder called these specific medicines. Tori Hudson calls these twofers, threefers, or fourfers.

Even though it took a lot of restraint to keep this list small, here are my top 7 herbs for women’s health in honour of twofers and threefers.

Black cohosh
Twofer – hormonal regulation and rheumatism

Black cohosh flowers

Black cohosh flowers

Black cohosh is one of the best known herbs for women’s reproductive health. As a hormonal regulator, black cohosh is great for almost every condition related to the menstrual cycle, from irregular periods, to infertility, to fibroids, to menopause. In research studies, black cohosh has been shown to be effective in reducing hot flushes and mood variability associated with menopause. It has also been shown to improve ovulation and fertility in women taking clomiphene citrate (Clomid). Traditionally, black cohosh has also been used for rheumatic pains.

Chaste tree
Threefer – PMS, menorrhagia and infertility

Chaste tree

Chaste tree

Chaste tree, like black cohosh, is considered one of the best herbs for hormonal regulation. Chaste tree works best when a specific hormone called prolactin is high. High prolactin can contribute a variety of symptoms and conditions such as amenorrhea, mastalgia (breast pain and swelling), infertility, PMS, and menorrhagia. If these symptoms are present and/or there is a shortened luteal phase during the menstrual cycle, chaste tree is very helpful.

Garlic
Threefer – high blood pressure, high cholesterol, vaginitis

Garlic

Garlic bulbs

Garlic isn’t usually thought of in relation to women’s health but it addresses some of the most common acute and chronic health problems women face. Acutely, garlic is used for both bacterial and fungal causes of vaginitis. Taken either internally or inserted vaginally, garlic has been shown in studies to effectively treat both bacterial vaginosis and vaginal yeast infections caused by candida. Chronically, garlic helps to reduce blood pressure, lower total cholesterol levels and LDL (low density lipoprotein).

Ginger
Fourfer – colds/flus, nausea, indigestion, menstrual cramps, and arthritis

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Ginger root

Ginger is one of those undervalued herbs that many people have in their kitchen but don’t quite know how to use medicinally. A strong ginger root tea is a great for alleviating nausea whether brought on by menstrual cramps, chemotherapy or pregnancy. Ginger is anti-inflammatory, reducing inflammatory markers and pain associated with both osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. Plus, it is a great tea to brew up at the first sign of a cold or flu, warming you from the inside out.

Lavender
Threefer – anxiety, depression, and headaches

Lavender flowers

Lavender flowers

Lavender’s gently calming scent has long been used in dream pillows and eye pillows to promote a restful sleep. Recent research into lavender has shown that it effectively reduces generalized anxiety and depression, both when used as aromatherapy and when taken internally. Lavender makes for a wonderfully relaxing bath to ease both emotional and physical tension. Applied topically, lavender oil can be a quick way to reduce the pain of headaches, migraines, and muscle pain.

Turmeric
Multifer – endometriosis, cancer, arthritis, eczema, fatty liver disease, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, …

Curcuma longa roots

Turmeric root

Turmeric almost seems like a magical or miraculous herb. It has so many uses that it is nearly impossible to list them all in one paragraph. Research has been conducted on the use of curcumin (the main active plant chemical in turmeric) for more diseases than can be listed here. All that said, turmeric is an amazingly powerful anti-inflammatory, which is why it is effective in treating so many seemingly different health conditions – from arthritis to endometriosis, from chronic pain to ulcerative colitis. Given the breadth of its uses, it’s extremely likely that most people reading this article could benefit from its medicinal qualities in at least some way.

Yarrow

Twofer- excess bleeding of any kind (e.g. menorrhagia, hemorrhoids) and benign pelvic masses (e.g. fibroids, endometriosis)

Yarrow flowers

Yarrow flowers

Yarrow is my herb of choice for ensuring a healthy flow of blood, either when there is too much blood, or when blood has congealed into clots or benign growths. Yarrow helps stop excessive bleeding, whether due to menorrhagia (excess menstrual blood), a cut, or hemorrhoids. When I fell hands first through a glass pane while working on top of a cold frame, a quick poultice of yarrow stopped the bleeding until I could get to a hospital for a few stitches. Yarrow also helps break up stagnant blood and tissues in the genitourinary system, as in the case of menstrual clots, fibroids, or endometriosis.

The Essential Guide to Women's Herbal Medicine by Cyndi Gilbert, NDFor more information about the best herbs for women’s health, take a look at my book The Essential Guide to Women’s Herbal Medicine.