Herbs for Hormones : Head & Hands meets Forage Botanicals

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I caught up with the lovely Natasha Richardson of Forage Botanicals. We discussed her journey to becoming a herbalist, tips for stress management, self-care and how to work with herbs for hormones.

So, how did you get into herbalism and when did menstrual health become important to you?

After college, I didn't go on the Bali backpacking adventure - instead, I found myself on a high street in Bromley in a complementary health shop! I worked at Neals Yard Remedies, and before that, I hadn’t realised that complementary therapies existed in such an organised format, or that you could even treat things with herbs. I met practitioners working in the therapy rooms, and I did tonnes of Neal’s Yard’s courses.

I became qualified in 2010 after a three-year degree in herbal medicine. During my course, for the first time in my life - I suffered from terrible period pain. And as I was studying herbal medicine, I didn’t want to just take the things that my GP prescribed - the contraceptive pill and painkillers. I wanted to understand why it was happening rather than cover up symptoms. So that was the beginning of my journey in learning to support my whole wellbeing.

You have written before about how stress played a big part in your menstrual issues, and what do you do now to minimise stress?

Being self-employed is extremely stressful. Even though I can dictate my working pattern, I have to be so incredibly organised. I even set alarms on my phone for when to go to bed.

The more stressed I am getting or the more overwhelmed I feel - the more organised I become. Let’s say there’s a deadline looming, I break down my day into hours and allocate tasks instead of having an impossibly long to-do list.

Making sure I am eating regularly will make a big difference to my working week and stress levels.

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Is there herbal approach to naturally to reduce stress?

Well as mentioned, as a priority, I always look at how my life balance and my food is organised. But If I am going through a period where I don’t have time to stay on top of those things I will consider taking an adaptogen like ashwagandha. It’s an ayurvedic powder which I like to make into a spiced chai (Strengthen + Soothe powder which Natasha sells) and I add it to nut milk each evening or to a smoothie each morning.

What’s an adaptogen?

They help you adapt to stress. In WW2 they tried to find remedies for soldiers returning from service. They naturally ease stress and PTSD. They are particularly good at helping you switch between relaxed and stress. So rather than stopping stress altogether - because stress can be productive in small measures - they stabilise and reduce the side effects of that stress.

So when did you become interested in your monthly cycle?

After university, I remember having a bladder infection. I took antibiotics which then gave me thrush. Then I took antifungals for the thrush and found myself with another bladder infection. Then the thrush returned and I thought to myself ‘this is flippin' ridiculous!’ Somebody at the time said, it’s probably the contraceptive pill and I was like *blows massive raspberry* yeah well, what other options are there?

I was doing everything else naturally, skincare, cleaning products, clothing and It somehow hadn’t even occurred to me that it could be my contraceptive causing my problems!

Someone at work mentioned the fertility awareness method (FAM for short). I did my research and discovered that when done correctly, it’s even more effective than using condoms. I remember just feeling like I had been deceived in some way! How had nobody told me about this method? Something totally natural, that doesn't mess with your hormones and is more effective than other forms of contraception.

So that made me a bit angry, and I started doing it. It takes some time to get to grips with, I charted for a year and a half. After you’ve charted your cycle for a while and you begin to understand your pattern, you don’t need to continue officially charting. Officially charting involves taking your temperature every morning, assessing your cervical mucus and if you want to, feeling for your cervix position and texture. Within about a year and a half, I could tell instinctively at any given point where I was in my cycle. If I was coming up to ovulation, ovulating or coming up to menstruating.

At the time you publish this blog, I will be three months pregnant. And because I have been charting for so many years, when it came to us trying - because I already knew my cycle we got pregnant on our very first try!

It doesn't always work like this even if you do chart though. Sometimes things beyond our control get in the way. I am also a trained doula and anti-natal teacher and that really helps me with my infertility patients and pregnant women.

Do you have any favourite herbs you love to work with?

I massively rely on native tonics, a group of herbs that are readily available in the UK and help with common problems like stress, anxiety and lethargy. The main herbs are nettle, raspberry leaf, oat tops, hawthorne and lady’s mantle. A lot of those herbs are really rich in vitamins and minerals which support the nervous system. It would be unheard of for me to make a prescription without them!

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What are your favourite tools of the trade?

My measuring cylinder, foraging basket, and jam press.

What’s a jam press?

Like a miniature cider press, it has 3 feet, with an open-topped container, small spout and a handle that presses what’s inside as you turn the handle, and out comes the liquid.

To make a tincture, you put your chosen herbs into a Kilner jar in alcohol and after a month you press it through the jam press to create your remedy.

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What are your current self-care rituals?

At the moment, taking prenatal vitamins and napping regularly! I’ve started seeing a personal trainer. Going outside into nature is important too. We have an allotment, so I regularly weed and water it and try to go for walks in nature once a week or once a fortnight.

In September you’re running a Herbs for Hormones Workshop, who is it for and what can people expect from that?

The workshop is open to anyone of any gender with a hormonal issue. Be it problem skin, painful periods, irregular periods or no periods, insomnia, low libido, digestive issues or weight issues.

I’m going to teach people to work with their senses and connect to what the herbs are telling them. Discovering body awareness  and mindfulness is crucially important in working with your hormones. We will explore how to choose our herbs and then i’ll open up to a Q&A to assess individual hormonal concerns.

People will walk away with some personalised, easy actions for steps towards more balanced hormones.

Are your herbal prescriptions closely linked with nutrition?

When I work with patients one to one, we meet for an hour every week for the first month. So we look at their whole lifestyle picture, which includes diet, sleep, products they use as well as the herbs.

Where can people find out more about your work and what have you got on offer?

I offer an online ‘peaceful period’ course teaching more about FAM (fertility awareness method) and how to take herbs for menstrual issues, I also host a monthly group video call with an intimate group of women. The group call is the most affordable way to get individual health care from me, but even more affordable is coming along to a workshop. It’s a great way to meet others too and create a supportive community.

Join us for Natasha’s workshop on Thursday September 13th 7-9pm. See more from Natasha here.

 photos by Rachel Hudson http://www.rachelhudson.co.uk