This post is devoted to herbal home remedies for menstrual cramps. There are scores of herbs and spices that have pain-relieving, antispasmodic, and/or anti-inflammatory properties. I’ve chosen just a few that are familiar, easily sourced, and safe. Many of these herbs and spices are already in your kitchen cupboard. Since one of the tenets of relieving menstrual pain is to treat it early, it’s useful to know what you can grab in a hurry without a trip to the health food store.
Why consider using herbs for your period? There is growing concern about NSAIDs, the most popular and effective category of drugs for relieving menstrual cramps. Commonly used over-the-counter NSAIDs include ibuprofen and naproxen. These drugs can damage the gastric lining, kidneys, and cardiovascular system with long term use. This is not an issue for most casual users, but it might prompt you to think about the benefits of trying a kitchen herb first. German chamomile, for example, relieves menstrual cramping and soothes the entire digestive tract, while also being a gentle nervine (calming herb). While drugs bring side effects, most herbs bring fringe benefits. Rose petals and hips are a good source of Vitamin C; dill and fennel relieve gas and bloating; ginger improves nausea and joint pain.
The chart below includes herbs with a long history of use, that are still widely available and inexpensive. All of the herbs on this chart have some modern human clinical research to support their use for menstrual cramping. When these herbs have been studied in other forms, dosages have been converted to their rough equivalents in loose form.
Herbal treatments for menstrual cramps should be started 2 days before expected bleeding, and continued through the first 2-3 days of the period, or as long as desired. Treatment that is started later may be less effective.
The second chart contains tinctures, which are alcohol-based herbal preparations. These tinctures have a long history of use in the Western herbal tradition and continue to be used by modern practitioners. While some of these remedies have in vitro and/or animal research to support their use, there are few or no human trials on the tincture forms of these herbs. Nevertheless, they are widely considered to be effective by modern herbalists and naturopaths, with acceptable safety profiles. Tinctures are popular because they are rapidly absorbed, which means a shorter time to symptom relief. They are more concentrated than herbal infusions, making them portable and easily taken in any environment. All of the herbs below have very low toxicity, with the exception of Jamaican dogwood, which is a more potent anodyne and sedative. Jamaican dogwood should be taken only up to the amount on the packaging instructions. Black haw and cramp bark are interchangeable antispasmodics from similar species of Viburnum. Either one can be combined with any other remedy on the chart. Cinnamon and yarrow are often combined when there is a need to reduce bleeding as well as relieve cramping. Motherwort is a uterine tonic from the Mint Family that also helps alleviate anxiety.
As always, none of the information in this article is a substitute for medical evaluation and advice. Any woman with severe menstrual pain or bleeding should be medically evaluated. Conditions like endometriosis, adenomyosis, and uterine fibroids must be diagnosed clinically, and their symptoms are less likely to improve with home remedies.