Perimenopause is a difficult time for many women – not yet in menopause, but hormones are still acting up, periods change (often becoming heavier) and energy levels fluctuate. It’s not quite riding the energies of menopause, but dancing along the edges. For the last year I’ve been dancing this edge, waiting for my time to enter menopause. My mother and two aunts entered their menopausal years around the age of 40, earlier than the usual statistic. I first started bleeding when I was 12 years old, and so my thirty or so years of this cycle are nearly up. Hovering on the edges of the surging tide, my bleeding has changed, becoming heavier in the last year and half and extremely painful. Much like it was when I was a teenager, when hormones were shifting in a different direction, it is quite similar only this time I really don’t want to take pharmaceutical painkillers just in order to function.
I’ve tried many herbal remedies to alleviate the pain. Without painkillers, it’s all I can do to curl up in a ball and hold my cramping belly, back aching and head pounding. I’ve tried crampbark, blue and black cohosh tincture, raspberry tea, white willow bark and chamomile tea. Nothing seemed to work, and I always had to resort to ibuprofen, which dulled the pain somewhat, but didn’t do the job fully (not to mention the ethical implications of this particular industry). Red wine worked quite well, but since I’ve become vegan I’m very sensitive to alcohol – I get schnockered pretty darned quick. So what to do? Well, yesterday, shaking with the pain I pulled down Ellen Evert Hopman’s A Druid’s Herbal for the Sacred Year . Scanning the index for anything related to menstruation and herbs that I had to hand, I came across basil. I had never heard of using basil, but it was recommended for stomach cramps and menstrual pain. I gave it a shot. Two teaspoons steeped in boiled water for twenty minutes. The tea was a greeny-yellow, and very palatable: fresh and green tasting. I took half a cup and lay down for half an hour. Towards the end the cramps began to ease, then died off completely. Within the hour I was up and able to go for a walk outside, something which I had given up on completely earlier as simply impossible.
Basil – one of the most basic culinary herbs, one that most people have in their cupboard. This common herb curing the pain which was unbearable – it was simply amazing. I had begun to doubt the effectiveness of herbs on severe pain situations, but basil has completely changed my opinion on the matter. It’s inexpensive, easy to grow, and has many uses – I do believe I have found my first plant ally! The cramps returned about four to five hours later, whereupon I took a second dose. Within 15 minutes they were gone. I was so relieved that this had worked – and that the remedy was so simple. If only I had come across it before!
It’s hard for many women to go through modern life, with the usual everyday expectations when you are suffering from severe menstrual cramps. Men don’t really understand just how it feels, and some women whose periods aren’t that severe cannot relate either. Yet it happens to a large section of women, if not throughout their fertile years then most likely at some point either at the start or end of their fertility. Why are we not getting the treatment for this pain? Why is it just something that must be endured, that women simply have to cope with and get on in their lives? Those who suffer from heavy, painful periods know the body’s limits and when it starts to shut down – migraines, cramping, aching. Yet we’re still expected to “get on with it”. I’ve had to call in sick to work because of it. I know it’s not just me, but many other women who suffer a similar fate. We need to make our society and culture aware of this time, aware that we need time to work through the pain and begin a cycle anew. We need to re-sacralise this time, to honour our bodies and all that they do. Our blood is sacred. The herbs that we use to treat the pain are sacred. The process of connecting our bodies and plants is a relationship that we need to reinstate, to take control back from the large companies and into our own hands (with the proper guidance).
I’m going to deepen my connection to basil. Grow it, create a relationship with it, get to know it and let it get to know me. Not just on a physical, but also on a spiritual level. Finding a plant ally is not just about what works for your ailments, but what inspires you on your journey. I look forward to finding other plant allies along my path, and to new wisdom and ancient teachings. May the blessings of Airmid and Brighid be upon this path, and my utmost thanks to little basil!
*Note 24/04/2015: After using basil for a couple of months to alleviate menstrual pain, I’ve adjusted the amount, as I found that even using 1 teaspoon per cup of boiled water began to stop the bleeding as well as deal with the cramping. So, I’m now using 1/2 teaspoon per cup of boiled water, which still allows for menstrual flow and also still alleviates the pain. You will have to see what dosage works for you personally!