What are uterine tonics?
Well, people define this term in different ways... so first let's get clear on the terminology.
In herbalism, there are two ways to use the word tonic. One is the way I'm using it here, a generally nourishing and supportive plant that can be taken over a period of time to support an organ or a system.
The other way of defining a tonic is when an herb "tones" the tissues, typically drying, strengthening, tightening the tissues, as for instance an astringent herb like oak bark would.
But when I'm talking uterine tonics here, I mean herb that are nourishing, strengthening, relaxing, generally deeply restoring and supporting the structure, function, capacity and connection with the womb.
What's the deal with emmenagogues, are those also uterine tonics?
Yet another confusing term in herbal lingo is 'emmenagogues.' In some herbal texts, emmenagogues are considered to be 'herbs that generally support the uterus or reproductive system overall.'
This is totally ambiguous and not at all how I use the term.
Instead, I personally consider emmenagogues to be herbs that encourage blood flow around menses (or when the period is late).
Herbs that support bleeding to happen. A specific action (that can happen in a variety of ways).
To me, emmenagogue is not a general term. But you may see it that way in books or in classes, which is why I bring it up here.
To me, uterine tonics is a more clear term for herbs that generally support and nourish the womb and/or reproductive system.
So that's the term I use.
Okay, then, how do uterine tonics work?
The answer, like almost everything in herbal medicine, is that herbs are multi-faceted. They don't work like drugs in just one targeted way. They have a multitude of properties and actions.
And the reality is, not all uterine tonics are alike. They don't all work in the same way. And not all uterine tonics are right for all people.
And in some cases, we don't even know how they work or why they have an affinity for the wombspace. They just do!
This is the beauty of traditional herbalism, the stories and teachings of centuries and millennia that offer lived, embodied wisdom in addition to the scientific understandings we've cultivated in recent history.
So when would you want to incorporate uterine tonics into your protocol?
Again, there's no clear cut answer. Herbal uterine tonics can be supportive anytime you'd like to add them into your life. For general uterine and reproductive wellness, they can be added into blends here and there, once in a while, whenever you'd like to encourage deeper connection or nourishment to this part of your body.
That said, each of the herbs has specific affinities and energetics that can support different "tissue states" or conditions. So if you have any kind of imbalance going on, really anything involving your uterus, ovaries, breasts/chest, or reproductive/generative system, they can be helpful.
These herbs are generally restorative, preventative and can also be useful to support all kinds of imbalances from PMS to menstrual cramps to restoring tissues after birth, miscarriage or abortion… etc
They are often most effective when incorporated regularly over long periods of time, as many of them are more nourishing than targeted in their actions.
These are beautiful additions to formulas throughout the cycling years, from menarche through and beyond menopause.
“Our womb area is the center of our divine understanding. It is the place in our bodies from which we deeply feel and inuit things. Keeping our hormonal system strong and balanced enures balance of the whole body.” – Deb Soule
Unfortunately, many traditional uterine tonics are actually North American plants that at risk in the wild.
So today I’m going to share about a few that are less at risk, or at least can be found cultivated organically and in commerce, rather than list all those that would be better let in the forests or wildcrafted in very small amounts.
Some of my favorite uterine tonics include:
Motherwort (Leonorus cardiaca)
A cooling, bitter herb that is both relaxing and stimulating. Which is to say, it both relaxes the uterine muscles AND encourages menstrual bleeding. A true tonic for both the heart and the womb. Especially indicated where there is anxiety with heart palpitations, but wonderful overall. Easy-to-grow. A beloved herb.
Cramp Bark (Viburnum opulus)
A relaxing and astringent herb that is commonly considered to be interchangeable with Black Haw (Viburnum prunifolium). A classic herb for menstrual cramps (hence the name), this herb not only relaxes menstrual cramps but also paradoxically tones the pelvic organs. A beautiful tonic herb for the uterus.
Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris)
A beautiful, magical-feeling herb that is cooling and drying. An astringent which brings tone to the tissues, and an emmenagogue that encourages menstrual bleeding. An easy-to-grow, attractive plant for the landscape. Has a specific affinity for prolapse conditions and helps to staunch excessive menstrual flows (which could be just heavy menses or perimenopausal flooding).
Raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus)
Probably the most well known and commonly worked with uterine tonic, raspberry leaf is profoundly nutritive while also offering astringent toning to the tissues of the uterus. Cooling and drying. A time-tested tonic in pregnancy (especially second trimester and beyond) to encourage effective contractions during the birth time. But absolutely appropriate for anyone with a womb at any time. Can be drank as a nourishing infusion (see recipe below).
Dong Quai/Dang Gui (Angelica sinensis)
A warming and moistening tonic for the reproductive and generative system. Overall nourishing, but does increase blood flow to the pelvis. Contraindicated in those with tendency to heavy menstrual bleeding, and is commonly stopped during menstruation itself for anyone. A Traditional Chinese herb found in many time-tested hormonal and menstrual support formulas.
Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus)
A cooling and moistening herb considered in Ayurvedic tradition to be a “rejuvenative tonic’ for females. Commonly indicated for lowered libido, infertility, etc. A deeply nourishing and supportive herb for overall uterine and reproductive wellness.
Note: none of these herbs (except the raspberry leaf) are considered to be truly safe in pregnancy. Some may be used for specific indications, but raspberry is the only one commonly indicated as a nutritive infusion throughout second and third trimesters. Raspberry leaf may not be appropriate for some folks in pregnancy, so check in with your midwife or care provider before adding it in.
If you’re not sure where to start, why not start with a simple, uterine tonic, nourishing infusion?
- Raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus) - 2 parts
- Nettle leaf (Urtica dioica) - 1 part
- Oatstraw (Avena sativa) and/or Linden (Tilia spp.) - 1 part
Place a handful (about one ounce) of the blended herbs into a quart jar.
Pour just boiled water to the top of the jar and steep covered for at least 4 hours to 8 hours, or overnight.
Strain and drink 3-4 cups/day.
DISCLAIMER: This podcast is for educational purposes only, I am not providing any medical advice, I am not a medical practitioner, I’m an herbalist and in the US, there is no path to licensure for herbalists, so my role is as an herbal educator. Please do your own research and consult your healthcare provider for any personal health concerns.
Trusted sources for bulk herbs:
- Mountain Rose Herbs* (globally-sourced organic and wild-crafted herbs)
- Pacific Botanicals (California-grown and globally sourced herbs)
- Banyan Botanicals (Ayurvedic herbs)
REGIONAL, FARM-BASED COMPANIES
- Zack Woods Herb Farm (VT)
- Healing Spirits (NY)
- Sawmill Herb Farm (MA)
- Oshala Farm (OR)
- Meetinghouse Farm (ME)
- Sonoma County Herb Exchange (CA)
* affiliate link (I would only ever become an affiliate for a company I already trust and buy from myself, you can always google it and get there on your own if you'd prefer not to use my link)
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