MENOPAUSE, MIGRAINES, WEIGHT LOSS and WOMEN
An Interview with Susun Weed
by Randy Peyser
Susun Weed, an herbalist in upstate New York, teaches a 30,000 year-old course of study called, "The Wise Woman Way," via workshops, correspondence courses, and live-in apprenticeships. She has written "The Wise Woman's Herbal," a series of book about women's health issues, including one called, "NEW Menopausal Years The Wise Woman Way: Alternative Approaches for Women 30-90." Her 700 page website is full of free information to help women feel more proactive and powerful in regards to their health concerns. She also offers a free monthly ezine, and a forum for health-related questions. www.susunweed.com.
Randy Peyser: What are women most concerned about regarding their health?
Susun Weed: Women are concerned about menopause, and how to stay healthy during and after menopause. Women are concerned about their bones, their hearts, and their breasts. They want to know how to stay juicy.
RP: My own concern with menopause has to do with weight gain.
SW: Gaining weight during menopause is quite natural and healthy. As one's estrogen production shifts away from being ovarian focused, we need more estrogen that is produced by fat cells, and the adrenals. The adrenals are very hardworking organs. They help us deal with stress. A lot of women feel very stressed, and what happens is that they gain weight because the adrenals aren't quite up to it.
RP: How can we best deal with this?
SW: Stinging nettle infusion, which strengthens and builds up the adrenals, is very nourishing and helpful.
RP: What is an infusion?
SW: An infusion is like a very strong tea, but it's not a tea because we brew the herb for a much longer time. During menopause we produce a lot of hormones. We have to be nourished enough to make those hormones, because hormones require a lot of minerals and protein. We may crave more protein-rich foods, which usually come with a lot of fat. Working with the nourishing herbal infusions, like stinging nettle gives us a lot of protein, without the fat and without the calories. It's a form of protein that comes with a very high mineral and vitamin content.
RP: You can get protein from an infusion?
SW: You can get a lot of protein from an infusion. Infusions are very high in protein, minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients. Within 7-10 days of starting to drink herbal infusions, one of the first things that women notice is their hair and skin starts to look far healthier than it's looked.
RP: At the beginning of perio-menopause, I craved sugar and dough. I'd never been attracted to those substances. Why did that happen?
SW: A craving for sugar means a lack of minerals. Natural sugars, like maple sugar and natural cane sugar, contain a lot of minerals. The deep memory of our body says, "I need minerals. I get them from places that are sweet." If you had been eating whole grain products and natural sweeteners, you would have satisfied your body's longing for minerals, and probably would have eaten less.
In terms of whole grain products, most breads, including many in health food stores, are not 100% whole wheat. They contain white flour, which has a whole layer of mineral and vitamin nutrition removed from it. When the body eats grains, it expects to get B, D, and E vitamins, and complex carbohydrates. When it doesn't get these things from white flour, it feels like it hasn't eaten enough, so it craves more.
So we eat more in a mistaken, and almost instinctual desire, to get something that isn't really there. Drinking the nourishing herbal infusions, however, cuts into your desire for white flour and white sugar, and what we might call "white grease" - vegetable oil.
RP: Can you give an example of making an infusion?
SW: Absolutely. Infusions are very simple and easy to make at home.
Stinging Nettle Infusion
- Put 1 ounce of dried stinging nettle into a quart-sized canning jar.
- Boil a quart of water and pour it into the jar containing the herb. You won't be able to get all of the water into the jar because the herb will take up some room.
- Stir the herb to get the air bubbles out. There will now be room to pour some more water in.
- Put a tight lid on the jar and let it steep for a minimum of four hours. I make it in the evening and let it steep all night.
- The next morning, strain the plant material out and remove it. Squeeze any liquid from the plant material back into the jar.
- Give the plant material back to the earth. The liquid, which is the infusion, can be strained into another quart jar.
You can drink it at room temperature, heat it up, or ice it. You can put honey, milk, salt, or alcohol in it. One of my students even put her husband's instant coffee in it to get him to drink it. Refrigerate what you do not drink.
RP: How often do you drink it?
SW: I usually drink about a quart of nourishing herbal infusion daily. I rotate. One day, I have nettle, which provides energy, helps us look as good as we can, and helps create a strong cardiovascular system; then another day, I have oat straw, which strengthens the nervous system and restores that juicy libido.
Oat straw is very important to women. Christiane Northrup, the author of "Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom," said that when she went through menopause, she could not have done it without her oat straw infusion. The third day, I have red clover infusion.
Red clover is everything you hoped soy would be with none of soy's problems. Red clover is the world's leading anti-cancer and cancer preventative herb, and yet, it's one of the world's safest herbs. It is grown to feed pregnant and lactating cows. I like to drink a quart of red clover a week to protect my breasts and to reassure myself that I am doing something proactive about maintaining breast health.
I also really like linden infusion. Linden is one of the world's leading anti-cold and anti-flu barks. It's not a well-known herb in the United States, but it deserves a lot more attention. It's good for the mucous membranes, the digestive system, and the breathing system. It also helps the cardiovascular system. It tastes lovely and it's wonderful for children, too.
RP: Are herbs safe?
SW: The herbs that I use for the nourishing herbal infusions are very safe herbs. They're like foods. One of the things that keeps them safe is that we do not use them in pills or tinctures. It's certainly possible to go out and buy stinging nettle capsules or tinctures, but they won't have the same effect as the stinging nettle infusion.
In the infusion, we use a large amount of herb. One ounce of dried herb is the equivalent of a quarter pound of fresh herbs. Therefore, we're gaining a large amount of nutrition from it. A single quart of stinging nettle infusion can contain up to 2000 milligrams of calcium.
I want to share an example of the effects of stinging nettle: In 1997, a woman who was diagnosed with severe osteoporosis, was instructed to take drugs, but refused. Over the next three years, her doctor chronicled her loss of 3-1/2 inches in height.
One day, she said to her daughter who was doing an apprenticeship with me, "I'm feeling very tired. Is there any herb that you've learned about that could give me more energy?" Instead of recommending any stimulant herbs that would further drain her vitality, the daughter recommended that she drink stinging nettle infusion, which builds energy from the inside out by nourishing and restoring the adrenals.
The woman loved the stinging nettle infusion, and quickly felt like she had the energy of a thirty year old. At that time, she was in her 50's. Since she tried, and also liked, the oat straw and the red clover infusions, she started alternating them every second or third day. Three years later, when she went for her physical in 2000, her doctor said, "I can't explain it to you, but your osteoporosis seems to be reversing."
Just this past month, I received a letter from her. Her doctor told her that she now has the bones of a 40 year-old woman. I was thrilled to hear her news because it shows that drinking the nourishing herbal infusions is a simple and inexpensive way for us to take care of ourselves.
Cost wise, at many stores, it can be expensive if we buy the dried herbs by the ounce, since we're using approximately two pounds of herb a month if we're making it every evening. You can ask your health food store to special order the herbs by the pound to bring your cost down.
SW: What do you think about supplements?
SW: I don't take any supplements. I urge people to get as much nutrition as they can from their food, but also to rely on the nourishing herbal infusions, which bring in a large amount of vitamins and minerals, proteins, phytonutrients and phytoestrogens.
Let me tell you about a group of apprentices I've had in Florida for thirteen years: Two of them worked for companies that changed insurance providers, and each had to go for a physical. After their physicals, both of them received calls from their doctors because their mineral and vitamin content was so high.
One of the doctors had the apprentice undergo various tests because he didn't believe that an herb could produce such a high vitamin and mineral content. He was sure that something was wrong, but of course, all her tests came back fine. The doctor for my other apprentice immediately complimented her, saying it was rare for him to see anyone of any age with such healthy blood as hers. He was quite impressed; she was the healthiest mid 50's woman he had ever seen. When he lowered his voice and asked, "What brand of supplements do you take?" she replied, "I don't take any supplements at all; I drink nourishing herbal infusions."
RP: What about B vitamins?
SW: The oat straw, stinging nettle and red clover are all very rich in B vitamins.
RP: What about flaxseed oil and the Omega 3's?
SW: It's very important for to get essential fatty acids and other key nutrients that we can't manufacture ourselves, like Vitamin B12, however, for most people, getting those essential fatty acids from isolated substances is not as successful as getting them from integrated things. In other words, a capsule of fish liver oil is never going to take the place of eating fish, nor is flaxseed oil ever going to take the place of eating whole grains.
We can get the essential fatty acids we need if we're eating whole grain products, such as whole grain pasta or breads. If we have some beans and roots in our diet, and wild seeds, we're going to be getting those things; there are many sources for essential fatty acids.
We tend to live in a culture that isolates things and puts them in pills and bottles, then passes them off as health. My experience is that health has never come in a bottle or pill. Health is something that we build, that we nourish. That's not to say that I'm against drugs or surgery. I am very much for those things when they are needed. What I'm talking about is people taking things like flaxseed oil, supplements, or fish liver oils, rather than spending their energy and money on creating a healthy lifestyle, which includes eating well, exercising well, and relaxing well.
RP: Well, there goes our chocolate.
SW: Actually, dark chocolate is one of the best foods we can eat to remain strong hearted, strong boned and juicy. Three quarters of an ounce of chocolate, (which is a tiny amount since most chocolate bars are 3 or 4 ounces) has more polyphenols than a cup of green tea or a glass of red wine. Polyphenols prevent heart disease. An ounce of dark chocolate also has more anti-inflammatory power than two aspirin, and is a better anti-oxidant than 500 milligrams of Vitamin C.
RP: A lot of women are going to be doing cartwheels reading this!
SW: Isn't it wonderful that there are so many organic and fair trade chocolates on the market? We can have an easy conscious when we eat our chocolate knowing it's organic and the people who grew it are getting a fair share of the money.
RP: What about help for migraines?
SW: Herbal things like feverfew can help, but feverfew must be taken on a daily basis. It is not something that can be taken in an acute situation. I'll often ask a woman with a migraine: What other way do you have of getting time alone? Many women don't have any way of getting time alone besides being sick. I encourage women with migraines, (or women on their menses), to take a retreat day, a creative day, or a day where you just stay in bed and read. Of course, that is not the only reason for a migraine.
One of the difficulties about answering a question about a specific disease is that in the Wise Woman Tradition, we don't actually treat diseases, because diseases don't exist without beings. Each woman is different. Drugs are very effective at eliminating problems and dealing with diseases, while herbs, in my estimation, are better at nourishing wholeness.
In order to nourish wholeness, I need to focus on what it is that I can nourish within the woman as a whole - within her body/mind/spirit - so that I don't just eliminate her pain by the clever use of herbs. Herbs might eliminate the migraine, but I really want to speak to her as a whole person and find the hidden gift of her problem.
RP: Nourishing wholeness seems like a worthy goal.
SW: The Wise Woman Tradition goes back to our very distant past, where it was understood that being a woman meant that we had a very powerful kind of energy. This energy was an energy that nourished wholeness, that looked deeply into the beingness of another and understood where things were missing. Then those missing parts could be nourished. This was an energy that helped others to come to bud, to blossom. All manner of different medicines were used, but they were all used to nourish.
It's not that we have to eliminate white sugar or white flour from anyone's diet. We simply want to introduce nourishing herbal infusions. When we bring splendid nourishment into the person, everything begins to shift and change.
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