Becoming butterflies: herbal empress Susun Weed shares menopause wisdom with local herbalist Corinna Wood
New Life Journal; 9/1/2005
Susun Weed, green witch and wise woman, is an extraordinary teacher with a joyous spirit, a powerful presence, and an encyclopedic knowledge of herbs and health. Ms. Weed's four herbal medicine books focus on women's health topics including: menopause, childbearing, and breast health.
Corinna: I want to ask you a couple of questions about menopause. Can you explain how the role of menopausal women is important at this time for our planet?
Susun: Yes. Let's go back to the three traditions we were talking about in the earlier interview (New Life Journal June 05).The Scientific Tradition that seeks to fix broken machines views menopause as a loss of estrogen.And so in order to fix the broken machine, they prescribe estrogen because that is what is missing, according to what they see. Now we know that women who are given estrogen have a higher rate of uterine cancer. So we add progesterone to that to counter the effects of the estrogen. Women who take estrogen for three years increase their risk of breast cancer by twenty percent. Women who take estrogen with progesterone for three years increase their risk of breast cancer by forty percent. All that progesterone does is slow down cellular replication in the uterus, but it increases the rate of cell replication in the breast and probably in the ovaries as well.
The Heroic Tradition comes in and says, no no no, it is not a lack of estrogen, it is too much estrogen. It is estrogen dominance. We are going to give them progesterone. I am so over the top about women's health in the face of the Heroic Tradition. I really fear that we are, by using progesterone cream, creating an epidemic of ovarian cancer. This is a powerful hormonal tonic. It is sold as a cosmetic; the people regulating it have no power over cosmetics. So, basically what is happening is that a very powerful drug is being sold with no regulation at all. The Food and Drug Administration will not approve any progesterone cream for long-term use, even the ones that are given to us by our doctor. The amount of progesterone in the products being sold to women in the health food stores as cream is one hundred times the safe dose as provided by the FDA. The amount that we put on our bodies at one time is one hundred times more than the FDA considers a safe dose.
The Wise Women looks at her body and asks, when I was born was I producing estrogen? And the answer is yes. A women is producing estrogen even in utero, the uterine environment is very high in estrogen. The ovaries of little girls who aren't even born yet are already starting to make estrogen in response to that. We make twenty-nine different kinds of estrogen by the time we are born. We continue to make those twenty-nine different types of estrogen every single day. At puberty, a very powerful estrogen begins to be made, called estradiol. Estradiol is only made between puberty and menopause. It is at high levels for only about twenty-four hours out of the month, because it triggers ovulation. Estradiol is called estrogen by the scientific community, as if it were the only estrogen, even though they themselves will tell you there are lots of other types of estrogen. But they consider the twenty-nine we make on a day-to-day basis weak estrogen and estradiol a powerful estrogen. That is why they are concerned about its lack. I will tell you as a woman, almost fifteen years past my last period, that I am not missing anything. I am still making plenty of estrogen.
One of things that is important to me, as a postmenopausal woman, is to be a butterfly. What do I mean by butterfly? A butterfly is a woman who is a least twenty years older than you are, who you would like to grow up to be. So on my bathroom wall is picture of Karina. When this picture was taken, she was ninety years old, she had celebrated her ninetieth birthday by for the first time in her life jumping out of an airplane with a parachute. That is who I would like to grow up to be! Right next to her is Helen. At eighty, she has just won eight national power-lifting competitions and has set- records in every single one of those. So again, that is somebody I would like to grow up to be.
Many people especially in our culture have a fear of the word old. And many people have told me, I don't want to get old. I look at them and ask them, do you understand what you are saying? Because either you get old, or you are going to die young. I want to live to a very old age before I die! I love being alive; I find life so interesting! Every day, I am day older. When we have butterflies in our lives, then we know that getting older doesn't mean losing it. Although there certainly are things you lose. Good riddance to the fear of what other people think: I will do all of the things I was afraid to do before because people would think badly of me.
But answering your question about the role of menopausal and postmenopausal women. Every age has its purpose, and for many of us in westernized culture, the difficulty is that over the past hundred years the path of the post-menopausal women has been removed, and we are less accepted than if we are the menstruating woman, the fertile women. As more and more of us pass through the menopausal passage, we are going to see more amazing older women about whom we can say, that's who I want to grow up to be.
Corinna: Could you tell us a little bit about your favorite herb for hot flashes?
Susun: This is a very loaded question. In the Scientific Tradition, hot flashes are a broken machine that needs to be fixed. You give a woman estrogen and that problem is fixed. In the Heroic Tradition, hot flashes are seen as the result of toxins; you need to get in there and cleanse to make her well.
In the Wise Women Tradition, hot flashes are undisputedly the movement of vital life force energy up through the body through the energy centers. In fact, what I can say is that the healthier the woman, the more hot flashes she will have. To get rid of the hot is to decrease the woman's vitality. I am of the opinion and Dr. Christiane Northrop is of the opinion that how we treat ourselves during menopause is going to affect us for the rest of our lives. This is one of the reasons I say it is so important that menopausal women need time off and do not need to be medicated by anything. I chose to go through menopause with out doing much of anything; I drank my nourishing herbal infusions. I have found motherwort tincture would reduce the intensity and the duration of the hot flash, although I basically didn't even use herbs. I wanted to see how bad it would be. Certainly during the summer it is a lot worse than during the winter. I would have dream after dream of being in a glacier, of walking through it.
In general, when I ask women if they have a problem with hot flashes, they say it's not that bad when I am alone; it is just embarrassing when in public. Which is one of the reasons I say, have time and space to yourself, where you can be up all night if you need to. When you can have hot flashes during the day, and lay down on the floor and go: "Oh no one has ever suffered like I suffer." Believe me, I have been there. I had hot flashes where I was so hot I felt like I have been dipped in boiling water. Sometimes I would cry because I felt so bad for myself. Just as my labor pains were also painful, and I knew that a baby was going to come at the end of those pains, with hot flashes, I knew that the crone was going to come at the end of those flashes.
I have always been willing to endure a certain amount of pain and suffering if I know that I was going to get something valuable at the end of it. I can tell you, giving birth to my daughter was very valuable and she is a very valuable thing in my life. Giving birth to myself as a crone was very valuable to me.
Corinna Wood is the owner of Red Moon Herbs, making herbal medicines business in Black Mountain from fresh, local plants for over 10 years. She did an extensive apprenticeship with Susun Weed in 1993, and continues to carry on the wise woman tradition through local classes as well as making herbal medicines.
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