Herbal infusions can contain properties to alleviate problems associated with menstruation, says Ciara McDonnell.
I'm sipping a cup of Womankind tea, watching the water turn from a delicate pink to a deep magenta, and feeling extremely zen. However, can it keep my PMS at bay?
Teas should not be confused with herbal supplements, says Jo Weber, head of herbal education at Pukka about teas that are specially designed for women.
“Obviously they are not going to be as strong as supplements, but you can drink up to six cups of tea a day.
"It’s not only going to be hydrating you but those herbs are going to be having an effect.”
The Womankind blend (€3.70) is full of herbs that aid a woman on her cycle, says Weber, pointing to the “the hero ingredient” Shatavari.
“This is a renowned ayurvedic tonic for women. It is useful from when a woman has her first period to long after she has gone through her menopause. It’s a nourishing tonic that can support a woman along every aspect of her cycle,” she says.
Then, you have cranberry, which is cleansing the waterworks and rose flower, which is a very tonifying herb for women. It also contains sweet vanilla, a herb which harmonises everything.”
Last year, over 500 million cups of Pukka tea were drunk worldwide. It’s the whole ritual of a cup of tea that makes it so satisfying, says the expert. “It can be a really mindful moment for a woman. Just boiling the kettle, sitting down and enjoying it as a moment of your day that you take for yourself.”
Weber says herbs of this nature have been used for centuries to help us live our best lives.
“Modern life is very difficult for women, and dealing with change such as getting your first period or pregnancy, going through the menopause, so it makes sense that Shatavari would provide a helping hand.”
When sourcing the best tea for you, it’s worth looking for a brand that is rooted in sustainability, using organic herbs and sustainable packaging. Luckily, brands like Pukka and Yogi Tea have company cultures rooted in an ethos that what you put into your body must be sourced in a way that is as ethical as possible.
“Our aim is to harness the incredible power of nature through our award-winning organic and ethically-sourced herbal teas and food supplements. And to create a world where plants play a central role in human health and wellbeing, in the most sustainable and ethical way we can,” says Weber.
Medical herbalist Kevin Orbell-McSean of Cork’s Evergreen Clinic says modern life is the scourge of many symptoms women take for granted.
“In an ideal world, if we were to see less caffeine and alcohol and fewer cigarettes and processed foods, we would see a dramatic improvement in women’s health,” he says.
“But herbal teas can certainly alleviate the symptoms associated with PMS”.
Ultimately, we need to treat the individual symptoms we are experiencing, and as different as we are as women, so too are our ailments, says Orbell-McSean.
“It’s hard to give a blanket statement on the wide range of herbal teas that are available, but certainly there are teas that could theoretically be helpful for different states of PMT and menopause,” he says.
“Anxiety, irritability and mood swings call for progestogenic herbs that help to balance oestrogen like wild yam and Vitus agnus castus. There are herbs called nervine, which help with anxiety-like valerian and passion flower, lime flower and Chinese angelica.
“Then there is PMT characterised by depression, crying, forgetfulness and insomnia which can be due to low oestrogen and high progesteron, so you would look for more herbs that can help the body create oestrogen, in herbs like sage and red clover.”
Bear in mind that a box of tea you pluck off the shelf of your health shop is still not medicinal strength tea, which constitutes 30g to 500ml, a much stronger brew than one that comes in boxes with lovely labels, says Orbell-McSean.
The way in which we brew our tea is as important as what tea we drink.
“We always say not to take out the tea bag, because you want to allow enough time for those herbs to infuse.
“Some herbs infuse in a matter of minutes, but other herbs — the more oily or resinous ones like turmeric root take a little longer, so it’s always better to let that tea brew away for around 15 minutes if you can wait that long before taking a sip,” says Weber.
Drinking herbal teas may well be better for you to drink than something with caffeine in it, which is contra-indicated in many of the symptoms regularly experienced by women around the time of their period, particularly anxiety or cramping, says Orbell-McSean.
“It’s a question of balance, really. If you were to stop drinking caffeine-based drinks, and supplement them with herbal teas that are appropriate to period time, then yes, it’s very likely that it would be a big help for you.”