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Women and Herbs - The Art of Artemis

by Anne McIntyre(more info)

listed in ayurveda, originally published in issue 127 - September 2006

In myth and legend, the moon has always been the symbol of women and femininity, while the sun represents masculinity. Women swell in pregnancy like a waxing moon, and both have a monthly cycle. while in France it is 'le moment de la lune'. The moon was believed to influence fertility and to be the source of women's ability to bear children. In many cultures women have been responsible for collecting wild roots and fruits to eat, and to prepare medicines from the plants around them. Plants and seeds, it was thought, could not grow without the influence of the moon, while animals and women could not give birth without its energizing power, and so only women could make things grow as they were under the direct guardianship of the moon.

In Greek mythology, Artemis is the moon goddess, the twin sister of Apollo, the sun god. In Roman mythology she is Diana. The moon goddess was the protector of women, the goddess of chastity, the protector of young maidens, who punishes those who offend against her and against her morality. She is a healing, purifying divinity, a nature goddess of fertilizing moisture, who promotes a full harvest of fruits, protects the grain and is friend to the reaper. She is the goddess of trees and all vegetation. Artemis is also the goddess of childbirth, watching over the birth of every child. Women in childbirth have evoked her aid and given prayers and offerings to secure a safe delivery, and have given thanks to her afterwards.

Herbs named after Artemis have been used for centuries, and are still used today to aid childbirth and for treatment of a variety of women's ailments. Artemisia abrotanum (southernwood), Artemisia vulgaris (mugwort) and Artemisia absinthium (wormwood) all facilitate childbirth. They regulate and strengthen contractions and help to draw out the afterbirth. The first English gynecological handbook, A Medieval Woman's Guide to Health, recommended the following for a difficult birth:

"Make her a bath of mallows, fenugreek, linseed, wormwood, southernwood, pellitory and mugwort, boiled in water and let her bathe in it for a good time… make a plaster of artemisias boiled in water and plaster the woman with it from the navel to the privy member, for it makes a woman give birth quickly to the child and draws out the afterbirth.''

Given the above, it is not hard to understand why, when I moved to my present home in Gloucestershire with my three daughters, I named it Artemis House and filled my garden with Artemisias! I have laid out a herb garden in the shape of a spiral with a path that runs from birth to paradise; it is a journey through a woman's life expressed through herbs. Over the arches, that represent the birth canal, grow raspberries and plenty of raspberry leaves (Rubus idaeus) to make for a trouble-free birth. There is wormwood, southernwood and mugwort in the surrounding beds along with black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa), motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca), marigolds (Calendula officinalis), vervain (Verbena officinalis), feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium), yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and other herbs, to regulate contractions and to ease and speed up delivery.

Then there are herbs for babies and small children to settle their digestions, relieve colic, aid sleep, treat infections and enhance immunity, such as fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), dill (Anethum graveolens), chamomile (Chamomilla recutita), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), catmint (Nepeta cataria) and caraway (Carum carvi). For older children there are herbs for colds and coughs, including thyme (Thymus officinalis), hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis), elecampane (Inula helenium) and Echinacea. There is burdock (Arctium lappa), marigold and lavender (Lavendula off.) for eruptive infections, such as measles and chicken pox; chamomile, lemon balm, nettles and yarrow for allergies; and sweet flag (Acorus calamus) and gotu cola (Centella asiatica) for learning problems, to name but a few.

A little further along the path of life there is the moon garden with herbs for menstrual cycles, and to remedy problems that may be associated with it. Most of the plants are silver for the moon, including all the Artemisias, thymes and lavenders, and red for menstruation like red roses, Trillium erecta, paonies (Paonia lactiflora), pink yarrow and pasque flowers (Anemone pulsatilla). Next, there are plants to represent masculine energy as young men become more important in a young girl's life. Then there is the heart-shaped love garden with roses, thymes, marigolds, Artemisias, chamomile, violets (Viola odorata), hearts ease (Viola tricolour), a fig tree in an arbour with climbing herbs, such as honeysuckle (Lonicera spp) and jasmine (Jasminum off).

The journey continues through marriage, promoting fertility with herbs such as ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), wild yam (Dioscorea villosa), lady's mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris), then pregnancy and lactation, including borage (Borago off), goat's rue (Galega off), marshmallow (Althea off) and licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra). It meanders through time caring for her children and then comes to menopause and the mid-life crisis! There is skullcap (Scutellaria laterifolia), black cohosh, marigolds, motherwort, red sage (Salvia off), followed by rejuvenating herbs like marjoram, rosemary, thyme, Schizandra chinensis, Codonopsis dang shen and Gotu cola. Then there are wise women's herbs to promote wisdom and connection to spirit, such as holy basil (Ocimum sanctum), Daura stramomium, hyssop, vervain, sage and thyme, as one prepares for Paradise, represented by a pond of Indian stone with a lotus-shaped fountain for eternal life. The healing power of herbs and nature is there to support us from the cradle to Paradise.

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About Anne McIntyre

Anne McIntyre FNIMH MAPA is a fellow of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists and a member of the Ayurvedic Practitioners' Association. She has been practising as a herbalist for 30 years and has also trained in remedial massage, aromatherapy, counselling, homoeopathy and Ayurvedic medicine. She is the author of several books on herbal medicine, including The Complete Woman's Herbal (Gaia), The Complete Floral Healer (Gaia), The Herbal Treatment of Children (Elsevier), The Top 100 Remedies (Duncan Baird), The Complete Herbal Tutor (Gaia) and Healing Drinks (Gaia). Anne's latest book Dispensing with Tradition: A practitioner's Guide to using Indian and Western Herbs the Ayurvedic Way has recently been published. She teaches regularly in the UK and USA and spends as much time as she can in her herb garden which she opens to the public by appointment. She practises at Artemis House, Great Rissington, Gloucestershire, (Tel: 01451 810096) and in London and Wales once a month. She may be contacted on Tel: 01451 810096  www.annemcintyre.com

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