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A couple months ago, I talked about my postpartum experience. (If you haven’t read it, and have struggled with postpartum weight loss and hormone balance, it’s worth a read.) We’re hoping for another baby in the future, so I’m thinking about how to prepare my body now.
I decided that in addition to a diet filled with quality whole foods, I wanted to include a few key supplements. Now, I don’t really love commercial supplements in most cases. (Then again I like low costs and I love DIY.)
I knew I wanted something that was geared specifically towards women and would be very nourishing and help with hormone balance, would promote fertility, and would nourish a baby during pregnancy and breastfeeding. And I knew I wanted to use herbs.
I asked my readers what they wanted as far as “type” of supplement — capsules, liquid, gummies, a powder…? There was really no consensus. Many women struggle with morning sickness so certain forms are easier than others.
In the end, instead of choosing just one, I’m giving you all of them. That’s right, a hormone-balancing prenatal vitamin, 6 ways! I give you the herbs and ratios that you need, and you choose the form that will work the best for you!
There are 7 different herbs in this recipe. I chose herbs because they are true whole foods, not extracts or synthetics. Each provides quite a range of different vitamins and minerals that work together synergistically. Herbs can be used in low doses or high doses, and are, in general, fairly safe.
Not every herb is safe in every case, though, so I’ll note specifically if you might want to avoid a particular herb. You can always make up for removing one by adding more nettle, which has basically no contraindications and is extremely nourishing.
Nettle is pretty much considered an herbal multivitamin in and of itself, and no blend would be complete without it. It’s rich in beta-carotene, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. Another source also claims choline, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium, silica, and protein. Yet another source also claims it contains chromium, zinc, selenium, sulfur, and boron. It’s extremely nourishing and people have found increased energy and some, relief from allergies.
Plus, nettle has been shown to be antimicrobial against certain bacteria and also against ulcers. It may help with heartburn!
Dandelion is another nutritional powerhouse, plus, it’s known to help clear the liver gently (which can be a beneficial, mild detox). It’s rich in vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin K1, calcium, and iron. It’s the highest in K1. Another source claims it’s very rich in B vitamins, vitamin E, potassium, calcium, manganese, and magnesium too.
Red Raspberry Leaf
Red raspberry is recommended for every stage of the fertility– pregnancy– breastfeeding time. It can increase fertility, it helps to tone the uterus gently which can make labor easier when it happens (but won’t cause contractions or make them harder), and it can boost breastmilk production. In some women it eases morning sickness (I found it beneficial in my third pregnancy for this). It’s rich in vitamin C, B-complex, calcium, iron, and has some potassium and phosphorus. Another source claims it is high in vitamin A and E, plus magnesium.
One study showed that women who used raspberry leaves in pregnancy were less likely to have a c-section, forceps, or vacuum extraction, as well as less likely to have artificial rupture of membranes. No studies have shown any harm, and none have looked at the effects of different dosages. (Most studies were survey-based, retrospective, and only looked using raspberry leaf as yes/no — so using once or twice would be “yes” despite that this would not be expected to show any real benefit.)
Alfalfa is a special herb, which does have some contraindications. Alfalfa helps with blood clotting, because it’s rich in vitamin K (although dandelion is much higher in vit K). People with lupus or blood clotting disorders should not use alfalfa. For the rest of us, it’s another nutritional powerhouse. One source claims it’s rich in A, D, E, K, B-complex vitamins, biotin, calcium, folic acid, iron, magnesium, potassium. Another source shows the percentages of each nutrient.
One study shows blackberry leaves are high in tannins, flavoids, and ellagic acid. Another study shows that they contain five essential amino acids (and are a decent source of protein). Another study showed that blackberry leaves kill colon cancer cells. There are no known contraindications.
Spearmint is included for two main reasons: for a nice taste (the overall flavor of this is lightly minty, which is usually pleasant for moms and can reduce the feeling of nausea) and because it’s one of the best herbal sources of folate. Folate is the natural version of vitamin B-9, often referred to as folic acid (which is synthetic). Folate is needed for preventing neural tube defects in the baby, and may also help prevent depression.
Additionally, spearmint leaf is high in potassium, calcium, manganese, (very high) iron, magnesium, beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin B-6, riboflavin (B2) and thiamin (B3). One very preliminary study showed it may be helpful in balancing hormones and improving PCOS. (Here’s a more recent study about that.)
Some women are concerned about the use of mint in pregnancy. There’s very little evidence that mint is dangerous for most women, and spearmint has one of the lowest menthol contents of any mint ( peppermint is much higher). I have personally used it during pregnancy and breastfeeding with no issue. Women who are high risk may want to ask their doctors.
Spirulina isn’t actually an herb, but is a form of algae. It’s an excellent source of thiamin, riboflavin, niacin (all B vitamins), iron, copper, and manganese. It’s a pretty good source of vitamins A, C, E, K, B6, folate, and pantothenic acid (another B vitamin), plus calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, and selenium. It’s truly one of the best plant sources of nutrition out there.
Too much spirulina can be hard on some people, because it’s so rich. Dose is anywhere from 1/2 tsp. to 2 tbsp. per day. (I personally couldn’t tolerate more than the minimum.) It’s antiviral and antioxidant, according to one study. Another study shows it may protect against allergies. Another study shows it is anti-inflammatory and may reduce cholesterol.
If you’re not looking for a prenatal vitamin, specifically, but rather a general hormone-balancing vitamin, or a general women’s formula, you might choose to add some of these herbs, which are gently balancing or anti-inflammatory.
Turmeric is one of my favorite herbs. It’s a bright yellow root powder and is often used in Indian cooking. It is anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-viral. It’s been shown to improve arthritis, and treat a wide range of cancers. I use this at the first sign of any illness or any pain/inflammation.
Cinnamon is actually a good anti-inflammatory, too. It’s also antioxidant, anti-bacterial, and may kill cancer, too. It may help control blood sugar. This may be a good one to include for those with menstrual disorders, PCOS, or diabetes.
Red clover contains phytoestrogens, and shouldn’t be used by those with estrogen dominance. However, for women who are beyond their reproductive years and who may have low estrogen levels, red clover is a much safer alternative to synthetic hormone supplements. It may also help to lower cholesterol and balance blood sugar.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb that helps to gently balance the body. It’s contraindicated while pregnant or breastfeeding, though. In women who are neither, it is a good way to help balance hormones, reduce stress levels, and possibly prevent cancer. It may also increase energy or athletic performance, increase the immune system, improve a thyroid condition, or even boost fertility.
Ashwagandha is contraindicated in pregnancy because in large doses, it could cause contractions which could lead to miscarriage. It is used in small doses in other countries to balance the body and provide energy during pregnancy. Use at your own risk (safe if you’re not pregnant though).
The main recipe includes only the 7 herbs that I listed above, not the additional herbs. I’ll give some suggestions for those but it’s up to you.
- 3 tbsp. nettle leaf (45 g)
- 1.5 tbsp. red raspberry leaf (23 g)
- 1.5 tbsp. dandelion leaf (23 g)
- 1.5 tsp. blackberry leaf (8 g)
- 1.5 tsp. alfalfa leaf (8 g)
- 3 tsp. spearmint leaf (15 g)
- 1.5 tsp. spirulina (8 g)
This is a basic amount, enough for about 3 days. (It was the size of my test batch. Which was yummy and is now gone.) This mix tastes a bit minty, so it’s quite pleasant to eat — or drink. It can be prepared in your favorite way, whatever makes it easiest for you to take. I’ll explain how to make each below.
Figuring out the exact amount of vitamins and minerals in the basic formula proved to be nearly impossible (believe me, I tried). But it is high in A, B-complex (esp. B6 and folate), vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, potassium, (non-heme) iron, magnesium, manganese, calcium, copper, and selenium. Missing are B12, vitamin D, vitamin K2, zinc (there’s *some* but it’s much higher in animal products), heme iron (found only in animal products). I’ll address that below….
These are just suggested amounts of herbs to add to the basic formula. Add one, add them all, and increase or decrease them (or omit herbs from the basic formula, even) depending on your needs. Older women may swap red raspberry for red clover, for example. Since two of these herbs are powders, they’re not great for tinctures — but you can add them anyway as long as you know they’ll stay in the final product. Using different or additional herbs will change the flavor unless you are using capsules.
This is my favorite way, the one I used for my test batch, and an idea from a local herbalist. (Dawn of Mockingbird Meadows. She makes a whole line of honey-based herbal formulas.)
To make this, combine the herbs as listed above. Run them through a high-powered blend or spice grinder to powder them. Add 6 tbsp. (1/4 c. + 2 tbsp.) raw, local honey and stir until blended smoothly. You will have to stir before each dose, too, as the honey tends to settle to the bottom a bit.
It’s a bit “crunchy” in texture and you can taste the herbs, but the mint overpowers the others so it just tastes sweet and minty. I wouldn’t recommend stirring this into tea because the herbs will settle to the bottom and not be pleasant to drink. Mixing it into a smoothie would be good, though. It’s also nice on a spoon, which is how I eat mine.
Dose: 2 – 4 tbsp. per day.
A tincture will make a powerful liquid vitamin. The flavor is, of course, slightly minty and sweet (if you use glycerin, which I recommend). This is my second favorite way. It’s a more efficient use of herbs, and glycerin is cheaper than honey, so it’s a more cost-effective formula than the honey-based. It might also be better absorbed.
To make this, double the amounts of herbs on the list. Add them all to a glass jar and cover with 1.5 c. glycerin and water (each). Shake to combine. Then, either set it in a warm, dark place for six weeks (use this method), or put it in a crockpot and use this method (ready in 2 – 3 days). Strain the finished tincture through cloth and store in a dark brown glass jar.
Dose: 1 – 3 tbsp. per day.
A powder can be stirred into a smoothie or milkshake. It would probably be good with chocolate — mm, chocolate mint! It will have a slightly gritty texture, but if the drink is thick enough, it might not be an issue.
To make this, multiply the herb formula by 6 – 8. Run the herbs through a blender until powdered. Store them in a glass jar (or even a plastic bag in a pinch) in a cool, dry place.
Dose: 1 tbsp. per day.
Some women can’t swallow capsules when they’re pregnant (I couldn’t). But others can’t handle certain flavors, and capsules are a life-saver. That’s why I’m including this option, for those who prefer capsules for whatever reason. They’re simple to make, but you will need a capsule maker. Those only cost about $12 and they are so useful. I got mine about a year ago and I use it at least every month or so. I’ve definitely saved my family money by having this. You’ll also need empty capsules, “00” size. Save money by buying a kit that includes the capsule maker and 1000 empty capsules.
To make this, multiply the herb formula by 4. Run the herbs through a blender until powdered. Then, use the capsule maker to fill the capsules. This should fill around 200 – 250.
Dose: 2 – 8 capsules per day. I’d start with 4. Find the amount that makes you feel strong.
Some women really like to drink a pregnancy tea or infusion. A tea is not as strong as an infusion but the flavor is much milder and more pleasant for many women. Tea should be drunk frequently (several times a day) while an infusion only needs to be drunk once a day or even every other day. The preparation is similar, though.
To make this, double the amount of herbs. Use the entire amount for a quart of infusion, or use just 1 tbsp. for a cup of tea (8 – 12 oz.). Boil water and pour it over the herbs. Tea should steep 15 – 20 minutes, and an infusion should steep at least 4 hours, but as many as 12. Strain it out and sweeten lightly, drink hot or cold.
Dose: 2 – 4 cups of tea per day, or 1 quart of infusion daily.
I’m not sure I’d recommend this option because I don’t know that I’d like a mint gummy, but…that’s up to you. I do recommend using Great Lakes gelatin regularly (something that I do) and making a gummy would be two birds with one stone. So, it’s ultimately up to you! You might want to prepare the infusion first and see if you like the way it tastes before proceeding with the gummy recipe.
To make this, prepare the infusion as above (double recipe of herbs + one quart of boiling water steeped for 4 – 12 hours). Split the infusion in half. Put half of it in a pot to boil, and the remaining half in a bowl (it should be room temperature). Add 4 tbsp. of gelatin to the room temperature infusion and allow it to sit and “bloom” (absorb) for about 5 minutes. Pour the hot infusion (at least 120 degrees; it doesn’t need to boil) into the gelatin mix and stir until dissolved. If it looks grainy, it’s not dissolved properly. It should be perfectly clear and smooth. Pour the infusion into a 9×13 pan and put it in the fridge to harden. When it’s hard, cut into 1×1 squares.
Dose: 1 square per day.
The methods vary in cost, depending on what additional materials are needed and how much herb you use. Purchasing herbs in bulk makes the costs quite low, in general. Using the price for 4 oz. at Mountain Rose Herbs, and roughly estimating how many teaspoons or tablespoons are in 4 oz. I came up with a price for the “basic formula” of $1.23. You can save money by buying larger quantities (full lbs. are 10 – 20% less) or by going in on them with a friend (MRH offers up to 25% off full lbs. if you order 25 at once — mix’n’match — my friends and I go in on big orders a few times a year).
Some of the methods require a full batch or more; some only require a small part of it, as noted above. Of course, some also require other ingredients. This is my best estimate.
Here are the methods in terms of cost effectiveness:
- Gummy (about $0.10 per dose)
- Tea (about $0.21/dose)
- Capsule (about $0.36 per dose)
- Tincture (about $0.39/dose)
- Honey-Based ($1.19 per dose)
- Infusion (about $2.46 per dose)
Of course, you take what works best for you. Whatever you’ll get down. But just in case you are fine with multiple methods and want the cheapest…there you go. Some of those surprised me a bit. I hadn’t thought the gummies would be that cheap. I didn’t think the infusion would be so expensive. Now we know.
I’ve had four babies, and I’ve gotten increasingly “crunchy” and into real food with each one of them. I’ve studied supplements and hormones and the best way to get pregnancy nutrition extensively. I’ve come to a conclusion about what’s best for me as far as a pregnancy supplements routine. Since I am basically always pregnant and/or breastfeeding, I use this all the time (or as often as I remember).
Now, I’m not a medical professional and your needs may vary, so be sure to talk to your doctor or midwife and see what makes you feel the best. I’m just sharing what works for me. Use it as a jumping off point or ideas, if you like.
- One dose of the prenatal vitamin (I choose honey-based or tincture usually, sometimes tea)
- Liver pills (this makes up for the B12, heme iron, and zinc missing from the herbal supplement; I take 4 a day)
- Probiotics (I vary between Garden of Life for Women and GutPro)
- Fermented cod liver oil/butter oil (this adds true vitamin A and vitamin D, K2, plus omega-3s, DHA, etc. I take 3 tsp. a day)
- Gelatin (I use Great Lakes gelatin, 2 – 3 tbsp. a day)
- Magnesium lotion (about 1 – 2 tsp. a day) — I make mine, but you can also buy it here
This is one massive, massive post now! Hopefully it helps you with your supplement routine. 🙂
Have you made your own herbal prenatal vitamin before? If not, which one do you take?
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