“Over half the world menstruates at one time or another, but you’d never know it. Isn’t that strange?” — Margaret Cho, actress, musician, stand-up comedian, designer & author
Everybody bleeds. Recently, more people are becoming aware that 26 percent of all people on the planet (not just women) at any given time have menstrual periods. But few have adequately summarized the ubiquity of releasing menstrual blood as beautifully as Judy Grahn, a butch lesbian, feminist poet, professor and author of Blood, Bread, and Roses: How Menstruation Created the World:
“Menstrual blood is the only source of blood that is not traumatically induced,” writes Grahn. “Yet in modern society, this is the most hidden blood, the one so rarely spoken of and almost never seen, except privately by women [...] Menstrual blood, like water, just flows. [...] Menstrual is blood’s secret name. All blood is menstrual blood."
But, what is a menstrual cycle or “period” anyway? Surprisingly, many children and adults still lack basic information about this natural process, which begins for most menstruating people in early adolescence and generally continues well into middle age. On average, menstruating people will menstruate for approximately seven years in total during their lifetime (UNICEF, 2018). According to Anna Druet, former Science and Education Manager for the period app Clue, “The menstrual period, which we commonly refer to as just a ‘period,’ is the shedding of your uterine lining (your endometrium). Blood and endometrial tissue flow down through your cervix and vagina. A period releases the tissue that grew to support a possible pregnancy. It happens after each menstrual cycle in which a pregnancy doesn’t occur—when an egg hasn’t been fertilized and/or attached itself to the uterine wall. The uterus then sheds the lining which had grown to receive a fertilized egg.”
This cycle typically repeats every 24-38 days, lasting between 3-8 days, though this isn’t the case for all menstruating people (irregular and missed periods are both common and widespread).
Beyond culture, which we’ll dive into a bit more below, many people around the world simply lack a “complete and accurate understanding of menstruation as a normal biological process,” writes UNICEF. “Educating girls—and, importantly, boys—on menstruation builds their confidence, contributes to social solidarity, and encourages healthy habits.” Poor hygiene leads to dis-eases globally, while disabilities and special needs further complicate accessibility concerns, also exacerbated by a lack of resources (clean water, period management tools and resources, etc.).
photo by @supinatra
PERIOD STIGMAS + TRADITIONS AROUND THE WORLD
Whether a first period is celebrated, punished, or made to be shameful can have a lifelong impact on how a menstruating person views this normal “bleed”. Why are so many women, trans men, nonbinary, and genderqueer people told as young people that periods are “bad”?
In Sanskrit, the same word—ṛtú—is used for both “ritual” and for “menstruation”. Therefore, it is believed that one of the first measurements of time, or the first calendar, was based on the menstrual cycle (Integral Psychology). According to Tariro Mantsebo, a Zimbabwean doctor and founder of earth + blood, a holistic healing platform to validate wellness for Black and brown female bodies, “In many ancient cultures, menstruation was seen as a sacred and precious time. Due to the connection of the cycle to the moon phases, menstruating women were believed to harness great ‘shamanic’ and spiritual power. Anthropologists suggest this may explain the use of menstrual huts in certain cultures, originally intended as safe spaces for women to retreat at the ‘height of their powers’.” In North America, the Ojibwe people are now revitalizing a lost ritual known as the “berry fast”, which begins when a girl has her first menstruation, and she abstains from eating strawberries (“heart berries”) for an entire year. During this twelve-month period, the girl learns from her elders, intentionally contemplates her future aspirations and her powerful womanhood, is encouraged to be creative especially with her hands, and emerges a “leader” in the eyes of her peers.
However, there are extremely opposite attitudes in places like Western Sudan, where the Dogon believe menstrual blood is “the evil word that charms a woman and prevents her conceiving.” Paradoxically, this same blood is referred to as “water of God’s bosom” … therefore, during a menstruating woman’s cycle, she “lives on the edge of the village in a round house, symbol of the womb, and only leaves at night to wash herself. She has to go by a prescribed path to the waters she is allowed to use, for if she goes anywhere else the area would be polluted, the pools would be troubled, and the headwaters of streams would boil” (Knight, 1987).
In Zoroastrianism practices in Iran, the Persian term BĪNAMĀZĪ refers to “the state of being without prayer,” a term used to describe the state of a menstruating woman. Regarded as a mark, a stain or a periodic illness, a woman in menses is “subject to severe restrictions” ranging from withdrawing to a small, dark hut to wearing plain, old clothes without adornment and eating less food. Further, she must wash with nīrang (consecrated bull’s urine). These rituals can last seven to nine days; if not followed strictly, the woman may “pay” for her transgressions. While urban Parsi Zoroastrians have reduced or altogether let go of such practices, in Bombay, the most pious may sleep on a metal cot away from their families and abstain from work (Russell & Algar, 1989).
While some of these traditions may seem outdated and unbearably lonely, they are also considered by some women as a time of respite from the demands of their lives as caretakers, many with additional jobs outside the home, and as a result, some elements remain relevant today. If we take a look at menstruation rituals around the globe, we find a huge range of traditions and the tones they set for the future of the menstruating person’s relationship to their monthly bleed. From celebrating the first menarche in south India to forbidding sexual intercourse in Indonesia, slaughtering a goat in South Africa and honoring “substances considered unclean by society” among the Bauls of Bengal, the menstruating diaspora has a massive range of stigmas, taboos, and traditions.
12 HERBS & RITUALS THAT WILL MAKE YOU FALL IN LOVE WITH YOUR MENSTRUAL CYCLE
TOP 7 HERBS TO SUPPORT YOUR BLEED
RED RASPBERRY LEAF (Rubus idaeus)
Think of this as a superfood for your blood and uterus! An excellent general blood tonic for both men and women, the best results come from using the fresh, or freshly dried, leaves of this plant medicine. Red raspberry leaf is also a superior blood cleanser, classically coined as a top uterine tonic. It helps to support and tonify the uterus pre-menstruation, helping to relieve menstrual cramps and pain. Easing symptoms of endometriosis and heavy period flows, red raspberry is also safe to use at any stage of pregnancy. However, consuming it in high doses is traditionally only recommended by herbalists and midwives to assist during labor. Enjoy it as a tea or a tincture, as healers everywhere have championed this “women’s herb” for centuries to treat everything from spotty periods, miscarriage recovery, uterine irregularity, cramps, and much more.
MORINGA (Moringa oleifera)
Moringa is a superb, high vitamin C mineralizer and galactagogue for mothers to be, as well as for nursing mamas. Best known as an excellent source of nutrients, this miraculous tree’s seeds, leaves, flowers, resin, and roots have all been employed medicinally by cultures worldwide. Energy boosting and soothing, moringa helps lower blood pressure and can also work as a sleep aid when those period cramps and insomnia hit. Moringa’s ability to purify water is why many believe its detoxifying effect is felt. In Ayurveda, it is used as a digestive and blood cleanser for its ability to remove impurities, toxins, parasites and metabolic waste to aid cell rejuvenation and oxygenation.
Read more about this ancient mineralizing tree on the blog here.
RED CLOVER (Trifolium pratense)
According to herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, “red clover can be considered one of nature’s best vitamin and mineral supplements, as it contains beta-carotene, calcium, vitamin C, a whole spectrum of B vitamins, and essential trace minerals.” Frequently used to boost fertility, red clover is also a great tonic to prepare the uterus for pregnancy because of its blood purifying and mineralizing properties. Championed for its ability to help regulate the menstrual cycle, treat vaginal dryness, and osteoporosis, red clover is also a tonic that can help menopausal women reduce how often and intensely their hot flashes come. Its recommended uses are to consume as a tea, tincture or infusion to increase cervical mucus and to lubricate the vagina, among numerous other health benefits.
For pregnant mamas, we recommend glycerite tinctures (and holding off on integrating herbs, especially new herbs, into your wellness practice during the first trimester of pregnancy in general, as this is a time to just be rather than innovate your regimens).
NETTLE (Urtica dioca)
Nettle is one of the most commonly used herbs on the planet. From ancient times to the present, its rich lore and plethora of healing benefits have kept us in awe, and have been affirmed by the scientific community. Some of its evidence-based benefits include: nutrient density, high iron content, inflammation reduction, ability to lower blood pressure, aid in hair growth, and help with arthritic and joint pain. One of nature’s greatest multivitamins, nettle can be added to soups, pesto, ice cream, or even mixed in with nutritional yeast to dust your popcorn. For regular womb care, both pre- and post-cycle, nettle can be ingested as a tea, with food, or incorporated into yummy broths. Especially useful for heavy menstrual bleeding, it is both astringent and high in nutritious properties that help with iron deficiencies. Regulating the menstrual cycle and decreasing period pain are among its other supportive benefits for menstruating people.
The most common of all period symptoms is likely cramping, but many menstruators also experience stomach and digestive issues, in addition to skin conditions. Marshmallow root helps soothe many of the lesser discussed negative byproducts of menstrual cycle, ranging from constipation and diarrhea to the complementary benefit of retaining water to help increase urination and balancing fluids during this time. Globally, this plant remedy is also used to treat bacterial infections (like UTIs), inflammation, bloating, and premenstrual syndrome (PMS), among countless others.
VITEX BERRY / CHASTE TREE
Also known by the names chasteberry, cloister pepper, and monk’s pepper, agnus-castus grows berries naturally in some parts of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Since antiquity, vitex berry has been used to treat amenorrhea (when menstruation stops), to assist with hormone regulation, PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), promote fertility (stimulating regular ovulation), and to ease symptoms of menopause, among other benefits. Dr. Aviva Romm, a medical doctor and masterful herbalist for women's health notes, "Vitex has outperformed placebo in numerous trials, and is known as nature’s hormonal balancer. While it doesn't appear to contain any active hormones itself, vitex acts on the hormones via its effect on the pituitary gland (and specifically on the production of luteinizing hormone, or LH). Vitex also keeps prolactin secretion in check (more on that below) and improves both estrogen and progesterone levels."
LEMON BALM (Melissa officinalis)
Native to Southern Europe, this plant’s genus name, Melissa, originated from the Greek word for “bee” due to the sweet nature of its white or yellowish flowers. Researchers at Wilkes University share, “The common name, balm, abbreviated from balsam, was indicative of the ‘chief of sweet-smelling oils’.” Because of the high antioxidants packed into this plant remedy, it can lower inflammation and oxidative stress, and is known to offer relief from painful menstruation, insomnia, and anxiety. A 2015 study researching the effect of lemon balm in the intensity of menstrual cramps among high school girls showed a significant reduction in negative PMS symptoms. Furthermore, in 2018, a group of researchers in Iran demonstrated that “M. officinalis decreases the severity of the systemic signs associated with menstruation, given that no adverse effects have been reported. M. officinalis [...] reduces the mean total score of the severity of all the systemic symptoms associated with dysmenorrhea [pain associated with menstruation].”
DISCLAIMER: This content is not intended to encourage self-diagnosis, and is purely informational in nature. We are not suggesting any of these herbs be used in place of medicine or as medicinal alternatives. We do suggest you work with your chosen herbalist, healer and/or physician to best integrate these and other herbal remedies into your monthly menstrual cycle routines. Please use plant medicines carefully and intentionally. Discuss any questions or doubts directly with a healthcare practitioner.
TOP 5 RITUALS TO SUPPORT YOUR BLEED
image by @rupikaur_
1. BLEED FREELY
(No expensive period products needed!)
While the concept of free bleeding isn’t new (it’s a centuries old practice), recently it has become a source of controversy, a form of protest, an environmental concern, and a way for many women to reclaim their bodily autonomy. When in 17th century England, few to no period products existed, free bleeding or homemade sponge tampons were the norm (Healthline, 2019). “Although some ancient civilizations believed period blood was magical,” writes women’s issues specialist Lauren Sharkey, “the idea that periods are dirty and should therefore be hidden away began to seep in over the centuries.” Jennifer Wider, M.D and author of The Savvy Woman Patient, says “it wasn’t until the late 19th century that issues of cleanliness were brought up and sanitary belts and tampons were later invented.” Now, many menstruating people are actively working to normalize menstruation by ditching the store-bought products and using period panties, or no special underwear, among other ways to enjoy their natural flows (sitting on towels, resting at home, wearing dark-colored clothes they don’t mind getting blood on, then immediately rinsing, etc.). In addition to wanting to help curb the approximately 20 billion pads and tampons that end up in North American landfills annually, free bleeding advocates say less menstrual cramps and overall discomfort, a greater sense of confidence, saving money in the short- and long-term (period panties may cost more up front, but help you spend less over time), and reduced risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS) are just some of the motivating factors for leaning in to bleeding without inhibition.
2. [RE]USE YOUR BLOOD
(Maybe not for the squeamish)
Let’s get this out of the way: if you, like most menstruating people, have experienced a lifetime of feeling the need to “hide” your period blood, it can be hard to imagine touching that same blood on purpose, let alone using it for good. We’re here to say it’s possible, though we don’t intend to prescribe any one of these techniques over another or make anyone believe this is a superior way to have a menstrual cycle. More importantly, we want you to know and feel empowered in the knowledge that you CAN use your period blood! The folks at Dazed Digital have put together an awesomely extensive guide that highlights two of our favorite blood reusing practices: (1) fertilizing plants and (2) amplifying your dreamwork. Whether you choose to collect your flow in a menstrual cup to dilute in water, or simply use a few drops daily in your houseplants, period blood is the original fertilizer, containing precious, vitamin-dense stem cells from the lining of the uterus that the soil around or within your home will soak up to thrive. Louise Trueheart from Dazed Digital also recommends placing a dot of period blood onto your third eye before dreams to call in visions your heart is asking for in the present. Check out our tips for dream journaling on the blog to deepen the experience when you awake from these lucid dreams, enhanced by your monthly rebirthing cycles.
Chanel Baran photogrpahy
3. DO SOME MENSTRUAL BLOOD MAGIC
(Tap into your innate wisdom.)
UK-based MookyChick has some excellent, in-depth witchcraft ideas for how to use your menstrual blood. With only a drop or two, you can create healing between yourself and others, go inward to heal or fortify a tender or insecure place within, and so much more. The MookyChick hivemind writes that this type of blood magic “is often used for spellwork related to sexual attraction, love, domination, and fertility” due to its pulling force, rather than the force of push. This pull is similar to how the tides and gravity pull, and is steadily strong like the power of attraction. Another reason the practices of spellwork and witchcraft are helpful both for those looking to fall in love with their inner moon cycles and for people already enjoying this monthly release is that even in experimentation, we release negative feelings of our own period blood as “dirty” or shameful. If you already have a practice of ritual spellcasting, consider incorporating some of your menstruation blood into the work over multiple months, and record the results to see how this liquid benefits what is uniquely yours and yours alone. Art by @poetagoodess
4. REST, RECHARGE + ISOLATE
(OOO message activated.)
“How will you be useless to capitalism today?” asks Nap Ministry founder Tricia Hersey, whose organizational tagline is “Rest is Resistance”. Your menstrual cycle is a time to rest more deeply, above all else, because like the memes say “the patriarchy is exhausting” and you deserve these precious few days to hit the reset button. Unless your check depends on it, try completely detaching from technology for some or all of your cycle, or at least in greater intervals than usual. Take a slow, long walk alone or with a loved one, soaking in all of nature’s gifts. Or, nap as much as your body is calling for, taking time away from social and professional obligations whenever possible. Remember those “hut” practices from around the world, some ancient and others still continuing today? One of the common themes (besides the totally uncool part of misnaming periods as “dirty” or shame-inducing) is isolation. It’s not a bad idea to take some time away from others, to journal, to sleep, and to find joy however you’re feeling it, whether in stillness, silence, and meditation or in sensual practices (more on that below!) alone. Make a ritual of brewing your herbal teas, sipping slowly, talking to your houseplants, or just excusing yourself from the pressures of performing in public. This time is for you.
5.TAKE A RITUAL BATH +/or
DO A YONI STEAM
The Yoni (Vaginal) Steam dates back thousands of years and has been found amongst many cultures, sich as African, Mayan, Greek, Native American, Cook Islands, Filipino, Japanese, and many other Asian countries. It has been described as Yoni Steam, Vaginal Steaming, Chai-yok, or Bajos. Many cultures have used Yoni steaming as a routine ritual to honor, cleanse and connect. Yoni Steams can be utilized to increase warmth, moisture, increase circulation to the vulva, causing it to open up and expose the inner labial mucous membranes. There are specially designed stools where you place the steaming pot with the chosen herbs below the seat of the stool. You then sit in a resting position and allow the steam to enter your sacred vessel. If you don't have a stool you can get creative, or simply squat using a chair towards the front to rest as you receive.
It is not advised to do yoni steaming DURING your bleed. But it can be immensely healing to women that suffer from PMS, bad cramping, trauma or deep rooted stress. Recommended is 1-3days before your bleed. Once bleeding refrain the practice. Or, another practice that some enjoy, is doing a steam 1-3days once its completed.
If you’ve been keeping up with our blog, you know we’re huge fans of medicinal baths. The menstrual cycle is a time for creating new rituals, especially those that celebrate and honor your body, which is literally regenerating itself through this incredible process! For periods, we recommend using oats to create a milky bath, along with your chosen crystals you'd like to incorporate, rose and epsom or magnesium salts.
And for those who want to further amplify the sensual feelings that arise strongly for some menstruating people, we recommend destigmatizing the “yuck” factor that is ingrained in so much popular media, from film and TV to youth literature, taking back your most primal instincts for an opportunity to deepen solo intimacy, or play with others. “Menstrual blood is, in fact, considered pure and sacred, and plays a very important role in certain Tantric rituals,” according to Nithin Sridhan of The Print. Many menstruating people, due to social and familial taboos, assume their partner(s) won’t want to have intercourse or engage in sexual activity. You may be surprised to learn that simple tricks like laying down a towel during free bleeding, or hopping in the shower together (or alone for some self-love and touch) can quickly uncomplicate sensual and sexual play during the menstrual cycle. One of the added benefits, apart from the obvious physical and emotional boosts in “happy” chemicals, is that you can mix and match these five rituals to include (or not!) period sex. Imagine bleeding freely, tending to your plants and spells with your menstrual blood magic, getting deep and intentional rest, taking a long you-centered bath, and then whenever you feel aroused, having some great sex! In any order you choose, however many of these herbs and rituals speak to you, we hope you’ll soon fall in love with the divinely sacred and rejuvenating cycle of menstruating.
Happy bleeding, familia!