Herbal medicines we use to treat vulvovaginal conditions

Using herbal medicine to support women’s health is nothing new, and the same herbs that were used aeons ago are still used today. Finding the right herb for the job, however, can be tricky. We recommend visiting a trained, qualified, experienced herbalist for a tailored mixture just for you.

This is for safety as much as anything else – just because something comes from nature, doesn’t make it safe. There is plenty in nature that can kill you!

Understanding that herbal medicine is a tool is important, just like drugs are tools. In fact, drugs are usually derived from herbs, but a drug (by patent law) must only have one active molecule.

This differs considerably from how a plant is constructed, with multiple active constituents. This means plant constituents tend to work in concert with one another in our body, unlike a drug, which tends to be very potent and work in only one way.

Some researchers have broken down herbs into their single constituents, only to find that the wonderful effect they had on us has disappeared. This can also apply to herbs grown only in certain areas. This is why it’s important to have trusted, quality suppliers of herbal extracts, since being able to trust the quality of your herbs is key to feeling confident that they will work as you wish them to.

A natural medicine practitioner’s approach to vulvovaginal, pelvic and reproductive complaints

One of the major underpinnings of natural medicine is to treat the person, not the disease. This requires us to understand implicitly that every part of our body and mind is connected to the other parts, as one big organism. When figuring out what’s going wrong with someone, a natural medicine practitioner will take into account all parts of you.

This means when we give you a herbal medicine, we might not directly deal with the problem you came there with. This problem may be a symptom of a larger problem that needs tackling.

When you get a herbal formula from your herbalist, or experiment with herbs on your own, you have to carefully develop the herbal formula to suit the person in front of you.

A good example is if your neck pain is being caused by stress and anxiety – tension headaches. A natural medicine practitioner may recommend a relaxation mix to help you sleep, give you some advice on how to modify your sleep routines in your favour, and send you to an osteopath to get adjusted.

Calendula and BV

Approaching a problem from multiple angles is what we do best. You can see how often, a vagina problem may be caused by something else. A great example here is a dry, irritated vagina caused by low oestrogen, in menopause. The low oestrogen can be modified using phyto-oestrogenic herbs and foods, and the dryness – until it resolves – can be managed using vaginal moisturisers.

You can’t know everything all the time, but you can see the importance of seeing a trained herbalist or natural medicine practitioner before trying to treat yourself. You may not really know what is wrong with you, because you are trained in other special areas! Being able to see what is wrong with us, personally, is not a skill even most herbalists or naturopaths have. It’s hard to see yourself objectively.

What is going on with your body and mind may be reasonably simple, or may be extremely complex. Please seek the care of qualified, experienced practitioners of any kind, and use herbs wisely!

We use herbal medicine in many facets of medicine to exert an influence on tissue. Please consult your healthcare practitioner before using herbal medicine – just because it’s ‘natural’, doesn’t mean it’s safe.

Research into herbal medicine

There is plenty of new research coming out regarding herbal medicine and reproductive, vulvovaginal and hormonal issues. We always need more, however, since until we have plenty of great research into natural medicine, it can’t be implemented into the mainstream as a way to treat.

Thyme Cream BV Treatment

Simple herbal medicine treatments for vulvovaginal complaints we use at home

  • Oat baths for soothing vulvar itching
  • Tea tree as an antibacterial and antifungal – can be used for yeast infections or minor vulvovaginal infections (diluted)
  • Cranberry for preventing certain types of urinary tract infections
  • Making essential oil pessaries for vulvovaginal infections, discomfort and cuts/tears

Approaches a natural medicine practitioner may take to your vulvovaginal, reproductive or pelvic problems

Example: modifying hormones using herbal medicine

Some herbs and lifestyle choices are well known to exert an effect on hormone production or balance. The effects of our choices can vary incredibly, and be much more important than we think.

A good example is aiming to reduce circulating oestrogen (managing oestrogen excess). Oestrogen is removed via the bowel and liver, so having enough fibre in your diet alone can really reduce your oestrogen levels, along with taking liver-supporting herbs. Increasing the performance of your will increase the rate at which oestrogen is deactivated and removed from your body. It’s also known that eating a diet high in red meat changes your gut flora to favour the reintroduction of previously deactivated oestrogen!

We might also consider this from the opposite angle – trying to increase circulating oestrogen levels, perhaps in a perimenopausal woman. This could include ensuring just enough fibre for a healthy bowel motion, but not more, and making sure to limit liver-stimulating herbs and foods where possible.

Herbs are amazing, but need to be used carefully and precisely for best effect.

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Jessica Lloyd - Vulvovaginal Specialist Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica is a degree-qualified naturopath (BHSc) specialising in vulvovaginal health and disease, based in Melbourne, Australia.

Jessica is the owner and lead naturopath of My Vagina, and is a member of the:

  • International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD)
  • International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health (ISSWSH)
  • National Vulvodynia Association (NVA) Australia
  • New Zealand Vulvovaginal Society (ANZVS)
  • Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS)