Herbs have many amazing healing properties and one of their most fascinating qualities is their potential ability to affect your hormones in a positive way. Five of the herbs that are of special interest to hormonal health and hormone balancing are: thyme, holy basil, clary sage, sandalwood, and myrtle.
What do we mean when we say balancing hormones? Some of the primary hormones at work in your body include:
Adrenal hormones: Your adrenal glands produce cortisol, which manages stress and contributes to metabolism
Reproductive hormones: Estrogen and progesterone manage menstrual cycles, female fertility, and help balance vaginal pH. Testosterone manages male fertility, bone mass, libido, and red blood cell production. Both men and women actually have all 3 hormones in their bodies, but an unhealthy balance has been linked to a higher risk of cancer.
Thyroid hormones: Triiodothyronine and thyroxine are produced by your thyroid and control your metabolism.
Sleep hormones: While not as much of a ‘heavy hitter’ as the above hormones, sleep hormones like melatonin, which is produced by the pineal gland, can have a dramatic effect on your health when out of balance. Poor quality sleep can make your entire body much less efficient and more prone to sickness and burnout.
Your endocrine system functions to keep all of your hormones working in a careful balance. When just one is out of balance affects the others, leading to all kinds of nasty symptoms from weight gain to fatigue to pain.
5 Hormone Balancing Herbs
1. Thyme: Preventing Breast Cancer
In an in vitro study, researchers tested the effects of different herb extracts on breast cancer cells. One of the herbs that was able to bind to progesterone — a key female hormone — was thyme. Progesterone is a sex hormone that is involved in the menstrual cycle and in pregnancy. Researchers found that thyme also contains a high number of phytoestrogens and phytoprogestins and tested this herb to see if it would have negative or positive effects on cell growth regulation in breast cancer cells. Surprisingly, results showed that thyme mimicked the activity of anti-progesterone drugs by blocking the activity of progesterone and inhibiting the growth of the breast cancer cells. (9)***** RENUMBER in numerical order
2. Holy Basil: Lowering Anxiety
Studies report that holy basil has properties that decrease the levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. (3) One study found that holy basil extract helps in lowering anxiety levels. Participants received holy basil for 6 weeks and saw improvement in various stressful aspects of their life such as memory issues, recent sexual problems, exhaustion, and sleep quality. (6)
3. Clary Sage: Healthier Menopause
Clary sage is another herb that can potentially lower cortisol levels. According to a study, the cortisol levels of women in their 50s decreased after they inhaled clary sage oil. Interestingly, hormones that stimulate the thyroid also decreased, but only slightly. (7)
Clary sage may also increase estrogen levels in women who are experiencing menopausal symptoms due to declining levels of estrogen. (5)
4. Sandalwood: Reducing Stress
One study looked at the effects of aromatherapy on women who were undergoing a breast biopsy, which is an exam to determine whether a lump is malignant. Having a breast biopsy can be stressful for some women and participants were asked to try two combinations of essential oils. The study found that the combination of orange and peppermint oil was not as effective as the sandalwood and lavender combination, which had a calming effect on the patients and reduced their anxiety during the exam. (8)
Another study found that cancer patients who suffered from a lack of sleep improved their sleep quality by inhaling different blends of essential oils. Sandalwood was one of the essential oils included in one of the blends. 64% of patients showed at least a slight improvement in their sleep pattern and almost all patients said that they would continue to use the oils to help them sleep. (2)
5. Myrtle: Improving Sleep
Although some cultures use myrtle as a sedative or hypnotic herb, there haven’t been any studies on its effects on humans. However, there have been a few promising studies on rats and mice. Researchers noted that lab animals that received myrtle extract were sleeping more frequently and having a deeper sleep and their muscles were more relaxed. The study concluded that myrtle could have antianxiety properties. (4)
Another study found similar relaxing results in lab animals. Mice that consumed myrtle essential oil experienced prolonged sleeping during which the activity in their brain was slowed down. (1)
The Best Ways to Use Herbs Medicinally
Herbs can be used in a variety of ways. The easiest way to reap their benefits is to put them in your food or in a smoothie, but they are also found in teas, essential oils, and extract forms. Medicinal herbs can also be used in poultices and ointments.
Extracts are concentrated doses of the medicinal herb and can be found in tinctures (liquid form), or in powder form (capsules, or loose powder) when all the water is removed from the herb. Tinctures are best consumed on an empty stomach, about 1-2 mL at a time.
Herb-based essential oils can be used in a variety of ways:
Mix with a carrier oil like coconut oil and massage into skin
Add a few drops to a hot bath
Use a diffuser. Add a few drops to room temperature distilled water and set in a common area of your house
When buying or making herbal teas, make sure your ingredients are certified organic. It’s also better to buy whole leaf teas, rather than teabags, which can sometimes be laced with pesticide residue. Steep the teas to your desired strength and enjoy up to 3 times a day.
Different forms of herbs are suitable for different situations, and some herbs can interact with certain medications, so always speak with a trained practitioner for the appropriate method before you use herbs in any form.
(1) Birhanie, M. W., Walle, B., & Rebba, K. (2016). Hypnotic effect of the essential oil from the leaves of Myrtus communis on mice. Nature and Science of Sleep, 16(8), 267-275.
(2) Dyer, J., Cleary, L., McNeill, S., Ragsdale-Lowe, M., & Osland, C. (2015). The use of aromasticks to help with sleep problems: A patient experience survey. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 22, 51-58.
(3) Gholap, S. & Kar, A. (2004). Hypoglycaemic effects of some plant extracts are possibly mediated through inhibition in corticosteroid concentration. Pharmazie, 59(11), 876-878.
(4) Hajiaghaee, R., Faizi, M., Shahmohammadi, Z., Abdollahnejad, F., Naghdibadi, H., Najafi, F., & Razmi, A. (2016). Hydroalcoholic extract of Myrtus communis can alter anxiety and sleep parameters: a behavioural and EEG sleep pattern study in mice and rats. Pharmaceutical Biology, 54(10), 2141-2148.
(5) Lee, K. B., Cho, E., & Kang, Y. S. (2014). Changes in 5-hydroxytryptamine and cortisol plasma levels in menopausal women after inhalation of clary sage oil. Phytotherapy Research, 28(11), 1599-605.
(6) Saxena, R. C., Singh, R., Kumar, P., Singh Negi, M. P., Saxena, V. S., Geetharani, P., Allan, J. J., & Venkateshwarlu, K. (2012). Efficacy of an Extract of Ocimum tenuiflorum (OciBest) in the Management of General Stress: A Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Study. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2012(1), 1-7.
(7) Shinohara, K., Doi, H., Kumagai, C., Sawano, E., & Tarumi, W. (2017). Effects of essential oil exposure on salivary estrogen concentration in perimenopausal women. Neuro Endocrinology Letters, 37(8), 567-572.
(8) Trambert, R., Kowalski, M. O., Wu, B., Mehta, N., & Friedman, P. (2017). A Randomized Controlled Trial Provides Evidence to Support Aromatherapy to Minimize Anxiety in Women Undergoing Breast Biopsy. Worldviews on Evidence-Based Nursing.
(9) Zava, D. T., Dollbaum, C. M., Blen, M. (1998). Estrogen and progestin bioactivity of foods, herbs, and spices. Proceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine, 217(3), 369-78.