Who would have thought that eating a handful of basil would relieve menstrual cramps?
I first heard about basil for menstrual cramps when I was taking my herbalist training program and the teacher told us that eating 10 to 12 leaves would relieve menstrual cramps. This is just the nutritional nugget I get excited about!
The only problem was that I don’t tend to get cramps and couldn’t test it. Until one day one of my clients agreed to be my Guiney pig. She had been dealing with painful cramps her whole life and once a month spent the first day of her cycle curled up in a ball with a heating pad and a bottle of Advil.
I instructed her to drink a glass of Sweet Cucumber Basil Juice and see what happens. I got an email a few weeks later that she had one glass and her cramps were reduced dramatically and almost immediately.
Since then I have suggested this Sweet Cucumber Basil Juice recipe to my female clients who report having painful menstrual cramps. They too have found relief. Those that didn't like the juice tried a bowl of Zucchini Basil Soup with Ginger and Chives with a hearty dose of basil leaves as garnish.
How Does it Work?
I got curious and did some research to determine what it is about basil that works so well at reducing cramps and it turns out cramps are caused by chemical substances called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins initiate both labor and menstruation. For instance, during labor, prostaglandins signal the uterus to contract and help push the baby out. During menstruation prostaglandins signal the uterus to contract, which expels the sloughed off uterine lining and menstrual fluid.
For some reason (we don’t know why) some women's bodies produce an excess of prostaglandins, turning normal contractions into painful and sometimes debilitating cramps.
It is interesting to note that nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen sodium (Aleve) are typically very effective at relieving the pain of menstrual cramps because, in simplified terms, they block the production of prostaglandins responsible for menstrual cramps.
The Center For Holistic Urology at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, confirm that indeed holy basil (along with turmeric, ginger and grape skins) contain compounds that do the same thing. They also inhibit production of prostaglandins.
This is valuable to know because NSAIDs are hard on the stomach lining and kidneys and some women with sensitive stomachs can’t take them. This makes basil a powerful, safe, and tasty alternative to unnecessary suffering.
In addition, NSAIDs take around 20 to 30 minutes before they are absorbed in the body, which is a long time when you are curled up with a heating pad. alternatively, basil is absorbed quickly and relief has been reported to occur almost instantly.
So, pick up a basil plant! It looks beautiful on your kitchen counter, can be used in many delicious recipes and when that time of the month arrives, and the cramping begins, make up a batch of Sweet Cucumber Basil Juice or Zucchini Basil Soup with Ginger and Chives.
And if that's too much work, simply roll up 10 to 12 leaves of fresh holy basil and munch on them with tomato wedges and olive oil.
Basil also contains anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties, and is rich in Vitamin K, manganese, Vitamin A and Vitamin C.