By Thea Summer Deer, D.S.P.S.
“What herbs would you recommend for breast cysts?” Dr. Mary inquired during our recent phone conversation. It is the type of question I get asked a lot. Especially from those who want to replace a pharmaceutical with an herb, thinking it would be a more “natural” approach and healthier alternative.
Initially, I tried to divert the question by suggesting that her patient’s caffeine intake might be looked at since it is a known aggravator of breast cysts. I, myself, have resolved this issue simply by eliminating coffee and chocolate. But I knew that in order to recommend the herbs that Dr. Mary was inquiring about we would need to have a deeper conversation.
I am an herbalist, not a medical doctor, and a medical doctor is not an herbalist. One practice in a mechanistic (Allopathic) model and the other in an energetic model. Understanding a few basic concepts of how herbal medicine functions in an energetic model can help us to understand the long-lasting results that can be achieved by taking a more natural approach.
So, I asked Dr. Mary is she would be willing to make the time to have this conversation and she was. Healing takes time, as do most natural processes. The good news is what took decades to manifest as illness may only take months or possibly years to restore to wellness.
I began by explaining that the longest lasting result from herbal medicine is in its tonic ability to restore whole bodily systems. A tonic is something that is taken consistently over time, not the quick fix that our fast-paced world demands. The affinity of herbs for certain body systems (circulatory, respiratory, urinary, etc.) and their actions (lymphatic, hepatic, tonic, etc.) illustrates their intelligence and aids us in choosing the best ones.
Healing is also about relationships and it takes time to be in a relationship. An herb taken over time brings you into a closer relationship with it, especially if you are growing, harvesting, making, smelling, tasting, drinking, digesting and eliminating it. Pharmaceuticals that go directly into the bloodstream bypass most of these checks and balances. Locally grown and seasonal herbs are exponentially more potent energetically. Herbs are some of our greatest allies if we are willing to take the time to get to know them.
“Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. It takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” – Georgia O’Keeffe
Dr. Mary’s timing for asking about breast cysts the week of Spring Equinox couldn’t have been more perfect. The action of herbal lymphatics is almost always indicated when there is breast congestion. The plants that nature gives us in Spring deliver a number of lymphatic systems and liver tonics for clearing the congestion of Winter.
For women, the largest reservoir of lymph is located in the tissues of the breast. Lymph drains away from the breast and breast cysts develop as a result of fluid accumulation inside the glands in the breasts. Fibrocystic breast is not a disease and may be the result of hormonal changes aggravated by weight gain, stress, caffeine, chocolate, smoking, and poor diet. In addition, restrictive clothing that presses on lymph nodes can impede lymph flow. Research studies show that hormones tend to collect in breast tissue, a good reason to eat organic hormone free meat and dairy, and a lymphatic self-breast massage is recommended. Having cysts doesn’t increase your risk of breast cancer. They may, however, make it more difficult to find new lumps or other changes that might need to be evaluated by a doctor, so be familiar with how your breasts normally feel so you will know when something changes. One of the ways to identify a cyst is that they tend to feel fluid-filled with distinct edges and move more freely than a hard mass.
One of the herbal allies that I was excited to share with Dr. Mary was Galium aparine, commonly known as Cleavers, and with a special affinity for the breasts and lymphatic system. It grows abundantly in our Appalachian Mountains and I gather it every spring. An herbaceous annual it can be found in moist wild areas of all temperate zones worldwide. Not surprisingly it is considered a common weed, as are many of our medicinal plants. Cleavers, or more affectionately, Velcro Weed, are one of the easiest herbs to identify because of their straggling stems and branches that grow close to the ground, their whorls of leaves, and their clinging nature by which they attach themselves readily with small hooked hairs. The entire aerial plant is harvested in spring in early flowering and used fresh or dried. The fresh herb has a high-water content so care must be taken not to crush during harvest and to dry quickly in order to avoid spoilage. Geese love the seeding plant, hence the common name of Goosegrass.
“Cleavers is a very valuable plant, being perhaps the best tonic available for the lymphatic system.” – David Hoffmann
Cleavers is especially useful for breast cysts and as a premier Spring Tonic is rich in chlorophyll, promoting lymph drainage. It strengthens lymphatic circulation, eases breast congestion, tonifies veins, counters blood clots and has the ability to work fibrosities out of the tissues including uterine fibroids. Useful for urinary tract infections and prostatitis it is a diuretic that cools and shrinks inflamed tissues of the urinary tract.
While Galium aparine may have an affinity for the lymphatic and urinary tract system, I, personally, have an affinity with the herb because it is known as a “deer medicine” in Native American herbalism. This is partially because in the spring-time deer find it sweet-scented and like to bed down in its dense patches. It has also been used throughout our human history as bedding material, giving yet another common name to this common weed, Bedstraw. To whatever name you cleave, may it encourage your waters to flow clear and current, and restore you once again to wellness.
How to use:
Dried herb infusion: 3 teaspoons dried herb to 1 cup of water, infuse 3-4 hours or overnight. Drink 1 cup, 3x/day. Boiling destroys the medicinal value of cleavers, use dried herb with warm or cold-water infusion.
Tincture of dried herb, 1:5 in 25%, 4-8ml 3x/day
Fresh plant juice: 1-2 teaspoonful (5-15 ml)
No known contraindications
For relief from breast pain and lymphedema use 20 drops every 2 hours.
To shrink cysts and other benign lumps 20 drops/day is usually effective within a few days. More than this may thin the blood. Cleavers contain coumarin, a blood thinner* useful for cancer, stroke, and heart disease prevention but increase the risk of hemorrhage during surgery. Some women report increased menstrual flow after using cleavers to relieve premenstrual breast tenderness.
*Anticoagulant – thinning the blood, reducing the risk of stroke, helps prevent the initiation of cancerous tumors.
Assist immune system when glands are swollen by taking 10 drops of cleavers tincture 1-2x/day for up to a month.
Breast Cancer? Breast Health! By Susun Weed
Making Plant Medicine by Richo Cech
Mayo Clinic https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/breast-cysts/symptoms-causes/syc-20370284
The Earthwise Herbal, A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants, by Matthew Wood
The Herbal Handbook, A User’s Guide to Medical Herbalism, by David Hoffmann
Lymphatic Drainage Massage of the Breast