Female infertility can have many causes. In cases with mechanical blockages such as scarring of the fallopian tubes, herbal medicines are not effective. However, they can definitely help if the problems are hormonal, emotional, or nutritional.
Common gynecological problems such as fibroid tumors, endometriosis, and chronic vaginal infections--all of which can lead to or exist concomitantly with infertility--may improve with herbal medicine treatments. These conditions generally fall into the TCM category of heat and dampness in the pelvic area. Herbs that might be used include poria mushroom, pinellia tuber, tangerine peel, and phellodendron bark.
Dietary measures such as the diet to reduce heat and dampness can also be helpful. See the section on Special Diets for Illness. Most of all, as is always the case, a healthy diet is essential. The mother-to-be must be well nourished if she wishes to nurture and grow a new living being inside herself.
Stress is another underated cause and predictor of both male and female infertility. A quick search of Medline will show hundreds of scientific reports on this subject. It is so important that levels of stress can be used to predict treatment outcome. Perhaps this is why some herbs reputed to be good for infertilty in both men and women are also very stress relieving. Ashwagandha root and Gokshura fruit come to mind.
Problems in other endocrine glands, such as the thyroid, adrenals or the pituitary, can cause a failure to ovulate. In these cases it is best to treat the causative factors in the gland where the problem originates, before resorting to tonic herbs. If the thyroid is weak, follow the treatments discussed in our sections on hypothyroidism and ditto for adrenal gland deficiency. If there is a problem (minor only) with pituitary gland regulation, try chaste tree berry.
TCM doctors use some very effective herbs for these female infertility cases, which I always refer to Nai-shing for treatment done along with acupuncture. ( She has been successful so many times that I joke that she has gotten more people pregnant than me. ) Basically, any imbalance in the hormonal systems can lead to a failure to ovulate or inability to carry a pregnancy to term. Yin deficiency is the most common cause of these imbalances. We often use the following herbs: ginseng root, wild asparagus root, white peony root, cooked rehmannia root, dang gui root, licorice root, cuscuta seed (tu si zi or C. chinensis), eucommia bark (du zhong or E. ulmoides), deer antler, lycium fruit (gou qi zi or L. chinense) and salvia root. I recommend making a tea (3-4 cups per day) or administering the herbs as powders--six to nine grams per day of the 4:1 concentrated granules. Take for several months up to half a year or longer.
The TCM syndrome called Liver Qi stagnation is another common cause, in which case we treat with dang gui root, white peony root, bupleurum root, poria mushroom, moutan bark, and trichosanthes root.
Once a woman becomes pregnant, it is important to continue to keep the system healthy and prevent miscarriage. A few Western herbs that offer benefit during pregnancy include:
• black haw (Viburnam prunifolium) to relax, nourish and tonify the female reproductive organs
• partridge berry (Mitchella repens) to nourish and strengthen during pregnancy
• cramp bark (Viburnum opulus) to prevent miscarriages and prepare for birth
For an excellent discussion of all the many issues related to pregnancy and childbirth beyond the scope of this book, I highly recommend The Natural Pregnancy Book by registered herbalist (AHG) and certified midwife Aviva Jill Romm.