I'm so fascinated by the holistic world of herbal medicine and alternative therapy. When I got the chance to interview Marina Kesso, Herbalist and Naturopath, I was so excited! She's an incredible lady and helps so many Pregnant women, and new mamas cope with their ailments, and improves the quality of their lifestyle, all through the wonders of Herbal Medicine and Naturopathy.
HP: Marina, thanks so much for your time today. Can I ask how you got into the Herbal Medicine world?
MK: Thanks so much Helen, I'm thrilled to chat to you. I was living on a small farm in Leitrim, growing lots of different herbs and plants for years. Living on the farm, we tried to live sustainably and ate only what was in season. Even though my background is Fine Arts, herbs and plants were a big passion. Living in the countryside, lots of locals knew I grew them on the farm, so they kept coming to me to get different plants for them. It came to a point where I wanted to know more about exactly how I could treat myself and others, so I took the plunge and studied in CNM in Dublin to become a Herbalist and a Naturopath. The course was life changing.
HP: That sounds so wonderful. For those readers who aren't sure of the difference, can you explain exactly what Herbal Medicine and Naturopathy is?
MK: Of course. Herbal Medicine is the use of medicinal herbs to promote good health. Medicinal herbs have a long tradition in all cultures and research has proven its huge benefits. Naturopathy is mainly to do with Nutrition and other alternative therapies are also included like Aruveyda (one of the world's oldest holistic healing systems. It was developed thousands of years ago in India. It is based on the belief that health and wellness depend on a delicate balance between the mind, body, and spirit. The primary focus of Ayurvedic medicine is to promote good health, rather than fight disease.), TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and Iridology. All of these combined help to assess people clinically. It is a combination of Eastern and Western medicine approaches. It just gives you a different perspective on treating a patient, as you spend a lot of time getting to know them, their constitution and not just their symptoms.
HP: So it's quite a 360 way to assess somebody as you aren't just spending 15 minutes with them talking about their symptoms?
MK: Exactly Helen, sometimes I'd spend 2 hours with a patient. I go into their lifestyle, eating patterns and lots more.
HP: No doubt you have experienced many benefits from incorporating herbs and naturopathic principles in your own life?
MK: Oh it's a complete change in your lifestyle and affects every aspect of your life and gives you a much deeper understanding of yourself. It is so empowering though to look after your own health and of those around you. Aruveyda in particular, is so powerful. As a women, pregnant woman, and mother, it has given me massive, massive benefits. It has given me the confidence to treat myself and my child, and it is hugely empowering to be able to do that naturally without unnecessary use of antibiotics in particular. I'm so passionate about teaching other women the benefits of keeping your body and mind healthy in this way.
HP: I know just how powerful alternative medicine can be, but do you get a lot of nay-sayers saying it's all complete nonsense?!
MK: (big laughter!) Oh I don't actually because people are generally so desperate by the time they come to me as they have tried all different conventional medicines which haven't worked for them, so they are at the end of their tether! Generally they are just really shocked at how well nutrition and herbs work together. Because I spend so much time with my patients, I build up a really strong rapport with them - so there are a lot of shocked people, but I don't experience any negativity.
HP: Ok so let's talk ailments and herbs! What kind of ailments can you treat in Pregnancy?
MK: I have treated a lot of ailments really successfully. Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) are very common during pregnancy as the urethra is more open and swollen. Some women don't want to take a generic antibiotic and don't actually need to (as antibiotics can be quite non-specific). If specific bacteria has come up in their urine sample, I can treat it with specific herbs. Often the antibiotic is not specific for the bacteria which is causing the infection and it is quite damaging to your gut. I'm a firm believer in protecting your gut flora. Treating these infections can be easily done through herbal medicine.
HP: How cool! So how would someone go about protecting their gut?
MK: Quite easily. Cut back on refined foods and sugars, and take a probiotic – particularly for women who themselves have some allergies or women who have children already with allergies. You can incorporate Milk thistle and nettle into your diet. There is also a surprising lack of understanding about nutrition in general during pregnancy. Pregnant women want to be the healthiest they have ever been when they are growing a baby. Things like increasing your intake of Essential Fatty Acids (EFA) is so important during the 1st and 3rd Trimester. You need a proper pregnancy oil. The average salmon you buy in the shops is farmed and that won't provide you with enough EFA, hence why you need a supplement.
HP: What products or brands would you recommend Marina?
MK: Viridian products are very good for pregnant women. And I think Biocare have the best probiotics. They are only available in some healthfood shops. In terms of iron supplements, I like Floriadix liquid supplements, if you need them.
HP: Can you recommend general herbal remedies for the dreaded Morning Sickness Marina?
MK: Different remedies work for different women. It's caused by a hormone surge, mainly in the first trimester. Fresh ginger and ginger tea are the obvious ones to try. Meadowsweet also works very well. Peppermint and Catnip too. Slippery Elm is also particularly useful, but ideally in its powder form. All healthfood shops would stock that. If your sickness is very bad and you need to get some nutritious food into you, open the capsules, make it into a paste and pop it into a juice or smoothie. Nettle tea is also full of nutrients.
HP: Wonderful stuff - great to know there are solutions out there to try! What about headaches Marina?
MK: So a headache is usually all about the liver. There are many causes obviously, but in pregnancy the liver is under more stress as is it cleansing the blood of the baby too. Milk Thistle and Apple Cider vinegars are super. I make several herbs in vinegar. Meadowsweet is also useful in a tea or tincture form. Wood betony would be another great herb for helping to ease headaches. Here is a short video about Wood Betony https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1hz_MLKaAwY.
HP: Amazing - the power of these herbs are incredible! Constipation is so common during pregnancy because of those lovely hormones. Do you have any suggestions on how pregnant ladies could ease this annoyance?
MK: Absolutely! So there are some foods which are natural laxatives like figs, prunes, flaxseeds and dried apricots. Ensure you are also increasing your water intake. Then think about foods which are easily digested, gloopy and soft in quality, like stews and porridge. Psylliun husks are available at your local healthfood shop, and they really get the bowels moving! I don’t like to use laxatives as I think they are too harsh on the pregnant body and a lot are contraindicated in pregnancy anyway. Dandilion root as a tincture is also amazing. So constipation is perfectly treatable.
HP: Following on nicely from constipation, we have piles! Any solutions for those pesky fellows?!
MK: Piles are so common mainly in the 3rd trimester and in particular after you give birth. You can use herbs internally with herbal suppositories, but you don't want to give a pregnant lady too much, so you can also treat piles locally and very gently. If you use suppositories for about one week that should clear up the piles. The herbs won't affect feeding or milk supply.
HP: That's so amazing you can treat piles within a week, and all naturally!
MK: Yes! I also see a lot of varicose vains actually. There is a tincture you take internally but I also create an external lotion. I once treated a lady who was 30 weeks pregnant on her 4th baby. I had never seen anything like her varicose veins. We talked about changing her lifestyle and diet, and just being kinder to herself, giving herself more time to move, to swim and to practice Yoga. She was also a teacher so was on her feet a lot, so simple things like elevating her legs were really beneficial. When she came back after a month, she couldn't believe the difference - they had practically all cleared up!
HP: That's just incredible Marina - how wonderful for her that just after 4 weeks, such natural and simple methods had such a positive impact on her legs! Tell me about bad skin during pregnancy? Do you see a lot of this?
MK: Yes I do. Outside of pregnancy, I treat a lot of people with acne. Then when they become pregnant, mostly their acne clears up and their skin is great! Acne during pregnancy is hard to treat because it is hormonal. I can't use the same herbs in pregnancy as I would normally use to treat acne. So I focus on supporting and detoxifying the liver and the lymphatic system. Milk thistle is a lovely herb for this. Externally I would also treat the acne with creams and a few dietary changes.
HP: It's great that you can do something anyway to help. Some ladies find it hard to sleep during pregnancy. Do you have any recommendations for insomnia?
MK: I really love scullcap for relaxing the nervous system - so it's really useful for certain types of insomnia, stress, and anxiety. Camomile, lemon balm and lavendar are also useful. Exercise and Yoga are very powerful too :)
HP: Totally agree with you Marina - a run followed by my yoga practice will also sort me out! We've spoken about several ailments Marina but one thing I'd like to talk about is depression in pregnancy and also postnatally. It's sort of a taboo subject during pregnancy so it's good to raise the subject.
MK: There really is a lot you can do during pregnancy. Some women I see who have been on antidepressants before pregnancy and want to come off them while pregnant, will take herbs instead. Depression both during and after pregnancy is an area I'm extremely passionate about. If you are prone to feeling low or bouts of depression, you really need to be more aware of how you are feeling during your pregnancy. Scullcap and lemon balm are two herbs we have mentioned already and both are wonderful for depression. Motherwort (post natal only) is a uterine mover and would be something I'd use also. Rosemary in tincture form is very strong. In terms of diet, I'd recommend oats as they are high in vitamin B, which is very antidepressant. Sometimes people can easily feel low from not eating enough protein, so some simple dietary changes are extremely effective.
After you have had your baby, I would always recommend patients eat their placenta within the first week!
HP: Oh my goodness, I think my stomach just turned! I know it's popular with some women, but I'm really squeamish at the thought!
MK: (lots of laughter!) I understand! But it's so nourishing for your adrenals and for your own blood as the quality of your own blood can be quite poor after you've delivered baby. I recommend my patients eat it in the first week after birth - stick half of the placenta in the fridge and have it in a really sweet smoothie every day with berries. And then to steam the other half and just eat it like liver or add it to other foods like stews or soups or make a paté.
HP: Gosh even though I'm very squeamish, that is fascinating!! So what could a pregnant woman take for a cold Marina?
MK: Anything with high vitamin C obviously. Reishi mushroom powder or capsules are also great. They are actually also great for UTIs. In terms of lifestyle, try to slow down and take care of yourself. You can cut out refined foods too and have some ginger tea. Vinegars or herbs in vinegars are really useful. Some teas like sea buckthorn, rosehip or yarrow are also good. Garlic is a natural antibiotic. It's best to eat it raw. You could pop it into some hummus or if you can't stomach that, then roasting garlic is also good. You recover much faster with a speedier digestion, so warming spices such as small amounts of cardamom, cinnamon, and fennel will all help.
HP: That's all super Marina, this is such great information thank you! Are there any other ailments that you see patients presenting with?
MK: Yes things like sciatic pain. Yoga is really the best kind of thing for it, but St. John's Wort oil can be very useful too. There's a video I did here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TneR6bS-X3w.
Herbalists can also help with so many other conditions like high blood pressure, lymphatic swelling, and stress and anxiety. You could make yourself a pregnancy tea to have all during your pregnancy to help you feel calm, relaxed and also aid nutrition.
You could make yourself a pregnancy tea to have during all trimesters to help you feel calm, relaxed, aid nutrition, help with lymphatic drainage and strengthen the uterus muscle. A beautiful blend of tea to make could be to combine: scullcap, wood betony, hyssop, nettle, lemon balm, chamomile and some raspberry leaf. It might be tricky for someone to find some of these dried herbs on their own so a herbalist would make this up for you as they would have access to these dried herbs.
HP: Marina, I feel we could talk all day about this!! You are a wealth of information! Just to finish off, could we touch on a few things to use during labour, and also what to take after the birth?
MK: Of course! There are several pain relief tinctures which could be prepared. Or you could also massage herbal oils around the whole pelvic region. Siberian ginseng mixed with water and molasses, or water and sugar is wonderful to maintain energy and stamina during labour. There are herbs like black cohosh and blue cohosh which can be used to ripen the cervix when you are overdue, or they can also strengthen contractions to make them more effective. In order to get the placenta out as speedily as possible, the birthing partner can give their lady a pre-made tea which is a mix of Raspberry leaf and catnip leaf. Bring it in a flask and then drink it as soon as you have delivered and the placenta will plop out! Midwives are always in awe of that!
HP: Oh my goodness, that's incredible! I wish I had known that as my placentas were always a bit tricky to get out and the hospitals in Ireland like to manage that part of the delivery very quickly. Gosh there is such a tie-in with herbal medicine and yoga. I give my mamas tips on what to do when they are overdue or if labour is slowing too. Both together would just have incredible results!
MK: I know - there is so much you can do that is natural but so powerful too! And once baby arrives and you want to feed, there are many herbs which help to bring on your supply or help with engorgement. Herbs like blessed thistle and Goats rue. Also, seeds like Fenugreek and Fennel seeds would make a lovely milk-enhancing tea. Your local herbalist will be able to make up a labour kit for you, which would be amazing.
HP: That's amazing. And finally, if you have had a c-section, what healing remedies could you recommend?
MK: After surgery, calendula oil is wonderful for healing. It's also used to heal any tears. Once the c-section stitches have dissolved, you could use comfy oil. Also Rosehip oil is really great for scars.
HP: Marina, I want to thank you enormously for all that incredibly interesting information. I would adore to be living beside you in Sligo, but for those of us who aren’t so lucky, where can we access our local herbalist / treatments?
MK: Ahh thank you Helen! Well my website is http://www.ionaherbal.ie/. As you know, I'm about to have baby number 2, so I'll be taking a year off but after that, we'll be running lots of courses for the public, so be sure to like us on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/IonaHerbal/. We also have the nursery and herb farm based in north county Sligo where we provide other herbalists around the country with plants. That can be accessed through http://www.barerootbotanicals.ie/. You can also sign up for our mailing list to hear about courses. For your local herbalist, you can check out http://bluherbal.ie/
HP: Marina, you are an inspiration. Thank you SO much for your time and I know you'll have another incredible birth. Enjoy the time-out and we'll be in touch soon.