Placentophagia: Eating Your Placenta

Photo Source: Monet Nicole

“Placentophagia is not such an unusual behavior for most mammilian mothers in the perinatal period. Animals of all the mammilian groups […] most all will injest the placentas of their newborn young. Animals are not aware of the biochemical benefits, yet instinctually they find the placenta extremely palatable immediately after giving birth. Since there are scientifically documented benefits to eating the placenta, it makes sense that, over time, mammals that eat their placentas thrive in the process of natural selection; they enjoy a adaptive biological advantage,” says
midwife & author, Robin Lim (120).

There are many wise women, doulas, mothers, and midwives, like Lim, who believe in the benefits of placentophagy. However, there is also a lack of widely accepted scientific evidence proving these benefits. This being said, it is important to note that there is a lack of scientific research on placentophagy in humans overall.

In Placentophagy: Therapeutic Miracle or Myth?, several scientists evaluate the published data on placentophagy. In their review they state, “despite the amount of information available to the public on the therapeutic benefits of placentophagy, there is no scientific evidence examining its effects in humans, and the data from animals are inconclusive.”

They conclude, “Based on the studies reviewed, it is not possible to draw any conclusions relevant to human health. We conclude that the animal and human data strongly support the need for more precise evaluation of the benefit, if any, of placentophagy practices in human patients.”

In their review, they do discuss the findings of Mark B. Kristal and his colleagues, which I will refer to later. They state, “Kristal et al’s work over the last 40 years displays the most scientific and methodological rigor to explain a possible adaptive significance of placentophagy in non-human mammals.”

However, they go on to discuss various reasons they believe Kristal’s findings do not necessarily prove the benefits of placentophagy. One major issue they find with Kristal’s study is that it uses rodent, not human subjects. They detail some other more specific scientific reasons too, which you can read about here if it interests you.

Anyway, I think it’s important to note all of this before I delve into why one might eat their own placenta. I also want to acknowledge that while there is a lack of scientific “proof” that placentophagy has measurable health benefits, there is considerable anecdotal evidence that placenta consumption can do some pretty amazing things for the for the post-partum mother. I also tend to believe that while science is certainly a valuable way of finding out more about our world, it is only one of our many tools of discovery.

With all of that said, I will now discuss the potential perks of placentophagy and the various ways to prepare a placenta.

Lim describes several benefits of mammilian placenta consumption in her book, Placenta: The Forgotten Chakra, including:

Reduction of post-partum hemmorhage

One of the most commonly reported benefits of placenta consumption is that it helps to prevent/stop excessive bleeding after birth. “In my midwifery practice, there have been many times when [anti-hemorrhagic medicines] did not stop hemorrhage,” says Lim. “In each case, when none of the medications worked, the hemorrhaging stopped immediately within minutes of the mother ingesting a small bit of her own placenta” (65).

Replenishment of mother’s nutrients

Another popular reason mothers eat their placenta after birth is the belief that it has exceptional nutritional benefits that aid in restoring the woman’s body. “A mother’s placenta is exactly formulated to give her optimal benefits. No other animal meat will help her as much as her own placenta. It contains iron and all the minerals that high quality meat can offer. Women who have eaten placenta post-partum, either raw to help control/stop hemmorhage, or cooked as a post-partum meal report feeling brighter and more alert,” says Lim (119).

She states, “By ingesting the meat of the placenta, the new mother is able to replace the minerals from the blood loss of the birth. The vitamins and protein ease the strain of the long months of pregnancy on the mother’s body and balance her plummeting hormone levels” (121).

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Honoring the Placenta After Birth

Photo Source: Tribe de Mama

In most of the developed world, once a baby is delivered and their umbilical cord has been severed, the placenta, or “afterbirth,” is thoughtlessly disposed of as medical waste. However, many traditional cultures have beliefs and customs that honor the placenta and its important role in the bringing a child into the world.

“In Bali, for example, the placenta, or ari-ari, is said to live on in spirit as one of the child’s four siblings or guardian angels, which can be called on in times of need.

A Balinese child greets his or her placenta on rising in the morning and prays to it for protection at night. Every new moon and full moon, and on each holy day, offerings are placed at the burial site of the placenta.

After death, the placenta is believed to accompany the soul of the deceased to heaven to testify as to whether the person fulfilled his or her duty in this lifetime,” says Dr. Sarah Buckley (191).

There are many ways to honor the placenta after birth. The following are a few ideas.

Placenta Consumption aka Placentophagia

There are lots of options for consuming one’s placenta and many reported benefits to doing so. I’ll go much deeper into the nitty gritty details of all the methods I describe below in my upcoming post, Placentophagia: Eating your Placenta.

Remember to treat your placenta like you would a fine cut of meat. It should be refrigerated if you don’t plan to eat it the same day and frozen if not fully consumed within a few days of birth.

Below is a brief overview of the ways one can eat placenta.

Raw

Some women choose to eat a small piece or two of their placenta raw & coated in honey immediately after birth as it is said to help reduce risk of and/or stop post-partum hemmorhage. Others like to add pieces of raw (or frozen) placenta into a smoothie to give them a boost after birth and in the immediate post-partum period.

Encapsulated

This is a popular way to consume placenta as capsules are easy to store & take. They are also less “gross” for some mothers than the other types of placentophagy.

There are two main ways to prepare the placenta for encapsulation. In the Traditional Chinese Medicine method, the placenta is steamed, then dehydrated before being ground up and put into capsules. The Raw Method involves dehydrating the placenta raw, then powdering it and encapsulating it.

Regardless of preparation method, placenta capsules should be stored in the freezer if not consumed within 6 weeks or so.

Cooked

The options for cooking with placenta are endless. I’ve heard of women enjoying their placenta in tacos, lasagna, pâté, stroganoff, pizza, and stew. Truly, any recipe you would add meat to could be improvised to include placenta.

My placenta tincture
Tinctured

You aren’t technically eating placenta when you take it in tincture form, but doing so is another option for consuming your placenta.Placenta tincture is pretty straightforward to prepare. The basic instructions are to put a small piece of the placenta into a jar and fill the jar with alcohol. You’ll need only a very small piece of placenta for this. After a few weeks, strain out the placenta piece and re-bottle your finished tincture. This is a very stable preparation that can be kept for years. Just be sure to store it in a cool, dark place to help it last.

Lotus Birth

Photo Credit: @davina_thompson

Another way to honor the placenta after birth is by allowing it to detach from baby on its own time (usually 3-9 days after birth), instead of severing the umbilical cord.

Midwife, Robin Lim, says of Lotus Birth, “It is not for everyone, but it is worth the trouble. Families must be more mindful and move more slowly when handling the baby who is left intact with his or her umbilical cord and placenta. Although the baby who has had a few hours with her placenta has already gotten 99% or more of the benefits of delayed cord severance, I love Lotus Birth and feel it is the best possible start we can give our babies and grandbabies (78).

Lim shares beautiful Lotus Birth stories & further information in her book, Plancenta: The Forgotten Chakra.The following is an excerpt (88-89):

How to Have a Lotus Birth: The Nitty Gritty Details

After the birth of the baby and the placenta, there is nothing to do except wrap the placenta in a towel and tuck it beside the mom and baby while they have their first breastfeeding adventure. Sometimes it is wise to put something like a chux pad or barrier between placenta and bedding to avoid blood and moisture wicking out onto the bed. Be mindful as you do this, so as not to pull the baby’s cord when moving her around.

Next, the midwife or family member may bring a bowl of water to the bed and wash the blood away from the placenta. If you had a water birth, they can wash the placenta right there in the tub. Once the blood is thoroughly washed from the placenta, pat it dry and place it spongy side up (aka: the mommy side) on a dry towel. Salt it generously, making sure the salt is in all of the folds of the cotyledons. Now lay the placenta mommy side down, in a small basket lined with a clean, dry cloth diaper or towel.

A basket is better than a bowl, as it allows the placenta to breathe, preventing odor (washing and salting the placenta prevents odor too). Add more salt to the lovely shiny baby’s side of the placenta and tuck the little package beside the baby. Make sure to change the placenta diaper every few hours, as it will absorb moisture from the placenta.

Your family may wish to add some fragrant dry ground herbs to the salt sprinkled on your placenta. I use nutmeg most often, as it is easily available in Indonesia, where I live. I have also added dried rosemary, Indian chai herbs (cinnamon, clove, cardamom, ginger), and dried ground lavender flowers.

Photo credit: @homeinthehive

For me, having a Lotus Birth rules out placenta consumption. I wouldn’t leave a steak out for several days and then cook it up for dinner. I have heard of people eating their placenta after a Lotus Birth, but I’m still not convinced that it’s the best idea. Of course, as with everything, you will want to use your best judgement and do what feels right to you.

Photo credit: @placenta_art

Placenta Prints

This is an easy option for honoring baby’s placenta. Simply pat the placenta a bit, but don’t get it too dry as the blood acts as ink. Then carefully place it down on a large piece of white/light paper.

Once it has dried well, spray a bit of art fixative spray or hair spray over it and let it dry again. You may choose to do prints of both sides of the placenta, or just the baby side. You could also your placenta with a thin layer of paint (as it appears the artist above did) before laying it down on the paper. Though doing so rules out eating the placenta afterwards.

Plancenta Ceremonies

It can also be very lovely to have a ceremony to help honor the placenta. Even if you want to consume part of the placenta, you can still save the less edible pieces of it to be used in ritual.

If you don’t plan to do your ceremony within a few days after birth (which is very possible considering you will be recovering and caring for a newborn), pop your placenta into a heavy duty Ziplock bag, label it, and store it in the freezer until you are ready.

One option is to bury the placenta and plant a tree over it. Some people choose to plant the placenta in a beautiful spot in the forest or where the child was conceived. You may want to write a letter of wishes for the child and include it in the burial. The placenta can also be buried in a pot so it be moved if necessary.

You could also to chose to take the placenta out to sea and give her to the ocean. You may wish to include friends and family in the ceremony to help bless the placenta and put it to rest.

Photo Source: Birth Unscripted

I recently read a beautiful account of a placenta ceremony on Hannah Grace’s (@webofgrace) Instagram. Perhaps it will provide some further inspiration for your own placenta rituals.

I birthed my son on the Libra new moon, 12 moons ago. So 2 days ago on the Libra new moon this year, I buried the last of our placenta beneath the Cedar tree that we planted and nourished with the magic & bloody water from the bathtub after our birth. I held the placenta in my hands chanting “release” just as I did during the birth of our placenta & cord burning ceremony. I rested the precious organ deep in the hole I had dug, then picked a sprig of cedar and burned it as I said prayers for my son & Mother Earth. With blood on my finger tips, I wrote my son’s name on the back of the drum that I made for him days before he was born. I covered our placenta with dirt handful by handful. Then chanted again with a steady beat on the drum. Then I got Koa from his father, & brought him to his tree where he fell asleep nursing in my lap. When he woke, he peed on his tree then played the drum as we laughed together.

Photo Credit: Tree of Life Birth Photography

Keeping Your Placenta

Birthing at home makes it easy to keep your placenta. Just be sure to discuss your wishes with your midwife (if hiring one) to ensure that they will honor & carry out your requests.If you have your baby at a hospital or birth center, they may have protocols for how they treat so called “medical waste” that could make it difficult for you to keep your placenta.

However, planning ahead may make it possible for you to determine how your placenta is handled. Discuss your wishes with your doctor or midwife and find a new birth facility or health care provider, if necessary.

Be certain that everyone on your birth team is clear about your wishes for the placenta. A doula, friend, or family member who will be at the birth should be responsible for protecting the placenta to allow your partner to be fully present in bonding with you and the baby.

Pack two heavy duty Ziplock bags or a large bowl with a tight fitting lid to store the placenta until you get it home.

Because the placenta is essential to the survival and well being of a baby throughout pregnancy, pausing to acknowledge it’s important role in sustaining baby in it’s earliest days is an important part of a peaceful birth process.

How did you honor your placenta after birth? I’d love to hear about any special rituals you have.

To read more about the process of severing the umbilical cord and separating baby from their placenta check out my post: Severing the Umbilical Cord: Preparing For your Baby’s Separation from their Placenta After Birth

Resources:

Buckley, Sarah J., MD. Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering.

Buckley, Sarah J., MD. “The Amazing Placenta.” Mothering. December 18, 2010. http://www.mothering.com/articles/the-amazing-placenta.

DiBenedetto, Katie. DIY Placenta Edibles.

Lim, Robin. Placenta: the Forgotten Chakra. 65, 73-89, 119-126.

Kristal, Mark B. Enhancement of Opioid-Mediated Analgesia: A Solution to the Enigma of Placentophagia. Neuroscience & Biobehavorial Reviews 15. 1991. 425-435.

Kristal, Mark B. Placentophagia: A Behavioral Enigma. February 2, 1980.

Saldaya, Emilee. “What to Do with the Cord? (And Placenta!)” Free Birth Society Podcast. April 5, 2019. https://www.freebirthsociety.com/blogs/the-free-birth-podcast/what-to-do-with-the-cord-and-placenta

Selander, J. Human maternal placentophagy: a survey of self-reported motivations and experiences associated with placenta consumption. Ecol Food Nutr. 2013;52(2):93-115.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23445390/

DIY Coffee & Orange Exfoliating Scrub

This invigorating scrub is a non-toxic way to exfoliate your skin.

Commercially made body scrubs often contain synthetic preservatives and fragrances. These chemicals increase shelf life and make products “smell nice,” but can have some seriously detrimental health effects.

Synthetic preservatives, like parabens and formaldehyde, can cause skin irritation, allergies, and more serious health problems, like hormone disruption, infertility, and cancer.

Parabens are found in many cosmetics. In the body, they mimic estrogen, which may cause reproductive disorders and cancerous breast tumors.

Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives are commonly used in shampoos, liquid soaps, and other body care products despite the fact that the EPA, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and the National Toxicology Program of the Department of Health and Human Services all classify formaldehyde as a human carcinogen.

A group of chemicals that is regularly labeled as “fragrance,” called phthalates, accumulate in the body and have been linked to the disruption of hormones, possibile birth defects, infertility, breast cancer, and potential liver cancer (1).

Unfortunately, with the amount of environmental toxins in our modern world, daily exposure to harmful chemicals is inevitable to some degree. But, certainly, refusing to slather our skin with bath & beauty products that contain even more toxic chemicals is a step in the right direction.

Making your own body care products is an excellent way to avoid toxic chemicals and control the quality of the things you and your loved ones use on a regular basis.

Coffee & Orange Exfoliating Scrub

This scrub is quick & simple to make, and is one of my favorite formulas for smoothing and invigorating skin. In addition to smelling amazing, coffee and orange peel boost skin health too.

Coffee has a number of reported benefits for the skin when used topically. It is an anti-inflammatory that is said to help smooth skin and reduce the appearance of cellulite, fine lines, sunspots, and dark under eye circles. It is has been used to treat acne and may have anti-aging effects (2).

Orange peels have anti-histamine and anti-inflammatory effects (3). They contain vitamin C, an antioxidant that plays a vital role in collagen formation, which is what gives skin its strength and elasticity. Applied topically, they can smooth skin, reduce wrinkles, and heal skin damage due to exposure to the sun and pollution (4).

Sunflower oil is beneficial for most skin types. It absorbs into the skin very well and doesn’t clog pores. It is hyrdating to the skin, helping to lock in moisture to prevent further drying. It is also high in vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps to protect and heal the skin from the damaging effects of exposure to environmental toxins and the sun (5).

This body scrub is gentle enough to be used on the face too, but be sure to use a light touch. Avoid sensitive areas, rashes, and broken skin. Those with very dry, delicate, or sensitive skin may wish to choose a gentler exfoliant, as ground coffee may be a bit too abrasive for you.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tsp coffee grounds
  • 1 tsp orange peel powder
  • 1 tsp sunflower oil

This makes a good amount of scrub for one full body application. You may wish to make more or less based on your needs.

You may want to mix up a larger amount to keep on hand for later use. I haven’t tried this so can’t speak to shelf stability. Since this is a natural product with no preservatives, there may be spoilage over time, especially if the scrub is stored in a warm, wet location, like a shower. Getting water into the jar would certainly increase the posibility of spoilage, so you’ll want to use a dry utenstil or finger to scoop out your scrub if you plan to store it.

Directions:

Combine ingredients in a small bowl and stir until well combined.

To Use:

Gently massage into skin. The oil does make things slippery, so please be cautious when using in the bathtub or shower.

Leave on for a few minutes, or up to an hour, if desired, and then rinse with warm water. Your skin will feel soft, smooth, and vibrant. You may repeat 2-3 times a week, if you like.

Taking a few minutes out of your day to care for your skin may seem like a guilty pleasure, but in reality, our skin is our largest organ and keeping it happy is crucial to our overall health. Do yourself a favor and give your skin a little extra love!

Resources:

1. Ginevra Holtkamp. “The Ban List: 7 Ingredients to Avoid in Personal-Care Products.” Mother Earth Living. July/August 2012.

2. Kristeen Cherney. “Does Coffee Have Any Benefits for Your Skin?” Healthline.

3. Tsujiyama, S. Mubassara, H. Aoshima. “Anti-histamine release and anti-inflammatory activities of aqueous extracts of citrus fruits peels.” Oriental Pharmacy and Experimental Medicine, 2013, Volume 13, Number 3, 175.

4. Megan Ware, RDN, LD. “Health benefits of oranges.” Medical News Today. December 20, 2017

5. Corey Whelan. What’s Good About Sunflower Oil for Skin? Healthline. August 7, 2019

Severing the Umbilical Cord: Preparing for your Baby’s Separation from their Placenta After Birth

Photo Credit: Monet Nicole

The placenta plays a vital role in the well being of momma & baby throughout pregnancy and the immediate post-partum period. “During pregnancy and after birth, the placenta makes maternal and child survival possible. It provides for our nutritional needs and aids in our development. It acts as a barrier guarding us against harmful bacteria and most foreign molecules,” says midwife, Robin Lim.

After the birth, the baby and plancenta will eventually separate. There are several ways to go about this. I like the advice Lim gives in her book Placenta: the Forgotten Chakra. “Remember to choose what is the gentlest path that feels right for your family and the sweetest way you can imagine; your baby cannot choose, but depends on you to be wise” (76).

The following options are available.

Immediately Clamp & Cut the Umbilical Cord

Photo Credit: Hefferilt Photography

For many hospitals and birth centers, this is the norm. It may be the “easiest” option for parents as they do not need to have any discussion or mention anything ahead of time. After the baby is born, the doctor or midwife will immediately clamp & cut the cord.

If you’re birthing without a provider present, cutting the cord is a fairly simple option for separating baby from their placenta. (Though delayed cord cutting is a better option for your baby! See why below.) Emilee Saldaya gives these easy instructions in her episode, “What to Do with the Cord?(And Placenta!)” of the Free Birth Society podcast. “Boil some scissors or a knife, anything you have in your kitchen that’s sharp enough. And then at about 6 inches minimum away from your baby you just cut it. It’s really really simple. And then you clamp it.”

Saldaya states she is “a fan of the sterile clamp because there is no chance with using a clamp on baby’s side that any blood will leak out from your baby’s end, which could actually be quite serious and even fatal.”

The disadvantage of the 3-4 cm plastic cord clamp that is usually used is that it can get between mom and baby during breastfeeding. It will also hurt baby if it twists and pokes into their belly and may be uncomfortable.

Delayed Cutting of the Umbilical Cord

Just delaying the cutting of the umbilical cord by 3 minutes is so important for giving baby an extra boost from the placenta. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “there is growing evidence that delayed cord clamping is beneficial and can improve the infant’s iron status for up to 6 months after birth. For the first few minutes after birth, there is still circulation from the placenta to infant. Waiting to clamp the umbilical cord for 2-3 minutes, or until cord pulsations cease, allows a physiological transfer of placenta blood to the infant (the process referred to as “placental transfusion”), the majority of which occurs within 3 minutes. This placental transfusion provides sufficient iron reserves for the first 6-8 months of life, preventing or delaying the development of iron deficiency until other interventions — such as the use of iron [rich] foods — can be implemented” (4).

The American College of Obstetricians & Gynocologists (ACOG) states, “A longer duration of placental transfusion after birth also facilitates transfer of immunoglobulins and stem cells, which are essential for tissue and organ repair. The transfer of immunoglobulins and stem cells may be particularly beneficial after cellular injury, inflammation, and organ dysfunction, which are common in preterm birth. The magnitude of these benefits requires further study, but this physiologic reservoir of hematopoietic and pluripotent stem cell lines may provide therapeutic effects and benefit for the infant later in life.”

It is generally not difficult to get your doctor or midwife to agree to delayed cord cutting. However, like the first option, it also involves cutting the cord before the placenta is born. A plastic clamp is also used, as well.

Prolonged Delayed Cutting of the Umbilical Cord

Many midwives who receive babies at home practice this, usually waiting about 15 minutes before cutting and clamping the cord. But, sometimes this still means severing the cord before the placenta is born. Lim says, “I strongly suggest that the parents ask the health provider to wait at least until the placenta has been born. Even better is to wait until the baby has had it’s initial feed at the breast. After this, I believe the baby has gotten 99% of the physical benefits of delayed cord severance. Whenever we see the placenta, cord, and baby (root, stem, and fruit) intact, I call this a Lotus Birth” (77).

Burning the Umbilical Cord

Photo Credit: Free Birth Society

This can be done after the placenta has been born and the baby has had it’s first feed. Burning the cord cauterizes it and prevents infection. It also eliminates the need for an uncomfortable umbilical cord clamp. Lim says, “according to Asian medicine knowledge, burning of the umbilical cord moves the Qi (life force) remaining in the placenta into the baby,” (78). One small disadvantage to cord burning is that it can take 10 to 15 minutes, where cutting is obviously much faster.

The following instructions for cord burning are excerpted from Lim’s book, Placenta: the Forgotten Chakra.

What You Will Need:

• Two or more long candles

• A lighter or matches

• Heat guard, like cardboard (two layers)

• A plate or bowl to catch wax

Instructions:
Unless this is an emergency procedure, it’s best to wait three hours or more after the birth of the placenta. You may even wish to wait until the next morning to separate the placenta from the baby. There is no hurry.

The baby should be swaddled and lying on his or her side with the placenta laying opposite to the direction the baby is facing. Use a heat guard to protect the baby (i.e. cardboard with a slit in it).

Light two candles and chose a spot to burn the cord — about 10-12cm (4 inches) from the baby’s belly. Someone hold the cord steady, but don’t pull it too hard, be gentle.

Position the candles opposite one another, above the bowl or plate to catch the melting wax, and begin burning the cord. As you begin to burn the cord you may hear a loud pop or explosion, which may even blow out your candles. Don’t be alarmed. It is a natural sound, caused by the build up of gases, and it means everything is working fine. Relight the candles and continue to burn the cord until it burns through.

While burning you may wish to turn the cord, roasting it all around. The smell is like barbeque. Keep burning until the cord has burned through totally. I suggest singing a spiritual song during this lovely fire ritual. From time to time, feel the cord on the baby’s side of the heat guards, to make sure it is not getting too hot.

Once the cord and placenta are separated from baby, wait some time before letting the burned cord stump touch your baby’s skin. Check to the touch, as it may stay hot for a minute or two. You will not need to put any medicine on the baby’s cord stump. It will fall off in a few days all by itself. I have observed that the stumps of umbilical cords that have been burned seem to dry up and fall away more quickly than those that have been cut (46-47).

Full Lotus Birth

Photo Source Unknown

According to Lim, “this is the most patient, spiritual, special way. To allow the cord to release from the baby with no rush, nothing but patience and non-violence,” (78). This method involves leaving the umbilical cord attached to baby and placenta until it naturally falls off, usually 3-9 days later. “This allows mother, baby, and placenta the time and space to let go gracefully, and only when they are truly ready,” says Lim (84). During this time, the placenta is wrapped in cloth or a cloth diaper and is kept in a small bowl or basket. It is often sprinkled with salt and aromatic, dried herbs to help prevent odor & spoiling.

This series of photos shows the process of preparing the placenta with salt & dried flowers and adorning it with crystals as part of a Lotus Birth ceremony.

Photo Credit: Balance Doula

One benefit of full lotus birth is that it encourages mom and baby to bond and rest because baby is more difficult to pass and carry around while the umbilical cord is still attached. It also allows baby to receive full benefits from the placenta, though as mentioned above, most of the physical benefits of the placenta are received by baby within a few hours of birth.

Lim’s book, Placenta: The Forgotten Chakra, has lots more information on lotus birth, including full instructions for how to have one and some beautiful Lotus Birth stories.

Wait to Decide

Another option is to prepare for multiple methods (cutting, burning, and/or Lotus Birth) and see what feels right. There is no rush to decide. “You might change your mind depending on how things go,” says Saldaya. “For example, I thought that I would do Lotus Birth –I liked the idea of it. Or maybe that I even eat a few pieces of the raw placenta in a smoothie if I was feeling like I needed extra nourishment. But, my placenta was born covered in meconium, which was unappealing to me. I felt great, thankfully, and the smell of the herbs on the placenta later that day was actually very off putting to me. And so after 12 hours, we burned the cord and separated the baby from the placenta.”

Regardless of the specific decision you make about how if/how you will sever your baby’s cord, be sure to consider your child & the placenta throughout the process. Saldaya reminds us, “Babies are so wise and so sensitive and they really appreciate being spoken to with respect.” She says, “When it is time to severe the baby from the placenta, should you choose to do that, take the time and thank your placenta. Witness it. Acknowledge it. This is a magnificent organ that you grew and shared with your child. Tell your baby what’s about to happen. Tell your child that it’s time to separate from their placenta and that they will be in a new way now. And they will now be nourished from your breast.”

Your baby’s placenta was vital to their survival before birth. Honoring their separtion from this wonderful organ is a beautiful way to help them transition peacefully from life in the womb to life earthside. In the words of midwife & author, Jeannine Parvati Baker, “Healing Birth heals Mother Earth.”

Photo Source: Monet Nicole

References

Delayed Cord Clamping: What Are The Risks And Benefits?” American Pregnancy Association. July 16, 2019.

Delayed umbilical cord clamping after birth. Committee Opinion No. 684. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Obstet Gynecol 2017;129:e5–10.

Lim, Robin. “Are There Vampires in the Birth Rooms?”

Lim, Robin. Placenta: the Forgotten Chakra. 13, 76-81.

Saldaya, Emilee. “What to Do with the Cord? (And Placenta!)” Free Birth Society Podcast. April 5, 2019.

WHO. Guideline: Delayed umbilical cord clamping for improved maternal and infant health and nutrition outcomes. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2014.

WHO. Recommendation: Optimal timing of cord clamping for the prevention of iron deficiency anaemia in infants. Geneva, World Health Organization; 2012.

{Recipe} Turmeric-Garlic Sauerkraut

Fermenting vegetables is an excellent way to preserve them, improve their flavor, and increase their health benefits. Fermented foods are more digestible, which makes their nutrients more available to your body. Consuming them regularly helps to maintain the overall health of your digestive system.

In his book, The Art of Fermentation, Sandor Katz, says, “Fermented foods are to varying degrees pre-digested, resulting in improved overall availability of nutrients. In live-culture foods, we ingest bacteria that help digest food and produce a multiplicity of protective compounds as they pass through our intestines. They and their various products enrich the microbial ecology of our intestines, enabling us to get more from our food and discouraging pathogenic bacteria by their presence” (Katz 30).

He goes on to say, “Many people find that their digestion improves by incorporating live-culture foods into their diet. […] It appears that, as a group, foods with live lactic acid bacteria can help improve almost anyone’s digestion, without any safety risk or huge expense. In some cases, these foods might, just might, be able to help improve or even resolve many varied health problems, acute or chronic. That said, invidual responses will vary; and it’s always good to introduce new foods, especially those containing live cultures, gradually and in small doses” (Katz 30).

Sauerkraut is one of the more well known live culture foods. It’s become quite popular because of its delightful tangy flavor and health benefits. Thankfully it is quite easy to make and the ingredients are inexpensive.

Traditional sauerkraut is made with cabbage, but there are many veggies that ferment wonderfully. You might like to experiment with different ones to see what you like best. Some of my other favorites are carrots and beets. Adding herbs and spices will make your creations even more delicious. I’ll be sharing a recipe for my favorite version of a cabbage kraut below.

The only other ingredient you will need to make sauerkraut is salt. There is some debate over which type of salt is best. Some folks say to avoid iodized salt. Katz says, “having had the opportunity to ferment vegetables with every possible salt handed to me by workshop organizers, I have observed that lactic acid bacteria seem tolerant of a wide variety of salts, including iodized table salt, and are not particularly picky,” (Katz 45).

However, Katz prefers to use unrefined sea salt when he can. He says, “Because one of the important nutritional benefits of fermentation is making minerals bioavailable, I have come to the conclusion that it makes sense to ferment with salts containing a broad spectrum of minerals, rather than sodium chloride alone,” (Katz 45).

I have made many of variations of sauerkraut over the years. The one I’m about to share is an addictive combination I keep coming back to. Even my one and half year old loves it!

The addition of herbs and spices boots the flavor and health benefits of this kraut.

Turmeric is anti-inflammatory and promotes healthy circulation. It is beneficial to liver function and aids in the regulation of hormones. It promotes healthy digestion (Tierra 200). It also has been shown to lower cholesterol (Chevallier 92).

Garlic is a potent tonic herb. Consuming raw garlic regularly helps to boost immunity, reduce cholesterol, and aids in regulating blood pressure (Chevallier 59).

Black pepper has constituents that help improve the body’s ability to absorb the curcumin in turmeric. It is also helpful for stimulating digestion and circulation (Chevallier 250).

To make turmeric-garlic sauerkraut you will need:

  • 7 cups cabbage, sliced finely or grated (about 1 large cabbage)
  • 2 tablespoons of turmeric powder
  • 10 cloves (approximately 1 head) of garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Salt

Directions:

Put cabbage into a large bowl and sprinkle salt over it.

Scrunch the salt and the cabbage together with your hands until the salt is worked through the cabbage. This step helps break down the cell walls of the cabbage so that it will begin to release its juices. Let the bruised cabbage sit for about 5 minutes or so.

Next, taste the cabbage. If it tastes pretty salty, then you’ve added enough salt. If not, add a bit more salt and work it into the cabbage until it is salty to the taste.

Add the garlic, pepper, and turmeric and mix in well until everything is combined.

Pack this mixture tightly into a jar. Press the cabbage down firmly so that it is fully submerged in the salty water (the water will naturally come out of the cabbage during this process, but if there isn’t enough water so that everything is submerged you can add some). You can put a fermentation weight or clean rock on top to ensure that nothing floats to the top.

Keeping everything under the brine will help prevent growth of molds on the surface of the ferment. If the top layer of cabbage dries out or becomes discolored, scrape it off and compost it before enjoying your sauerkraut. You may need to add to add more water if it evaporates (especially in dry climates or a heated home) leaving the cabbage exposed.

Discoloration on the surface of the sauerkraut can be caused by oxidation, mold, or yeast. Any growth or discoloration should be removed. To do so, remove the weight from the top of the ferment and gently scoop under the growth with a stainless steel spoon to remove as much as you can. Sandor Katz states, “As long as the mold is white it is not harmful. If other color molds start to grow, do not eat them. Bright colors often indicate sporulation, the mold’s reproductive stage. To prevent spreading the spores, gently lift the entire mold mass from your ferment” (104).

You should remove any surface growths as soon as you notice them, as the longer a mold grows on the surface, the deeper it will penetrate. Molds can digest lactic acid, which will lower the acidity of the ferment and alter it’s ability to be preserved. They can also digest pectin, which will leave the cabbage mushy. After the mold is removed from your kraut, check the veggies underneath it and compost any that appear to have been affected.

Store your sauerkraut in a cool, dark place. Warmer temperatures will increase the rate of fermentation. There is no set time frame for when it will be “ready.” You will have to decide for yourself when you would like to enjoy it. Try it at 2 weeks and then continue tasting it regularly. You can enjoy your kraut as it continues to ferment. Katz says, “I believe it makes sense to eat fermenting vegetables at intervals throughout their process, as a way of diversifying our bacterial exposure” (Katz 103).

Whenever you feel that your sauerkraut has reached the flavor you desire, move it to the refrigerator to slow fermentation significantly.

Enjoy making your own sauerkraut! For more great information about all things fermented, check out Sandor Katz’s book, The Art of Fermentation.

RESOURCES:
Chevallier, Andrew. Enciclopedia of Herbal Medicine. 59, 92, 250.
Katz, Sandor. The Art of Fermentation. 30, 45, 96-99, 102-105, 110.
Tierra, Michael. The Way of Herbs. 37, 77, 200-201.

Natural Remedies for Morning Sickness

Morning sickness is the most common problem that pregnant women deal with during their first trimester. For many women, morning sickness occurs anytime or is an all day issue, not just something they experience in the morning.

Herbalist, Rosemary Gladstar, explains,”a combination of factors, including sudden hormonal changes, shifting dietary needs, an insufficient amount of B vitamins, and/or low blood sugar, give rise to morning sickness. In particular, a rapid increase in the hormone chorionic gonadotrophin (CG) during the first few months of pregnancy is thought to be a cause of the complaint.”

Thankfully there are many safe natural remedies that can be helpful for easing nausea and vomiting during pregnancy.

A few simple diet and lifestyle changes can be helpful in managing morning sickness. Avoid spicy, greasy foods. Get up slowly and don’t move too suddenly to avoid triggering nausea. Low blood sugar can contribute to morning sickness in early pregnancy, so eating small meals throughout the day can be helpful in alleviating symptoms. Eat a snack every few hours if necessary and then enjoy something rich in protein before bed. Any of the following are good options:

  • popcorn sprinkled with nutritional yeast
  • yogurt
  • whole grain crackers with nut butter
  • vegetable or bone broths

In the morning, eat unsalted crackers before getting out of bed. Try taking a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar infused with quality bones in 8oz of warm water first thing; or drink a cup of anise or fennel seed tea instead of your morning coffee.

As mentioned above, a lack of vitamin B can also cause morning sickness. Gladstar states, “Pregnant women are often deficient in Vitamin B6. The increased stress on the body as it adapts to pregnancy depletes the B vitamins quickly. Because they are water-soluble, the B vitamins do not store readily in the system, and sufficient supplies must continuously be made available. A pregnant woman’s diet should contain foods rich in B vitamins” (Gladstar 182).

Herbalist, Susun Weed recommends to increase the amount of vitamin B complex and iron in the diet during pregnancy. Some herbs that are rich in iron are nettles, dandelion, alfalfa, yellow dock, chickweed, burdock, kelp, mullein, sorrel, parsley, comfrey, chicory, watercress, and fennel. Herbs rich in vitamin B complex include comfrey, red clover, and parsley (Weed 2115, 2136).

Another cause of morning sickness, is a build up of chemical by products from the increasing pregnancy hormones in the body. Weed states that walking a mile per day can be useful in preventing this. The fresh air can also help ease nausea.

In her book, Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year, Weed offers the following visualization for morning sickness, stating that it “can be used to give access to emotional aspects of the problem.”

She says, “Sit quietly and allow your mind to bring up images connected with the vomiting/nausea. What can’t you stomach? What do you want to clear out? What don’t you accept? Examine and acknowledge each image as it arises, then let it float away or dissolve. We are complex beings, capable of desiring and despising simultaneously; allow yourself to see what it is about the pregnancy that makes you want to throw up. Repeat the visualization once or twice a day for at least a week for best results” (Weed 517).

In addition to these diet & routine adjustments, herbs can also help relieve symptoms of morning sickness. The following are some favorites.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale)

This well-known culinary herb also possesses potent medicinal qualities. It is helpful for digestive upset or nausea and can be particularly useful for easing morning sickness. Weed recommends tablespoon doses of the tea anytime nausea occurs. It’s especially helpful for motion sickness and early morning nausea.
A combination of ginger and chamomile makes a lovely tea for soothing the stomach.

Raspberry leaf (Rubus spp)

Many women swear by raspberry leaf for gently easing nausea and upset stomach during pregnancy. Sip on the tea or suck on ice cubes made with the infusion in the morning before getting up. Drink a cup or two of raspberry leaf tea daily. It will help ease morning sickness and has many other benefits during pregnancy. (See my post Herbs for Pregnancy to learn more.)

Peppermint (Mentha piperita)/Spearmint (Mentha spicata)

Sip tea of the leaves first thing in the morning as a refreshing anti-nausea remedy. Both herbs are gently stimulating, brightening to the spirits, and beneficial to the digestive system.

Peach Leaf (Prunus persica)

Tea of the dried leaves can ease morning sickness. Blend with other herbs to improve flavor and effect.

Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla)

This gentle herb can be used during pregnancy to help relieve stress and nervousness, and to help ease stomach issues. Sip the infusion throughout the day to ease nausea and digestive upset.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)

Fennel is helpful for easing stomach issues during pregnancy. Enjoy a tea of the seeds first thing in the morning or during/after meals to soothe the stomach and aid digestion. Prepare as an infusion (see my post Making Medicinal Teas for more information), using a half teaspoon of seeds per cup of water. Drink up to 3 cups daily.

In her book, Herbal Healing for Women, Gladstar gives a recipe for a tea blend that combines some of these herbs to ease morning sickness. She says, “the following formula was shared by a student of mine who had several months of intense morning sickness. She said this was the only preparation that brought relief” (Gladstar 184-185).

  • 2 parts peppermint leaf
  • 1 part red raspberry leaf
  • 1 part peach leaf
  • 1/4 part ginger root (grated)

To Make: Use four to six tablespoons of the herb mixture per quart of water. Add herbs to cold water and over a low heat, bring to a simmer. Remove from heat immediately and infuse for twenty minutes, keeping pot covered. Strain.

Typically, morning sickness symptoms subside after the first three months of pregnancy, but, unfortunately, some women do feel the effects much longer. Women experiencing severe and long lasting nausea and vomiting during pregnancy should consult with a trusted health care professional.

Morning sickness can certainly make early pregnancy a less than joyous time. I found a combination of these suggestions brought me relief from nausea during my first trimester.

What are your favorite remedies for easing morning sickness? Let me know in the comments!

RESOURCES:

Chevallier, Andrew. Enciclopedia of Herbal Medicine. 317.
Gladstar, Rosemary. Herbal Healing for Women. 28-29, 176, 182-185, 243-244.
Weed, Susun. Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year. 426, 456, 490- 517, 706, 2115, 2136.

{Recipe} Tulsi Turmeric Tea

This spicy tea blend was crafted for my dad. When I visited my parents recently, he let me try his favorite tulsi + turmeric tea. He mentioned that the local store wasn’t carrying it any longer, so I jumped at the chance to blend up something similar for him. The result is warming, gently uplifting, and dad approved.

This tea tastes great and can certainly be enjoyed for flavor alone, but it also has an array of health benefits.

Holy basil (Ocimum sanctum), also known as tulsi, has a wide range of uses in Indian herbal medicine. It has been used traditionally as a tonic herb to help strengthen and improve overall health. It is well loved for its ability to help the body adjust to stress. It helps to protect the heart by lowering blood pressure. It also has been used to treat diabetes because of its ability to help stabilize blood sugar (Chevallier 118).

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is an important herb for purifying the blood, reducing inflammation, and aiding the healing of wounds. It is restorative tonic that can be taken regularly to balance blood sugar and hormones. It is stimulating and warming and thus, helpful for improving circulation. It promotes healthy digestion and nutrient assimilation. It can also be utilized to minimize PMS symptoms and to help regulate menstruation (Tierra 81, 200).

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) is a very common culinary spice that has medicinal benefits too. It has been used traditionally to improve circulation, and to help with digestion problems, like nausea, diarrhea, & vomiting. Its warming, stimulating, and antispasmodic properties also make it helpful for soothing and aching muscles and for easing cold and flu symptoms (Chevalier 84).

Ginger (Zingiber officinale) adds delicious warming flavor. It is excellent for digestive issues, including nausea, gas, and motion sickness. It helps to improve circulation and treat high blood pressure (Chevallier 155).

Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana) leaf adds a nice touch of sweetness to balance the spiciness of this blend.

Black pepper (Piper nigrum) warms the body and helps to improve digestion and can be helpful for issues like stomachache, gas, bloating, constipation, and nausea (Chevallier 155).

Tulsi Turmeric Tea

  • 1 cup holy basil
  • 1/3 cup turmeric root
  • 1/3 cup cinnamon chips
  • 2 1/2 tablespoon ginger root
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of stevia
  • 1 scant teaspoon crushed black peppercorns

Makes 1 pint jar of tea blend.

To prepare:

Fill an infuser with a tablespoon of tea blend. Put the infuser in a 6-10oz mug. Fill the mug with simmering water. Steep for 5-10 minutes. Remove the infuser & enjoy your tea.

Unwind with a cup of this warming tea after dinner to take advantage of its beneficial effects on the digestive system or warm up with a mug on a cool fall evening. A jar of this tasty blend also makes a great gift for a friend.

Resources:

Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. 84, 92, 118, 155.
Hoffman, David. The Herbal Handbook.
Tierra, Michael. The Way of Herbs. 75, 81, 196-197, 200-201.

{Recipe} Beet-Aji Hot Sauce

Ajis are a spicy little red pepper that grow happily in our mountainside gardens — a little too happily, in fact. I’m often at a loss for what to do with the abundance of peppers our plant produces. I enjoy a bit of heat, but I don’t like spicy food THAT much. However, for this deliciously spicy sauce, I’m willing to put up with a little burn. It’s that good.

After swooning over a spicy, beet based salsa at the new Venezuelan restaurant in town, I knew I had to make my own version. Sweet and earthy beets pair perfectly with spicy aji peppers. Cilantro and garlic add depth and flavor to this tasty sauce. Salt helps to preserve it by promoting a beneficial environment for lactobacillus, the same bacteria that turns cabbage into sauerkraut.

I keep my salsa at room temperature — we don’t have a refrigerator on the mountain– so the salt is an important addition. If you plan to keep your sauce in the fridge, you can decrease the amount of salt, if you’d like.

This condiment has quickly become my new obession. I love spooning a bit over fried eggs or stirring some into soup or pasta sauce. It would be delightful on nachos, pizzas, and burgers too. Mix it into homemade mayonnaise and you have a tasty dip for fresh veggies or fries or a spread for slathering onto wraps and sandwiches. The possibilities go on.

If you don’t have aji peppers, substitute the spicy pepper of your choosing. You may want to adjust the amount of peppers you use so the heat of your sauce is to your liking.

To make, you will need:

20 aji peppers
2 large beets
About a cup of chopped fresh cilantro
1 head of garlic
2 Tablespoons of salt

Directions:

Roughly chop all veggies and run them through a food grinder. I use our metal, hand-crank grinder, working in batches. I generally run the sauce through twice so that all the veggies are well ground and combined, but this will depend on your grinder and how smooth you want your salsa to be.

Mix in salt & chopped cilantro and combine well. Then store the sauce in glass jars.

Pack jars tightly with the sauce, pressing down with the back of a spoon as you add more salsa to prevent air pockets, and leaving a bit of space at the top of the jar. Once the jar is filled, press down extra firmly around the top of the jar so that the veggie chunks are submerged in the liquid that has separated from them. This will help to keep the sauce from going bad.

Cover the jars with lids, but don’t tighten them all the way. The sauce will bubble a bit as it ferments and you want the gases to be able to escape.

Be sure to serve your salsa with a clean spoon so as not to introduce any funky bacteria. You may also need to add more salt if you are in a warmer climate. If you’re new to fermenting foods, I definitely recommend that you check out one of Sandors Katz’s books for more information about a wide variety of fermented foods.

Making your own condiments is a great way to enjoy tasty, wholesome sauces and preserve the bounty of your gardens. Enjoy this fiesty salsa yourself or give a jar to someone who enjoys some spice. 🌶️