Birth Ethnobotany

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An essay on birth...

Submitted: June 25, 2018

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Submitted: June 25, 2018



Ethnobotany  And Birth Of A Generation’s Natural Capacity To Attain Balance With Criteria Of Reproduction As A Knowledge System




  The role of nature in the birth process has been a fundamental part of the history of humanity.Discoveries of cultures of remedies which aid in pregnancy in a growth through which is equilibriated in the care of women and children born is known. “Throughout history women have tried to control or enhance fertility using herbal remedies. (Lans, 2006)In many cultures the birth process is detrimental and led by healers.Even in the developed world, there is a shift toward natural medicine and midwifery with birth. “The  charactertistics of medicinal plants used for reproduction and related behavior…are… remedies for the following reproductive events; to speed and/or ease a birth, for postpartum recovery, menorrhagia (excessively heavy menstrual bleeding), menstrul hemmorhaging, dysmenorrhea, amenorrhea, infertility, contraception, threatened abortion (miscarriage), and induced abortion.”(p.16, Browner, C.H., 1985.). Still yet, for Obstetricians and medical concern, an understanding of healthy practices is necessary and may concern the development, birth, and life of birth and health of the unit of the family, however it is of function to note the etiology. “Notions  of ethnophysiology and their understandings about reproductive processes” (p.17, Browner.) and extensive knowledge of herbal remedies for reproductive health”  and ‘ethnophysiology of reproduction’ which requires  ‘phenomena related to female reproduction” (p.16, Browner.),  are discussed in the understanding  that in many cultures, the medical processes of development surrounding birth has advanced.  Much of “the world has adopted Western ways of birth” ( Tritten, 2011).  Yet there is stll significance in preserving natural remedies cultures have used.  The health of women in pregnancy, and the proceeding health of infants is one of the most significant issues worldwide for generations coming forth.  Many worldviews, dilemas, techniques, traditions and customs surrounding birth, are of the future and an intricate, creative life-balance is of worth when examining the ways health is of the most sacred and precious to care for in this act of strong understanding to bring life into the world it is of educational and professional capacity.  In many cultures, there are methods which are used for the health and care of mother and child(ren).  As there are many ways through which a mother is helped to survive, and her born to also survive birth and circumstance.  “Every mother has a culture.  Every mother is a culture.  She is born into a ocean of language, traditions and rituals around how she eats…[and] births a baby.” (Sister Morningstar, 2011).




  Around the world, there have been the discovery of many herbal remedies that aid the birth process, and in discussion, there are ways which delivery can be faciltated, as well as the many warnings of herbal components that also must be avoided during pregnancy.  “…The maintenance of hot-cold equilibrium is just one dimension in a set of reproductive therapeutics derived from the basic principle of expulsion and retention” (p.18, Browner.)  For awareness in cultures, and the development of knowledge of what is required in birth, also the importance of diversity in food for mothers during pregnancy, and avoidance of malnutrition and complications, has risen in world knowledge.  Pregnancy is considered to be a sacred art still in many cultures.  It is also important to preserve knowledge about birth.  “Birth is an intensely focused life event where the beliefs of the mother will either work with or work against her biology.  Her culture gave her those beliefs.  It is as important a consideration for the well-being and outcome of her birth as her blood pressure… the mother’s ability to grow her baby, birth her baby, feed her baby is simultaneously a deeply personal and collective miracle.” (Sister Morning star, 2011)In respect, knowledge that is indestructive and the development of medical and medicinal etiology is of concern in the future to have awareness of.So that inhumane methods do not develop, it is necessary to have moral and ethical code and advice during the process.  “No policy to reduce maternal mortality should deprive the most vulnerable women in the country of their right to give birth in a secure, safe and loving space that is respectful of their particular culture.” (Ingar, 2011) The careful months under the transforming moon brings the sacred life into the world, and community.Practices that are diverse can be of ethnobiological interest still in many cultures in different ways.  I will discuss health leading to pregnancy, precautions and care of what ethnobotany can deliver in health during pregnancy in many cultures.  “Collaborating with traditional practicioners on the safe use of medicinal plants in pregnancy may promote safer pregnancies and better health for mothers and their unknown infants.(Journal of Ethnobiology & Ethnomedicine, 2013).Processes of giving birth and healthy methods of delivery in many cultures whom still rely on ethnobotany and medicines have derived from and with ethnobotanical knowledge.  The after-birth process of orientating mother and child to healthy feeding and capacity is also a global concern.  As to “…enhance our understandings of…etiology and the bases for therapeutic action [that] have been largely ignored…consider…ideas about reproduction and female reproductive physiology [and how it is] influence[d by] the choice of herbal remedies for childbirth, fertility regulation, and the treatment of reproductive disorders…”. (p.13, Browner.). 



Part One:  Conception & Contraception


  Often conception is a natural occurance happening in the reproductive cycles of young women at the most healthy stage of life.  Unexpectably, or even regradless of the culture’s birth control options, birth happens; every day, every minute, every second.  “Conception occurs when a woman’s seed unites with a man’s in the womb [and] upon union attaches itself to the woman’s spine and begins to grow from the nourishment the mother provides” (Browner, p.18) First, of course, there is menstruation, with the endocrine glands functioning and with health of the uterus,  and in many cultures rites and rituals which accompany this passage. There can also be complications with menses that are treatable.  “Several of the remedies used to facilitate childbirth are also used to treat delayed menstruation”.(p.22, Browner).Birth control in many cultures has socio-economic implications.  Various botanicals were found to be used in different ways, and even in some cultures abortion is an issue that spans from pro-choice to choose-life histories.  In some cultures, developments of medicine by pharmeceutical companies urge women to partake in certain birth controls which women may find oppressive, like the development of depo provera, which ceases menstruation and effectively gives birth control.  While in many cultures, botanical remedies are used for unwanted pregnancies.  Some plants like Styrax argentenus, burn the womb and kill the fetus, or like Citrus limon are dangerous for life within, some botanical herbs and plants can lead to death, according to Browner..  “The plants used exclusively for pregnancy control are the most potent reproductive health remedies…like the juice of the plant citrus limon can “dry out the womb” either preventing conception, implantation, or killing an already developing fetus”.(Browner, p.22)  Even to facilitate impregnation through promoting health and conception,  in India, the shivlingi seeds are given to a woman for a few months for a woman who has a disturbance in her cycle, or who is infertile, or trying to concieve, and the shivlingi seeds or powder has good results for many women.  In some cultures, eating a spoonful of aloe vera with honey before breakfast responds well, or black seasame seeds with cane sugar.  Other fertility folklore talks about healthy eating choices, like consuming more protein, high fat dairy, and vitamins and supplements that increase folic acid, vitamin E, antioxidants, fibre, nuts, flaxseed, colein (from cauliflower or eggs), et cetera.It is important for women to be careful also of herbal teas and supplements like ginseng and st john’s wart.Many types of fish, when concieving and during pregnancy, are also dangerous for the fetus.  There is a history of plant use regarding birth in most cultures, and knowledge of methods which have been passed down from healers and especially women who have experience in different cultures.  In Jamaica, the rivina humilis;  called pigeonberry, rouge plant, baby peppers, bloodberry, or coralito, is used for impregnation, and it is native to the Americas, southern states, Carribean and Central and South America.  Also, it is combined with verbena, which is called verveine in Jamaica, and grows in  America and Europe,  and also Lasiopetilum, which is called velvet bush in Jamaica, and native to Australia.  The three plants are boiled for half an hour in water and taken as tea.

  In many cultures, knowledge of birth is passed down. Whether through midwifery with qualified mentors support,  take the steps toward the transition of the role.  Also, there are many components to pregnancy, which may include complications.Mental health issues, and reasons why women cannot take regular medication, et cetera, are concerns for many.  Giving women personal support is a compassionate component in most cultures, while advising about appropriate botanical use is an option, also for healthy feeding after birth with guidelines to continue support about the nutritional components of healthy breast milk are promoted throughout the pregnancy.  The progression takes coping -with health and coping with management of carefully considering health before,during, and after birth.With support and guidance for the security of pregnancy health by attaining the proper nutrition in the woman and child(ren)’s environment, birth may be healthy.  In Africa, for example, there is the ‘savoir’ et la ‘savoir faire’ (the knowledge and the know how).  Different illnesses and conditions can be treated by different plants and recipes for nourishment and healing.  Another fundamental aspect is having enough water consumption. The availability of clean water worldwide, both for pregnant mothers and feeding children, and the water that is mixed with formula, is essential yet a devastating reality.

  The ‘scientific tradition of healing’ is an alternative to modern medicine in some cultures.  Herbalists in many cultures have knowledge of well-being and cleansing, and often in many cultures this accompanies spirituality. In some cultures, the woman cultivates energy for a healthy birth.  In other cultures, there is family planning and education about different types of contraception,  and medicines which have been developed.  In tribal cultures, roots and botanical elements are important for health in birth or other reasons regarding pregnancy and health.  “The wealth of novel insights into plant use and preparation will help to undrsand culturally important practices such as traditional delivery, spatial taboos, confinement and dietary restrictions, and their potential in modern healthcare.” (Journal of Ethnobiology & Ethnomedicine, 2011).


Part 2:  Pregnancy & Birth


  The onset of pregnancy does require medical attention. “Many births…[in the world] take place without the help of a midwife or other trained birth attendant”(p.18), yet most women would recommend a midwife.  “The midwife determines whether the fetus is positioned for a normal delivery by feeling the woman’s belly at this time…also “reads” the pregnant woman’s blood by pulsing during the first prenatal visit to determine…[her health]…[and]conditions prior to the onset of labor…in which case specific herbs are prescribed.”(Browner, p.21)

  According to C. H. Browner,  “Other important plants for uterine expulsion work by warming the parturient’s body, blood, or womb…[giving]the woman sufficient strength to bear the child…”(p.18), and reasonably, the right plants need to be known, collected, and used knowledgeablely.“Many herbal remedies are administered during childbirth to warm the parturient and, hence, speed labor”.Also Browner discusses how it is important for the skeletal system to ‘soften and open’ and how  “gestation weakens the mother-to-be by sapping her of needed nutritional resources; it depletes her blood supply as the fetus draws on it for physical growth.”A few identified plants which cause contractions are cinnamomum zeylanicum (real cinnamon from the inner bark of a small evergreen tree indigenous to Sri Lanka), Turbina corymbosa (a species of morning glory native to Latin America from Mexico to Peru), Piper Auritum ( a ‘sacred leaf’ which grows in Mesoamerica), Phaseolus sp. ( a wild bean in the Fabaceae family),  and work with other plants that warm and strengthen, like lostephane trilobata (which folklore in Mexico says treats infertility),  and Baccharis glutinosa ( which is a flowering daisy like plant species in the Asteraceae family).  Using plants knowledgeablely is a safe and healthy way to treat pregnancy and birth.  Still, one must be very careful and aware throughout the process of bringing life into the world.“The plants for uterine expulsion that are employed during childbirth open the uterus so it will expel the fetus” (p.21), warming, stimulating, and strengthening the birth process. The “ hot/cold” theory is an ethnomedical model which  “postulates that warmth evenly distributed throughout the human body is the essence of good health”.  It is found in other cultures, for example Ayurvedic medicine that the hot/cold theory corresponds with plants and herbs.  Women are essentially the same in every culture, and  “A rapid delivery, which is always desired, requires both that the woman have sufficient strength to bear the child and that her entire body, but especially her womb, be warm.(p.18, Browner.).  Many plants discussed act as a method in hot/cold theory, and are used directively with success.“


Part 3:  Post-Partum & Breastfeeding


  “Plants used for post-partum recovery form the largest group of reproduction related remedies” and  are collected and used and considered ‘fortifying’.  “The ideal regimen reqiures two to three weeks bedrest, refraining from heavy work for several months more, a series of very hot herbal baths, binding the abdomen, and ingesting certain highly spiced foods and medicinal teas” (p.23).  Plants like Persea americana(a member of Lauraceae or advocado family), Baccharis glutinosa, Adiantum poiretii (a fern),mimosa albida ( a tropical plant from Mexico to Brazil), artbutus xalapensis (species known as Texas madrono),  galium mexicana (of the Ubiaceae family) and grows from B.C. to Eucador), dodonaea viscosa (a flowering plant in the soapberry family, Sapindaceae),  and more, facilitate pregnancy and birth by warming and stimulating the womb of the woman’s body.

  During breastfeeding, it is important that mother has adequate nutrition for the quality of milk, and that when should she use formula, the water be from a very clean source.In many countries this is difficult, both to afford nutrition and have access to pure water.It is otherwise dangerous to the baby’s health and well-being for water to be unclean.  That a community has the resources needed for health is detrimental.  Growing gardens and collecting and harvesting local plants expends much knowledge and skill.  The health of women and babies is very important for community honestly in every passage a female goes through is important wisdom preserved by ceremony, ritual significance, or maturity.  During development “Since breast milk forms from menstrual blood, its lack reduces the amount of nourishment the newborn receieves as well.  ”It mak[es] the woman’s body health  a source for the health of infants.  As “fetal development depends in part on there being an abundance of blood in the womb, for the fetus will not grow if blood is released as the body discharges heat to maintain balance…[and the fetus needs]  essential sustenance.:(p.27,  Browner) as all of humanity does really.  Many herbs and plants provide the basis for this health and sustenance. Also, the importance of check-ups and immunizations at the proper months in the development of a child is very significant.  Communities need access to medicine from the first world, even though the first world finds it fascinating for botanical discoveries to come from deep in a tribe far away.  We need also put importance in this access for all people, and be attentive to the Human Rights Charter for children in the world today.Also sharing medical discoveries from the First World with others, we gain knowledge about many methods.  We attain balance with criteria of Reproduction as a knowledge system.





  To gather the effect birth has upon community and how the world attributes survival to birth, the understanding of the process of development in life of many taxa also have a birth process which is delicate and sacred too.  The natural world around any given community must be known for what its uses are, and then knowledge of remedies are important in trade worldwide, when remedies are found to be potently successful to help in the process of birth, news spreads to professionals..  The image of Moses floating down the Nile in a weaved basket comes forth to remind us also that an infant needs tools, and the skill to make tools and instruments, and protection to be safe for growth and development.  Instruments are also part of a culture’s birth process, including technology.  Unfortunately come miscarrages, developmental disorders, diseases like cancer, and the many complications that are also a possiblility with birth. Issues in communities like abortion, adoption and children’s services for the protection of children, and communities in history where children have been taken out of their families and communities end with tragic effect.  Some societies in the second and third world lack social resources, and poverty can have a drastic effect on these issues of birth and development.  Different societies have developed differently because of colonialism, and war, and lack of education, and exploitation of both the environment and women.  Still, communities worldwide have methods and traditions with birth.  Many being highly technological and others being fundamental to their communities need for epistimology about birth having knowledge and culture supporting the women of the world.  Children are still born in war zones, in places where there is no food, because of rape and abuse, because birth is like the night moon, we have concieved it, and it will continue for the vast span of all of humanity’s survival in history to come.  This is why we need to develop programs worldwide to help women, to build communities of growth that are sustainable, and believe in people being of an equality in development, advancement, and progress.  You know what it is like to see a child born, and there is nothing more sacred, the first breath changes your life forever.“…The idea of sisterhood strengthened as women grow strong together to reclaim birth, reclaim the power and wisdom of their bodies and revalue their genuine feminine power.” (Ingar, 2011)Ingar discusses and works with aim to bring back  ‘Woman medicine’ and reproductive health interculturally in initiatives to empower and revitalize birth worldwide.  As Browner discusses ethnobotanical medicine and ways of birth, it is common worldwide for these practices, yet there need be more knowledge collected and cross-culturally examined.The time it takes to carry a child is sacred and pure, the time it takes to research the ethnocultural beliefs about birth, and the ethnomedical ethics is also significant  “Rituals and ceremonies flourish in every culture, and have done so throughout history.  Perhaps the two most ritual-inspiring events are birth and death, events that are seeped in culture, mysticism, religion and local custom”. (Burns, 2016).  The truth is we have learned through many generations how to be born, give birth, and then pass the knowledge on to others who will always be on that journey which is beautiful, and unique for everyone.

  Ethnobotanical knowledge can save lives and bring better health in all the world’s communities. The global security of resources is important, and must not be exploited.Yet, we must know where we are coming from to survive.  Like the story we began with by Hudson about a way of learning to survive, to learn to make the fibre for the net to fish and sustain the community, to grow what a communitiy needs to survive, to give all persons access to healthcare and what they need.  ‘It takes a village to raise a child’  “Further research is needed to produce a more complete picture of the attributes plants must possess for users to regard them as medicinal, either within the specialized domain of human reproduction, and the larger health care system.” (Browner, p.30)



Open to the life which becomes of the ways through which we continue to learn life and transformation of how another life makes an impact in the world that is of the greatest honor, to hold, and teach, discipline to grow.







Browner, C. H.,”Ethnology” 24:13-32, CANCOPY, 1985.

Browner, C. 1985a.  The Politics of Reproduction in a Oaxaca Village.  Signs: Journal of Women in Society and Culture (in press).

-------1985b.  Traditional Techniques for Diagnosis, Treatment, and Control of Pregnancy in Cali, Columbia.  Women’s Medicine:  A Cross Cultural Study of Indigenous Fertility Regulation, ed. L. Newman, (in press).

Browner, C., and B. Ortiz de Montellano, 1985  Herbal Emmenagogues Used by Women in Columbia and Mexico.  Plants Used in Indigenous Medicine:  A Biocultural Approach, ed. N. Etkin, (in press).

Birth(internet searches)  “The Midwives fight for life in Africa, Amref France, July,2016.

Infertility Cure.  Uni5co, May 11, 2011.  Pancha, Bhouta, Sakthi Foundation.

“Medical Botany Introduction:  History of Plant Use in Medicine” How to Learn, June 21, 2016.

Meenaskhi, Dr. Vikram, and Chauhan, Dr. Vikram.  Shivlingi Seeds (Beej), “Benefits for Infertility in Females”Jan.7, 2014.  Http:/

Top 5 Foods to Improve Fertility, “Just For Health”, Youtube, Feb.13, 2014.

“Use Jamaican bush medicine to cure infertility in Women”, YouTube,  The Island of Jamaica Recipes, Feb. 6, 2014.

Weed, Susan S.  On Wise Woman Tradition of Herbology, “ New Realities”, Apr. 7, 2007.



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