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Mastitis and the Ancient Power of Fenugreek: My Herbal Pathway to Recovery
by Jilli Manning, Manager of Cairns Happy Herb Shop

After being really sick with mastitis for about a week, I wanted to share my treatment process with you all, in the hopes it may help someone else down the track… I thought I was battling a flu that was never going to arrive. No sinus or throat trouble or phlegm, just aching bones and muscles and a terrible headache.

By the third day of serious affliction by these symptoms I was worried. Where was the phlegm, the cough, the runny nose?

During this time I had been pumping the Vitamin C in the form of lemons and oranges and my friend had been making me a mix of ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, honey and orange juice, which was not only delicious, but also immune boosting and blood cleansing from all four ingredients — very important at that stage of the infection in hindsight. I probably drank one or two drinks nearly every day for the first three days. On the third day I went back to bed not long after waking and couldn’t move all day. I was worried, and still convinced it was the flu.

Finally the pain in my milk duct really kicked in. So tender I could barely touch it without yelping in pain. A large angry red patch spreading out around the tender area. At least I knew what it was now. Mastitis. Ugh. The dreaded.

I was surprised because everything seemed to be going fine with pregnancy and childbirth. Ahh well I had a great run so far, a healthy baby and fairly breezy everything. The worst thing up until this point was indigestion and stitches. Mastitis, what a doozy! And with so very little visible symptoms, it took me a few days to understand and go easy on myself.

So began the tentative massage and rubbings, trying to physically shift the blockage. Painful, though important. Massage really does help, soft and gentle sweeping strokes towards your heart, in circles or however it feels good to you. Try it in the shower first if it is really painful.

When I got up on that night after being in bed all day, I felt a little better and asked my partner to get me some fenugreek seeds from the herb shop on his way home, I had taken a stab in the dark light of the internet, and from all of the herbs listed to help, fenugreek stood out to me the most and I was already well aware of its long use for nursing mothers. These were fantastic. I made a simple compress of warm soaked fenugreek seeds inside a cotton breast pad with a slit cut in at the top, and kept this in place with a maternity bra all night. I soaked it in hot water again the next morning and kept it in place all day.

It is highly recommended that you call a good friend to come and give you a hand. They will, because they love you…and YOU DESERVE IT!

Do not over stress yourself with housework, shopping or anything! Just rest up and be kind to yourself, and again on the fenugreek compress….

Since writing this initial treatment timeline, I have had the opportunity to explore the magical power that is fenugreek. I say magical, but that is definitely an understatement.

The first references of fenugreek originate in the Near East/Middle East and the Ottoman Empire.

Described as an ancient cure-all, soil improver and excellent animal fodder, Fenugreek has been impressing humans for well over four thousand years by now, and has a whole bag of tricks to share with us.

There is some fantastic information out there, both in books and on the Internet, But here is a little of what I have gleaned and integrated through my learnings;

Fenugreek has fantastic applications for cleaning the blood, whether ingested or applied as a compress directly. It can help eliminate toxins through your skin and your bowels, dispels fevers and has a power cleansing effect on your lymphatic system. Which is what I believe really helped in my case above, as well as its powerful anti-inflammatory action. People have used it for conditions of the lungs, to help clear congestion and mucous and also for the common cold, and sinus complaints, as a steam bath and drunk as a tea. I could go on and on! Ok. Sure. Why not…….

They have a pungent smell – I smelled like curry all day. But it was worth it and it is said that is how you know they are working. It seemed the redness was fading. No longer the dark red angry triangle spreading and the massage seemed less painful.

That night I lay reading a book whilst strongly massaging all the tender spots and again used a fenugreek compress overnight. I was having Epsom salt and magnesium oil baths really very hot. I don’t know if the heat helped, but that’s what I did. Magnesium is wonderful for relaxing the muscles

I also had a magnesium effervescent tablet in water on the third or fourth day.  It is important to drink as much water as is physically possible.

I used Cabbage leaves, whole and cold, straight on the breast, as these are known to draw out the heat and reduce inflammation.

Before each feed I used a hot towel on the boob, to open and free everything. As hot as I could handle for as long as I could handle. Then after each feed, I used a towel I had been putting in the freezer. I would run it under the cold tap to soften it again and use that for as long as I could handle on the sore boob.

I was also rubbing two or three drops of neat good quality lavender oil onto the boob about three or four times a day. I found it so soothing and comforting, and I think it really helped too. Be sure it is good quality.

The next day most of the pain was gone but it has taken another three or four days to feel normal again.  I was lucky enough during the ordeal to have a friend visiting, so between my partner and my lovely friend, they took care of my baby and just brought him to me when he needed feeding.

The first I heard of it was for increasing the milk supply for nursing mothers. What is fascinating to me at the moment is its applications for easing conditions of the stomach and bowel. Its ability to soothe the linings of our intestines. Having a teaspoon of seeds in water half an hour before meals can ease digestion, and also help to cleanse your bowels. I am blown away by Fenugreek.

People have used it for ulcers, diabetes, cholesterol. Man, Google the bejeezus out of it. It is said to be excellent for your liver and powerful ally to fighting cancer when added to your diet in the form of freshly sprouted seeds and microgreens.

It has also been used to support the hormonal balance of menopause.

Fenugreek has also been used to help anaemic or underweight people, by providing the body with an easily digested proteins, vitamins and minerals. It is easy to put on weight with fenugreek it is said, and has been used by some cultures for increasing breast sizes too. Woot woot.

For now I am excited to have finally discovered the true benefits of fenugreek. Even if I might smell for a while whilst my body utilises its amazing properties.

I am excited to be growing it in my garden. The fresh young leaves are brilliant in salads, and every bite has medicinal properties that will blow you away.

I would highly recommend everybody to look up this herb if you are having any trouble with your blood, circulation, lungs, boobs, bowels, sugar balance, energy levels, and, well, just about anything.

There are some excellent anecdotes in the book, How can I use herbs in everyday life by Isabell Shipard. One of my most valuable herbal references.

Try it out by throwing some seeds around your garden. You can find them in all of the Happy Herb Shops. They will sprout in around three days depending, you can harvest them when the seed pod turns yellow.

Save them, give them as gifts to mothers and mothers-to- be, to people who may be experiencing bowel issues, lung issues, people lacking in vitality.

Grow them and eat them, drink them as tea, and you too, will come to revere this unassuming quiet magical achiever.

Whether just to improve your soil, or to alleviate a potentially dangerous condition like mastitis, you now have a new ally, a new weapon of Terra, and a magical multipurpose one at that.

It has been an honour to tell you about my awesome friend Fenugreek.

Thanks for reading x

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