As a practitioner trained in China, herbs are my favorite tool. When it comes to women's health, they are so powerful and though slow acting, yield great results.
Disclaimer: The information in this post is for education purposes only – not for diagnosis or treatment.
Herbs are never used by themselves but most often in combination with other herbs. They can have very powerful effects on the body and potentially be harmful if you choose the wrong one.
DO NOT SELF MEDICATE !
Many causes can lead to menstrual cramp, and each herb, each combination will be very specific. For example, blood stasis (lack of movement) will be treated differently from cold in the uterus, or from qi deficiency. you can learn a little about different patterns by reading our article (here) on the significance of the different colors of your flow.
Ginger (Sheng Jiang) is a warming herb, that soothes the stomach, helps digestion, and fights seafood poisoning. Ginger is particularly recommended for women whose cramps feel better with a heating pad or hot water bottle. It can also be very helpful if you tend to get bloating, loose stools, and nausea around your period.
Ginger is anti-inflammatory: it blocks formation of excess prostaglandin. Prostaglandin is a hormone that helps the uterus contract during the period to shed its lining. Excessive prostaglandins have been linked to menstrual cramps and severe pain. Ginger can help reduce this.
Ginger has been shown to reduce menstrual pain as effectively as mefenamic acid and ibuprofen [source]. 750 mg – 2000 mg of Ginger powder during the first 3-4 days of the menstrual cycle has been shown to be effective for menstrual pain [Article]
Fructus Gardenia 栀子
At the opposite end of the temperature spectrum isFructus gardenia (Zhi Zi), a cooling herb, appropriate for symptoms caused by heat excess: bad sleep, irritability, anger, a hot sensation, hormonal acne, stuffy sensation in the chest, etc.
Analgesic: relieves pain
Hepatoprotective: protects the liver
Central Nervous System suppressant: sedative, calming. Gardenia can help reduce anxiety as part of its role in the Chinese Herbal formula Xiao Yao San [Article]
Anti inflammatory Genipin, a constituent of Gardenia, can inhibit prostaglandin production and reduce inflammation [Article]
Angelica Sinensis 当归
Angelica Sinensis (Dang Gui) is one of the most commonly used herbs used in herbal gynecology because of its incredible effects on reproductive health.
It is both a blood mover and blood builder. It is a fantastic herb to move and circulate blood flow before the period starts so as to prevent cramping. And once the bleeding is over, it can help rebuild the lost blood.
It can relax the uterus and therefore help calm cramps and reduce pain.
It has an antiplatelet effect. From a Chinese medicine perspective, this means that angelica promotes the movement of blood and keeps blood from stagnating.
Stasis or lack of blood circulation is one of the key culprits for stabbing cramps.
It is also both an analgesic and inflammatory herb . [Article]. Angelica extract has been shown to have similar effects to Aspirin. Its anti-inflammatory effect is 1.1 times stronger than aspirin, and analgesic effect is 1.7 times stronger than aspirin [Yao Xue Za Zhi (Journal of Medicinals), 1971; (91): 1098].
Angelica essential oil was given to 112 patients for 15-20 days and was 76.79% effective in relieving menstrual pain 
Bupleurum (Chai Hu) is another commonly used gynecological herb.
From a Chinese medicine perspective, bupleurum works directly on the Liver.
The liver is one of the main organs in charge of menstrual health, and has a major role in estrogen metabolism. When estrogen metabolism becomes impaired, it can lead to symptoms of “excess” estrogen in the body, which can often manifest as heavier periods, severe mood swings, and painful cramps.
Bupleurum helps keep the Liver from getting congested and functioning smoothly. In Chinese medicine, a congested liver can lead to breast tenderness, mood swings, irritability, and menstrual cramps. The symptoms are incredibly similar to the western understanding of estrogen excess.
analgesic and antipyretic, meaning it can reduce pain and fevers.
Anti-inflammatory and sedative: it reduces inflammation as well as calms the nervous system.
White Peony 白芍
Another major gynecological herb, white peony (Bai Shao) nourishes the blood and as well as "softens" the Liver.
One of the interesting effects of white peony is its ability to calm muscle spasms. It’s often used for muscle and tendon pain caused by spasms.
The uterus is also a muscle and in that same way, it can help relax the uterus when it is spasming during menstruation.
It reduces inflammation to help with pain control,
has an antiplatelet effect, which means it helps prevent blood for stagnating
central nervous system suppressant, which calms the body and promotes better sleep
Sichuan Lovage Rhizome 川芎
Sichuan Lovage Rhizome (Chuan Xiong) is one of the most powerful herbs for moving blood in the body. Stagnant blood causes stabbing pain, such as stabbing menstrual cramps or migraines. Two of the major uses of this herb are gynecology and reducing headaches.
anti-spastic (reduces spasms and cramps). Tetramethylpyrazine, the active ingredient in Sichuan Lovage Rhizome, is able to relax the uterus [Article]
analgesic (reduces pain)
In Chinese Medicine, fennel is used as a warming herb that can help relieve pain caused by “coldness” in the lower abdomen.
Think of water: when you heat water it begins to move, and when you freeze water all movement stops. Coldness in the uterus has a similar effect. It slows things down and causes poor blood circulation, which causes pain.
This is the case for many women who say that their cramps improve with a heat pack or heating blanket on their stomach.
Fennel was found to be an effective herbal drug for menstrual pain and related menstrual symptoms [Article]
This is one of the most powerful pain killers in Chinese herbal repertoire.
Corydalis is a blood and qi mover, and has the ability to stop pain.
Analgesic: Corydalis has been often studied alongside morphine for a comparison of its pain relieving effects.
Anti-inflammatory: It helps combat inflammation by inhibiting the release of histamine
Muscle relaxant: In animal studies, corydalis has been shown to have a muscle relaxant effect
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 [Lan Zhou Yi Xue Yuan Xue Bao (Journal of Lanzhou University of Medicine), 1988; 1:36].