An emmenagogue is an herb which stimulates the body to begin menstruating. There are a number of herbs which can have this effect, including ginger, pennyroyal, parsley, blue cohosh, and yarrow. Such herbs can be used in a variety of ways and some have a very long history of use among women. Many emmenagogues are widely available from practitioners of alternative medicine along with health food stores and some large grocery stores which carry herbs and supplements. They can also be wildcrafted by people who are familiar with plant identification.
There are a number of reasons why menstruation may be delayed. Sometimes women experience irregular periods as a result of stress, poor diet, or disease. Using an emmenagogue can help a woman regulate her period, or can hasten menstruation when it appears to be imminent but is not occurring. Women who want to control the timing of their periods may use herbal preparations to regulate their menstrual cycles. Hormonal birth control can be used for the same purpose, but women may object to using hormonal birth control for ethical or health reasons.
Menstruation can also be delayed as a result of pregnancy, and emmenagogues are sometimes treated as being similar to abortifacients. It is important to note that while some herbs can cause abortion, many are not strong enough to do so. Many pregnancies end in miscarriage naturally during their early stages and if a woman takes an emmenagogue at the onset of miscarriage, it may cause the mistaken belief that an abortion has occurred. For the most part, these herbs will stimulate menstruation if a woman's cycle is delayed for reasons other than pregnancy, but some emmenagogues can cause abortions and others can be dangerous.
Herbal preparations can be taken in the form of teas and tinctures. Fresh or dried herbs may be used for an emmenagogue preparation, and it is also possible to find pill formulations of some emmenagogues. Health food stores may stock teas which consist of a blend of emmenagogues which are marketed to women who want to regulate their cycles or who want to treat problems such as cramps.
Herbs can be dangerous. Before taking any herbal preparation, including an emmenagogue, women should make sure that it is not contraindicated in their case. Some emmenagogues, for example, can cause seizures or heart problems in women with certain conditions. Herbal preparations can also interfere with pharmaceutical products or result in bad drug interactions. A pharmacist or doctor can discuss herbal preparations with patients and provide information about their safety.