Menstrual Cramp Home Remedies – External (PMS and Menstrual Irregularities Pt. 6)

Estimated read time... 7 minutes

Let’s tackle some of my favorite menstrual cramp home remedies for external use.  These remedies are simple and effective for menstrual cramps, and are done in the comfort of your own home.

Previously, I discussed some of the causes of menstrual cramps. You may fit into one, or more, of the most common categories: Qi Stagnation, Blood Stagnation, Cold Stagnation, Blood Deficiency.  Each of the methods below has overlapping patterns, this allows you to fine tune what works best for you.  Meaning: you may end up using two methods from below, or just one!

In the next post, I’ll share internal remedies for each of the patterns (don’t forget, you can get a head start by following the diet and lifestyle information, with your corresponding pattern and herbal suggestions, as outlined in the PMS posts: Two, Three, and Four.)

What’s a gal to do for menstrual cramps at home?

1. Castor Oil Packs

Patterns most affected with Castor Oil Packs: Liver Qi Stagnation/Qi Stagnation, Blood Stagnation, Cold Stagnation, Blood Deficiency

What do you do if you have Qi or Blood Stagnation signs such as clots in menses, cramps that are stabbing and intense, cysts and fibroids?  What if you have Cold trapped in your body, or not enough Blood? Castor oil packs!

Castor oil packs have been used to help the body break down scar and tough tissues, as well as to help detoxify the Liver.  Castor oil itself is a moistening herb and can help relieve the sensation of dryness and tightness associated with not enough Blood or lubrication.

Here is my cheat method for easy castor oil “packs”. I prefer this method because it allows you to gently massage the area with a loving touch before applying heat:

  1. Lay on your back, comfortably, on top of a towel (in bed, the couch, on the floor, wherever you can most relax.)
  2. Pour a generous amount of castor oil onto the skin, rub in, let sit a minute then pour more oil so it pools on skin, then cover with an old thin towel
  3. Cover the towel with a piece of parchment paper or another old thin towel
  4. Lay a heating pad over the towel, turn the heating pad on medium (or higher as tolerated, don’t burn yourself)
  5. Check skin after 10 mins, if there is no more oil, apply more – if there is oil, check again in 10 mins.
  6. Apply oil two to three times during the “cheat” method – sitting with the pack on for 30mins.
  7. Store the two towels in a bag, follow with the cycle of three days on, four days off, for at least four weeks. Ensure you are eating whole foods, and drinking enough water to support your body’s processes.
  8. Within your first menstrual flow, you should notice a difference with your period and cramps.
  9. Continue the cycle for three months, if needed. If you do not notice relief by the end of the three months (or see absolutely no improvement after the first cycle), consult with a qualified herbalist for additional support.

I like the “cheat” method because when the towels get stale smelling, or discolored, you can wash them or throw them out.  I’ve used a standard castor oil pack in the past, and much prefer this method because of the self-massage that is involved.

Bonus tip: Castor oil packs are also great applied to sore and tender breasts – you will fell a pulsing sensation, almost like your muscles are twitching.


2. Ginger Fomentation

Patterns most affected with Ginger Fomentations: Qi Stagnation, Cold Stagnation

I really love ginger fomentations for Cold Stagnation patterns, and also for Qi Stagnation.  Ginger is warming, stimulating, promotes circulation, and relieves pain! It is perfect for cramps where the application of heat improves the pain.  If you also have Blood Stagnation – give it a whirl, and let me know what your results were!

  1. Grate, finely chop, or thinly slice a two inch piece of fresh ginger root (you can leave the skin on)
  2. Place the ginger into a pot or glass jar, cover with hot (just off the boil) water, cover the container and let infuse until the water turns yellow.
  3. Strain the tea – squeeze out as much liquid as possible by straining through cheesecloth (tip: use enough ginger so you can use a French press coffee maker instead of cheesecloth!)
  4. Soak a cloth or towel in the tea, and wring the cloth out (be careful not to burn yourself)
  5. Apply to the abdomen (I prefer applying the compress to cover not just the lower abdomen, but also over the hips as well)
  6. Cover the cloth/towel with another cloth or towel, and then apply a heating pad or a hot water bottle
  7. You can re-soak the towel/cloth as often as needed, and you can remake the tea with fresh ginger root to apply 3-4 times during the day.
  8. Use during menstrual cramps to alleviate pain.  This is also great for lower backache associated with menstrual cramps.

Tips and tricks: strain the tea into a wide bowl, place the bowl next to your bed or couch where you are going to be relaxing while you are sitting with the compress on you. Whenever you stop feeling the warmth from the ginger (there will be a warm tingling sensation), you can re-soak and wring out the towel with minimal movement.

If you do not have fresh ginger, or need to have the fomentation right away, you can use dried powdered ginger.  Use 1TB, stir it in the water, and soak/compress away!


3. Mugwort Baths!

Patterns most affected by Mugwort baths: Blood Stagnation, Qi Stagnation, and Cold Stagnation

Mugwort is an amazing herb; I have been told that Mugwort is used in Korean bathhouses for much the same purposes that I am suggesting its use here – promoting relaxation and pain relief. Mugwort is spicy, bitter, neutral (meaning it neither warms nor cools the body), antispasmodic, and mild narcotic.  Thus, you will feel sleepy after a while in a Mugwort bath – once you get sleepy, get out of the tub and head to bed for a nap or a full night’s sleep.  You can start taking Mugwort Baths 24 hours before cramps usually set it, and cease the bath after your cramps have subsided.  Mugwort is an emmenagogue (meaning it will bring menses on) thus, play it safe and do not use if you are pregnant.

A note on mugwort: it is a common “weed” growing throughout the US, so is harvest-able from July through September, depending on where you live. Its Latin name is Artemisia vulgaris, though Artemisia argyi is used in Chinese medicine.  If you cannot find it, or do not know how to correctly identify it, then purchase it in bulk from your local herbalist, or from an online shop such as Mountain Rose Herbs or Pacific Botanicals.

Strong Stove-top Mugwort Bath:

  1. Take 2 cups of dried mugwort (or 4 cups fresh), put in a large pot on the stove
  2. Cover with 4 quarts of water then simmer covered for 30 mins.
  3. Strain through a strainer or cheesecloth directly into a bathtub that’s filling with water.

What makes this work even better, is if you add a cup of Epsom salts to the water.

You might be thinking, “Pamela, I am NOT going to get up, make a 30 min tea, strain it into the tub, and then get in the bath when my cramps are horrible!”  My response is, “I agree with you! I don’t do that either!” (Well, sometimes I do – but I coerce my husband into making the tea/bath for me!) If you are inclined, you can make a “near-instant” bath to have on hand, well before your cramps set in.

Near-instant Mugwort Bath:

  1. Take 4 cups of mugwort (fresh or dried), put in a large pot on the stove, cover with 4 quarts of water.
  2. Simmer over a very low flame, covered, for 2 hours.
  3. Then, strain out the herb material, pressing out as much liquid as you can from it (you’d be surprised how much liquid comes out!)
  4. Measure how much liquid you have.
  5. Say you have 3.5 quarts left – you’re going to make what is called a preserved decoction that has at least 25% alcohol in it. If you have 50% alcohol by volume (aka 100 proof), you would need to add an equal amount of alcohol to preserve the decoction at 25% alcohol by volume (aka 50 proof.)
  6. Combine the alcohol and cooled decoction together, and then into some sort of sealed jar or bottle. I reuse alcohol bottles for convenience, and also use mason jars, or whatever else is handy!
  7. When you are in need of a mugwort bath, all you have to do is pour about 1 cup into the bath water, get in and relax!


Tub-infused Mugwort Bath

Another option is to put the dry herbs in a muslin bag (or an old ziptop pillowcase), place in the bottom of the tub, turn the water on hot to get the herb infusing, then reduce the water temperature to the desired temperature. This results in a weaker bath.

Whichever of the three mugwort bath methods makes the most sense for you is the best one to use! Remember, this is about making you more comfortable, not creating more frustration for you!


Additional notes on baths

Bath temperatures

  • Cold Stagnation = a warmer bath
  • Blood Stagnation = the temperature feels the best for you
  • Qi Stagnation = the temperature feels the best for you
  • Blood Deficiency = a warmer bath

Sitz baths

If you have a bathtub, fill the tub up, then lay so your back is up against the shirt width of the bath, and your knees and legs are hanging over the opposite ledge. If you do this, your abdomen and back will be submerged and the rest of your body will be out of the water. If you do not have a bathtub you can mimic this method by filling up a large bucket-type container and sitting in a similar manner.


As you can see, there is a lot of overlap with the patterns affected by external remedies, that’s what makes them so wonderful.

Castor oil packs, ginger fomentations and mugwort baths are all valuable tools for the home herbal toolkit.

Remember to be consistent with these methods and regimens – infrequency, or utilizing the method for too short a time, will not yield the best results with your menstrual cramps!

The keys to ensuring that herbs work for you are: 1. choosing the right herbs for your pattern of imbalance and 2. compliance (regularity of use) – if you don’t take the herbs, how will the herbs be able to do their job?!

Choose one of the three menstrual cramp home remedies listed above, give it a go, and let me know how you do!

In the next post, I will be discussing the internal remedies that can help with easing menstrual cramps.