Raw or steamed?: Choosing a preparation method for encapsulating your placenta
Content note: this post includes photos of placentas in various stages of preparation. There isn’t much blood, but it is a fresh human organ, so proceed to your own comfort level.
So you want to encapsulate and consume your placenta — great! Love it. If you’ve found your way to this post, I assume you are already aware of the benefits of placenta encapsulation and are still on the fence about how you’d like me (or whoever is preparing it) to go about things. (If you still haven’t decided whether or not to encapsulate your placenta, go ahead and read up on the evidence here and here. Then come back and check out this post!)
Before we get going, a note about the way many encapsulators talk about postpartum placenta consumption as part of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM): Nope. Not historically or culturally accurate. Actually it’s probably a bit of cultural appropriation, but I digress. While many cultures have long traditions of honoring the placenta through ritual or medicinal use, and while TCM does incorporate human placenta in some liver and kidney treatments, placenta consumption by humans who give birth, for postpartum healing and nourishment, is relatively brand spankin’ new — which is A-OK! And while we draw on principles derived from TCM when we prepare placentas, the vast majority of us are not Doctors of Chinese Medicine and we simply have no evidence for the claim that postpartum placenta consumption is part of the centuries-old repertoire of TCM. (Attaching placenta consumption to concepts like “ancientness” and Eastern medicine is likely a grasp at legitimizing the practice. But I’m not here to argue over legitimacy. It’s legit, it’s not harmful, and it’s meaningful to people.) Because of my reverence for the amazing placenta and the equally amazing tradition of Chinese medicine, you won’t see me claiming either are something they are not.
Back to the point: you want some help deciding which preparation method to choose. While I have some suggestions, it is ultimately up to you to decide what feels right for your body and mind as you move into the fourth trimester. And rest assured that I always handle placentas with care, respect, and proper safety and sanitation procedures (which are not outlined here), no matter which method you choose. So which one is best for you? The short answer: it depends. But this post, and a conversation with your encapsulator, will hopefully give you some guidance!
This method is what most are referring to when they invoke TCM, because it draws on principles of balance between warm and cold forces. Steaming the placenta tempers the hormones it contains and allows for a more gentle reintroduction and reabsorption into the body over time. Most placentas are prepared using this method.
I may recommend steamed prep if you usually run cold, are having a fall or winter (or cold-weather) birth, or often crave salads and fresh fruits and vegetables. For those who have pre-existing mental health struggles, or have experienced postpartum mood disorders before, this is often the better choice — capsules created with the raw method may be overwhelming to some people with a history of depression or anxiety. People who choose this method often report a smoother emotional transition and a stronger, more stable milk supply.
Steaming the placenta does cause it to shrink a bit in size, so I often expect that a steamed preparation will yield slightly (not significantly) fewer capsules as an end result. The difference is not enough to deter people from choosing this method, but it is worth noting.
Another consideration: this is the only way I will process a placenta if the birthing person has a positive Group B Strep status, because steaming is an added layer of assurance that the bacteria will not be passed along. Being GBS+ is not a contraindication to encapsulation, but I do require that you are transparent about your health history so that I can assist you in making the best, safest choice for your placenta.
It goes like this: clean; slice; steam; dehydrate; grind; encapsulate; deliver to you!
First, I choose some warming elements to steam it over. In this example, I used blood orange, fresh ginger, and clove, but I can customize it with other warming and tonifying elements according to your preferences and needs. If you do consult with a Doctor of Chinese Medicine or an herbalist (like my excellent colleague Emma), I’m happy to use whatever herbal blend they prescribe you for postpartum healing.
I rinse the excess blood off the placenta, cut it into strips, and steam it over this warming blend. The strips, which now resemble stir fry meat, get dehydrated until all the moisture has been removed. This leaves them brittle and dry so they snap like a pretzel. Then the placenta can be ground into fine powder and used to fill capsules. Sounds easy, right?! It’s actually a two-day process with so much cleaning involved — but I take care of all that for you!
This method essentially skips the steaming step above and, as such, does not impart additional warmth to the placenta. The placenta is still dehydrated to food-safe internal temperatures, killing off any residual bacteria or junk, but this process does not temper the hormones and nutrients as thoroughly as does the steamed method.
I may recommend this method if you usually run hot, are having a summer birth, or often crave spicy dishes, soups, and warming foods. Raw prep is useful for blood building and returning iron stores, especially in the early days after birth. People who choose this method often report a smoother physical recovery and more energy in the postpartum period.
It goes like this: clean; slice; dehydrate; grind; encapsulate; deliver to you!
I rinse the placenta, slice it into thin strips, and place it directly into the dehydrator. In the above photo, you can also see the umbilical cord keepsake that is being dehydrated from the same placenta. After I determine that the placenta has been thoroughly dehydrated, I follow the same process as in the steamed method: I grind the dried strips into fine powder and hand-fill each capsule individually.
Other goodies and fun things
Before processing the placenta, I can make a print on watercolor paper in the placenta’s own blood (I do not introduce any dyes or inorganic substances). Each placenta is so unique, and a print creates an artistic display of the specific features — veins, cord insertion, size, shape — that make up each placenta.
To make a healing salve, which can be used on the perineum, cesarean scar, and lots of other skin woes, I collect stem cells from the cord before processing the placenta and use them to make an organic olive oil infusion. This is combined with ethically-sourced beeswax and a few drops of rosemary essential oil to make a customized jar of smooth, rich, healing salve. (My salve does not contain dehydrated and ground placenta powder.)
Another popular choice for consumption is chocolate truffles! I introduce dehydrated placenta powder, equivalent to one capsule per truffle, into a simple truffle batter that can be customized with your favorite fillings, toppings, or flavors. This is a good way to disguise the potential meaty/metallic aftertaste that some people experience with capsules. And because I use local Taza chocolate, which is stone-ground and minimally processed, the placenta powder blends seamlessly with the texture of the truffles.
After I have cleaned the placenta but before I have begun steaming or dehydrating it, I can slice a few small (about 1” x 1”) cubes and freeze them for later use in a smoothie. This is another great way to obtain the nourishment of a placenta while disguising any potentially unappealing taste, and it encourages newly postpartum people to consume other nutritious food as well! (Here are a few yummy recipes for nutritious smoothies with placenta cubes. Or throw a few in your own favorite recipe!) These cubes can be combined with a steamed prep to achieve the blood-building effects of the unsteamed placenta with the long-term benefits of the steamed placenta via capsules.
If consuming your placenta doesn’t resonate with you, there are other options for honoring the organ that grew from your body and nourished your baby! Some choose to bury their placenta in a significant place or under a tree as a way of grounding their child to the earth. You can read more about placenta burial around the world here. Rev. Hannah Grace can assist you in building a ritual to honor your placenta, should you so desire!
Now that you’ve got the rundown on some of the many ways to utilize, honor, and benefit from your placenta, let’s chat about what might be right for you! I provide placenta services to the greater Boston area (and then some), including a capsule-only package and many of the above goodies as add-ons. Contact me to chat about what you’d like to do with your placenta and how I might be able to assist you!
Please note: this post is not intended to be a guide to carrying out placenta encapsulation. I have omitted crucial details on cleanliness, timing, and equipment, and encourage anyone who is interested in providing placenta encapsulation to pursue proper education. Please do not handle a placenta without training in safety and sanitation.