Holistic Healing

Herbs for a Healthy Nervous System

Today’s world is a fast paced one. People are often on the go, and many don’t have or take adequate time to really relax and recharge. A lack of proper nutrition and unhealthy sleep patterns can also contribute to various nervous system issues, including depression, anxiety, insomnia, volatile emotions, chronic stress, pain, and more. Furthermore, poor nervous system health can create other imbalances in the body, such as digestive problems, high blood pressure, and palpitations.

Herbs that help to ease insomnia, pain, depression, anxiety, & other nervous system issues and have a direct benefit on the nervous system are often called nervines. These herbs will not deaden the nerves and senses like allopathic medications with the same aim will. Instead, they aid in relaxation, gently lifting the spirits, and working on a physiological level to strengthen and tone the nerves and brain.

Herbalist, Rosemary Gladstar, says, “nervine herbs are often toning and/or adaptogenic (helping the body adapt to stress) in action and have nutritive benefits for the nervous system. They reconnect the nerve channels in the body, gently stimulating or ‘reawakening,’ them, strengthening the nervous system so it can better respond to pain. In essence, herbal nervine therapy increases our ability to cope with the stress of everyday life.”

If you are dealing with stress, tension, anxiety, and related difficulties, herbs will not solve all of your problems. However, they will they will gently brighten your mood to help motivate you to take a look at the source of these issues and they will support you as you work to improve your health by making any necessary changes in your life.

Creating true and lasting health is not as simple as popping a pill or taking an herb. In some cases, it requires a lot of self-work and adjustments to diets, habits, or routines, and a commitment to better lifestyle choices. While a few of these changes may be difficult, others may be quite pleasant, like drinking a few more cups of tea each day.

Drinking herbal teas is an easy way to daily boost the health of your nervous system. Gladstar recommends drinking at least two cups of a relaxing tea blend every day for several weeks for stress and nervous tension. Chamomile tea is a long-cherished remedy for calming anxieties, but there are many other herbal options.

Detailed below is more information about herbal nervines and how to utilize them.

Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)

Valerian is a powerful nervine with a wide array of benefits. It is a quieting, soothing herb and is especially helpful for relieving pain, insomnia, and nervous excitement. It’s antispasmodic properties make it useful for muscle tension, and cramping pain. It has also been used in cases of cardiac palpitations and high blood pressure.

Valerian is very safe and non-habit forming. It is commonly taken in tea, tincture, or capsule form. Small doses may be effective, but larger or repeat doses may be taken, if needed.

While many find valerian to be relaxing, a small percentage of people actually experience a stimulating effect from this herb. If you haven’t taken valerian before, try a small dose to see how it will affect you.

When drunk in tea, valerian is best combined with more pleasant tasting herbs. I have found that mint compliments its flavor nicely, though it doesn’t entirely mask it (not many things will) . Valerian tastes deeply earthy and may take some getting used to. Taking it in tincture form may be more practical and preferable. A few drops in water is more bearable than a whole cup of tea if you don’t appreciate the flavor and it may be more convenient to carry a small tincture bottle than to try to make tea on the go.

To prepare valerian tea: Use 1-2 Tbsp root per quart of water. Bring water to a boil & pour over the root. Do not boil valerian root! Cover & let infuse overnight. Strain out the herb & compost it.

Suggested adult dose: Drink 4 cups of tea daily; or take 1-2 tsp of tincture diluted in warm tea or water

Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla and related species)

This pretty little herb is well loved by herbalists for its ability to aid relaxation, relieve stress, and ease nerves. It’s also beneficial for stomach tension, and digestive problems. It is gentle enough to be given to infants and children to help soothe colic or tension. It can also be used to calm pets during grooming, illness, or car trips.

Chamomile is aromatic, and has a lovely flavor that many enjoy. It makes a tasty tea, but can also be taken in tincture form. It is a very safe herb and can be enjoyed in large doses. If used over a period of time, chamomile has lasting beneficial effects on the nervous system.

To prepare chamomile tea: use 2 Tbsp of flowers per quart of water. Pour boiling water over herb. Cover with a lid and let steep for at least 20 minutes.

Dosage: Drink 3-4 cups daily, or as often as needed. Safe for infants & children.

Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)

Skullcap is a valuable and versatile nervine. Herbalist, Jethro Kloss, states that skullcap “is one of the best nerve tonics we have.” One of the benefits of the herb that he describes is that it is “very quieting and soothing to the nerves of people who are easily excited.” Another of skullcap’s specialties is promoting deep, refreshing sleep. Take up to 30 drops of tincture half an hour before bed to aid sleep. It also is helpful for general pain relief and neuralgia.

To prepare skullcap tea: bring water to a boil and pour over herb. Use 1 tsp of herb per cup of water. Cover and let steep for at least 20 minutes.

Suggested adult dosing: 2-3 cups of tea daily; or 1/4 tsp tincture in half a cup of warm water or tea 3 times per day

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

This aromatic herb is an effective nervine and a tasty addition to tea. It is lovely when blended with other nerve tonics, like chamomile and oats, for a delicious daily boost for the nervous system.

Lemon balm is a relaxing, antispasmodic herb that can be used for headache, depression, stress, anxiety, stomach cramping, and general exhaustion. It is mildly sedative and is helpful for insomnia. Lemon balm glycerite, a tincture made in a glycerin base, is a gentle & soothing remedy for children.

To prepare lemon balm tea: use 1 oz of herb per quart of boiling water. Cover tightly and let steep at least 20 minutes.

Dosing: 4 cups of tea daily, or as often as needed

Oats (Avena sativa)

Oats are a deeply nourishing, mineral rich, tonic herb. Oatstraw -the grass portion of the plant- and milky oats -the fresh unripe seed- are the parts of the plants that are utilized for the medicinal preparations we’ll be discussing. However, oatmeal is also quite soothing and nutritious for the skin when used in a bath or body care recipes.

Oats nourish and tone the nervous system by actually strengthening the physiology of nervous and adrenal tissue. Using them regularly, for some time is best and will create lasting benefits. Michigan herbalist, jim mcdonald states, “They will not work instantly, but will, over a period of time, nourish your nervous system and adrenals and make you both mentally and physically better equipped to deal with the day to day stuff you need to do to get where you want to go.”

Oats are very soothing to the nervous system. mcdonald, says they are “especially well suited to nervous exhaustion due to debilitative nervous system disorders, overwork (mental or physical), drug abuse, and should be used during any period of prolonged stress.” They are also helpful for irritability and emotional exhaustion.

To prepare tea: use 2 Tbsp herb per quart of water. Boil water & pour over oatstraw and/or milky oats. Let steep at least 20 minutes.

Dosage: 3-4 cups of tea daily

St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum)

This pretty little herb is well loved by herbalists for its ability to ease the symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, seasonal affective disorder, chronic fatigue, and personality disorders. As herbalist, Rosemary Gladstar, says, “it lifts the spirits and puts a bit of sunshine into the day.” It is also a valuable remedy for trauma and neuralgia. It has been used successfully to improve quality of sleep.

St.John’s wort has become especially popular for treating anxiety and depression. Unfortunately, many people have tried to use St.John’s wort the same way they would use an antidepressant prescription medication and were ultimately disappointed with the results. While it is uplifting and effective, it doesn’t work like a miracle drug. One can’t just take St.John’s wort and expect to be completely cured of their depression and anxiety.

As with all holistic treatments, taking St. John’s wort must be paired with other lifestyle changes. It works best when used along with other supportive behaviors and therapies, like counseling, massage, getting plenty of rest, and eating a nutritious diet. St. John’s wort also combines well with other nervines, especially lavender and lemon balm for depression and passionflower for anxiety.

There are a few things to mention about using St. John’s wort safely. This herb can strengthen the liver’s detoxification process, causing drugs to be removed from the body more quickly, so caution should be used when using it with pharmaceutical medications. One should also be aware that high doses of St.John’s wort may cause photosensitivity.

Dosing: 10-30 drops of tincture for pain, depression, or anxiety, three times daily or as needed

Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)

Motherwort is also generally beneficial to the nervous system. This calming herb helps to ease tension and restore emotional balance without causing drowsiness or a foggy mind. It’s antispasmodic and nervine properties make it helpful for palpitations due to stress and nervousness. It helps with the inability to cope with emotions and relieves sleeplessness.

While motherwort is a safe, non-narcotic herb, wise woman and herbalist, Susan Weed, cautions that the calming effect of this herb can be psychologically habit forming. She advises discontinuing use if you begin to feel that you can’t get through the day without it. She is recommends avoiding excessive use of Motherwort tincture (more than four doses a day for several weeks) as it may cause you to become dependent.

Dosing: for emotional imbalance- take 5 drops of tincture in a small glass of water. Wait 15 minutes for the herb to be fully effective; repeat, if necessary. In times of extreme upset, can be repeated as often as every 2 hours.

Weed says, “Motherwort tincture works best when combined with a short break from the day’s routine to stretch, breathe, relax, and return to center.”

Lavender (Lavandula officinalis and related species)

This lovely smelling herb is a personal favorite for easing stress headaches and calming anxiety. It is also a mild antidepressant. It has long been used to bring courage and strength. Traditionally, bundles of lavender were given to women to squeeze during labor to empower and strengthen them.

Lavender is a potent herb and works well when combined with other herbs for internal use. For headaches, blend it with lemon balm and skullcap. For depression, it works well when mixed with borage blossoms. For muscles spasms and cramps, combining it with valerian works wonderfully.

Lavender is very high in volatile oils and is thus, also quite beneficial when used externally. Dry or fresh herb or the essential oil can be added to a hot bath to help ease tension, stress, and insomnia. Lavender also makes a lovely addition to herbal steams and massage oils.The dried herb can be sewed into sachets and tucked under ones pillow to promote peaceful sleep.

To use: the fresh or dried herb makes a nice, relaxing addition to tea blends. Add a pinch or two to a tea made with any of the other nervines discussed above. (It can have an overpowering flavor if too much is added) It also makes a tasty tincture.

During periods of intense stress, it is helpful to diffuse lavender essential oil or put sprigs of the herb around the house.

A drop or two of the essential oil can be added to bath water or applied to the temples and nape of the neck to ease headache, anxiety, stress, and tension.

While these herbs and many others can certainly be beneficial to the nervous system, herbs alone are not enough to ensure relief from issues like anxiety, depression, stress, tension, insomnia, and other issues. Herbs can definitely aid the process of attaining better health, but they must be accompanied by appropriate behaviors and supporting therapies. Proper nutrition, plenty of exercise, and a re-evaluation of your lifestyle should all accompany herbal treatments to ensure a truly vibrant and healthy nervous system.


References:

7Song. “Principal Plants of Herbal First Aid.” Northeast School of Botanical Medicine. 7Song.com.

Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. 2nd ed., Dorling Kindersley Publishing, 2000.

Gladstar, Rosemary. Herbal Healing for Women.

Gladstar, Rosemary. Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health. Storey Publishing. 2008.

Gladstar, Rosemary. “Herbs for the Nervous System.”

Grieves, M. A Modern Herbal. “Valerian.” http://www.botanical.com

Kloss, Jethro. Back to Eden. Lotus Press, 2009.

mcdonald, jim. “Nettles, Oats & You…” herbcraft.org

Tillotson, Alan Keith. The One Earth Herbal Sourcebook. Kensington Publishing Corp. 2001.

Weed, Susan. Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year.

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