“Sometimes all it takes is a warm cup of chamomile tea
and a hug to make a miracle’ ~ Amanda McQuade Crawford,
Do you recall the last time you felt really peaceful?
That deep calm feeling when you “Woke up smiling and the world smiled
back. ” Are you one of those rare people who have ample time for
social events, gets everything done in a day that you wanted or needed to, and
feels like their ‘to-do list’ is under control? Do you sleep deeply,
soundly, so that waking up is a joy, not a chore?
If you’re like a majority of Americans, these feelings are
pleasant but fleeting memories. Far too many people wake up each day
feeling rushed, ready to jump into the day with so many tasks lined up that
they’re behind before they even begin. Stressed before the day begins, people
live in a constant state of agitation and stress. For some people, this
state of stress, depression, and anxiety is a natural response to the world
around them. While we can’t control the world we live in, we can make simple
changes that help us deal with stress in a more wholesome and healthy
way. Nature is one of the best tonics for the nervous system ~ and using
nature’s healing herbs can also bring soothing relief from the stresses of the
day. I’d love to share with you a group of amazing herbs that have a long
history of being used for nervous system disorders that include stress,
anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, and depression ~ Herbal Nervines.
What exactly is an Herbal Nervine?
While you won’t find the term in a medical textbook or even
a dictionary, it’s a common term among herbalists and natural health
practitioners. An Herbal Nervine is any plant remedy that has a beneficial
effect upon the nervous system. This is a rather broad definition for a
large variety of herbs. To make it easier to determine when to use which
Herbal Nervine for what situation, Nervines are generally broken down into
several ‘action’ groups (i.e. how an herb works in the body or its pathway of action).
There are many overlaps with the herbs listed in each category. For instance,
an herb listed as a Nervine Tonic can also have relaxing and sedating
properties or even mildly stimulating properties, so it’s possible to have one
herb in two or more groupings.
Nervine Tonics ~ Perhaps our most
important group of herbs, Nervine Tonics are those that nourish, tone,
rehabilitate and strengthen the Nervous System (NS). They are often
rich in important nutrients that feed the NS including calcium, silica,
magnesium, B Vitamins, and protein. Though effective, most Nervine Tonics
are mild in action and usually need to be taken over a period of time to
have lasting effects. Examples include: Milky
Green Oats, Lemon Balm, Wood Betony, Chamomile, Valerian (in small amounts).
Nervine Relaxants or Sedatives ~
herbs that have a relaxing or sedating effect on the NS. These herbs are
used to help reduce pain, ease tension, relax the muscles, and aide in
sleep. Examples include: Valerian, Hops,
California Poppy (the entire Poppy family, for that matter), Skullcap,
Kava Kava, Cramp Bark.
Nervine Demulcents ~ Soothe irritated
nerve endings, nourish and strengthen the NS. Have a very generalized
action. Examples include: Milky Green Oats,
Marshmallow Root, Licorice Root, Chia Seeds and other herbs that are rich
in mucilaginous constituents. *Slippery Elm use to be included, but due to
its ‘at risk’ status, herbalists are limiting their use of this
Nervine Stimulants ~ While there are very
powerful herbal stimulants (think coffee, guarana, kola nut), when we think
of Nervine Stimulants we are referring to the more mild acting, those that
gently stimulate and activate the NS, not overwork it. They also activate
and catalyze other herbs in the formula for a more powerful and
synergistic effect. Examples include: Rhodiola,
Rosemary, Ginkgo, Gota Kola, Spearmint, Peppermint, Eluetherococcus,
Ginseng, and Cayenne. Stronger stimulants that are usually avoided for
Nervous System disorders include coffee, guarana, kola nut, black tea, and
other caffeine-rich herbs.
Let’s look at a couple of Herbal Nervine blends and see if
you can determine where each herb might fit in the category(s) above:
Uplifting Hawthorn ~ especially good for
depression, grief, and mild anxiety
This is one of my favorite herbal blends when one is feeling
grief-stricken or depressed. Drink it as a tea or taken as a
tincture. See if you can guess what the primary action of each of the
herbs is and where it sits in the above categories.
- 2 parts Lemon Balm
- 2 part Milky Green Oats
- 1 part Hawthorn (berries, leaf, flower, berries and
stems if available)
- 1 part St. Johns Wort
*Optional: spearmint or peppermint for added
Calm in a Cup ~ a wonderfully relaxing blend
* Again, see if you can tell where each herb fits
into the category(s) listed above.
- 1-part Chamomile
- 1 part Lemon Balm
- 1 part Milky Oats
- 1/2 part Passion Flower
- *Optional: add ¼ hops and/or valerian for a
stronger relaxing or sedating blend.
Dive deeper into ‘types’ of Nervines and find even more
nervine ‘how-tos’ in Lesson 1 of (and throughout) my herbalism home-study
Reflections on Stress….
Stress can be anything from the lash of a whip to a
passionate kiss ~ Hans Selye
Stress is nothing new to human beings, but the volume and
variety of stimuli we’re exposed to is truly unprecedented in human history.
Through our flickering televisions and computer screens, our Blackberries and
high-pitched cell phones, we process a constant flow of information. Add to
this work deadlines and epic to-do lists, daily drives in rush-hour traffic,
and the near-total lack of silence. Whether joyous or tragic, welcomed or
unwanted, every input signal is sent through the same intricate, delicate
channels that make up our nervous system. The result of this bombardment for
too many of us is a constant physiological state of alarm and agitation,
leading to fatigue, migraines, insomnia, depression, as well as many of the
chronic diseases of our day.
We can’t make stress disappear, but we can ease its effects
by using some of nature’s simple and time-tested remedies. Many people find
relief from stress by incorporating yoga and deep breathing exercises.
Spending time in nature or ‘forest bathing’ is extremely helpful for some
people. Exercise of any kind, especially those done outdoors is another great
stress reliever. Finding quiet time… silence is such a rarity today that many
people don’t even know the sound of silence. And then, we have our time tested
herbs that have been helping people deal with the stresses of ‘modern life’
through the ages. Incorporating even a few of these ‘relaxants’ for a few
minutes each day ~ a few minutes of yoga and stretching, a short walk in the
park or down a woodland trail, a few deep breathes, consciously breathing in
deeply and exhaling fully, and a few cups of relaxing tea ~ can make a huge
difference in the quality of one’s life. Try it and see!
What simple steps can you commit to each day that can
help enhance a state of peacefulness?
Don’t start with big leaps. It’s wiser to start with small
easy steps so as not to add more stress to an already overly stressed
schedule. Here are a few suggestions that others have found to be
* A short walk each morning or evening. If weather permits
and you’re able to walk on earth, not pavement, try walking barefoot so as to
connect with the Earth. Even 15 minutes a day will make a difference
* Yoga, stretching, swimming, jogging; any kind of movement
that allows your body to stretch and move. Even 15 minutes a day can be
* Meditation for those whom it’s not too much work to ‘quiet
* Herbal bathing; so deeply relaxing. Foot and hand
baths followed by a short self-massage are also grounding and relaxing
* Drinking your herbal Nervines! 3-4 cups a day will
be most helpful. And/or a daily dose of an Herbal Nervine tincture twice
daily. But tinctures don’t replace herbal tea, especially when dealing
with the Nervous System.
Nervine Tonics: Herbs that feed, tone,
rehabilitate, and strengthen the NS are classified as nerve tonics and have
been commonly used for centuries to help people deal with the stresses of
life. These herbs feed the nerve tissue directly and are generally high
in calcium, silica, magnesium, and a variety of trace minerals, B vitamins and
protein. Though very effective, most are mild in action and are generally recommended
to take over a period of time.
In the following discussion, we will focus primarily on
the Nervine Tonics. It’s interesting to note that in
allopathic medical terminology there are few references to tonics, other than
substances used to tone contracting muscles. However, in herbal medicine,
tonics are considered among the most important of remedies and often form the
foundation of many treatment protocols. In Traditional Chinese Medicine tonic
herbs are often classified as ‘Superior Medicine’. Even though they are not as
quick or as strong acting as some of the more medicinal herbs, these tonic
herbs which favorably alter the condition of the body with no side effects are
generally considered ‘superior’ and are used as the basis for many herbal
therapies. In western herbalism, some of the tonic herbs are also called
Adaptogens, a term coined by a Russian scientist to describe plants that have
the ability to help the body adapt to the stresses of modern-day life.
In the beloved children’s classic, Peter
Rabbit, after little Peter barely escaped from his near-death
encounter with Farmer John, his wise and loving mother gave him a cup of warm
chamomile tea to soothe his nerves, and, when he was well calmed, she spanked
him soundly and put him to bed! Though you might not agree with her
parenting techniques, Peter Rabbit’s mother knew something that many people
have forgotten ~ a warm cup of chamomile tea can effectively soothe frazzled
and anxious nerves and make the most frightening of life’s experiences a little
Along with Chamomile, there are several other Herbal Tonics
that gently help soothe away the stresses of our modern-day life. As
“tonic medicine” for the nervous system, herbs like oats (Avena sativa), lemon
balm (Melissa officinalis), and chamomile (Matricaria recutita, Chamomilla
recuita, and related species) help counter the effects of stress by calming and
strengthening the nervous system. As with all tonics, they are mild in
action and are especially effective when taken daily over a period of time (for
example, 3-4 cups of tea daily for 3-4 weeks. Or ½ – 1 tsp. of tincture 3-4 times
The best thing about nature’s nerve soothers is that the
very act of preparing them can help reduce stress. What can be simpler and
sweeter than brewing soothing, fragrant tea? You might make a double batch and
add a quart to a warm bath, to let your whole body enjoy a “cup of tea.” Or
take a cup outside with you, take your shoes off, and walk barefoot through
your backyard, or a nearby field. Savor what silence you can, look up at the
sky, the clouds or the stars, and feel the embrace of nature herself, the best
tonic of all.
Here are a few of my favorite Tonic Recipes for the
Nervous System for you to make & enjoy. All are simple,
‘stress-free,’ and easy to make. Make them by the quart and drink
throughout the day. A word of advice ~ let the plants guide you, direct
you, and they will lead you to what works best for you.
Nervine Tonic for Soothing the Stresses of Everyday
Try mixing up a quart or two of this delicious herbal tea
and drinking it throughout the day for several days, or better yet, 3-4 weeks.
See if you don’t notice a difference in your sense of comfort and relaxation.
- 2 parts Lemon Balm
- 1 part Oats
- 1 part Chamomile
- 1/8 part Lavender
- ¼ part Roses
- * Sweeten with stevia or honey if
Calming Herbal Massage & Body Oil
This homemade herbal oil can be used as a body oil, for
massage, and added to your bathwater:
- Add two ounces of the Stress Release Herbal blend to
a quart jar with a wide mouth (canning jars work well for
- Pour either/or almond oil, grape seed oil, or apricot
oil (or a combination of all three oils) over the herbs, covering the
herbs by at least two full inches.
- Place the herb/oil mixture in a warm sunny spot in
your kitchen and let sit for two to three weeks.
- Strain, discard the herbs, and rebottle your fine
massage oil. Once strained, keep in a cool place for longer
* If you need your massage oil ‘this evening’ and don’t have
time to let it sit for two to three weeks, place the herbs/oil mixture in a
double boiler and warm the oil – slowly over a low heat with the lid slightly
ajar – for approximately one hour or until the oil smells ‘herby’. Strain
and bottle. Add a drop or two of Lavender Essential oil per cup to the finished
A Relaxing Herbal Bath is like
immersing yourself in a giant cup of tea ~
Make one or two quarts of tea of the mixture above,
strain, and while still hot add to your bathwater. Add several drops of
lavender oil to the bathwater, and stir or run the water faucet for a minute or
two to disperse the oil. Perhaps, you might wish to enhance your herbal
bathing with some soothing music, a little incense, and candlelight all of
which can be quite relaxing to the senses.
What! You don’t have time for a bath? Try a 10-minute
footbath after you come home from work or a busy day, or just before bedtime to
help you sleep more soundly. It’s amazing how restorative a footbath can
be and deeply relaxing ~ especially if you can get a friend or family member to
massage your feet afterward (using your homemade Relaxing Massage Oil (see
Deep Sleep Tonic
Having trouble sleeping soundly? Do you wake up during the
night and have a difficult time falling back asleep? Try this Sleep Deep herbal
tincture. Please note, not everyone reacts the same to Valerian. If you try
Valerian and you become irritated or agitated, more awake than sleepy, chances
are that you are one of a small percentage of people who don’t tolerate this
herb well. Not to worry, effects are not long-lasting; just discontinue
use and the symptoms will go away.
- 1 part Hops
- 2-part Valerian
- 1 part Lemon Balm (substitute Skullcap if you have
trouble ‘turning your mind off’)
Make into a tincture (see instructions in Medicinal
Herbs, a Beginners Guide or online at www.mountainrose.com.) Dose: begin to
take ½ tsp. every hour two to three hours before your regular bedtime.
Just before bed, take 1 tsp. of the tincture. Keep the bottle near the bed so
if you wake up in the evening, you can easily take another dose or two.
This tincture doesn’t taste particularly good (some might even say it tastes
downright awful). You can dilute it in a small amount of water or tea (though
not too much liquid before bedtime). Or add a small amount of maple syrup
or vegetable glycerin to the tincture bottle of tincture to help ‘mellow’ the
There are other herbs that are helpful for insomnia,
including Skullcap (especially good for those who have ‘restless mind
syndrome’, where they just can’t stop thinking even when very tired),
Passion Flower, Kava Kava, and, of course, perhaps the most famous of all,
Cannabis. There are definitely strains of Cannabis that are excellent for
helping people to sleep deeply. If nothing else works for you, then it’s worth
a try…. Be sure to talk to someone knowledgeable who can guide you to the
right strain and dose, otherwise, you might be up all night either ‘tripping’
or sick, or both.
It’s important to stop to consider what’s most
important in our lives….
We each would do well to remember that taking the time to
nourish and relax our nervous systems is as important as answering every
incoming call, responding to each email or reading the morning news before
work. Perhaps we’d all be better off with a cup of chamomile tea and a long
stroll with nature as she knits us back together into the beautiful calm and
loving beings we are meant to be.
As the pace of life quickens, we more deeply need calm,
uninterrupted moments for the renewal they impart to our spirit.
Leisurely walks, afternoon naps, the opportunity to stop and inhale the
fragrance of a flower ~ these small interludes, once commonplace, are
increasingly rare,” Svevo Brooks
COMMON HERBAL NERVINES
For further information on herbs for the Nervous System,
see Herbs for Stress & Anxiety by Rosemary Gladstar
(Storey Book Publications). Or dive deep into the herbal world with my
home-study course: The Science & Art
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) ~ An
ancient Ayurvedic herb, Ashwagandha is among the most widely used and respected
herbs in India. It is often erroneously referred to as “Indian ginseng”.
Though not related to Panax ginseng in any way, it does have similar
adaptogenic properties and is a tonic for the nervous system when used over a
period of time. It is both energizing and calming. As an adaptogenic
herb, Ashwagandha increases the body’s overall ability to deal with stress,
anxiety, and depression. It promotes general well being and enhances stamina,
and is very popular with athletes. Ashwagandha is also considered a
sexual tonic and is used in many reproductive and aphrodisiac formulas for men,
though it’s also equally helpful for women as well. It is especially useful for
those sexual problems associated with nervous stress and debilitation and is
often used by men in their elder years to increase sexual energy.
Recent scientific studies in India suggest that Ashwagandha
may help counteract immune suppression associated with chemotherapy and
radiation therapy. Ashwagandha seems to encourage stem cell growth,
which increases white blood cell activity.
Suggested uses; Ashwagandha is indicated for reduced
levels of energy, insomnia and sleep.
Chamomile (Anthemus nobile and related species) ~ The
main constituent of chamomile is a volatile oil obtained by steam distillation.
Distilled from the yellow and white chamomile flower, azulene, a beautiful
azure blue, contains a whole complex of active principles that serve as
anti-inflammatory and anti-fever agents. The medicinal action of chamomile is
most obvious in three major areas: the Nervous System, the Immune System, and
the Digestive System.
To Prepare: Pour 1 quart of boiling water over
1 ounce of chamomile flowers and let steep for twenty minutes. Keep lid
on tightly. Drink 3 to 4 cups daily or as often as needed. This herb has
long-lasting effects if used over a long period of time. It is nice to blend
with other nervine herbs, and is recommended for infants and children. *There
are some reported allergies to chamomile.
Lavender (Lavender officinalis, L. angustifolia, and
related species) ~ Lavender is a deeply relaxing, calming herb that is
uplifting and strengthening to the spirit. It has long been used as an
antidepressant and is helpful in dispelling depression and melancholy. It
is one of the best herbs to use in herbal baths to relieve tension, stress,
headaches and insomnia. An herb used traditionally to imbue courage and strength,
lavender is still a favorite herb to strengthen the heart and mind during
stressful situations. In ancient Greek and Roman times, lavender was the
herb of choice used by women in labor. They would hold sprigs of lavender in
their hands to squeeze during labor as it was said to calm and strengthen
through the pains of childbirth. If lavender can ease the pain of childbirth,
it can ease the pain of anything.
After a long, stressful day, try a bath with a few drops of
lavender essential oil added to the bathwater and/or tie one or two ounces of
dried lavender in a muslin bag and add to the bathwater. Don’t have time
for a bath? Then rub 2 or 3 drops of lavender on your fingertips and massage
the nape of your neck, head, and your feet for calming relief. Lavender’s
effectiveness as a traditional antibacterial, antifungal, and antiseptic agent
has been confirmed by numerous clinical studies.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) ~ Melissa, a
member of the mint family, not only is a gentle and effective nerve tonic but
also tastes delicious. One can blend Melissa with those not so pleasant
tasting nervines for a more drinkable blend. The leaves of Melissa when crushed
smell like lemons and contain most of the medicinal value of the plant.
The flowers and leaves contain volatile oils, tannins, and bitters, which work
directly the stomach and NS. The medicinal effect of Melissa is primarily
sedative, relaxing, and mildly anti-spasmodic. It is excellent for stomach
distress and general exhaustion. For a delicious nervine tonic, blend with
chamomile and oats. This is one of our most important anti-viral herbs
and helps protect the body against viral infections. It is one of the most
effective herbs for treating herpes and is often used in combination with Licorice
for this purpose.
Feverfew (Chrysanthemum parthenium and Tanacetum
parthenium) ~ Demonstrates value in alleviating migraine headaches,
inflammation, common headaches, and stress-related tension. The major
active ingredient in feverfew, parthenolide, controls chemicals in the body
responsible for producing allergic reactions and migraines. It also
inhibits the production of prostaglandins which are implicated in inflammation,
swelling, and PMS.
Feverfew must be taken over a period of time to be
effective. Though it will help to alleviate the pain of an active
migraine, it is far more effective taken over a period of 1 to 3 months as a
preventive for migraines. Its action is similar to aspirin, with a stronger but
slower effect. Though feverfew can be taken over a long period of time by
most people with no side effects, it does require some cautionary measures when
used. Not recommended to use during pregnancy, menstruation, or by people taking
Parthenolide is highly sensitive to heat and will be easily
destroyed if feverfew is exposed to high heat in the drying or preparation
process. If the product you are using is not effective, try another
brand. It is important to purchase feverfew from reputable herb dealers or to
grow your own. A lovely chrysanthemum-like flower, it grows quite easily and
will naturalize under the right conditions. I prefer blending feverfew
with lavender and other nervine herbs for an effective remedy for migraine
Gingko (Gingko biloba) ~ Gingko is the sole
survivor of the oldest known tree genus, Ginkgoaceae. Though the fruit has long
been used as an herbal remedy in China, more recent studies have focused on the
leaf and its use as a memory tonic and to improve brain function. There have
been several hundred clinical studies done, primarily in Europe, over the past
forty years in Europe that presents convincing evidence that Gingko is an
effective brain and memory tonic among other things. The active compounds
thought to be most effective are found in the leaf; three flavone glycosides
(quercetin, isorhamnetin and luteolin) and bio-flavones. These compounds
in combination with the other active ingredients of Gingko leaf improve circulation
and vasodilation. Though this action is evidenced throughout the entire body,
it is most noted in the cerebral region. Regular users of Gingko have reported
improvement in memory, mental and emotional stability, and increased energy.
To be most effective, Gingko must be used with consistency
for a period of 2 to 4 months. Though the effects of Gingko are not sudden or
dramatic, if taken over a period of time there is a noticeable increase in
memory and vitality. Gingko works as a nutrient, not a drug, so it is
necessary to be consistent and to use an adequate amount. Gingko leaf has a
mild flavor and mixes well with other herbs. It is commonly used as tea,
tincture, or extract. Suggested daily dose is 3 cups of the tea daily and/or
1/2 teaspoon 3 times daily of the tincture/extract.
Gingko leaves are generally not favored as tea because the
compounds in the leaves are considered not to be water-soluble. Gingko is
generally made into tinctures (with a higher percentage of alcohol) and/or
taken as standardized capsules. However, I do find the tea to be
effective, though as potent or strong as tinctures. To make tea, try blending
or grinding the leaves first so there is more surface area available. Try
simmering, instead of steeping.
Which is better, green or gold gingko? Like so much
about herbalism, it depends on whom you talk to. Let’s have a
conversation about ‘green versus gold’….!
Brain Tonic Tincture ~ for increased memory
For increased memory, emotional stability, and energy
- 2 parts Gingko Leaf
- 1 part Gota Kola
- 1 part Rosemary
- 1 part Peppermint
Make into a tincture. Take ½ teaspoon 3-4 times daily for a
period of 2 – 3 months. Take breaks every couple of months for a few days or a
week, and then repeat the cycle.
Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) ~ This
beautiful violet-like plant is native to tropical and subtropical regions of
the world. It grows easily in the warmer areas of the United States and can be
grown in pots indoors and in greenhouses in colder northern regions for a fresh
supply of the tasty little leaves. Considered one of the best nerve tonics,
Gotu Kola has been used successfully in treatment programs for epilepsy,
schizophrenic behavior, and Alzheimer’s disease. It is especially recommended
for memory loss and steadily increases mental alertness and vitality by feeding
and nourishing the brain. Gotu kola is also an excellent stimulating nervine
and is used in formulas for nervous stress and debility.
Most of the Gotu kola available commercially are of very
poor quality. Buy organically grown Gotu kola when possible. If possible, grow
Gotu kola in pots and in cold weather climates, bring indoors over the winter.
A favorite recipe for using Gotu kola is in a tincture with
gingko, rosemary, and peppermint for memory and brain function. To be
effective, it has to be used consistently for three to four weeks. Don’t expect
to wake up one morning feeling like Einstein. Rather, you may experience a
subtle but noticeable increase in memory function and feel more mentally alert.
Gotu kola is effective as a tea, in tinctures, and as a
fresh green added to salads and soups. It has a pleasant leafy taste that
lends itself to tea and salads.
Hops (Humulus lupus) ~ It is the strobiles of
the hops plant, which contain the inconspicuous green flowers and the golden
pollen grains that are the medicinal parts of the plant. Rich in lupulin,
volatile oils, resins and bitters, hops is a potent medicinal herb and highly
valued for its sedative properties and relaxing effect on the NS. Because
of its concentration of bitter principles, it is useful for gastric upset and
nervous disorders of the stomach. Try blending hops with chamomile, also a
digestive nervine, for mild gastric stress and upset. Especially helpful for
people who hold stress in the gut.
A mild sedative, Hops aids in deep, undisturbed sleep. It is
often blended with valerian for this purpose. Hops, especially when fresh, are
very high in plant hormones similar to estrogens. These plant hormones
can have a marked effect on menstrual tension, especially amenorrhea due to
stress. Fresh hops has been used effectively to aid in menstrual regularity and
ease menstrual cramps and is useful for young girls beginning their moon
Hops Tincture For Nerve Stress/Insomnia
- 2 oz. of high quality hops strobiles
- Enough brandy or vodka to cover.
Place the Hops in a large mouth quart jar. Cover with enough
brandy or vodka to completely cover hops by one to two inches. Cover jars
tightly and place in a warm (about 85 degrees), shaded area. Let sit for 4 to 6
weeks, shaking occasionally to prevent the herb from settling on the
bottom. Strain and bottle for use.
Kava-kava (Piper methysticum) ~ Kava
is native to the warm tropical regions of the world and is found in Polynesia,
Melanesia, and Micronesia. Though highly revered for hundreds of years in its
native culture as a medicine and ceremonial herb, Kava only recently has become
popular in the west. With nervous system disorders on the rise, Kava can be the
herb of choice for those who are stressed and anxious. An old saying goes,
‘where Kava is the heart opens and there is only love’ Kava was used
traditionally to soothe arguments and brings peace between individuals and
communities. Kava has the unique ability to relax the body while awakening the
mind. It produces a sense of relaxation and at the same time heightens
awareness and mental acuity. Known for its relaxing properties, kava reduces
tension, anxiety, and stress. It also has analgesic, or pain-relieving
properties. Kava is great to take before flying or traveling for those
who have a fear of flying or driving. Kava is an excellent tonic for people who
get anxious and worried. Rather than block neurotransmitters, Kava contains
kavalactones, active chemical constituents that relax muscles and tone nerve
However, Kava does come with a few
cautions. It is considered a sacred herb in the cultures where it’s found
growing natively and was an herb used primarily in feasts and celebrations.
When overused and/or with abusive use, i.e. drinking it to the point of
intoxication, Kava can cause nausea, muscle weakness, and induce
unconsciousness. It is not recommended to drive after drinking a lot of
Kava as it can simulate ‘drunk driving’. However, using kava in responsible
amounts as a medicine and tonic is safe and non-toxic. There are studies that
report that Kava can be toxic to the liver and cause skin disorders, but again,
that is only when used in large amounts over long periods of time. Be
respectful of the power of this herb. Used judiciously, it is a wonderful
relaxant and stress reliever.
Kava is available as tincture, extract, and capsules. The
tincture is a quick, effective, and handy form to use. It is helpful in times
of stress when you need a quick relaxant, something that helps put the world
into perspective. Capsules are effective for long-term stress and
anxiety. Kava has a unique flavor that may take getting used to. Don’t be
alarmed the first time you try it; it will numb the tongue and create tingling
sensations throughout the mouth. These are temporary and are caused by the
kavalactones. I often prepare and serve Kava Chai at conferences and classes as
a way of opening the heart and relaxing the body.
Milky Green Oats (Avena Sativa & A. Fatua) ~ Oats
are among the best nutrient tonic herbs for the nervous system and are also an
excellent cardiac tonic. While the entire aerial part of the oats is
considered useful, it is generally the green milky oat tops, before they have
ripened, that are used in herbal preparations. The ripened dried oats are what
are used in oatmeal, and are also soothing and nutritious. Both milky green
oats and oatmeal are indicated for stress and anxiety and are soothing to
irritated inflamed nerve endings. Oats are one of the principal herbal aids
used for convalescing after an illness, as they are soothing, nutritious and
easy to digest. They help soothe irritation and are often used for nicotine and
other chemical withdrawals. Oats provide energy by increasing overall health
and vitality. Oats are frequently used for NS disorders, depression and
anxiety, low vitality, irritability, and urinary incontinence.
Though the stalks are rich in silica and calcium, it is the
fruit or seed that is primarily used for nerve disorders. Oats contain several active
alkaloids including trigonelline and gramine (found also in barley and
passionflower), starch, and B vitamins. While oat stalks and oatmeal can be
used, herbalists prefer the milky green oat tops harvested before they are
High Calcium Tea
- 1 part green Oats and Oatstraw
- 1 part Lemon Balm
- 1 part Raspberry Leaf
- 1 part Nettle
- 1 part Horsetail (Shave Grass)
- * Prepare as an infusion and drink 3 to 4 cups
daily. Also, makes a nourishing tincture.
California Poppy (Eschscholzia california) ~ This
vibrant golden blossom, California state flower, grows in abundance in the
United States. Eschscholzia has similar sedative and narcotic as its cousin,
the opium poppy, but is much milder and non-addictive. It contains the
alkaloids protopine, cryptopine, and chelidonine but does not contain the
phenanthrene alkaloids of the morphine and codeine type found in opium.
Eschscholzia is altogether mild and gentle in its action and is excellent in
establishing equilibrium and calming nerve stress and excitability. It
has been found to be effective for some types of migraines and is often used
with feverfew and lavender for this purpose.
The aerial part of the plant is used. Seeds are best
gathered after they have fully ripened but before the wind disperses them from
their uniquely designed capsules.
To prepare: Use 1 teaspoon of the plant
(including seeds and blossoms) per cup of water. Pour boiling water over
the poppy, cover tightly, and let steep twenty minutes or overnight.
Poppy can also be made into a tincture.
California Poppy & Feverfew Tincture ~
for Migraines and other headaches
- 1 part California Poppy Flower and/or Seeds
- 1 part Feverfew
- 1/3 part lavender flowers
* Prepare either as an infusion (take small amounts during
the day) or as a tincture (¼ – ½ tsp. of tincture throughout the day) until
symptoms are cleared.
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) ~ This
beautiful, shy member of the mint family is found growing in shady rich areas
near streams and meadows in the mountains. Somewhat inconspicuous, you
have to search to find it. Thankfully, it is readily available in most herb
stores as it is highly regarded for its nervine properties. Skullcap is one of
the most versatile of the nervines and is indicated for all NS disorders,
especially headaches, nerve tremors, stress, menstrual tension, insomnia, and
nervous exhaustion. The medicinal constituents of skullcap include the
flavonoid glycosides scutellarin and scutellarein, volatile oils, and
To prepare as a tea: Use 1 teaspoon of the
herb per cup of water. Steep in boiling water (do not boil the herb) for
20 minutes. Keep the lid on the pot while steeping. Suggested adult dose: 2 to
3 cups daily.
As a tincture: 1/4 teaspoon diluted in 1/2 cup
warm water or tea, 3 times daily. *It has been noted that fresh skullcap
tincture (less than a couple of years old) actually works better than tincture
that is more than 2 to 3 years old. Please keep note of this and let us know if
you notice the difference between a freshly made tincture and a Skullcap
tincture that is more than a couple of years old.
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum and
related species) ~ A classic herb for nerve damage and depression,
St.-John’s-wort has been used for centuries and has been held in high esteem by
herbalists throughout Western Europe and the Mediterranean. It is primarily
valued as a remedy for damaged nerve endings such as in burns, neuralgia,
wounds, bruises and trauma to the skin. It is also often used for stress, mild
depression and anxiety, seasonal affective disorder, fibromyalgia, and chronic
As a mild antidepressant, it seems to ‘lift’ the spirits and
adds a ‘bit of sunshine’ to the day. However, St. John’s Wort is not as
effective for serious and/or long-standing depression. Exactly how St.
John’s Wort works is not clearly understood nor have the active chemical
constituent responsible for its antidepressant activities been clearly
identified. Early speculation targeted St. Johns Wort as a monoamine oxidase
(MAO) inhibitor but this information has not been scientifically confirmed and
recent studies have rejected this premise. Hypercine, one of the chemical
constituents of St. John’s Wort has also been considered the primary active
ingredients. But again, scientists aren’t in agreement and the information is
often conflicting. Look to the whole wonder of this plant.
Suggested uses: Although St. John’s Wort is
effective for depression, it is best used for mild forms of depression and also
works best when used in conjunction with other holistic supportive therapies
that include counseling, massage therapy, and foods that nourish the nervous
system. St. John’s Wort combines well with other herbs and is often mixed with
hops and valerian for insomnia, with lavender and lemon balm for depression,
and with chamomile for children and young people going through emotional
upheaval. I frequently combine it with passionflower (Passaflora
incarnate) for anxiety and stress.
Caution: Though some people claim that
St. John’s Wort causes sensitivity to the sun and can cause skin rashes in
susceptible individuals, others find it’s a helpful sunscreen and use it to
protect their skin from sunburn. Be mindful when using St. John’s in the
sunshine. If you get a rash, discontinue its use. There was some earlier
concern that St.-John’s-wort worked similarly to Prozac as a monoamine oxidase
(MAO) inhibitor but studies have proven this theory to be false. Therefore, the
restrictions imposed on MAO inhibiting antidepressants don’t really apply to
St. John’s Wort.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) ~ One of the
most widely known and used herbal nervines, and also one of our most confusing.
Valerian contains a high concentration of volatile oil, isovaleric and valeric
acids. It has a wide number of indications for the NS and is highly recommended
for nervous excitement, insomnia, muscle tension, and nervous
palpitations. It has a very beneficial effect upon the heart especially
cardiac palpitations and high blood pressure. Valerian is also an effective
pain reliever, and in high doses helps to reduce and/or eliminate pain. It is
used as a mild sedative and is often combined with Hops for insomnia.
To be effective, valerian generally needs to be taken in
sufficiently large doses. A general recommendation might be 4 cups of tea
daily or a teaspoon of tincture taken several times daily (adult dosage).
* It does have a reverse action on a small percentage of
people. Instead of acting as a sedative and calming the NS, it can be
irritating and stimulating for some people. If you have an adverse
reaction (i.e. you feel like you just drank a ‘bad cup of coffee’) and get
irritated instead of relaxed, then stop using valerian. It’s not the herb for
To Prepare as a tea: Valerian root is
infused rather than decocted because of its rich concentration of volatile
oils. Use 1 to 2 ounces of Valerian root per quart of water. Pour boiling
water over the root and let the infusion sit overnight. Keep the pot well
covered. Strain and drink 2- 4 cups daily, generally in small amounts during
If using as a tincture: use 1 to 2 teaspoons
diluted in warm water or tea 3 times daily or as often as needed.
* It is difficult, if not impossible, to mask the flavor of
valerian. It has a very strong flavor that either people enjoy or don’t.
Cats LOVE valerian, often more than they love catnip.
General Information about using Herbal Nervines
1) In order for herbs to be effective, they must be used
with consistency. Unlike some forms of medicine, herbs do not
promise instant cures or relief. Rather, used with consistency over a period of
time, they ensure gradual but steady long-lasting results.
2) The quality of the herbs you use are important. Buy
them from reputable herb companies that emphasize sustainability and ecological
harvesting, or better yet, grow your own. Learn how to tell good quality herbs
by their color, taste, scent, and effect. If an herb(s) is not effective
it is often because of the quality, though it can also be because it’s the
wrong herb for the situation/person, and/or because of dosage.
3) Herbs are also available in many forms. The most
common forms are herb tablets and capsules, tinctures, herbal powders, and the
herb in its raw state for making tea. Tinctures and tablets/capsules are
often preferred these days because of the ease in taking them. Herbal powders
are also handy and easy to use; you can mix herb powders into blender drinks,
salads, salad dressings, sauces, and mix them with nut butters and honey or
coconut oil and cacao and roll them into little ‘candy treats.’ I still
prefer and recommend herbal teas as part of every health regime. Why? Making
herb teas helps us remain conscious of the essential part we play in our
personal well-being by having us take an active role in preparing our
medicines/foods. And tea is warming and soothing to our souls. It is as ancient
as time itself; it captures the essence of fire and water and plant life; it is
simple alchemy, the brewing of the elements.