I do not think I know anyone that does not experience some level of stress. Low to moderate levels of stress are beneficial to you. Stress can give you “a kick in the butt” and prompt you to challenge yourself and take action.
Stress becomes debilitating when it is overwhelming. When you feel helpless and unable to reach a resolution. Long periods of unresolved stress is exhausting on the physical and mental level, but you do not need me to tell you that since stress is a daily experience you live with.
Two types of herbs can help you reduce stress and cope with the challenges that life throws your way:
- Nervines are herbs that nourish and calm the nervous system
- Adaptogens are herbs that help the body adapt to stress, by building the “adaptive energy” they allow the body to stay in balance when affected by stressors.
Here is a short plant profile for my three top favorite herbal nervines:
Botanical name: Melissa Officinalis
Energetics: Cooling, drying, and relaxing.
Specific Indication: Lemon balm is the one herb I use the most to calm the monkey chatter in the mind, relax and open the heart, and relieve digestive stress.
The first thing that comes to mind when considering lemon balm is its fragrance. The volatile oils are released upon touch and stimulate the olfactory senses which are connected directly to the limbic part of the brain that affects emotions, hunger, and sex.
Aromatic herbs are known to stimulate the vagus nerve which in turn stimulate the rest and digest response. It allows the heart and the mind to settle down and work together in harmony.
The aromatics have an antioxidant effect too. Lemon balm specifically has an antioxidant effect on the brain, protecting it from the wear and tear of everyday use. This is especially true if using fresh leaves that are higher in aromatic oils.
Research results show that lemon balm extract (600 mg) improved mood, cognitive performance, and attentiveness in young adults under mental stress (Kennedy et al., 2002, Kennedy et al., 2003, Kennedy et al., 2004).
Weak infusion: Hot infusion, steeped 30 minutes; 8 ounces 1-4 times daily.
Cold infusion: steep 4-8 hours; 4-8 ounces 1-4 times daily
Tincture: fresh leaves 1:2 (85%alcohol, 10%glycerin) dried leaf (1:5 65%alcohol 10%glycerin); 2-5ml (0.4-1 tsp) 3 times daily
Glycerite: fresh leaf (1:6, 80% glycerin sealed simmer method); dried leaf (1:6); 2.5-10ml (0.5-2 tsp) 3 times daily.
Safety: Safe. A family friendly herb that is appropriate for kids.
Botanical name: Avena Sativa
Energetics: Neutral, Moistening
Specific indication: Milky oats are for people that feel overwhelmed and overstimulated. It is for people who feel that they have lost the barrier between themselves and the world. The world is crawling under their skin leaving their nervous system unprotected, overtaxed, and exhausted.
Milky oats can help bring back the barriers, and take the edge from the stress and anxiety that accompanies the feeling of exposure.
Milky oats act as a nervine only when prepared fresh. The dried herb is full of nutrients but does not carry the nervine action. For this reason I like to use Milky oats as a fresh tincture.
The British Herbal Pharmacopia (BHP) recommends 1-5 ml of a 1:5 tincture in 45%, or 0.6-2 ml of a 1:1 fluid extract in 25%.
Safety: Milky oats is considered to be a safe remedy. People with allergic reactions to oats should avoid it.
Botanical name: Scutellaria lateriflora
Energetics: Drying and cooling
Specific indication: Skullcap is for hypersensitive people that get stuck in their head. It is for people who can not stop the train of thoughts especially at night. They are unable to fall asleep which leaves them tired and irritable.
Skullcap can help relax you back into your body and find sound ground under your feet.
Due to its relaxant and mild sedative action it will allow you to sleep well during the night. Skullcap sedative actions are mild so it can be taken during the day to help relax and ground you.
A mild tea of skullcap is a great way to enjoy this herb. You can blend it with lemon balm and chamomile for soothing calming tea.
Guido Mase recommend:
Tincture: Fresh leaves make the best extraction. Steep 3 ounces of finely chopped fresh leaves in 12 ounces of 100-proof alcohol (50%). 2 ounces of dried leaves in 12 ounces of 80 proof alcohol (40%). Strain after about 3 weeks.
Safety: Avoid in pregnancy
One adaptogen that I enjoy growing, making medicine, and using myself is ashwagandha.
Botanical name: Withania Somnifera
Energetics: Drying and warming
Specific indications: Ashwagandha is for overworked, overstimulated people who are exhausted. For anxiety, fatigue, cloudy thinking, and stress induced insomnia.
This plant is a restorative and rejuvenating remedy that relieves those who are burdened with long periods of stress and where there is major fatigue wearing away at the system. Like in a domino effect we see how stress leads to fatigue, which results in anxiety, and that leads to insomnia. A vicious cycle is created.
Ashwagandha provides energy through replenishing the vital reserve while at the same time calming the stress that likely led to the burnout in the first place.
Tincture: (1:5); 30-40 drops 3 times daily.
Decoction: ½ tsp dried root in a cup of dairy or nondairy milk, decoct ten minutes, let steep for half and hour. You can add honey to your drink.
Safety: Ashwagandha should be avoided during pregnancy and if you have hyperthyroidism. Ashwagandha is in the nightshade botanical family. Avoid if you are sensitive to this family.
Herbs can be our teachers in these intense times but remember that they are not here to replace a balanced lifestyle, nutrient dense diet, and self care. Please be mindful and respectful of how you use them.
You can find these herbs and many other herbs that can help you calm down, get a good night sleep, and relax your heart in the herbal shoppe.