The last few years have left many of us feeling like a nervous wreck! Constantly asking ourselves if we are “safe” wreaks havoc on our poor nervous system and the majority of us find ourselves in a space of needing to nourish ourselves back to a state of balance. So let’s talk about it…
Understanding the nervous system helps us to grasp a better overall understanding of our bodies. The nervous system is often described as the body's electrical system - but that's mechanical, and I don't believe the body is designed in that way. I like to think of the nervous system more like roots spreading throughout the body, communicating our needs at any given moment. This gives it a more holistic feel, which to me, feels more correct.
So if this is a central communication system in our body, it only makes sense that we stay on top of its proper function. There are many things we can do to maintain proper nervous system health including: chiropractic care, meditation, yoga, acupuncture, massage, and herbal treatments that are becoming more and more available across the United States.
Several types of herbs work wonders in the nervous system, so let's narrow in on a couple of types, starting with the most obvious, Nervines.
How and why you should use Nervines
Nervines have a special affinity for the nervous system and you're most likely familiar with a number of them. Let's discuss a few of my favorites here, that fall into the relaxant category.
Skullcap: This bitter herb really cools the nervous system down. Relieving tension and leaving an inner calm feeling. Skullcap falls into the category of nervines called hypnotics. Often used as a sleep aid, skullcap has a way of settling your nervous system, so you can relax.
Passionflower: This is another mild sedative and hypnotic, Passionflower is often combined with other herbs such as Chamomile, Skullcap and Valerian, to relieve insomnia and anxiety. This is one of my favorites that I grow in my garden, and use regularly with clients. In the southern U.S passionflower is often called Maypop. The medicine is in the leaves but the sour fruit is enjoyable as well.
Chamomile: I think everyone knows this one, who hasn't had a chamomile tea to calm their nerves? This is a favorite for clients that are either with-child, or a child themselves, because it's so gentle. My own children drink chamomile-lavender tea on nights when they have trouble getting to sleep. In Chinese medicine, it’s known to calm the Shen (spirit). It’s high in calcium, so it naturally helps with irritability.
Lemon Balm: This one should be in every garden! It’s delicious, grows easily and is very accessible. Lemon Balm calms, relaxes and quells the nervous system, even aiding in digestive problems due to nervousness.
These are best taken as a tincture because alcohol goes straight to the nervous system (ever notice how a night of drinking can bring on anxiety or twitches?)
A few Nervines that fall into the stimulant category, that I personally LOVE, are Eleuthero, Cacao, and Ginseng. Let’s discuss them a little deeper.
Eleuthero: This is one of my favorites for adaptive energy, it’s even in our Bala Veda Energy shots. This herb has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries to make a person feel happy and vigorous, and to slow the aging process. Eulethero is a mild and easy herb to use, and although it stimulates, it won’t over-stimulate. Athletes often use Eulethero for endurance and stamina, and it aids in muscle recovery. It improves alertness and cognitive function. It’s no wonder I take this daily myself and utilize it for my clients all the time! It's a gem of an herb.
Cacao: Delicious, mineral dense, packed full of antioxidants, and vitamin rich; this one is special! Held in ceremony for its heart opening benefits and ability to stimulate blood flow to the brain and heart, Cacao lifts depression by releasing dopamine. This “food of the gods” is the main ingredient in our Kapow Cacao, a blend of 6 super adaptogens and raw organic cacao. Yum! (COMING SOON!!)
Ginseng (Panax-American and Asian): Ah yes, probably one of the most famous adaptogens. If you haven't heard of ginseng, it is a root that increases longevity and energy levels. It is well researched that it helps the HPA axis and endocrine system in mitigating stress. Ginseng both stimulates and calms simultaneously, bringing the body into homeostasis. This one has a special place in my heart as it was the first adaptogen I was ever exposed to. While living in NYC, I had a sinus infection that would not go away, not with time, nor antibiotics. My kinesiologist suggested I take American Ginseng for 48 hours, and the infection disappeared within 24! All hail the mighty Ginseng!
As far as Tonic nervines go, we can turn to most of our adaptogens. These are known as rasayanas in ayurveda. My personal favorites in this category are discussed below.
Ashwagandha: One of the kings of ayurvedic medicine, ashwagandha is used for a bevy of symptoms that include energy management, sleep, stress, sexual disfunction and anxiety. Sounds pretty good, huh? The name means the odor of a horse, because Ashwagandha is believed to provide the strength of a stallion, but it’s commonly called Winter Cherry. In David Winston’s “Adaptogens, herbs for strength, stamina and stress relief”, he states, “Few herbs have a direct effect on thyroid function, but in animal and human studies, ashwagandha root was found to stimulate thyroid function, making it useful in hypothyroidism”
Ashwagandha is a wonderful tonic to use when dealing with depletion and nervous system exhaustion. It is great for both men and women, and plays well, synergistically, with other appropriate herbs.
Rhodiola: The rosey adaptogen. A wonderful energy enhancing herb, Rhodiola is actually cooling and not overstimulating to the nervous system. Rhodiola gently lifts, allowing clarity of mind, and alertness to arise. Rhodiola is incredibly protective for those who choose to take it, especially for the heart, and provides the usual benefits of a well loved adaptogen.- combats stress, fatigue, deficiency, etc.. Even the vikings used Rhodiola to improve their physical performance. Rhodiola is commonly used in the holistic field for seasonal affective disorder, and highly effective for the nervous system.
Licorice: The sweet root. Licorice is a lovely adaptogen to use for adrenal exhaustion. Its sweet and soothing properties also “love” on the lungs and respiratory system. I like to use it in small amounts as the “ultimate synergizer” in formulas, because Licorice brings all other herbs together so well. I sometimes think of licorice as a loving grandmother that helps you sort through emotional stress and hugs you until you feel better. Now, that’s some nervous system lovin’!
Gotu Kola: Sometimes called Brahmi, Centella Asiatica is used in Ayurveda as a brain tonic, skin tonic and nervous system tonic. I often utilize this herb for clients, and even grow it in my own greenhouse because I love it so much. It settles brain fog, and focuses the mind. It helps the skin maintain elasticity when applied topically (hello natural collagen!) and Gotu Kola’s brain shaped leaves, when taken internally, nourishes the brain like no other.
These work best taken as powders, or churnas in sanskrit, the preferred ayurvedic method.
Other things that regulate the nervous system include sunlight, sleep, breath (pranayamas) and stress management techniques (ie. time in nature).
Implementing some of these techniques and herbs into your daily routine can have massive benefits for your nervous system and therefore, beautiful benefits to your body, both inside and out.
In warmth and wellness,