Last week we talked about stress and what the physiological ramifications are of chronic stress. This week I am going to give you some different herbs and their classifications for stress, Next week some self care strategies!
Nerve tonics support nervous tissue. They tonify and nourish and keep the tissue healthy and balanced. Here are some nerve tonics:
Oats: would be moistening and soothing for the system, this would be great for dryness caused by stress (dry mouth vaginal dryness, chronic dryness), very nutritive, supportive of the whole nervous system. This is the ultimate severe “burnout” remedy for when there is sensitivity to everything gentle Oats will pave the road back to balance. Cold water infusion sip throughout the day. (Contains gluten)
Brahmi: enhances circulation to the brain increasing short and long-term memory. Brahmi enhances cognitive function, is a mild sedative and is anti-inflammatory. (also rumored to be aphrodisiac ;) which as we know now libido can be affected by chronic stress. Could take up to 4 weeks to take effect
Gotu Kola: peripheral vasodilator (causing the small blood vessels to expand for better micro blood flow to the brain and body which would also carry more O2 to the brain, anti-inflammatory
St. John’s Wort: Sunny! This beautiful yellow flower that blooms on the Summer Solstice (or St Johns Day) is a cheerful and powerful tonic for the brain. SJW is anti-inflammatory, great for SAD, minor to moderate depression. Do not use with MAO inhibitors, use with great caution with any other anti-depressant.
Blue Vervain: Blue vervain works on the liver as a hepatic stimulant, it increases bile secretion and increases intestinal motility (which is affected by cortisol). It tones and strengthens the whole nervous system and is relaxing and allows for destressing. Blue vervain can also ease depression and melancholia. As we learned before the liver is affected via the pancreas and anger and depression are often related to liver imbalances. Also, for liver balance dandelion greens, nettle, and milk thistle can help to gently rebalance the liver/gall bladder/pancreas triangle.
Relaxants are going to cause relaxation in differing degrees. Some will cause almost a stupor and should not be used while at work. Will often cause sleepiness and deep relaxation. Try it before using machinery.
Lavender: So soothing and fragrant. Just the smell of it can carry me off to a summer day. Lavender mint shortbread is the girliest and most delicious cookie ever baked. Yum. Lavender flowers mixed with mint, holy basil and rosemary will banish the blues and calm the spirit and likely get rid of any headache.
Lavender essential oil is a great anxiolytic and when applied neat will stop any bug bite from itching and heal even the worst cuts almost overnight as an interesting aside.
Hops: When I lived in a log cabin in the woods with friends we had beautiful hops growing on the outside of the outhouse. These hops made a beautiful yellow and bitter tincture. One day I was curious about the beautiful green flower so I picked a big ol’ warm flower and popped it in my mouth…it was like the sun exploded in my mouth…it was amazing. So I always relate hops with the sun and a sunny disposition. Valerianic acid is one of the active ingredients of hops (same as valerian and valium) Hops are sedative, bitter, can be used for restless leg syndrome and sleeplessness, hops should be used with care with sleeping pills and barbiturates could cause respiration depression in large doses.
Lemon Balm: The sour lemony taste is often used as a carminative and antidepressant. It is used to lessen anxiety, for its calming effect and its great in a salad. The carminative action is due to the lessening of anxiety and stress. This is the herb to use if anxiety has gotten to your tummy. Great for IBS, a vasodilator which will help with throbbing headaches.
Skullcap: this herb has traditionally been used as a nerve tonic for pitta types, a relaxant of smooth and skeletal muscle calming without being sedative so great for daytime use. Great for spasmodic pain and mixed with other herbs. As a nervine skullcap can be used for chronic pain and as a constitutional tonic. Plays well with passionflower and blue vervain,
Passion Flower: Passion flower can be used for insomnia with no “hangover”. Passionflower is extremely safe and gentle. It does not force sleep it supports natural sleep. It is calming, it is the most defined sedative effect of all nervines. Passion flower can be paired with Hawthorne, motherwort, valerian, passionflower plays very well with others!
Wild Lettuce: One time this was sold as “lettuce opium” and has been sold as in opium substitute. The latex is used and is a sedative, hypnotic, antispasmodic, narcotic.
Do not use with opioids do not use in excess can cause depressed respiration and when used with other opiate type drugs could cause death.
First let’s define what an adaptogen is in herbal terms: Dr Israel Breckhman the man who coined the term adaptogen defined adaptogens in this manner:
Ashwagandha: Ashwagandha is anti-inflammatory, tonic, nervine sedative and promotes youth and longevity. Ashwagandha should be simmered in whole milk or ghee. This is an awesome convalescent herb for exhaustion. This will nourish you back to health and balance. Helps to clear brain fog, colds emaciation, lowers blood sugar and helps with male fertility Ashwagandha is a nourishing tonic, warming and helps support sleep and rest.
Astragalus: Astragalus is sweet antidiabetic (great to normalize glucose levels) immune stimulate antioxidant and hepatoprotectant with a mild diuretic action, also is helpful with high blood pressure and chronic fatigue.
Holy Basil or Tulsi: Holy Basil is anti-stress, anti-lipidemic, antidiabetic and lowers glycemic levels, protects from the effects of stress, improves resilience after stress, hepatoprotective.
Ginseng: Ginseng is of the Panax genus. This includes Korean ginseng, American ginseng, South China Ginseng…Siberian Ginseng is not a true ginseng but is Eluthero which we will discuss later.
Korean Ginseng: Ren Shen or Panax ginseng is safe, effective and one of the most studied herbs in the world. It is used to restore vitality, is a tonic and moistens dryness. Ren shen is an immune amphoteric or balancer, it has a great ability to stimulate or suppress an immune system out of control such as in allergies. This herb is awesome for adrenal depletion. The symptoms are dark circles under the eye a quivering tongue and fatigue and allergies responds well to ginseng.
Mild Type 2 diabetes has responded favorably to Panax ginseng
Studies have also show that Panax ginseng can reduce unhealthy blood lipid levels and enhance blood circulation which makes it great for erectile issues caused by chronic stress. There is also red and white ginseng red being warmer and white being more cool energetically.
American Ginseng: I am loath to discuss this ginseng as it is becoming more and more rare to find wild and as far as I know it is not able to be cultivated. This plant is to be used only as a last resort in my own practice. American ginseng is considered more cooling than Asian ginseng and is used to reduce heat in the respiratory and digestive systems. American ginseng aids sleep, fights fatigue, increases energy endurance strength and physical performance, supports adrenal function, helps to regulate the HPA axis and has a broad evet on the immune system pancreas circulation and nervous system. American ginseng also supports menopausal exhaustion.
Reishi: the longevity mushroom. It benefits every system of the body. When the body is healthy stress does not affect it as harshly
Eleuthro Root: Eleuthero is believed to support adrenal gland function when the body is challenged by stress. It enhances physical capability and stamina and stimulates mental work ability (quality of work). The leaf extract is more effective in mental and physical stimulation, while the root extract is more effective at sustaining performance over a long period of time. The leaf is also more effective for balancing blood insulin and glucose levels than the root. Using the leaf and root extract together appears to be more effective than either one used alone.
Schizandra Berry: is an herbal Nervous System balancer, also an Adaptogen. It helps as a 'harmonizer' with other herbs in nourishing formulas.
This is not by any stretch of the imagination an exhaustive list of herbs in each category. If you would like a deeper dive into stress I would be happy to direct you to my stress class coming soon to teachables. Or a workshop place near you!
See you next week!!! ~Mamma Moon
What is stress exactly?
The image above is known as the HPA axis (hypothalamus, Pituitary, Adrenal)
There is a stimulus: (The howling of your insane three year old in Walmart), Hypothalamus is stimulated then sends a signal to the pituitary, hormones are released and then the adrenal glands are activated releasing stress hormones. Fight or Flight has happened (don't fight the 3 year old it wont work, trust me, RUN!!!)
These are the adrenal glands, they are just little pyramids of cells on top of the kidney. They regulate many processes in the body. With a stressor they work really hard. Continual stress causes them to work continually. Causing adrenal exhaustion. Many alternative health practitioners treat this sub-clinical condition with adaptogenic herbs.
Severe adrenal exhaustion is known as Addison’s Disease. Adrenal exhaustion from daily environmental and mental stress is not recognized by modern medicine.
There is no negative feedback mechanism for stress hormones except to stop the stimulus.
What happens when this stress is constant? Going to a job every day that you dread, living with an abusive partner, or even a stressful profession like being a first responder, nurse, doctor, therapist any profession where there is constant stress…have kids?…a spouse…live in this society??? You have and probably still are experiencing stress. Do we just get used to these signals and become in balance over time? Do we just get used to stress so the effects just go away? Nope. No matter how strong, butch, fabulous or omniscient you are...if there is a stress stimulus, there is a stress response.
During prolonged stress cortisol kicks in to modify the amount of adrenaline and noradrenaline in the system. The symptoms of high cortisol are:
High blood glucose levels
Kidneys retaining water and salt
High blood volumes and raises blood pressure
Erectile dysfunction/loss of sexual drive
There is evidence that chronic stress effects dopamine production. Tyrosine>L Dopa>Dopamine>Norepinephrine>Epinephrine
So now that everyone is freaked all the way out…there is hope.
You have the power to stop the cortisol merry go round. How? Self-care. Its kind of a thing these days too...awesome!!!
Herbs can be used in a number of ways for treating stress.
Teas: there are many herbs that support health. There are specifically two classes of herbs called Nervines and Adaptogens.
Hops, Lavender, Passion flower (do not use if you take an opiate or opioid), Lemon Balm, Skullcap. These are all relaxing nervines
Some Adaptogenic herbs: Holy Basil, Panax ginseng, Rhodiola, Wolfberry, Reishi mushroom, Ashwaganda, Eleuthro root, Astragalus. Adaptogenic herbs support and nourish nerves and tissues causing an all round well being.
A Relaxing Tea Recipe:
1 part Lemon Balm
1 part Holy Basil
1/2 part peppermint
1/4 part Lavender flowers
Pour hot water over herbs and steep for 5 minutes or Put herbs in cold water to infuse overnight or in the sun.
Facials: nothing like an herbal facemask to sooth, smooth and relax with, here is a great recipe I have used myself:
Cucumber and Honey Mask (Very cooling, anti inflammatory, moisturizing, antimicrobial and healing)
½ a cucumber, peeled unless organic, reserve 2 slices, put in the bullet or blender
1 tablespoon honey
Put both in blender blend till smooth, apply to face, put reserved cucumber slices over yout eyes and breathe in clear clean air breathe out stress. Rinse after 15-20 minutes. A great pick me up!
Foot baths and Body Baths, nothing like a bath, here is a quick way to relax from the day
1 tablespoon Peppermint leaves
1 tablespoon Lavender Flowers
7 drops of Tea tree in one tablespoon of carrier oil (added to a footbath for foot fungus)
Never use undiluted essential oils in a tub, water and oil does not mix and sensitive mucosal areas can have a serious reaction to undiluted Eos.
Drop into hot water and relax breathe the vapors, take 20 minutes just to unwind after a long day
Nourishment: Nourishing herbs can be very antioxidant and build strong tissues and help to resolve environmental stressors. These herbs are Oatstraw, Nettle, Chickweed, Burdock root, Marshmallow and Slippery Elm. Be sure your diet is as free of processed foods as possible.
Mindfulness: Bring yourself to the present moment and breathe in any situation to interrupt the HPA axis stimulation
Meditation: Take 5 Close your eyes and listen to your breath. Do nothing allow your thoughts to come and go naturally. This has been clinically proven to help with stress symptoms
Energy work: Reiki, Shamanic energy work, massage, anything that helps to balance energy fields. Stress effects our energy, saps it and sends us down the road to cortisol production
Exercise: Be in nature. Exercise and nature have been shown over and over in clinical studies to help relieve stress.
Neurohack! Just naming the emotions that are causing stress and putting them into a more positive spin will help to calm the HPA. Here are some examples:
Fear to Anticipation
Worry to Concern
Flustered to Excited
Frustrated to Desire
Can you see how this can work? The positive emotions can help you to regain control over your body, your heartbeat, your calm and a more positive state.
At that point you have hacked into your physiology. Simple right?
There is a little bit about Stress. We all deal with it every day. Environmental stresses, Emotional Stresses, Nutritional Stresses. While it is everywhere there are many things we can do to give ourselves the empowerment to turn off the stimulus and regain our health.
Mamma Moon (Donna Bass)
I have been studying plants for as long as I can remember after being introduced to the healing arts by my nana when I was just a girl in the wilds of Maine. I started working in the alternative health area in 1992, working with Salandrea Golding and taking classes and working with clients. In 1998 I served a formal apprenticeship with Salandrea in NH. In order to better serve my clients I enrolled in The University of New England in 2005, graduated with a degree in Behavioral Neuroscience. I then went to Sofia University and studied energy and healing at the Masters level until 2013. I then achieved my Master Herbalist degree in March of 2018. I have studied all over the US including a month making essential oils in Hawaii. I consider myself a bridge between the healthcare system and the self care system, using wise woman tradition and modern scientific method.
I take clients and do education all over the United States and am looking to expand to Europe and beyond. I can be reached through facebook messenger.
I teach a 3-4 class in-depth series on Stress and different ways to address stress and overcome the effects of stress. There is one coming up August 30 at Kae Apothecary in Mt. Vernon.
Herbalists Without Borders has a new chapter in Cedar Rapids!!! Talk to Donna FMI
Any books by Susun Weed or Rosemary Gladstar are recommended here are some sample titles:
Childbearing Year, Healing Wise, The Menopausal Year
Healing Herbs, Herbs for Natural Beauty, Herbal Healing for Women
Family Herbal for beginners
Welcome to the Mamma Moon Blog.
We discuss Herbs, the Science of Herbs and Aromatherapy. I also draw a Card of the Day.
Grab a cup of tea or wine and enjoy. Feel free to participate. ~Mamma Moon