If you’ve always been interested in herbs, but have no idea where to start, herbal nervines (herbs that affect the nervous system) are something that most people can use. After all, in this crazy world who doesn’t suffer from too much stress, not enough rest, or tension at one point or another?
The nice thing about herbs for the nervous system is that their effects are often immediate. However, it is important to note that herbal nervines are highly idiosyncratic in their responses, meaning people react highly differently to each plant. What herbs effect you and how they effect you depends largely on your constitution and a variety of other factors.
For this week’s ‘challenge’ we invite you to test how various plants for the nervous system affect you. Your instructions are easy – brew a cup of tea (make sure you cover it as the plant materials steeps) of an herbal nervine (fresh or dry) and drink it about an hour before bed. Take note of how it effects you. Try the same plant for 2-3 days, and then try a different plant.
Basic herbal nervines:
- Chamomile – a good old favourite and something you can find in the grocery store. Gentle enough for children, but still a powerful plant.
- Lavender – some find the flavour too strong, but if you like it, it can have a lovely effect. This one is good for a hangover too.
- Hops – there is a reason beer calms you and it is not just the alcohol. Hops is my absolute favourite plant for muscle tension. If you are able to make a tea with fresh hops, even better especially for menstrual cramps.
- Skullcap – Also known as ‘blisswort’, for some this plant is truly heavenly! Check ahead to see if your local health food store has some. It is not the most common or best tasting plant.
- Lemon Balm – Oh so tasty and really soothing. For me, it helps me slow down my never ending internal monologue.
- Peppermint – Another delicious tea that helps sooth and relax tense muscles.
The list of herbal nervines is huge, but these ones should give you enough choice to get started.
Do some plants make you sleepy? Do some ease muscle tension? There are various classes of herbal nervines that effect the mind and body differently. These include:
- Nervine tonics – herbs that nourish and restore the nervous system and are most effective if used over time. Examples of great tonic herbs include oats, milky oats, oatstraw, rose, vervain, chamomile, St. John’s wort, and skullcap.
- Sedatives – These herbs reduce pain, anxiety, and tension. Example of sedative herb include hops, lemon balm, lavender, skullcap, hyssop, chamomile, passion flower and valerian root*.
- Hypnotics – These are the plants that help you get to sleep and/or sleep more deeply. Examples of these include hops, passion flower, chamomile, and valerian root*.
- Muscle Relaxant/Anti-Spasmodic – This group include many of the sedative herbs, but works more directly on the muscles. These include lavender, skullcap, peppermint, fennel, hops, and lobelia (lobelia has a really bad taste).
*In some people valerian can have the opposite effect.
Other classes of nervous system herbs include stimulants, anti-depressants, adaptogens, and analgesics, but for the purpose of this challenge I want you to work with herbs mainly in the four classes listed.
Notice that some plants are in several categories? Some plants fall in multiple categories, while others in only one. This is what makes herbal nervines so interesting and peoples’ reactions to them so varied.
Want to learn more about herbal nervines? Checkout this blog by Kiva Rose.
Interested in learning how to make basic herbal preparations? Check out our Herbal Medicine Making 101 workshop.