Adaptogens have become popular en masse because of their ability to help us ‘adapt’ to chronic stress, that is, to help us chill the F out. But what do we use to rehab a nervous system worn down by years of burnout-living? That’s where nervine herbs come into play. We asked NYC-based herbalist Adriana Ayales of Anima Mundi Apothecary to give us the rundown on which nervine herbs we should become more familiar with, how to use them and why…
Stress in the 21st century is no joke. As human residents of this beautiful planet, most of us are being bombarded with a wide array of toxicity from all directions. Many of us often forget that stress doesn’t just come from a busy life or emotional overwhelm, stress can come equally as strong from biological inheritance, environmental toxicity, agricultural chemicals, exposure to heavy metals, electro-smog and viruses. It is no wonder that physicians state that 90% of all office visits are for stress-related conditions and/or complaints. These factors directly affect our entire body and mind, impacting the nervous system and stress-coping organs, which are the hypothalamus (H), pituitary (P) and adrenal glands (A).
Nervine Herbs 101
You might have heard about adaptogenic herbs, as they are excellent sources that help combat the damaging effects of chronic stress. But have you befriended nervines yet? Nervines are a class of herbs that can deeply restore the nervous system — meaning they can chill you out. There are different kinds of nervines: Those that are deeply nourishing and round out the edges like fresh milky oat and chamomile, or stronger relaxants like valerian, kava kava and hops. Those that can help beat depressive energy, confusion and anxiety are albizzia and lemon balm. Or one of my personal favorites that I often use for those seeking to stop use of chemical sedatives is a hyponotic sedative from the Amazon called mulungu (used in South America instead of valium). Calming adaptogenic herbs are perfect complementary herbs to nervines — together they tackle the damaging effects from stress while providing an instant chill pill (herbs like ashwagandha, reishi and tulsi).
Tell Me More About Nervines + How They Work…
With nervines you might feel the effect instantly. They are used to help relieve a wide array of symptoms that directly affect the nervous system (muscle tension, insomnia, anxiety, depression, circular thoughts, worry, pain, etc.). Here are a few of my all-time favorites that I use weekly:
Albizzia | Known as the tree of happiness, both the bark and the flowers have been traditionally used for hundreds of years as a calming sedative. In Traditional Chinese Medicine it is used to anchor the spirit for those who struggle with worry, anxiety, confusion and depression. The flowers have been used as a treatment for insomnia, amnesia and melancholy. Albizzia is thought to enhance all aspects of neurotransmitter secretion and regulation, making making it a terrific anti-depressant and anti-anxiety herb with no known side effects.
Skullcap | An excellent anti-spasmodic, relief for muscle tension, anti-inflammatory, and used to stimulate blood flow, assist with chronic headaches and for relaxation. It has been used to treat hysteria, insomnia, anxiety and epilepsy. It is used in European eclectic medicine and by Native Americans to soothe the nerves and help from body pain recovery.
Milky Oat | It is not necessarily noticeably relaxing to the physical body, but it’s an incredible superfood for the nervous system. For one week out of the common oats growing cycle, the immature oat seed is filled with a white “milk.” It is harvested quickly and made into a fresh tincture, becoming an excellent trophorestorative — a deeply nourishing food that brings about deep restoration. This remedy has been crafted for over 150 years by eclectic physicians as an excellent tonic remedy that calms shattered nerves, relieves emotional instability, reducing the symptoms of drug withdrawal, helping restore peace and tranquility to over-stressed and chronically upset people.
Passionflower | This beautiful flower is a gentle anti-anxiety, anti-spasmodic , anti-inflammatory and mild sedative herb. It was traditionally used by Native Americans for bruises and to ease muscle pain. One compound in particular has been studied within Passionflower (quercetin) for its exceptionally effective ability in ridding the body from damaging free radicals while inhibiting various enzymes that cause inflammation. This particular compound has also been found to relax the nervous system, helping to relieve nerve related pain.
Mulungu | It’s not as common in the Western world, but it is certainly a beloved tree within South American indigenous medicine. Traditional folk have used it for hundreds of years for mental disorders (depression, anxiety, stress, panic, trauma, etc.), liver disorders, high blood pressure and heart palpitations. Scientific studies now demonstrate all of the indigenous uses were on point, demonstrating significant pain relieving, anti-spasmodic, anti-convulsive, neuro-protective and anti-inflammatory actions.
A Calming + Soothing Tea
1 tsp passionflower leaf
1 tsp skullcap
1 tsp tulsi leaf
1-2 tsp rose petals
Add herbs to teapot, and pour almost boiling water over. Allow to steep for 5 to 10 minutes.