by Heather Bracken, Holistic Health Practitioner, Herbalist and Acupuncturist
Adaptogens may still be having their moment, but the next big thing in Herbal Medicine to be brought to the masses will be NERVINES.
For the over-stimulated, coffee-chugging, fast-paced modern World in which we live, there is no better classification of herbs to support us in our endeavors than nervines.
Yes, adaptogenic herbs have gotten all the attention lately due to their ability to help us “adapt” to the stress in our lives. This is achieved by moderating our adrenal response, but the sneaky undercurrent of this is while we are being cushioned by these herbs, it is easy to continue burning the candle at both ends. Not only do we have to manage our everyday stress, but we also have to calm our overactive nervous systems.
Don’t get me wrong, folks! I love me some Eleuthero Root, Schisandra, Rhodiola and Ashwaganda for the ways in which they fortify my body, improve my focus and give me Superwoman-like energy. Medicinal mushrooms and Astragalus? They’ve been total gamechangers in bolstering my immunity.
But what is it that we are REALLY craving?
What are our taxed-out minds and haggard bodies screaming for that nervines can provide?
Their very direct and specific action to chill us the eff out. This is the innate spiritual lesson of these plants.
True to their name, nervines are a class of herbs that work by supporting and replenishing the nervous system. Like a mystical unicorn that lives deep in the woods, the magical plant energy of nervines has remained largely unseen by the general population, save for the herbalists that love and rely on their inner alchemy.
Here we explore some of my favorites.
Oats (Avena Sativa) -using two parts of the same plant
-Milky Oat Tops (aka: the seeds in their milky stage)
Restorative and nourishing, milky oat tops is specific for those feeling overly anxious, depressed or close to burnout due to chronic stress. If you are living in the addictive pattern of “go, go, go” and are feeling physically and emotionally exhausted, oat tops will literally change your world.
Nicknamed “a bath for the nervous system,” it soothes an over-stimulated mind and body, helping you feel more calm, present and aware of your surroundings. It’s gently stimulating effects create an energy that feels like that of a post-run or workout. Clear, strong and ready to take on the world.
Best taken as a tincture 2-3x/ day.
-Dried Oatstraw (aka: the “stalk”)
Dried oatstraw steeps our tissues in moisture and hydration, while restoring precious minerals and mood-stabilizing/easily depleted B-vitamins. Acting as a beautiful coffee substitute, oatstraw gives you a fresh, bright energy without the sketchy effects of caffeine. It is also an intense fortifier of hair, nails and collagen, restoring a healthy glow and plumping our skin (and who wouldn’t be into this, ladies, amiright?)
Oatstraw works best taken as a daily nutritive tonic in the form of an infusion or tea.
Oatstraw Infusion Recipe:
Take ¼ dried oatstraw and place in a quart-sized mason jar. Fill with boiling water. Screw on the cap of the mason jar and leave the infusion on the counter for a few hours, or for a stronger medicine, leave overnight. In the morning, strain out the dried herb. Your infusion will stay fresh in the fridge up to 48 hours.
My favourite way to drink it is to add some water to my infusion and sweeten it using natural flavourings like wild mint, cucumber, berries, lemon or honey. Drink 2 cups of infusion/ day hot or cold.
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)
Anxious? Panic attacks? Insomnia? Then Skullcap is your girl. After years struggling with crushing anxiety and debilitating panic attacks in my early twenties, Skullcap served as a trusted friend and ally. Keeping a small tincture on me at all times in case of emergency gave me a sense of safety, while it’s continued use served to de-escalate my reactive tendency towards fight or flight after years of prolonged stress.
One of the benefits of skullcap is its ability to regulate a sense of calm and relaxation without causing drowsiness. It’s gentle enough to take all day, adding a double dose at night if there is insomnia present.
It’s also antispasmodic, meaning that it relaxes tense muscle tissue. If you find yourself clenching your jaw, getting tension headaches or cannot seem to relax your body at night, combine skullcap and magnesium 1 hour before bed.
For those dealing with circular, repetitive and obsessive thought patterns with a tendency towards fear and anxiousness, Skullcap is unmatched.
Fresh tincture or capsules tend to work best.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Labeled in the herbal world as “Sunshine in a Bottle,” Lemon Balm chases away feelings of depression and uplifts the Spirit. While it is gentle enough for use with babies and young children, it retains its effectiveness in alleviating sadness, depression, night terrors and overly-reactive emotional responses. With its gorgeous smell and pleasant taste, making a tea is a truly joyful experience that brings with it a calm and happy energy.
Being a member of the mint family, lemon balm is a Rockstar when it comes to aiding digestion. Abdominal cramping, nausea, sluggish digestion and gas are all relieved by this tasty plant medicine, making it a perfect fit for you if your stress and/or anxiety is coupled with stomach issues.
Lemon Balm works well in tincture or encapsulated form, but for tummy upset such as IBS, ulcerative colitis or Crohns, daily infusions using the recipe above works best to soothe the stomach and intestines.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
We all know that even just the smell of lavender is enough to entice a more present and relaxed state.
Sensory touches of lavender are a divine application. Using lavender essential oil on the skin or inhaling its scent, small sachets of dried lavender under your pillow or even noshing on a few lavender cookies are a lovely way to create a sense of calm.
I hope this article inspires you to bring a sense of calm and serenity into your life with the magical world of nervine tonics.
With green blessings,
Heather Bracken is a Holistic Health Practitioner, Herbalist and Acupuncturist who lives in Edmonton, Alberta with her husband and two little spirited girls. Heather specializes in Mental Health and Women's Reproductive Health, as well Chakra-Based/ Spiritually-Minded Acupuncture and Reiki Combination therapies. She is also the developer of a particular style of acupuncture called "Elemental Acupuncture," which focuses on emotional healing. Heather loves formulating her patients custom-blended teas and tinctures, and in her off time, she feels nurtured in spending time with her family out in nature or gardening.