Relaxant Nervines + DIFFERENTIALS
We all get stressed sometimes, and that stress can have detrimental effects on our lives and ability to enjoy the moment. There are many herbs that can help with stress, including adaptogens and tonics that support the body at a foundational levels, alteratives that enhance metabolic processes, and also nervines, that help us relax in the here and now.
Relaxant nervines are a class of herbs that help, through various mechanisms, to soothe the nervous system in times of stress or anxiety. Each herb is a little bit different and some people respond much better to certain ones than others, so it’s worthwhile to read through the indications and find what most matches your situation and/or personality and then try the most likely ones out on yourself to see which is the best fit for you!
Skullcap - Scutellaria lateriflora and other species.
Scutellaria species can vary widely in strength, but the most commonly commercially available species, S. lateriflora is of moderate strength and widely applicable to many forms of anxiety and tension. Fresh plant tincture tends to be the best way to ingest the herb, as some species can lose their potency over time
Skullcap is ideal for nerves so frayed they’re about to snap, resulting in a very emotionally labile and reactive person. “At the end of their rope” is a very good way of describing it. These people have a tendency to flip out over (seemingly) nothing. They feel as if every sound, touch and bit of light is personally attacking them. Sensory hypersensitivity, as it were. They are exhausted on a deep level and need nourishment in the form of rest, nutrient dense food, and nervous system restoratives. Skullcap is a phenomenal restorative especially for those with nervous exhaustion as a result of burned out adrenals because it doesn’t just sedate your nerves but actually helps to heal the nervous system in a way that reduces reactivity and hypersensitivity.
Peach Leaf - Prunus persica
Peach leaf is a traditional Southern tea that has often been use to soften the delivery of bad news, punishment or grief. It’s especially useful during long Summers where the seemingly endless heat can cause irritation, short tempers, digestive upset, and even depression. Peach is milder than its close relative Chokecherry, and better suited for overall stress that is felt throughout the body. It’s also considered safe for pregnant or nursing women, as well as children and elders. It has a pleasant flavor that makes it easier to give to little ones than many other herbs.
Peach is great for those prone to frequent adrenalin rushes, dry tissues and signs of heat. In dry, hot summer a cool cup of Peach leaf tea is like laying back in the river and just letting the water flow over you. It takes the stress response down a few notches, allowing for better integration and presence. It’s also suited for the dryness, hot flashes and tension that often accompanies menopause.
I love iced Peach leaf tea in the Summer, but a tincture or elixir can be made from the Summer leaves or the Spring flowers and twigs for greater convenience and travel. Peach can be hard to find at normal herb suppliers, but being a widespread landscaping and orchard tree, it’s often possible to find some nearby. I recommend searching out the most fragrant tree by scratching and sniffing a twig. The stronger the smell, the better the medicine!
Rose - Rosa spp.
Rose is one of the most commonly used medicinal plants the world over, and for good reason. This plant is gentle, effective, multifaceted, and easily found. I personally prefer the medicine of Wild Roses, but any aromatic species has medicinal properties. Even food grade Rosewater can be used, and like most Rose based preparations, it tastes incredible!
I often use Rose where other people use Rescue Remedy, it’s joyful and relaxing nature is perfect for anything from grief to panic to trauma, and even a small dose can calm and soothe in a notable way. This wonderful nervine is indicated by feeling deep stress and fear, with an underlying sense of vulnerability, distrust, defensiveness, and even paranoia. Rose can also be very helpful to those feeling a deep, numbing depression that is, once again, underlaid by fear. People especially suited to Rose are often terrified of abandonment and betrayal, showing that at their deepest level, they are struggling with the balance between vulnerability and boundaries. For the best effect in such a situation, it often needs to be taken in small doses over a long period of time.
California Poppy - Eschscholzia californica + E. mexicana
California Poppy is a great general nervine for nearly any kind of stress, and it blends well with most other nervine type herbs too. I specifically like it for depression and anxiety from pain. It’s wonderful combined with Skullcap and Sage for deep nerve trauma, and is excellent for general insomnia where stress is a factor. This is another plant easily grown in most gardens, and also widely available for purchase.
Wood Betony - Stachys officinalis
While no longer a well known herb, Wood Betony has an illustrious medicinal past and certainly very useful in the treatment of anxiety, stress, and tension. It is especially specific to those who get tension headaches, and can help prevent them if taken at the first signs of onset, and help to ease them if taken during. Wood Betony also seems specific to tension that caused or aggravated by excessive thinking that results in mental exhaustion. For people who spend too much time in their heads, Wood Betony can be a grounding and calming remedy that brings them back to the here and now in a gentle and soothing way.
Sage - Salvia officinalis
While Garden Sage is generally thought of in terms of culinary uses, it’s also one of my favorite relaxant nervines. It’s a bonus that the plant is easily grown or obtained, as well as being safe enough for food while still being quite active medicinally.
I find Sage specific to nervous exhaustion with shaking, tremors, and a sense of chronic inner trembling. Panic attacks with heart palpitations, nervous headaches, and a feeling of shaking loose from the body. An excellent nervous system restorative on par with Skullcap and Milky Oats, but quite underused. Also wonderful for waking up the mind, increasing memory and awareness while staying grounded and calm. Even the smell of Sage infused oil can be deeply calming and healing.
Milky Oats - Avena sativa or Avena fatua
To obtain the the nerve healing medicine of Milky Oats, you need to use tincture made with the fresh oat top harvested in the milky stage. You can easily grow and tincture your own Milky Oats, or you can purchase the tincture ready made from a good supplier such as Mountain Rose Herbs.
Milky Oats is a great remedy for grief and heart centered pain in any phase of the grieving. It’s also an excellent nervous system trophorestorative, which means that it actually heals and restores a damaged nervous system rather than simply relaxing or sedating it. Calming, uplifting, gentle and moistening, Milky Oats is a near perfect nervine for almost everyone. It makes a great base for many many adaptogenic and nervine formula, and can be combined with any of the other nervines listed here to create a more nourishing formula for long term use.
Lavender - Any aromatic Lavendula species
Lavender is one of my favorite overall, for absolutely everyone kind of nervine. It’s warm, fuzzy, and sweet and works for nearly anyone. A hug in a bottle, if you will. A flower that is able to move energy as well as calm, many people have found Lavender to be distinctly mood enhancing. For pain, stress, trauma, hyperactivity, and other unpleasant feelings. It seems especially helpful at teaching us how to enjoy close up comforts – a hug, a big quilt, warm tea, a cozy sweater. It just enhances our ability to be sensorily aware and present. Even if that means getting really sleepy.