by Elisa Adams
Black cohosh. This
traditional women’s herb is most known today for its role in preventing hot
flashes. However, it was used by Native Americans for treating snakebite, and it
slows and strengthens the heartbeat, calming women with anxiety accompanied by
an increased heart rate.
Blue vervain. Introduced
by herbalist John Christopher in his combination for treating epilepsy, blue
vervain is cited by herbal researcher John Heinerman as being useful for
insomnia and "nervous disorders.” It strengthens the nervous system and
is generally recommended as an addition to one’s morning tea.
Chamomile. With a long
history of use in France, this tiny flower is a safe source of the amino acid
tryptophan, useful in treating insomnia. The Journal of Clinical Pharmacology
reported using chamomile tea in a hospital to induce relaxation and sleep when
other drugs were not working. For ten out of twelve patients, chamomile worked
like a charm. This is one of the safest herbs for children; however, it may
cause reactions for some who are allergic to ragweed.
Damiana. Also useful for
bronchitis and emphysema, hot flashes, impotence, and low sex drive, damiana
supports the endocrine system and is useful for mid-afternoon anxiety. First
used by the Mayan Indians of the Yucatan peninsula, they called it mizi-coc,
which means herb for asthma. Asthma frequently has a stress factor as a trigger
as well as environmental stimuli; damiana helps maintain relaxation of the
bronchials, adrenals, and nervous system. Traditionally taken in the afternoon.
Evening primrose oil. Long
used in Europe for women with multiple sclerosis, the oil pressed from the tiny
seeds of this flower is a wonderful source of PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty
acids), especially GLA (gamma linolenic acid), essential for supporting a
woman’s nervous and reproductive systems.
Ho shou wu. Also known as
polygonum multiflorum, this is another Chinese herb useful in middle or later
years, Ho shou wu supports the adrenals and energizes in a calming way, unlike
caffeine, which stimulates and, in excess, can lead to the jitters by
eliminating needed stores of magnesium and B-vitamins. Used daily over a period
of time, this unique herb of the Orient restores color and thickness to the hair
and supports serene longevity. It enhances liver and spleen activity and
supports peace and forgiveness.
Ho shou wu also functions as an
anti-inflammatory, reducing risks for blood clots, heart infarctions, cancer,
and diabetes. It is known to have cardiotonic, hypotensive, and vasodilatory
activity, according to the records of the Herbal Pharmacology in the People’s
Republic of China, leading to its reputation as an herb promoting longevity.
Korean ginseng. Generally
recommended for women in their thirties and beyond, morning application of
ginseng can eliminate nighttime insomnia as well as giving the energy and
endurance to handle the stresses of everyday life. My friend Linda has had
insomnia off and on her whole life. When we did a scan for herbs for her, we
came up with ginseng. She wondered how an herb taken at breakfast time would
help her sleep at night, but she tried it, and sure enough, she slept like a
baby from the very first night.
Licorice. This is an
excellent herb for adrenal support and is also helpful for quitting smoking. It
promotes calmness and endurance, with a sense of inner strength and tranquility,
and is especially useful for women with low blood pressure. When used
inappropriately for patients with hypertension or kidney disease, or to excess,
the side effects include water retention and swollen ankles, which will
disappear when the use of licorice is discontinued. In China, licorice is used
in almost every herbal formula, in minuscule amounts, as an endocrine support
and to increase energy.
Lobelia. Made famous by
nineteenth-century herbalist Samuel Thompson, lobelia is a powerful relaxant,
opening the air passageways in cases of asthma and reducing muscle spasms and
cramps in short order. When needed, it works as an emetic, removing digestive
obstructions and restoring good health. More recently, it has achieved renown as
a relaxant that helps adults quit smoking, due to the function of its active
constituent, lobeline, which promotes relaxation using the same pathway as
Mullein. This is another
nervine with especial benefits for those with respiratory disorders. Recommended
for coughs, hoarseness, bronchitis, and swollen glands, it is most useful when
taken in the afternoon. It is the one herb I recommend for smokers who are not
ready to give up their cigarettes, as it soothes the bronchials and lungs.
Oatstraw. This gentle herb
is high in silica. It provides strength to the hair and fingernails, eliminating
peeling nails and split ends while calming the nervous system. A cup of oatstraw
tea in midafternoon every day also aids in laying down the matrix to bone mass,
the scaffolding upon which calcium is thereafter laid.
Passionflower. A highly
effective nervine, passionflower was discovered on the central American islands
by the Spanish in the 1500s, who named this thorny plant with the beautiful
red-splashed white flowers after the Passion of the Christ. Renewed interest in
passionflower has occurred due to its use in racehorses in Australia and New
Zealand by the premier horse veterinarian in that part of the world. He uses
passionflower and valerian for horses with ‘mental fidgets,"
passionflower and hops for horses with restless legs, who can’t stand still,
and passionflower and chamomile for horses with a tendency to develop colic. The
principals of his herbal medicine work well for people too.
St. John’s Wort. This
tiny summer flower received national publicity during a Barbara Walters TV
special during the late 1990s. Its primary constituent, hypericin, was isolated
in 1942 and, according to the Merck Manual, was used successfully in clinical
settings for relieving moderate depression. It is called St. John’s Wort or
herb, because it blooms in England on Saint John’s day in June.
Scullcap. This nervine, a
favorite of herbalist John Christopher, repairs nerves damaged by stress as well
as relieving insomnia and hypertension. A familiar combination adds scullcap to
hops and valerian, to calm the mind during stressful situations. It is most
effective when taken during the evening.
Valerian. Perhaps the most
familiar of the American nervine herbs, valerian is memorable due to the odor of
‘smelly socks’ that develops during the drying process. This is one herb
that becomes even more effective the longer it's stored. This is because its
function doesn't come from an aromatic oil that can evaporate, as in peppermint
or chamomile, but from an ester —
an alcohol-acid molecular compound created during the drying process —
which becomes stronger over time.
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