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Traditional Herbs for Relaxation and Inner Peace
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 nicotine.

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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