Herbalism works with the basic principles of cleansing and nourishing our physical system. Our physical systems get depleted, especially by middle age. When our systems don’t have the chemical energy to nourish and feed our body, problems often arise.
What we often experience as mid-life crisis (even health crises) are often closely associated with adrenal and immune system exhaustion.
Behaviors and nutrition that we could get away with when we were younger have now caught up to us by our 40’s and beyond. When this is the case, we need to focus on deeply and thoroughly nourishing our systems from the cellular level on up. Building back our system is even more important these days as counties around the world continue to be inundated with COVID.
In the world of herbalism, Adaptogens work strongly with our immune system. Adaptogens are plants that act to strengthen our body functions and reinforce our resistance to the damaging effects of long-term stress. They help our system to adapt. They help rebuild, replenish and shore up our body’s infrastructure and secure our internal healthy terrain. They work with our neuro-endocrine-immune system.
Adaptogens are essential when our nervous system has been dealing with stress over long periods of time
Nervine herbs have a powerful impact on our nervous system. They work on our brain, spinal column nerves and periphery nerves. They often work with our tissues and the overworking of them, as well as life stress in our nervous system. Depending on how depleted our systems are, we fall into different categories of nervous system and immune system rebuilding needs. Sometimes we require both.
Nervines work with our neruro-muscular-skeletal system. They work with our fight, flight, and freeze responses. They work with over-active as well as under-active nervous systems, often concurrently with muscle pain.
Some common adaptogen herbs are:
Astragalus – Tonic. Enhances overall immune system complex. Strengthens and builds overall resistance. Strongly recommended as a blood tonic, especially when cancer has been present. Builds without pushing, and works well when exhaustion is present.
Siberian Ginseng (Eleuthero) – Energy tonic. Helps with underlying imbalances caused by stressors regardless of origin (chemical, physical, social, psychological, etc.) Increases stamina. Works strongly with adrenal complex and circulation. Has been shown to balance both high and low blood pressure.
Ashwagandha – Popularly known as Indian Ginseng. Works with nervous system and musculo-skeletal system, especially with issues of strength of mind, insomnia, joint and nerve pain, including weakness of knees and back.
Stinging Nettle – High calcium content. Good for nervous, reproductive, digestive and urinary system. Calming and soothing. Excellent vitamin supplement. Helps with sinus and allergies. Combine with green milky oats and raspberry leaf to help with depleted energy and sexual dysfunction.
Wild or Milky Oats (also called Oatstraw) – Adaptogen and Nervine. Excellent nutritive. Nervous system and cardiac system tonic. Green, milky oat tops, harvested before it ripens are most used in nervous system preparations. Rich in silicon, calcium, chromium and magnesium.
Licorice Root – Endocrine tonic, excellent for adrenal exhaustion. Generally considered safe, even for kids. Sweet taste, excellent as a tea. Soothing to digestive system. **Contraindicated (by most) for use with high blood pressure.
Some common nervine or nervous system herbs are:
Valerian – One of the most potent nervous system herbs, yet safe and non-habit forming. Good for stress and insomnia. Used as both a long-term nerve tonic, and for acute problems such as headaches, cramps, muscle spasms and pain. One of the most common herbs used for insomnia and restless sleep. Relaxes smooth muscles of colon, uterus and bronchial passages. For 10% of the population this is an irritant. If you become further irritated or restless after using, discontinue use.
Skullcap – Mint family. Early herbalists and Drs in the US used for nervous system disorders such as epilepsy and convulsions. Used for headaches, nerve tremors, stress, menstrual tension, cramps, insomnia and nervous exhaustion. Good for overactive brains.
St. John’s Wort – Used for depression, anxiety, nerve damage and fibromyalgia. Excellent for sciatica. May cause sensitivity to the sun for some, but work as sunblock for others. For chronic depression, make sure to consult a physician for internal use.
Lemon Balm – Mint family herb. Calming, relaxing and mildly anti-spasmodic. Tastes good. Often used for viral infections such as herpes and shingles. Excellent for stomach distress and overall exhaustion.
Catnip – Mint family herb that is especially good for infants and children. Calming, soothing (especially for teething), reduces fevers.
Chamomile – Mild sedative. Excellent for children, adults and elderly. Calming to the nervous system. Soothing for inflammation, irritability, and restlessness. Anti-inflammatory for mucous membranes, joints, muscles wounds and skin irritations.
Additional Tonic Herbs
In addition to Adaptogens and Nervines, our systems can also benefit from Tonic herbs. These herbs help to rebuild and tone our system on a long-term basis and contribute to our well-being. They work to rebuild and strengthen connective tissue, our lymphatic system and help tone membranes.
Echinacea – Often known for it’s bacteria and virus responses, it also works with the components of our connective tissue (fascia) system. It strengthens and stabilizes hyaluronan (hyaluronic acid) in connective tissue, and helps rebuild connective tissue. When preparing for traveling, taking Echinacea for 1 week prior to leaving builds up your immune system. Less effective if used for longer than 10 days.
Spirulina – A nutrient dense superfood packed with B12, protein, calcium and beta-carotene. Supports immune and electrical system function (nervous and energy systems) in our body. Can be used in a combination with Bee Pollen for depleted energy and polarity reversal challenges. Don’t use Bee Pollen if you have blood sugar issues.
The Adrenal Factor
Siberian Ginseng and Licorice root are both great for rebuilding and supporting the adrenals in long-term stress. Additionally, during menopause and peri-menopause, as our estrogen production lowers from our ovaries, most of our estrogen production now comes from our adrenals.
When our system is overburdened with stress, our adrenals will focus on helping our systems balance our cortisol and adrenaline production (produced from stress) as a first line of response. When this happens, we have less resources to work with our hormonal menopausal changes. As a result, we have more symptoms such as hot flashes and night sweats. Working with adaptogens and nervines often help with our hormonal system life changes.
**Licorice root is often contraindicated with high blood pressure. Some say the whole food herb of licorice root (not standardized) is not a problem. If you have high blood pressure, Siberian Ginseng is a safe option.
As some of you know, I am a certified Herbalist working toward my Master Herbalist completion. I have used and worked with herbs (in multiple health food stores) longer than I’ve been a Body Therapist and used them primarily to treat my children, my family and myself for over 28 years. I’ve been a certified Herbalist for 6 years. If you’d like to talk more about herbs, or anything to help you heal and thrive, send me a note here.
I recommend using whole food herbs (not standardized extracts) to receive the full benefit of herbal medicine.