Who doesn’t love nervines? You know, that relaxing category of herbs, so effective at soothing the mind, emotions and body. Some herbs like lavender and chamomile invoke tranquility through their pleasing scents and flavor. Others like valerian, blue vervain or wood betony may not taste as good, but work well on releasing headaches or pent-up tension in the musculo-skeletal arena; or they may do the trick on liberating worrying thoughts and emotions from those worn to a frazzle, like skullcap, ashwaganda or holy basil.
As much as I love them, nervines are not the end-all-be-all for perfect health, but they can be a good place to start when you don’t know what else to do, or are too stressed to focus on figuring out what you need to do, but you know you have to do SOMEthing. Yes, that is where they come in for me more often than not (hello, chamomile!).
Botanicals are multi-dimensional; a nervine can be a digestive tonic, circulatory tonic, glactagouge, cardio tonic and more. Some are warming, cooling, drying, moistening, sweet, bitter, acrid – basically there’s one out there for everyone’s constitution and needs.
Here are a few quick notes about some of these wonderful nervines. As you can see, they all share the common thread of restoring proper tone (functional, healthy resting baseline) to a body system. Many times, the restoration needed leans in the direction of relaxing a tense state, but sometimes flaccid, lax, boggy or atonic tissue state needs some sort of increase of tone. See the sources below for more detailed information.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) – Soothing diffusive, relaxing, stimulating nervine. Used with nervous irritation, atonic conditions, mental confusion. Use when both relaxing and stimulating effects are needed. Direct action on the smooth muscles, wonderfully anti-spasmodic.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) – Stimulating and relaxing. Anxiety, restlessness, fear, hysteria. Bisobolol and chamaezulene are volatile oils that are spasmolytic to smooth muscles and nervous tissue. The bitterness is tonifying and stimulating. Nervous irritability and persistent low grade anxiety.
Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) – Anti—spasmodic, stimulating and cleansing in the nervous system. Aids relaxation, alertness, clarity from volatile oils. Convulsive disorders, as it regulates, balances, normalizes brain activity.
Melissa (Melissa officinalis) – Tonic and restorative for nervous function. A nerve remedy with a carminitive element. Depression, lethargy, insomnia, agitation, anxiety, headaches, hysteria, ADHD, nervous stomach. Inhalation of volatile oil very effective, sedative properties marked and rapid. Tincture more of a tonic and stimulating (with some bitters and resins). Paracelsus: “the elixir of life”. Culpepper: “…causeth the mind and the heart to become merry…and driveth away all troublesome cares and thoughts out of the mind arising from melancholy”.
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) – Tonic nervine. Both sedative volatile oils and stimulating bitters, thus balancing. Depression, insomnia, hysteria. Mental exhaustion, hallucinations or delusions. The oil steadies the emotions, balances introverted and extroverted.
Milky Oats (Avena sativa) – Food for the nerves! Promotes myelin sheath integrity and growth. Wonderful for restoring the nerves. Amphoteric to the nervous system, as it is a stimulant (strengthening) and sedative. Nutritious. Epilepsy, nervous depression. Use to calm the mind without drowsiness.
Hops (Humulus lupus) – Hypnotic, permitting a deep sense of relaxation and tranquility, trophorestoritive to cerebrospinal fluid. Nervous digestive upsets, very bitter, strong anti-spasmodic effect on smooth muscle, presumably by mediating the nervous supply to the gut.
Scullcap – (Scutellaria laterifolia) – Calming and relaxing to the nervous system. Excellent nerve tonic where there is chronic anxiety. Nervous weakness, agitation, insomnia, nightmares, restless sleep, over-excitability, twitching.
California Poppy (Eschscholzia California) – Milder and non-addictive. Anxiety, nervous tension, insomnia, hyperactivity, fear, all sorts of pain. Well suited for children.
Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) – Energizing effect on the brain. Overcoming stress, fatigue and mental confusion. Mineral rich. Enhances cognitive abilities and increases memory. Calming and adaptogenic, cleanses the blood, promotes healthy connective tissue repair – good for excess scar tissue.
St. Johns Wort (Hypericum perforatum) – Depression, raises the spirit and lifts the mood. Amphoteric, tonic to the brain. reportedly as effective as SSRI’s.
Blue Vervain (Verbena officinalis) – Nervine and stomachic, as it is bitter and stimulates appetite, production of digestive enzymes, HCL and more. Blends well in formulas for women’s health. Epilepsy and convulsions. Very balancing.
Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) – Increases cerebral circulation, anti-oxidant rich. Affinity to blood vessels. Normalizes acetylcholine receptors in the hippocampus – the area most affected by Alzheimer’s.
Wood Betony (Stachys officinalis) – Gentle, stimulating tonic for the brain. Hysteria, persistent unwanted thoughts, nervous debility, anxiety, chronic headaches, lack of energy, poor memory, dizziness, disordered thoughts. Bitter digestive tonic, adjusts the autonomic regulation of the digestive system. Anxiety with digestive upsets.
Ashwaganda (Withania somnifera) – Brain and adrenal tonic. Increases tolerance to emotional, chemical, and other stressors. Anti-depressant effect, libido lifter for exhausted states.
Hoffmann, David. The New Holistic Herbal.
Herbal Therapeutics: Specific Indications
Wood, Matthew. Earth-Wise Herbal: New World Plants, and Old World Plants.
Summer has past its peak, but the flowers are still blooming. Some, like the California poppies, are blooming for a second time. Now is the perfect time to see what is available for homemade flower essences. Making flower essences is surprisingly simple; the brunt of the “work” is done by the plant that has flowered and the sun that distills the essence.
Midmorning on a sunny day, start the process. Sit next to the plants you will be gathering, to offer gratitude and to focus your intent. Fill a small, plain glass bowl with filtered, fresh water. With large leaves acting to cover your palm of one hand and fingertips of the other, pick flower-heads just below the calyx and float them on the surface of the water, covering it completely. James Green suggests to eliminate the human vibration as much as possible; do not touching the water and do not cast a shadow on the mother essence (127). Use a different bowl for each essence.
Let the essence sit for 3-4 hours to absorb the sun’s rays. Lift the blossoms out of the water, again, avoiding to touching the water with your hands. Stems are handy tools to pick them out. Pour this mother essence into a clean jar and label.
From here, you can make a stock bottle. Fill a cleaned 1 ounce bottle with brandy, and add 2 drops (yes, 2!) of the mother essence. Shake, and label. The flower essences you buy in the store come in this form.
Almost there! One more step is necessary to make a dosing bottle, that is, an essence that you will take internally. Add 2 drops from the stock bottle into a clean, 1 ounce (or smaller) bottle. Add up to a total of 5 different essences to make a compounded flower essence. Fill the bottle 2/3 full with spring water, then top the rest off with brandy to keep the essence fresh. Label, shake, and use.
The general dosage of the dosing bottle is 4 drops 4 times a day. Add the drops to a glass of water, or place directly in the mouth.
Most people are familiar with English Bach Flower Remedies, which are widely carried at natural food stores. But remember, flower essences can be made from any, yes, any flower. There are North American wildflower remedies, Australian remedies, flower essences made from endangered woodland plants, and so on. Flower essences are handy for any time you wish to address the emotions and spirit behind the physical ailments. I have found regular use of an essence for a week or more to be most effective, although even a single dose may make a notable difference. When taking flower essences, like herbal remedies, emotional symptoms can change and morph rapidly, so assess and make changes to the remedies as needed.
Many people ask me, “how are the meanings for flower essences derived?” The meanings have not been derived as much as the inherent qualities of the flowers have been observed throughout the years. Feel free to experiment with observing your own meanings of flowers essences; notice which flowers you are drawn to and ask yourself “why”. Prepare and take a flower essence, and mindfully note the emotional reactions that occur after receive a dose. If desired, study the established meanings found in the many quality references that are available. In some ways, I think learning flower essences is a bit like learning the tarot; sometimes you know exactly the meaning, sometimes you make an educated guess, and other times you have no idea. At Sage Mountain we chose our flower essences via pendulum dowsing; many of us picked essences that were perfect for our situations. Below are a few garden flowers essences as described by the Flower Essence Society.
California PoppyEschscholzia califonica “Positive Qualities: Finding spirituality within one’s heart, balancing light and love, developing an inner sense of knowing. Patterns of imbalance: Seeking outside of oneself for false forms of light or higher consciousness, especially through escapism or addiction.” California Poppy is useful as a remedy for people susceptible to “dazzling phenomena” like psychedelic drugs, charismatic teachers, sensationalized “pure” diets, religious cults, glamour, fame, and other enticing psychic experiences outside of themselves.
BasilOcimum basilicum “Positive qualities: Integration of sexuality and spirituality into a sacred wholeness. Patterns of imbalance: Polarization of sexuality and spirituality, often leading to clandestine behavior or marital stress.” People in need of basil will feel a polarity between spiritual purity and physical sexuality, often struggling to reconcile. Sexual activity can then be secret, “sinful”, an obsession, extramarital, or perverse, compulsive, and basil helps “the soul no longer feel compelled to separate them into opposing and destructive activities.”
AgrimonyAgrimonia eupatoria “Positive qualities: Emotional honesty, acknowledging and working with emotional pain, obtaining true inner peace. Patterns of imbalance: Anxiety hidden by a mask of cheerfulness; denial and avoidance of emotional pain, addictive behavior to anesthetize feelings.” In herbalism, agrimony is a specific when a person holds their breath due to pain, and also hides behind a facade of “everything is okay” when it is quite obvious it is not.
Angel TrumpetDatura candida “Positive qualities: Spiritual surrender at death or times of deep transformation; opening the heart to the spiritual world. Patterns of imbalance: Fear of death, resistance to letting go of life and crossing the spiritual threshold; denial of the spiritual world.”
YarrowAchillea millefolium “Positive qualities: Inner radiance and strength of aura, compassionate awareness, inclusive sensitivity, beneficent forces. Patterns of imbalance: Extreme vulnerability to others and to the environment; easily depleted, overly absorbent of negative influences, psychic toxicity.”
TansyTanacetum vulgare “Positive qualities: Decisive and goal-orientated, deliberate and purposeful in action, self-directed. Patterns of imbalance: Lethargy, procrastination, inability to take straightforward action; habits that undermine or subvert the real intentions of the Self.”
Cosmos Cosmos bipinnatus “Positive qualities: Integration of ideas and speech; ability to express thoughts with coherence and clarity. Patterns of imbalance: Unfocused, disorganized communication; overexcited speech, overwhelmed by too many ideas”.
Peppermint Mentha piperita “Positive qualities: Mindfulness, Wakeful clarity, mental alertness. Patterns of imbalance: Dull or sluggish, especially mental lethargy; unbalanced metabolism which depletes mental forces.”
Green, James. The Herbal Medicine-Makers Handbook.
Kaminski, Patricia and Richard Katz. Flower Essence Repertory.