In times like these, it's good to remember that the plant world offers so much to us for mental and emotional well-being. Here are the three main categories of herbs that can help, along with examples:
1. Nervine Relaxants
These herbs help to calm down the nervous system, easing both physical and mental tension. These herbs are often used at the end of the day to unwind, or to promote restful sleep, but also can be taken in smaller doses throughout the day to take the edge off of things.
Herbs in this category include skullcap, passionflower, valerian, lavender, chamomile and hops.
One of my personal favorites is Skullcap. It is best in tincture form (of the fresh plant) but also works as a dry herb for tea. I've used this herb to keep my mind from racing and to be able to focus on work during the day. I think of it like the mountain steams where it can grow wild here in Vermont - in promotes a sense of serenity and peace, which is always present if only we could notice.
These herbs build up our resiliency so that when we do encounter stressors we can more easily adapt to them. From a physiological perspective, it seems as if they often help manage our stress hormones and keep them from spiking either too high or too low. They're most effective when taken regularly for an extended period of time.
These herbs include ginseng, ashwagandha, eleuthero, tulsi, schisandra and rhodiola.
Ashwagandha is one of my favorites in this category. It is a root that works well as a powder, tea or tincture. It is from India, but is grown here in Vermont. What sets it apart from other adaptogens is it is slightly relaxing and promotes deep, restful sleep. I like this herb for helping me feel like I have more stable energy throughout the day.
3. Mood uplifting plants
These plants specifically help to brighten the mood and promote feelings of lightness and happiness. They are, of course, especially helpful for when you're feeling down or emotionally upset.
These include St. John's Wort, lemon balm, linden and rose.
St. Joh'ns Wort is the most well known of these. Don't take it if you are taking pharmaceuticals because it could interact. I find that it really helps the figurative "light" shine through, just as the leaves themselves have an interesting feature where they are dotted with pores that literally let the sun through. It flowers at the peak of sunshine - late June, early July. The flowers and upper leaves are what's used. It's best in tincture form (of the fresh plant) but can be used as tea or other forms too. I find it slightly stimulating, and definitely uplifting.
Let us know if you have any questions, we're always open to helping guide you in your choice and use of herbs!
- Nick Cavanaugh, clinical herbalist at the Burlington Herb Clinic.
P.S. Nick taught a class about this on June 17th, 2020. If you'd like to see the recording you can e-mail email@example.com.
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