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Nervines- Herbs for the Nervous System

on Fri, 07/20/2012 - 11:44

Herbs For the Soul

The nervous system is composed of all nerve tissues in the body.  The functions of nerve tissue are to receive stimuli, transmit stimuli to nervous centers, and to initiate response.  The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord and serves as the collection point of nerve impulses.  The peripheral nervous system includes all nerves not in the brain or spinal cord and connects all parts of the body to the central nervous system.  The peripheral (sensory) nervous system receives stimuli, the central nervous system interprets them, and then the peripheral (motor) nervous system initiates responses.

The somatic nervous system controls functions that are under conscious voluntary control such as skeletal muscles and sensory neurons of the skin.

The autonomic nervous system, mostly motor nerves, controls functions of involuntary smooth muscles, cardiac muscles, and glands.  The autonomic nervous system provides almost every organ with a double set of nerves- the sympathetic and parasympathetic.  These systems generally work in opposition to each other.  A stimulated sympathetic nervous system will decrease parasympathetic functions, and vice versa.


The Autonomic Nervous System is divided into 2 parts:  sympathetic and parasympathetic.

The sympathetic prepares us for the fight or flight response.  It helps us to sense danger by sending a message to the adrenal cortex, which produces adrenaline type hormones (and cortisol, and noradrenalin…) These hormones increase muscular and cardiac functions, decreas saliva, decrease digestive functions, draw blood into the muscles, promote sweating, quicken heart beat and breathing, dilatepupils (to improve eyesight)…..  We’ve all heard the saying “I was so scared that I almost crapped my pants.”  This is the sympathetic nervous system doing its job.

The parasympathetic state is associated with a deep feeling of relaxation:  slow breathing, slow heart rate, relaxed muscles, and good digestion.

The parasympathetic allows us to conserve our energy.


The sympathetic nervous state is related to being on guard and not feeling safe, and waiting for the other shoe to drop.  When we stay in the sympathetic state for too a long a period, it exhausts our endocrine and nervous system.   Symptoms are chronic stress, fatigue, anxiety, weight gain (too much cortisol in the blood stream), frazzled nerves, weakness, unclear thinking, insomnia….etc.

Most of us are living predominantly in the sympathetic nervous state and have difficulty re-establishing the all too forgotten and essential parasympathetic condition.  Quite simply, we have forgotten how to relax.

This is where herbs, yoga, pranayama, and meditation play a vital and important role.

Overall, the nervous system is the bridge between our physical bodies and the nonphysical aspects of ourselves. ( There is an ongoing communion between our emotional and spiritual states, our nervous system, and our physical bodies. ) The nervous system is electric- it is a wave of electrical impulses.  The most important job of the nervous system is screening out unuseful information.




Nervines are plant remedies that have a beneficial effect on the nervous system.                                                      


3 categories of nervines:

*Nervine Tonics: ex. oats, eleuthero (often adaptogenic herbs)

*Nervine Relaxants: ex. Skullcap, passionflower, blue vervain

*Nervine Stimulants: ex. Cola nut, guarana, coffee


Why herbs?

Antidepressant pharmaceutical drugs restrict emotional range and drain vitality.  SSRI’s are addictive.  They change the structure of your brain by reducing the amount of receptor sites for serotonin.  They also decrease serotonin production over time so you end up with less serotonin and fewer receptors.  This actually causes more depression in the long run by creating a vicious cycle and unbearable withdrawal symptoms. 


By leveling out the emotions, the growth process is stopped.  Depression is a message from the soul that you are off track. Something needs to change. Herbalist David Winston writes, “Over the years I have seen many patients who were helped by conventional treatments only to continue to stay in bad jobs, bad relationships, and unhappy circumstances.  They could function better, but were still lacking in joy and contentment.”  Of course, temporary use of pharmaceuticals has saved many lives, however, we were never meant to stay on them for long periods of time.  They certainly are not a solution.



As we reside in a sympathetic state, nervous anxiety and overstimulation tend to build up with no outlet for the adrenaline and hormones we’ve accumulated.  Most anxiety is due to over-active lifestyles and frantic behavior like rushing around, thinking too fast, and not going at our resonant pace.  That pace becomes a habit.  Slow down. Breathe.  Check for hyperthyroidism.

*Coffee increases stress hormones by up to 200%!  This depletes our adrenal glands and energy reserves, creating a dependency on stimulants and creates a chronic state of stress. (An occasional cup

of coffee can lift up the spirits.)  

The solution?  Exercise!  Get into your body!   Anxiety calls for herbs that restore and relax both the Central and Sympathetic nervous systems, so you’ll want to work with tonics and relaxants like skullcap, oats, and eleuthero, (and shavasana, creative visualization…)  Caffeine and chocolate exacerbate the problem.  Stay away from stimulants completely for a while. 

Herbs for calming and relaxing (Anxiety and Insomnia): include oats, chamomile, blue vervain, skullcap, passionflower, hawthorn, motherwort, hops, and kava.

Hyperactive, stressed out– type A people: try milky oats with adaptogens.



This is a big subject since there are so many causes:

(*see other handout)

Our gut is our second brain.  It has a neural lining; every neurotransmitter in our brain is also found in our gut!  And in fact, gut health is necessary for emotional and hormonal stability.  Serotonin is also produced in the gut.


Hormonal depression

Bilious depression

Situation (or stagnant) depression

And depression from gut dysbiosis, nutritional deficiencies, hypothyroidism, being in an environment that zaps your life force, heavy metals, stagnant liver,  trauma, candida overgrowth (bacteria release neuro-toxins that interfere with neurotransmitters), low omega 3 levels, medications, sugar, not enough sunligt, heart/mind imbalances…


Herbs for hormonal depression: Dandelion, vitex, black cohosh, pulsatilla, night blooming cerus (cactus-used for depression with excessive fear).

Herbs for bilious depression:  st. john’s wort, rosemary, lavender, evening primrose leaf, rootbark, or flower—not the oil.

Herbs for situation depression:  lemon balm, rose, holy basil, hawthorn, rhodiola, lavender…

For depression, it’s a good idea to use adaptogens or nervine tonics (restoratives) in addition to using relaxing nervines to help strengthen the overall life force:  American ginseng, red ginseng, ashwagandha, cordyceps, reishi, schisandra, eleuthero…




American Ginseng- restorative, has a tonic effect on the nervous system when fatigue is the predominant issue.  Feeds adrenals, boosts immunity, combats chronic fatigue.

Ashwagandha-adaptogenic, tonic, calming, reduces stress, boosts energy and libido, promotes restful sleep.

Black Cohosh-  for doom and gloom depression.  Hormonal depression

Blue Vervain-hormonal anxiety, nervous tics, stiff neck

Catnip- for people that tend to internalize stress in the stomach.  For digestive upset caused by nervous tension.

Celery Seed- calms and “reboots”

Chamomile- for “babies of any age”, whiners, nightmares, morning sickness, digestive upset, impatient people who want attention.

Codonopsis-tonifies entire endocrine system and strengthens digestion

Cordyceps- calms nervousness, reduces fatigue, restores kidney “jing”

Damiana-depression with loss of libido.  Calming.  Self love.

Eleuthero- regulating, normalizes stress hormones

Hawthorn- calms and nourishes the heart, calms palpitations, restores shen.  Helpful for those that wake up at night.  

Holy Basil- calms, strengthens, and uplifts. Sean mentions “it aromatically helps to clear out depression”.

Hops- sedative for nervousness, anxiety, relaxes the tissues, (too much beer leads to beer gut-tissues are too relaxed!)  digestive bitter, muscle spasms.

Kava- very strong.  For intense anxiety, stage fright.  Inability to cope; tooth pain, pain from cystitis, muscle relaxant, insomnia.  Use temporarily.

Lavender- uplifting, for mild anxiety, improves sleep quality.  For stagnant depression, try lavender, holy basil, and damiana. –David Winston

Lemon Balm- calming and uplifting.  For mild depression and SAD (with St. John’s wort, vit. D, and fish oils) elevates mood.  For hyperthyroid types.

Linden Blossom- mild hypertension and heart palpitations (with motherwort and hawthorn)

Motherwort- hormonal/menopausal anxiety.  Bossy mothers.  Chronic anxiety with racing heart.  Nice formula: blue vervain, oats, pulsatilla, motherwort.

Mullein root and leaf- protects myelin sheath- holds moisture around the nerve endings.  Use with St. John’s Wort.

Milky Oats-strengthens and nourishes.  Soothes frayed nerves.  For those burning the candle at both ends.  Chronic stress.  This is a slow acting remedy, but unbeatable.

Passionflower- sedative for anxiety and insomnia.  For busy minds, facial tics, circular thinking. Painkiller in large doses.  For grinding teeth with skullcap.

Prickly Ash- for depleted nerves.  Stimulates nervous system, circulation, and disperses herbs.

Reishi- restores heart-mind connection (shen), tonic, adaptogen, balances cholesterol, longevity tonic.  Promotes peaceful demeanor.

Rhodiola-  powerful antidepressant.  Restores inner reserves.  Cures fatigue from heartache (loss of a loved one).

Rosemary- works well in combination with other nervines, especially when there is slow circulation.  Good for brain fog and liver headaches.

St. John’s Wort- anti-depressant and anti-anxiety.  Amphoteric.  For nerve pain and damage, sciatica, shingles, “It opens the emotional windows and lets the sunlight in”.

Schizandra- nervous system balancer, harmonizes other herbs

Valerian- sedative,  makes you sleepy

Wild Lettuce- for nervousness and insomnia, for people that run cold.

Wood Betony- draws energy downward from the head, grounding, reduces stress headaches, calms digestion, used in fibromyalgia formulas.  Balances left and right hemispheres of the brain.





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