Updated: Feb 18
There are three basic functions of the nervous system:
receiving information from internal and external environments and situations
analyzing and interpreting information
initiating an appropriate response.
The nervous system is divided into two branches; the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS).
The PNS is when the body is in a state of relaxation, allowing for sleep, digestion, and restoring the body.
The SNS is when the body is in a state of movement and action. This system is also known as the “flight or fight mode”. When the body’s SNS is engaged the breath is shallower, and the muscles tighter. Constant stress put on the body causes it to remain in a constant sympathetic state. Thus leading to chronic weakening disorders.
The natural stress response...
When you encounter a perceived threat your hypothalamus, a tiny region at your brain's base sets off an alarm system in your body. Through a combination of nerve and hormonal signals, this system prompts your adrenal glands, located atop your kidneys, to release a surge of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol.
The release of these hormones sends your body into survival mode. Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates your blood pressure, and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, increases glucose in the bloodstream, enhances your brain's use of glucose, and increases the availability of substances that repair tissues.
Cortisol also curbs functions that would be detrimental for survival in a fight-or-flight situation. It alters immune system responses and suppresses the digestive system, the reproductive system, and growth processes. This complex natural alarm system also communicates with the brain regions that control mood, motivation, and fear.
When the natural stress response runs rampant...
The body's stress-response system is usually self inhibiting. Meaning, that once a sensed threat has passed, hormone levels should return to a balanced state. As adrenaline and cortisol levels drop, your heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline levels, and other systems resume their regular processes. But when stressors are always present and you constantly feel under attack, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on...
The long-term stimulation of the stress-response system and the overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that follow can disrupt almost all your body's processes. This puts you at an increased risk of many health problems, including depression, anxiety, insomnia, headaches, weight gain, and memory and concentration impairment.
Herbs offer a complete system of holistic healing and preventative care for the body, mind, and spirit. Making them a great preventative care option for many emotional, mental, and physical ailments. Using herbs is a wonderful way to help the nervous system maintain balance. Many herbs can be used safely combined with pharmaceutical medications to help nourish and support, but it is always best to check with your doctor who prescribes your medication first.
I've found over the years in my practice with myself and clients that a trifecta of nourishing, nervine, and adaptogenic herbs keeps the nervous system resilient to the effects of daily stressors. I begin most days with a nourishing infusion blend that also contains nervines that are not sedating. The combination of these gentle nervines and the powerhouse of vitamins and minerals sets up a strong foundation for my busy days.
“Whatever your philosophy of life, the nervous system is your only means of connecting and interacting with your world. If you treat your nervous system like the sensitive system it is, it will playback the finest music to enrich your being. Keep it tuned and healthy, feed it well, and protect it from overuse and exploitation, and your reward will be a life of exquisite quality. Through even the most stressful events, you will feel centered and empowered.”
Daily Nourishing Infusions-
The modern lifestyle, with tons of chronic stressors and pollutants, increases our needs for micronutrients. Our bodies require more B vitamins and magnesium to manage. We also need more B vitamins, selenium, and antioxidants to detox from the chemicals and pathogens that we are exposed to. Giving your body the optimal nutrients that it needs daily will increase energy, resistance, mental clarity, stamina, balance, and support the body’s major systems.
Nutritive Herbs are a class of herbs that are known for their high amounts of minerals, trace minerals, and certain vitamins. When these plant materials are infused in hot water for hours, they naturally provide a nutritious broth-like liquid that is easy to digest and assimilate. A nourishing herbal infusion is different from an herbal tea/tisane. It is easy to make, takes about five minutes prep a day, and provides optimal nourishment for those who are 6 months to 106 years!
To make a nourishing herbal infusion, place one ounce (about a cup) of dried herb into a quart mason jar. Fill it with boiling water, put a lid on it, and let it steep for 4-8 hours. If you like, you can add a pinch of mint, lemon balm, licorice root, or any other aromatic herb you like for flavor. Then strain out the plant material, compost it, and enjoy one or more cups of the liquid daily. Infusions are delicious warm or cold and can be sweetened with honey or any other natural sweetener. They keep for 2-3 days in the refrigerator.
Stinging Nettles + Purple Dead Nettle are astringent tonic herbs both known to be rich in protein, chlorophyll, vitamins A, K, and B, minerals (especially selenium, Sulphur, zinc, calcium, chromium, and boron). They are quite energizing to many folks due to their ability to support the adrenals and normalize hormones. Other than being an amazing all-around tonic and nutritive herb, they are also alterative herbs, which means they have the ability to gently cleanse the blood while increasing the body's ability to absorb nutrients.
Alfalfa is a wonderful nervous system tonic, full of potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Alfalfa acts as a cellular de-stressor with its high potassium content. Potassium is a mineral that allows nerve cells to deeply relax; and without this vital nutrient, the nervous system would be in a constant state of excitation. Potassium helps to regulate a cycle of work and rest in the nervous system, helping the body to cope with a variety of stressors at a time. Alfalfa also contains healthy amounts of calcium and magnesium, specifically for bone formation. These two nutrients have a special symbiotic relationship, where one helps with the absorption and assimilation of the other.
Milky Oat Tops are an amazing source of bio-available calcium, iron, magnesium, silica, and B vitamins- making them restorative to the integrity of the nervous system, skin, teeth, emotional flexibility, and sexual flow. It is often used for anxiety, adrenal exhaustion, stress, and transitioning out of addictive behaviors. In addition, oats are also exceptionally good at nourishing heart health, stabilizing blood sugar, and moderating cholesterol.
"People requiring oats are often ‘driven’ people; perfectionists who always get things done, usually at their own expense."
Nervine Herbs are balancing and restorative herbs that directly help support the nervous system. They are used for acute stress and are mostly mild sedatives. Nervine herbs can further be broken down into additional classifications.
Nervine Tonics | Trophorestoratives are normalizers, which nurture and nourish the entire body over time. They increase energy. Tonic herbs help the body adjust to the effects of stress and to adapt in a more positive way and maintain balance. They are gentle and work slowly; so while they are not noticeably relaxing to the physical body but help support healthy nerve function when taken regularly. They can be taken in large quantities without harm or overstressing the body.
Oat Straw | Milky Oat Tops
Lion's Mane Mushroom
St. John's Wort
Lemon balm’s sedative properties are on the mild side, but its nervine properties command attention. It soothes the nervous system in an effective but gentle way. Use lemon balm to help ease anxiety, nervous tension, insomnia, and headaches. It can even be helpful for those suffering from nervous heart palpitations. Revitalizing lemon balm may be useful for easing parental exhaustion, for students studying for exams, and for overstimulated children. Lemon balm is safe for young ones and can calm restlessness and help bring sleep to those who are so overtired that they are wired.
Nervine Relaxants | Sedatives help relieve muscle tension, circular thoughts, insomnia, and extreme acute stress. They are the closest natural alternative to nerve tranquilizers. Too much tranquilizing, even that achieved through herbal medication, can in time deplete and weight heavily on the whole nervous system. However, the physical symptoms that can so often accompany the ill-ease of anxiety may be well treated with herbs that work on the anxiety itself. When the physical body is at ease, ease in the psyche is promoted.
*Please note that In high dosages, many of these herbs can act as heavy sedatives or hypnotics.
Nervine Stimulants cause direct stimulation of the nervous system, and not very often needed in our times of hyperactivity. When overused they can further deplete the body's vitality and exacerbate symptoms of anxiety and restlessness.
Sleep Aid Tea
½ tsp lemon balm
½ tsp passionflower
½ tsp skullcap
½ tsp spearmint
Honey to taste (optional)
Combine the herbs. Pour a cup of water near-boiling water over the herbs and let steep, covered, for 15 minutes. Strain and sweeten if desired.
Adaptogenic Herbs improve the function of the endocrine system and hormonal balance, which in turn strengthens the nervous system and helps the body become more resilient to stress. They are helpful when taken over time to build stamina and bring your body back into balance, so you can better protect your body from the negative effects of stress. Adaptogens were named after the Latin word adaptare—which means to adjust or modify. These building herbs can be infused safely into everyday rituals and foods.
Adaptogens offer us different properties- some are stimulating, and some calming. Some drying, and some moistening. The herbs listed below are gentle and calming adaptogens- which work to increase the body's resilience without overstimulating and further depleting the nervous system.
Tulsi (holy basil) is an aromatic herb that is revered in India for its ability to open the heart and uplift the spirit. It unblocks energy and clears lethargy and congestion that dampen the spirit. It is also known to improve focus while relaxing the body. Its stress-reducing abilities give it a strengthening effect on the nervous system, the heart, and the immune system. Tulsi has an affinity for balancing the emotions, increasing stamina, energy, and endurance and improving digestion.
Ashwagandha is a powerful whole system balancer and adaptogenic remedy. It has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic medicine to help alleviate stress, support physical and mental stamina, balance the immune system, support the nervous system, promote restful sleep, improve memory, and support healthy adrenal and cognitive function.
Want to experience these herbs together? Try my Replenish Elixir!
David Hoffman’s "The Herbal Handbook: A User’s Guide to Medical Herbalism“.