Herbal medicines are categorised by their actions within the body. Many of you have heard about adaptogens - they are the class of herbal and mushroom medicines which aid and protect the body in the management of stress from the physical, emotional and environmental spheres and therefore decrease risk of imbalances and disease. However I want to take a moment to introduce you to a similar and yet equally unique and fantastical group of allies called Nervines (not to be confused with nootropics - thats for a different blog).
So what is a Nervine?
Nervine's are a class of herbs which have a positive effect in their ability to restore and replenish the nervous system. To put plainly, they make you feel as good as a yin yoga class on a Sunday morning. Due to their broad categorisation there are three different kinds which address nourishment and restoration to the entire mind and body. Of course these different groupings can overlap and one can have a Nervine which is both tonic, stimulant and adaptogen for example - you just have to find the one that fits you.
Why are they important?
Apart from the above mentioned, supporting the nervous system has been overlooked in many ways. The reason adaptogens have become so well known is due to their support of the adrenals, however what a lot of people don't know is that these symptoms associated with adrenal fatigue of exhaustion and anxiousness may be symptoms of a burnt out nervous system.
Once again it all boils down to stress and how stress interacts with the biochemistry of our bodies.
The nervous system is basically the electrical wiring of the body, it is made of the Central Nervous System (brain, spinal chord and nerves) and the Peripheral Nervous System (sensory neurons, clusters of neurons called ganglia and nerves which connect like a spiders web back to the Central Nervous System). These two systems work synergistically to transmit signals all around the body. In action there are two main parts of this system:
Somatic/ voluntary component - Connects the brain and spinal cord with sensory receptors in the skin and muscles throughout the body.
Autonomic/ involuntary - The autonomic nervous system controls and regulates many functions within the body such as blood pressure and breathing - this is further divided into your Sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and your Parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).
From the "Adaptogens : Our Herbal Allies" blog you guys know all about how stress is managed within the body on a hormonal level. With this in mind it is estimated that there are over 100 trillion neural connections within the average human brain. So if we come into contact with a stressor the neurons send a signal through the axons which cause chemicals known as neurotransmitters (such as GABA, Dopamine, Norepinephrine, Endorphines etc.) to be released at juncture points called synapses, creating a certain reaction within the body and therefore response mentally and physically.
So if you are in a state of chronic stress, the rise of Cortisol is creating imbalances within the body and these reactions within the sympathetic nervous system which spurs on 'fight or flight' - therefore falling down the rabbit hole of adrenal fatigue, as well stress on systems associations with the autonomic nervous system such as heightened heart rate and shallow breathing.
In other words, and to put plainly, in order to prevent adrenal burnout in the first place we need to strengthen and nourish the nervous system itself so that it does not come to the point of depleting with the adrenal glands.
While there is limited scientific research being done on nervine's and their interactions with the nervous system these are some categorisations well known and some medicines well loved in their abilities to support this complex system.
Nervine Tonics (also known as trophorestoratives)
This collection of allies are some of my personal best friends when it comes to making infusions. They act as the nourishers of the nervous system, creating a sense of clam, reducing stress and fortifying the nervous system as a whole. They are even used to directly strengthen and restore tissue cells within their interactions on the body. They are often very nutrient and vitamin dense and are therefore most beneficial when used for longer periods of time. Some of my favourites are Oat, Brahmi, Gotu Kola, St Johns Wort, Chamomile, Ashwagandha (this guy overlaps a lot) and Lemon balm - this also extends (of course) into the phenomenal Lions mane which aids in promoting Nerve Growth Factor, it allows for the nerves to be so deeply nourished and strengthened that they are additionally able to regrow and even spur on neurogenesis. These are great to pair with adaptogens to create long lasting nourishment and relaxation for the body and mind.
As is to be expected, relaxants aid in calming the nervous system and therefore body. They are your best friends in times of anxiousness, when you are experiencing pain, tension, nervousness and disrupted sleep. These medicines have mild sedative effects on the body and therefore serve to be a part of your 'winding down' time of the day or night. As mentioned they are sedative and therefore aid in providing deep sleep, it is recommended to consume these medicines before going to bed. These include good old and trusted Chamomile, lavender, hops, passionflowers and valerian but is also extended to our beloved Reishi and Ashwagandha.
“Sometimes all it takes is a warm cup of chamomile tea and a hug to make a miracle’~ Amanda McQuade Crawford, herbalist
This group of medicines directly stimulate and energise the nervous system, they do not however overwork it as many commonly known stimulants such as coffee and guanara do (depending on dose and frequency of use of course). They are gentle stimulants which allow for the body to better deal with stress by having sustained stamina - this is due to alkaloid contents which include trace levels of caffeine in some cases. Additionally they possess synergistic effects when using other herbal remedies, thereby enhancing the effects they have on the body. Classics which you may have heard of include Eleuthero, Cordyceps, Schisandra Berry, Peppermint, Kola Nut and Green Tea.
Ok, so what now?
Basically that's for you to decide. One of my go to lines is choose the medicine and take the medicine in a way which is supportive of the routine and life that you lead - for some of us that means a ritualistic night time tea, which is a blend of our favourite relaxants (topped off with the trusty Reishi tincture). For others it may mean taking your tinctures with you in the car and having a grab, dose and go when you get the time between meetings.
The point of these medicines is to support you. Too often we put pressure on the idea of being 'perfect' and having the best routine as is humanly possible. So if there's one thing we can learn from our Nervine friends it's to just take a step back and make the choice that it kind to yourself.
Thank you for reading
Sending you all blessings of radiant health
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