Anyone else feeling like their nervous system is a little fried and frazzled after the year we’ve had? (my hand is WAY up, here). One of the most incredible ways to support your nervous system after it’s undergone a period of stress (whether that be an acute bout of stress, or a more chronic stress pattern from many years of trauma or overworking), is to incorporating herbs that are nourishing, calming and rejuvenating for the nervous system. Can I get an amen?!
No sense in dilly dallying, let’s dive right into…
My Top 3 Favorite Nervine Herbs
Oats (Avena sativa)
Oh oats, how wonderful and nourishing you are indeed! Honestly, I use this amazing medicine ALL.THE.TIME. In herbal lingo it’s known as a nervotrophorestative or a nervine tonic- a very fancy way of saying it restores, rejuvenates and nourishes the nervous system on a deep level. Oats are a fantastic remedy for anyone who has a nervous system that has been exhausted over time, whether that be from adrenal burnout related to stress and overwork, traumatic experiences, chronic pain (neurological or other), insomnia or addiction. Speaking of addiction, anytime someone is withdrawing from a substance that the body has depended on, the nervous system is going to freak out a bit (or a lot). Oats can help with symptoms like irritability and edginess that are really common with nicotine, alcohol or any drug withdrawal. Not only do oats calm an over agitated nervous system, useful for anxiety, but the seeds are thymoleptic, which means they have a mild “antidepressant” and uplifting effect.
It doesn’t stop there- Oats are also very nutritive, containing vitamins and minerals like B vitamins and calcium! So when I say it’s nourishing to the nervous system, I mean oat medicine literally feeds nervous system cells by providing the building blocks they need to function optimally. As if that isn’t enough, it’s one of the rare herbs that increases moisture (kapha, yin) in the body. If you think about the metaphor of the nervous system being fried (dry and brittle), then you can see how adding the soothing, nourishing and moistening quality of this incredible plant would bring relief to an overburdened system.
Plant part used: Both of these parts can be used with great benefit, but there are slight distinctions between the seed and straw. Seed, at the “milky” stage (aka Milky Oats)- Thought be thymoleptic (uplifting to the spirits) and gently energizing; Straw- thought to be more anxiolytic (calming to decrease anxiety)
How to take it: Can be a lovely addition to any tea, may also be taken as a tincture, or in capsule formulations.
Safety: No safety concerns
Energetics: Nourishing, moistening, slightly warming and sweet; Decreases pitta and vata, kapha increasing, yin increasing
Sustainability Status: Is grown and cultivated easily! No sustainability issues here, and even better to support local, organic farmers for your sourcing of oats.
Important Notes: People with Celiac Disease should make sure the source of oats is gluten-free as oats are often cross-contaminated with gluten. There’s also a thought that avenin (the protein in oats) is similar enough to gluten that it may cause a reaction in those who are sensitive to it. However, a 2014 study published in the Journal of Autoimmunity and reported by the Celiac Disease Foundation tested this theory and found that a significant quantity of oats (100g per day) didn’t trigger the same concerning immune activation that gluten does. So the study concluded the issue is more around cross-contamination with gluten, rather than the oats themselves.
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)
Skullcap acts as a nervous system tonic and nervotrophorestorative to bring calm to an overexcited or strained nervous system. Its mildly sedative properties make it an excellent herb for insomnia or sleep trouble, especially if it’s because your mind just won’t shut off, or you’re spinning worrying and troubling thoughts around in your head. It also has an antispasmodic action, which can calm twitching muscles and relax muscle tension. It calms anxiety, nervousness and restlessness and nourishes a depleted nervous system such as in cases of depression or exhaustion. Similar to oats, skullcap can be used to help ease withdrawal symptoms when coming off of any substance. One of the ways Skullcap works is by acting on GABA receptors, the neurotransmitter that inhibits nerve cells, which results in calming down overactivity in the nervous system. This wonderful herb acts to deeply nourish and restore the nervous system.
Parts used: Aerial parts (flower, stem and leaf)
How to take it: Can be a lovely addition to any tea (slightly bitter, so add it in with other yummy tasting herbs), may also be taken as a tincture or in capsule formulations.
Safety: Consult a trusted herbalist before use in pregnancy (typically avoided in pregnancy)
Energetics: Bitter, dry and astringent; Decreases pitta and kapha, vata neutral
Sustainability Status: No known issues with sustainability. However, always harvest ethically when wild harvesting. Never take more than needed or 20% of the patch. Check out Learning Herbs article Ethical Foraging 101 for more on this!
Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica)
Love love love this plant! Gotu Kola comes to us from Ayurvedic medicine (India!) and has been used for thousands of years in this tradition to help bring mental clarity, rejuvenate nerve and brain cells, as well as deeply calm the spirit. It’s one of my favorite adaptogens, which means it increases the body’s resilience, making it easier to cope with the harmful impacts of stress (hello!). It's useful for anxiety, depression, exhaustion, mental and physical fatigue, loss of memory and drug withdrawal (great in combination with skullcap and oats!). Gently energizes and stimulates memory, concentration and focus, all while calming the nervous system. Similar to Skullcap, one of its mechanisms of actions is its effect on GABA, the neurotransmitter that inhibits nerve cells, which results in slowing down overactivity in the nervous system. Gotu Kola is a fantastic herb to keep the effects of stress at bay, while calming and uplifting the whole nervous system.
Parts used: Aerial (leaf)
How to take it: Can be a lovely addition to any tea (although it doesn't taste super yummy on it's own, so add in other delicious herbs to compliment it), may also be taken as a tincture, or in capsule formulations.
Safety: To be avoided in pregnancy; high doses (beyond recommended dose) may potentially cause headache and palpitations
Energetics: Pungent, sweet, astringent; Balances all 3 doshas (kapha, pitta and vata)
Sustainability Status: Grows readily, and no known sustainability issues.
Important Notes: Be mindful of getting high quality sources because it readily grows in contaminated ditches in India.
And there you have it, my friend! My favorite nervous system herbs, all wrapped up in a pretty bow. Of course there are SO MANY more herbs that I absolutely love for the nervous system, but this is a fantastic place to start.
Here’s to calming *just a little* of all that wild ;)