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Nervous System TonicsMarch 23, 2012
“a soft hand at your back gently supporting you forward through life”
In my first Botanical Medicine course at Bastyr University, in the first week, we were introduced to plants that work as nervous system tonics (nervines). My professor, an experienced herbalist and Naturopathic Doctor, introduced these important plants to us with the expectation that her overworked medical students could use them as allies during the year – and we did! Nervine plants are mild enough to use regularly and are agents that have a calming, soothing, or strengthening effect on the nervous system. Over the years, I have played with different combinations of nervines to calm me during a stress storm and quiet my mind when it is time to rest. I love these plants – they help shift my sensation of stress and increase my general happiness – they make such a difference for me – and my patients!
I explain to my patients that using nervous system tonics does not make your stress disappear, yet the tonics help create the feeling of a soft hand at your back gently supporting you forward through life. That is a nice feeling! Stress, fatigue, and sleep disturbances are incredibly common complaints for busy adults. Children often present with sleep problems, hyperactivity or emotional liability when their systems are overwhelmed by stress. I use a multifactorial approach when treating stress related emotional and physical manifestations, and this often includes one or a combination of these nervine tonics. I was thrilled to see them included in Rejuvila’s Elemental AGEx Nutrisqweeze.
Lemon balm, Melissa officinalis
This light, aromatic plant in the mint family has a mild sedative (calmative) quality. It is helpful for all disturbances of the nervous system, but specifically for indigestion and insomnia due to stress (1).
Passionflower, Passiflora incarnata
Research shows this beautiful plant to be antispasmodic, hypotensive, calmative, anti-inflammatory and pain reducer (2). This plant is used for agitated and restless individuals and helpful for exhaustion due to stress (3).
Chamomile, Matricaria recutita
For centuries this plant has been used as an antispasmodic and calmative for anxiety. It is specific for nervous system irritability or restlessness, irritability, and sensitivity. It can produce mild sedation and decrease anxiety without producing a depression of central nervous system activity (5). This plant is also antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory and useful for colic and indigestion.
Valerian, Valeriana officinalis
A relaxant used for restlessness, hysteria, emotional stress, pain, insomnia, nervous irritation, and pain. Valerian relaxes the mind without interfering with clear thought (6).
Hops, Humulus lupulus
Hops is indicated for an irritable digestive tract and nervous system. It is specific for nervousness with muscular irritability, indigestion, and sleeplessness (7).
These plant allies work synergistically to promote a sensation of calm, wellness, and general well being. After incorporating nervines into daily living, my patients often report a global sense of improved stress management, clarity of mind, and restful sleep.
1. Sharol Tilgner. Herbal Medicine From the Heart of the Earth. (Creswall: Wise Acres Publishing, 1999), 219.
2. E. Speroni and R. Billi, Sedative Effects of Crude Extract of Passiflora incarnata after Oral Administration. Phytotherapy Research. 1996;10:S92-S94.
3. Tilgner, Herbal Medicine, 219.
4. Tilgner, Herbal Medicine, 50.
5. Viola, De Stein, Wolfman, et al., Apigenein, a Component of Matricaria recutita Flowers, is a Central Benzodiazepine Receptor-ligand with Anxiolytic Effects. Planta Medica. 1995; 61:213-216.
6. William Mitchell. Plant Medicines in Practice. (St. Louis; Churchill Livingston, 2003), 344.
7. Tilgner, Herbal Medicine, 74.
Hillary Fredrickson, ND started her career in Naturopathic Medicine at Bastyr University, the largest university for natural health arts and sciences in the United States. At Bastyr, her focus was in naturopathic family health with much academic and clinical work in Chinese medicine. For many years Dr. Hillary was the Naturopathic expert at Pediatric Alternatives, an integrative pediatric practice in Mill Valley, California, offering integrative pediatric and family primary care.
The basis of her medical approach is using diet and proper supplementation to optimize daily energy and wellness while keeping chronic inflammation and disease at bay. In addition to her primary care family practice, Dr. Hillary created a two-week anti-inflammatory, liver detox protocol and supervises several detox programs throughout the year.