5 herbs to help you de-stress

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Herbs-for-destressing

By Jane

Make Life Easy

Anxious, irritable or downright frazzled? Before you reach for the prescription antidepressants or sleeping pills, you might want to consider a relaxing nervine herb to help you de-stress. Nervines specifically support the nervous system and can be used to promote calmness, elevate moods and induce sleep. Each of these herbs can be used on their own or with a combination of other herbs for the desired effect.

Withania

ashwagandha-rootsWithania somnifera is one of the best herbs for combating stress. It’s used as both a tonic and a calmative, maintaining an adaptogenic-type effect on the body. It helps strengthen the body’s response to stress, and enhances our ability to cope with anxiety and fight fatigue. Like other adaptogenic herbs, it helps the body to ‘adapt’ to situations, maintaining a ‘normalising’ influence on the body.

“Our all time favourite herb for stress is withania, or ashwagandha as it’s called in India, where it is one of the most used herbs,” says Donna Lee of Cottage Hill Herb Farm. “We have more than 250 herbs at Cottage Hill Farm, in dried and/or in the garden, and withania is our top-selling herb because it works across so many areas. We use it for anxiety and stress, mild depression, lack of energy, sexual issues and that ‘everything is on top of me’ feeling. Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue as well as insomnia respond well to withania.”

Withania also has anti-inflammatory, antitussive (alleviates coughs) and antioxidant properties.

“The root is the part of this herb used,” says Donna, and whilst it may be taken as a herbal tea, it would need to be decocted for 15 minutes, very gently with the lid on the pot, or taken as a capsulated herb (see Tea, Capsule or Tincture section below). Normally dosage if made at home is 2 capsules times 2 daily, or 4-5 cups daily as a tea.”

Note: Do not use withania if pregnant, breastfeeding, or have hemochromatosis.

Skullcap

skullcap-for-calming“Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) is another good one that seems to suit uptight, angry type people, including teenagers,” says Donna. “It is also excellent for promoting sleep.”

Skullcap contains a nervine called scutellarin, which promotes relaxation while reviving the central nervous system. It’s a nervine relaxant and nervine restorative, helping to alleviate anxiety and stress, and reviving those with nervous exhaustion. And because it’s also useful for treating muscle spasms, it’s often taken to relieve muscle tension or nervous tics brought on by stress. This is a great herb for those of us ready to snap, or who may freak out at seemingly nothing.

The leaves and flowers of skullcap, are harvested in summer. They can be dried or use fresh as a tea. Or you can buy tinctures and powdered skullcap.

A hardy herbaceous perennial, skullcap prefers moist, fertile soil. In hot, dry areas, grow in shade.

Chamomile

chamomile-in-jarWhile (German) chamomile (Matricaria recutita) has antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties, it’s best known for its use as a mild sedative. It helps with stress and anxiety, helps to relieve insomnia and alleviates stomach cramps, menstrual cramps, flatulence, diarrhea and indigestion. Because it’s a gently acting herb, it’s suitable for children and babies. It’s especially useful for soothing fussy babies and calming down toddlers. Keep a chamomile tincture on hand for any childhood ailments, including colic and digestive issues.

“An infused oil of chamomile or a dilute form of the pure essential oil may be rubbed into baby gums to aid in relieving teething pain,” says Donna. “When given as a herbal tea, it helps with nightmares, irritability and restlessness in children and babies, especially when teething or with measles or chickenpox issues.”

Adults can use chamomile to ease cramps, stress, nervousness and tension, and to promote sleep. And because it contains good amounts of azulene, which has anti-inflammatory properties, it’s useful for treating arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.

“In adults, especially the elderly with acid reflux, heartburn, bowel spasms and any stress-induced gastrointestinal symptoms, chamomile with lavender and a little valerian as a tea is especially helpful,” says Donna.

To dry your own flowers to make tinctures and teas, snip off the fully opened flower heads and lay on a sheet of paper in a warm spot out of direct sun to dry. When completely dry, store in an airtight container. Make a tea by infusing 1 teaspoon dried flowers or 1 tablespoon fresh flowers in freshly boiled water. Steep for 10-20 minutes.

Lavender

english-lavenderLavender is an age-old remedy for calming the nerves, improving mood and relaxing muscles. Research has shown that lavender inhalation has the effect of reducing the body’s stress hormone cortisol.

A simple way to release lavender scent into the air is to use an oil burner with 3-4 drops of essential oil. You can also use the burner in your bedroom at night to induce sleep. Or swab a few drops onto your pillowcase.

Or you can use the combination of both scent and touch (touch, in itself, has a calming effect on the body and mind) and make a lavender massage oil using lavender flowers freshly picked from the garden (see recipe below). For a quick massage oil, use 1 drop lavender essential oil per 1ml carrier oil (olive, sesame, jojoba, sweet almond). Lavender essential oil is one of the very few essential oils that can safely be applied directly to the skin undiluted.

An infusion of the flowers can be taken as a tea or added to a bath to aid in relaxation.

Note: If you have low blood pressure, lavender can make you drowsy.

There are different types of lavenders, but those used for essential oils, fragrance and medicinal purposes are generally the English lavenders (Lavandula angustifolia, syn. Lavandula officinalis) and the Intermedia lavenders (hybridisation between angustifolia and latifolia – a well known one is ‘Grosso’).

All lavenders like a sunny position, in well-drained soil. They will grow in pots but they grow better in the ground.

Vervain

Verbena_officinalisVervain (Verbena officinalis) has both calming and restorative effects on the nervous system and a positive effect on mood. It’s commonly used for treatment of stress and anxiety, and for conditions caused by stress, such as insomnia, depression, headaches, pain and muscular tension. It’s an antispasmodic, which means it helps to ease muscular spasms, cramps and convulsions.

Vervain is also used as a restorative for nervous exhaustion and debility, especially after a period of emotional stress.

As a diaphoretic ­– an agent that promotes perspiration, which helps in fever management – vervain is also traditionally prescribed during the early stages of fever. It’s useful post-fever and illness too, for those who are feeling fatigued.

Note: Vervain should not be used while pregnant or breastfeeding.

Vervain is an herbaceous perennial growing 1.2m high. It grows best in well-drained soil in full sun. Harvest the aerial parts just before the flowers open.

Tea, capsule or tincture?

How you take your herbal remedies depends on you.

“Really, it comes back to a compliance issue with people,” says Donna. “Most will swallow a herbal capsule, rather than take a herbal tea. We use withania as capsules 90 per cent of the time, although we carry the root for tea and the powdered herb, so people may make their own up in order to save money. We carry empty vegetable capsules for this purpose also ­– most people feel empowered making their own. It’s easy, simple, cost-effective and then they know exactly what is in their pill, having made it with their own hands.”

Teas need to be drunk at a ratio of 4-5 cups daily in order to obtain a medicinal benefit. If using roots, seeds or bark herbal parts, these need to be decocted first for 15-20 minutes before drinking in order to obtain the best effect from the plant parts.

RECIPES

Lavender massage oil

Lavender flowers make a great massage oil with their relaxing and anti-inflammatory properties. You can also substitute with chamomile flowers to make a chamomile oil.

  • Fill a glass jar with fresh or dried flowers. Before placing in the jar, allow freshly picked flowers to dry for 12 hours after picking to remove most of the moisture. Too much moisture will cause the oil to go rancid.
  • Fill the jar with sweet almond oil (or olive oil), stopping about 3cm from the top. Stir, screw the lid on tightly, then place the jar in a warm spot for 4-6 weeks. Shake once or more a day.
  • After 4-6 weeks, strain through a cheesecloth. Pour the infused oil into a glass bottle and store in a cool, dark cupboard.

Chamomile tincture

Place dried or fresh chamomile flowers in a clean glass jar (choose a jar that has a plastic, not metal, lid). Pour enough vodka (40% alcohol) over the herbs to completely cover them by about 2cm. Seal the jar with a tight-fitting lid and place in a brightly lit spot (not direct sunlight) and let the herbs soak for 8 weeks. Turn and gently shake the jar once a day. Strain the herbs from the liquid and pour liquid into a clean glass jar. Store in a cool, dark place. Alcohol-based tinctures last many years.

Dosage depends on body weight and age.

  • For under 2, a homeopathic Chamomilla is ideal.
  • Between 2-5 years, 3 to 4 drops of tincture diluted in boiling water to eliminate the alcohol.
  • For 5-10 years, 6 to 10 drops in a small amount of warm water, tea or juice, depending on weight.
  • Ages 10-13, again depending on body weight around 12 to 14 drops.
    Elderly, the same.
  • For all other adults, 20 to 30 drops, again depending on body weight.

We are all different and some people require more than others to achieve the same result. Take about 30 minutes before bed if it is required for sleep and relaxation, otherwise 3 times daily.

Calming bath

The skin readily absorbs the healing properties of herbs in a therapeutic bath. Throw a handful of lavender and chamomile flowers into your bathwater, as well as Epsom salts, to de-stress. If you do not wish to have your herbs floating around you, place them in a muslin bag, or even old pantyhose.

Or try a handful each of chamomile and lemon balm. Lemon balm also makes a great tasting tea and it’s an easy to grow. It helps to alleviate stress and irritability, and assists memory, mood and cognitive function. It’s also useful also for calming symptoms of PMS and stress headaches. When combined with chamomile (take it as a tea or use it in the bath), it assists in obtaining a better night’s sleep. Do not take with thyroid medication.

Want more?
Lemon balm for stress relief

For dried herbs, empty vegetable capsules and other products, go to Cottage Hill Herb Farm.

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