The key alchemy of herbalism is an acceptance of an interconnectedness of body, mind and spirit. An understanding of the fact that each nerve, cell and fiber of our being is connected. An accident in one part of the body sometimes leave lasting effect on the adjoining part of the body which becomes a lingering pain. Everyday stress too builds over time, affecting various part of our physical body. Stress can be regarded as an emotional state but its effect sometimes can be felt in different parts of the body. When body is exposed to stress hormones, adrenal glands secretes hormones like Cortisol (hydrocortisone) which increases heart rate, blood pressure and capillaries narrow and is responsible for the many physiological changes that makes us fight or run away. Receptors of Cortisol are in every tissue of our body, so stress is really felt everywhere.
When stress becomes chronic, our perception of reality starts shifting which causes us to be hyper-vigilant which further leads us to perceive more stress, thus creating a cycle that feeds in itself. Thus chronic stress leads to anxiety, depression, weight loss or gain, fatigue, sleep disruption, insulin resistance, and hypertension.
Herbalism acknowledges that healing is a holistic process and understands that nervous system is the primary key to a physical and emotional ailment.
Introducing Nervous System
The nervous system, composed of the brain, the spinal cord, and complex network of nerve cells, monitors and controls almost every organ in the body.
Trillions of nerve cells are linked together in a remarkably organized way to form the control system of the body—the nervous system (Costanzo, 2010).
Human nervous system consists of three main systems: the central nervous system (CNS), the peripheral nervous system (PNS), and the enteric nervous system (ENS). I want to talk about CNS and PNS here as they govern the functioning of major nervous system in our body.
The central nervous system consists of brain and spinal cord, the main command center. They process information and decides how to respond to the inputs, whether your body is responding to good news, stressful week at work or at some traumatic event.
The Peripheral nervous system connects the CNS to the body’s organs, muscles, blood vessels, and glands through long group of neurons. Many nerves can be seen with the naked eye. There are approximately 200 nerves in the PNS, including the vagus nerve, the sciatic nerve, and many cranial nerves. The two nervous systems: Somatic nervous system which is a direct action of our thoughts that includes our voluntary physical activities of body movement. The autonomic nervous system is the involuntary division, which controls smooth muscles, cardiac muscles and many glands. Further divided into two parts consist of : the sympatheic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which take turn being the most active systems depending upon the situation a person is in.
The parasympathetic is activated when a person is in rest and digest mode. The sympathetic mode is dominant in stressful situation and a person is in a fight or flight mode which increases heart rate, muscle contraction and adrenaline rush. Usually humans shift between these two modes parasympathetic and sympathetic mode. When the sympathetic nervous system is constantly turned on in our everyday life, then it becomes difficult for us to digest, to sleep, and to reproduce which brings out chronic stress, anxiety disorders, sleep disorders, chronic pain and variety of other imbalances can occur in a physical body.
Herbal Support for the Nervous System
So let’s go to how herbalism and plant medicine heal our nervous system and bring balance in our life. Traditional herbalism has been working with two plant categories: Nervine and Adaptogenic herbs classification in healing our nervous system.
The first category, Nervine is a group of healing plant medicines that calm the nerves, which are sedative, carminative and anti-depressant. Some of the nervine herbs that are used in traditional herbalism are: Lemon balm Melissa officinalis, Chamomile Matricaria recutita, Passionflower Passiflora incarnata, Skullcap Scutellaria laterifolia, Lavender Lavendula officinalis, Rose flower Rosa spp., Catnip Nepeta cataria.
The nervine herbs are easy to take internally as; tea, tincture/glycerites (couple of drops whenever needed), pills, and externally; as herbal oils, in bath and as aromatic sprays.
The next category of herbs is Adaptogens. Adaptogenic herbs bring balance in our energy level, support our body from chronic stress (and other chronic illnesses as well), recharge the body, rejuvenate cells, bringing it back from depletion, tonify our immune system (adaptogens are also immunomodulating and antioxidant (potentially remove damaging agents, such as free radicals, from our body and often considered beneficial in preventing cancer).
According to Nikolai V. Lazarev, an adaptogen is an agent that allows an organism to increase resistance to physical, chemical, or biological stressors, thus allowing the organism to adapt to the conditions brought about by the stressors.
Some of the adaptogenic herbs that are used in traditional herbalism are: Tulsi/ Holy Basil Ocimum sanctum, Ashwagandha Withania somnifera, Shatavari Asparagus racemosus, Amla Phyllanthus emblica, Asian Ginseng (root) Panax ginseng, Eleuthero Eleutherococcus senticosus, Reishi mushroom Ganoderma lucidum.
Safe for most of the people, these adaptogenic herbs can be taken every day with food, as supplements, tonics, in tinctures, pills or as tea.
As herbalism respects the cycle of holistic health and lifestyle; for a healthy balance of body, mind and spirit, eating organic healthy food and drink is encouraged. Daily exercise, yoga, nature walk, meditation, healing music, laughing, spending time in nature, incorporating herbs in food, drinks and regularly taking herbal supplements are ways of reducing stress, staying relaxed and warding off illnesses.
Holistic approach aims in healing mind, body and spirit. It acknowledges and understands that human mind has strong healing powers. Herbs and holistic lifestyle brings back that understanding with strong faith in superior medicinal plants and flowers of earth employed by herbalists since eons in all cultures of the world.