Addressing Stress, Anxiety and Depression with an Herbal PerspectiveFeb 28, 2021 09:12PM ● By Erin Shrader
The roots of anxiety and depression have been found to be inflammation and stress, as well as neurotransmitter depletion and hormone dysregulation. There are many holistic approaches to balance these core issues including managing stress in our lifestyles, healing the gut, aligning our daily rhythms with the rhythms of nature and the seasons, supplementing nutrient deficiencies and so on.
In the realm of herbalism, we are interested in lifestyle factors like nutrition and exercise, stress mediation, sleep quality, etc. In addition to these cornerstones of healing, we rely on partnerships with the plants to help guide us toward a thriving and vital life.
Imagine walking into a lush, green forest in early summer. The smells, the warmth, the sound of leaves in the wind and birdsong, these are environmental stimuli that our bodies are evolved to respond to. Our bodies are able to read information from this scene through receptors that detect pheromones, volatile oils in the air, etc. The plants are constantly communicating with our animal bodies below the level of conscious awareness. We are in deep and ancient relationships with the plants. They have been our food and medicine and companions and art and adornment to our bodies for eons, we are inseparable from one another. The plants have so much to offer us as we address our body’s messages of anxiety and depression.
The volatile oils of plants have been used in aromatherapy, the smoke has been used in incense, the whole plant is made into teas and tinctures and decoctions, the flowers create flower essences. The availability of plant medicines is almost endless. So where do we begin?
The activity of plants within the human body has been categorized in many different ways. One of those categories is nervine herbs. Nervine herbs act on the nervous system bringing relaxation, mood elevation, a sense of ease and calm. Some nervines that may be helpful for guiding our body back to a balanced state are plants like Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis), Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca), Scullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), Wood Betony (Stachys officinalis), and Garden Sage (Salvia officinalis). All of these plants are easy to grow in your South Central Pennsylvania garden and can easily be made into teas, flower essences, and tinctures. There are many helpful YouTube videos, online articles and local teachers to guide us on making our own medicines.
Another category of nervine herbs for anxiety and depression are the trophorestorative herbs. Trophorestorative means nutritive and building of vitality. Milky Oats (Avena sativa), Borage (Borago officinalis), St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), Blue Vervain (Verbena officinalis), Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), Lion’s Mane Mushroom, and Reishi Mushroom are all trophorestorative nervines that help to calm and strengthen an overburdened nervous system.
Some of these herbs, like St. John’s Wort, must be used with caution for some people. It is always wise to research the herbs, talk to healthcare providers before using them, and work with an herbalist, functional medicine doctor or naturopathic physician. Each plant is like a person. They have a personality and defining features. Some plants are cooling to the body, some are warming. Some plants are moistening and others are drying. Some plants do well as teas, while others extract better in alcohol preparations. All of these unique factors make herbal medicine endlessly exciting as we get to know each plant like a new friend.
The way one plant interacts with your specific biology will be different than how it interacts with someone else. Many herbalists create beautiful formulas blending different herbs together to achieve a goal. I prefer to use “simples” which is one herb at a time, until I understand my body’s relationship with that herb. How do I respond? How do I feel? Once I know how this herb works within my body, I will be happy to take it as part of a formula. The effect of the plant doesn’t stop at the body. Plants have a deep effect on our emotions, our spirits, our hearts. They are truly like wise guides who lead us toward healing.
As you embark upon healing from the stress of modern life, I hope you will consider a relationship with plant allies alongside getting good rest, exercising, eating real food, finding a meaningful spiritual practice and learning to love yourself. Every one of us who is healing becomes a beacon for others. May you find peace and ease for yourself, and become a source of peace in this world.
Erin Shrader is a registered nurse, herbalist and mystic. You can find more of her writing, as well as the herbal products she creates, at her website TheRebelHerbalist.com or by connecting with her on Facebook @RebelHerbalist or on Instagram as the_rebel_herbalist.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. The information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Check with a healthcare professional regarding the appropriate use of any treatment.