Stress. It can really wreak havoc on our body and, in this day and age, when there are more and more pressures on us to do more in less time, stress has become a fact of life for many and it is making its presence felt in a plethora of health issues, from insomnia to adrenal fatigue to digestive problems and heart disease. For 10 years, I was the walking poster child for chronic stress and it resulted in a whopping dose of adrenal burnout and my functioning at less than my optimal self on a physical, mental and emotional level. Through working with my ND and taking a close and hard look at the factors in my life that brought me to the point of near self-destruction, I incorporated a number of new lifestyle changes to help my mind, body and spirit cope with the stresses I had been experiencing. One of these changes that has been the most powerful for me, and one I continue to incorporate on a daily basis is the use of herbal remedies, in the form of teas, tinctures and supplements.
HOW CAN PLANTS HELP WITH STRESS?
Herbal medicine and herbal remedies have been a part of human life for thousands of years. Plants and flowers, when used correctly, have powerful nutritional, soothing and healing powers and can make a huge difference in helping the body cope with stress, be it emotional, financial, physical or mental. Our bodies are amazing machines and can deal with stress to a certain extent, but when that stress becomes long-term and chronic, the body's coping skills lose steam and the body starts to suffer and break down. Making dietary and lifestyle changes go a long way to ease the burden of stress on the body, but adding in a little boost of plant power in the form of either herbal teas or supplements can certainly make a big difference in how well we progress.
So what herbs are the best for stress? Well my friends, I got you covered. Read on!
Ashwagandha is an ancient Ayurvedic herb known as an "adaptogen" which means it helps our bodies adapt to stress. The root of the plant is used and it is most often ground down into a fine powder for use as a food or in supplements. It is also often made into tincture form. I use the powder daily in my smoothies and have noticed a significant increase in the sense of calm I experience every day, even when in the midst of high stress situations. Commonly used to relieve stress and strengthen the immune system, Ashwagandha has been used for over 3000 years in India as a rejuvenator. The chemical components of the root have anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, immune strengthening and sedative properties. Ashwagandha is not only amazing for helping the body cope with stress, it also shows positive effects on the endocrine, cardiac and central nervous systems. For those suffering with hypothyroidism, Ashwagandha has been shown to help the body produce more thyroid hormone thereby easing the unfriendly and sometimes debilitating symptoms that come with the condition. And get this...Ashwagandha is also excellent for boosting male libido, alleviating impotence and increasing male fertility (yee haw!).
2. HOLY BASIL
Holy Basil is a beautiful and sweet herb that is, as its name suggests, part of the basil family. Like Ashwagandha, Holy Basil is native to India and is an adaptogen so it is wonderful for helping the body cope with adverse and stressful life pressures. It is also a tonic for the body which means that it improves nutrition by providing specific nutrients by improving digestive system function. This is one of the most important aspects that an herb can have! This gorgeous herb enhances brain circulation and improves memory, reduces unclear thinking and mental fog, balances hormones, has anti-inflammatory properties and is great for helping maintain healthy blood sugar levels. It is also an excellent immune system support as it boosts the body's ability to resist viral and bacterial infections and fevers. I prefer to take my Holy Basil in a tea form because it tastes delicious and just the process of making and drinking a hot cup of herbal tea is relaxing and calming in itself. Many health food stores with a half decent bulk herb section will carry Holy Basil in bulk form, but it is also available in tea bag form as well as in capsules and tinctures.
Oats are one of the very best herbs for "feeding" the nervous system, especially when it is under stress. It is often prescribed by medicinal herbalists for those suffering from nervous debility and exhaustion, especially when it the symptoms are associated with depression. However, it is also often used to help ease the symptoms of general stress. The most convenient and, I have to say, delicious way to take oats is simply by making them into a porridge. What a wonderful and relaxing way to start your day! Especially in the winter here in Canada when the mornings can be particularly harsh. Oats can also be taken in tincture form and you can find such tinctures in any reputable health food/supplement store. An added benefit of oats is that the high level of silicic acid in the straw is an excellent remedy for skin conditions. Oats are also rich in calcium and B vitamins which are important for our adrenal glands which often suffer significantly when we are under stress.
No, I'm not talking about a funny looking hat. Although if you're having a bad hair day, I say do what you gotta do! Skullcap is not only a beautiful plant with a stunning purple flower, but it is also an extremely powerful nervine tonic. It relaxes nervous tension while at the same time renewing and regenerating the nervous system. It is excellent for use in just about every exhausted or depressed condition. But that's not all. It gets better! For those suffering from stress-related insomnia, Skullcap can also be used as a sedative to help promote a restful sleep. And, because quite often excess stress brings excess PMS symptoms, Skullcap can also be used to help relieve symptoms of cramps and muscle aches thanks to its anti-spasmodic properties. This little plant just keeps getting better doesn't it? Skullcap can be taken as a tea but I will warn you, it doesn't taste very good on its own. If purchasing the herb in bulk, I highly recommend blending it with something with a more appealing flavour like a Chamomile or even Holy Basil to take some of the bitter edge off. Or, you can always purchase it in capsule or tincture form from your health food/supplement store and save yourself the puckered lips.
5. ST. JOHN'S WORT
Now most people think of St. John's Wort as an herbal treatment for depression, and they're right. This pretty little yellow flower and it's leaves are excellent for treating mild to moderate depression in some individuals. However, St. John's Wort is also a wonderful nervine tonic used to nourish and strengthen the nervous system. When taken internally, either in the form of a tea, supplement or tincture, it has a calming sedative-like effect which is great for treating symptoms of tension and anxiety. In addition, St. John's Wort also has excellent pain reducing properties which, combined with the sedative effect previously mentioned, makes it an excellent herb for women suffering from PMS-related anxiety and tension as well as PMS-related menstrual cramps and muscle aches. ONE VERY IMPORTANT WORD OF CAUTION: St. John's Wort should never be taken when there is SIGNIFICANT depression as it has been shown to aggravate symptoms. Please consult with your health care practitioner before taking St. John's Wort if you suffer from anything more than mild to moderate depression symptoms.
In a day and age when stress is such a huge part of everyday existence for so many, it is nice to know that there are some wonderful and inexpensive natural ways to help support our bodies through what sometimes feels like an almost non-stop onslaught of roller coaster ride after roller coaster ride. These herbs have truly made a difference in my life and I have no doubt that if you choose to give them a try, at least one or two of them will make a difference in yours.
Here's to a less stressed and more blissful you!
Jill Taylor is a Certified Holistic Nutritionist based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. She is the mom of two pretty awesome teenagers, s very dramatic dog, a hedgehog and a snake (yikes!). Jill assists her clients in achieving true wellness through thoughtful and compassionate dietary and lifestyle coaching. Feel free to visit the "Contact" page to get in touch. Jill would love to hear from you!