Today we’re talking with naturopathic clinician Angela Hywood, who guides us through a selection of medicinal herbs that play important roles as tonics and adaptogens for nervous and adrenal health. These herbs have long traditions of optimizing sleep and stress management habits, which in turn play an important role in overall, wholistic health.
>> Audio bookmark: Herbal medicine is “where science meets tradition” (03:27)
Herbs for stress can be powerful functional foods for the human body, supporting the body in balance, repair, and normalization of physiological processes.
What is stress? An overdrive of cortisol production (05:44).
Leaves from the lemon balm plant can be made into an herbal tea that is safe for individuals of any age at any stage of life. Lemon balm can produce relaxing effects immediately, calming the nervous system without having a sedative effect.
Passionflower is another safe, fast-acting herb associated with relieving states of anxiousness and a return to a state of calm.
Ashwagandha is an adrenal adaptogen, a medicinal herb that is associated with regulation of cortisol. Ashwagandha reportedly has a calming effect on the nervous system, especially in cases of exhaustion, and the herb is associated with increased immunity.
>> Audio bookmark: Chamomile is the herb that is the “hug of a mother” (11:49)
Chamomile leaves can be steeped in water to make a calming tea that is associated with better sleep habits.
Kava has been extensively studied for its effects on anxiety and stress. It has a rich Polynesian history of relieving stress and anxiety.
Herbs for stress can be a gentle, subtle, safe therapy for children.
Dosing for liquid herbs is easy to manage; they can start as simple as a couple of drops, with the dosage increasing as needed (16:55). Children can feel the effects of stress! To remedy this, Angela recommends chamomile, lemon balm, passionflower, and ashwagandha.
Angela recommends introducing herbs as a form of medicine as early as possible in a child’s life to help them become accustomed to the taste and effects of herbs (20:54). She also suggests taking herbs together as a family in the morning and evening and gradually introduce the flavor of herbs (21:47; 22:10).
Stress can be described as what happens when the adrenal glands produce excessive amounts of cortisol, activating the sympathetic nervous system, known as the “flight or flight” response. Adrenal adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha help the body respond to stress in a healthy way by regulating cortisol production (27:50).
When stress turns into nervous exhaustion, the body lacks the fuel needed to produce neurotransmitters in the nervous system (29:50). Vital nutrients include:
Angela’s favorite combinations of herbs for a healthy stress response include ashwagandha as the core adrenal adaptogen and rehmannia as an adrenal tonic (30:16). Other important herbs to calm the nervous system in cases of chronic stress include valerian, passionflower, chamomile, and kava.
>> Audio bookmark: “You can only live so long in ‘fight or flight.’” We’re not designed to be living in “alarm mode” all the time (31:33)
Adrenal tonics are restorative repair agents for the tissues of the adrenal cortex and adrenal medulla (39:30). Licorice and rehmannia are adrenal tonics. Adrenal adaptogens help humans adapt to the output of the adrenals “in accordance to what life demands” (40:38). Angela describes their function as “like a dimmer switch,” returning the body to normal, baseline cortisol levels.
Many people find difficulty in falling asleep (onset insomnia, too much cortisol) or staying asleep. Herbs may help with both. Angela recommends steeping chamomile for 20 minutes to make it medicinal. Another tip? Eat something with protein in it before bed.