Herbs And The Nervous System
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 leaves a 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 the body is exposed to stress hormones, the adrenal glands secrete hormones like cortisol (hydrocortisone) which increases heart rate, blood pressure and makes the capillaries narrow. It is also responsible for the many physiological changes that make 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, causing us to be hyper-vigilant which further leads us to perceive more stress. This creates 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 the nervous system is primarily behind a physical and emotional ailment.
Introducing the 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 this control system of the body. (Costanzo, 2010). The human nervous system consists of three main parts: 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 major functions of the nervous system.
The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord, the main command center. They process information and decide how to respond to the inputs, whether your body is responding to the 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 a long group of neurons, with many of the nerves that 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 somatic nervous system is in charge of the direct action of our thoughts, including our voluntary physical body movements. The autonomic nervous system is the involuntary division, which controls smooth muscles, cardiac muscles, and many glands. Further divided into two parts consisting of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which take turns being the most active system depending upon the situation a person is in. The parasympathetic is activated when a person is in rest and digestion mode. The sympathetic mode is dominant in stressful situations where a person is in fight or flight mode, increasing heart rate, muscle contractions and adrenaline rush.
Usually, humans shift between the 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, sleep, and reproduce which brings out chronic stress, anxiety disorders, sleep disorders, chronic pain and a variety of other imbalances that can occur in a physical body.
Herbal Support for the Nervous System
So let’s go to how herbalism and plant medicine can heal our nervous system and bring balance in our life. Traditional herbalism has been working with two plant categories: Nervine and Adaptogenic herbs. 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., and Catnip Nepeta cataria.
The nervine herbs are easy to take internally as a tea, tincture/glycerites (a couple of drops whenever needed), pills; and externally as herbal oils, in the 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 them back from depletion, tone our immune system (adaptogens are also immunomodulating) and act as antioxidants (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 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 happy and warding off illnesses. A holistic approach aims in healing the mind, body, and spirit. It acknowledges and understands that human mind has strong healing powers. Herbs and a holistic lifestyle bring back that understanding with strong faith in superior medicinal plants and flowers of earth employed by herbalists since eons ago in all cultures of the world.
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