Understanding Nervine Herb Use- an intro
I have taught the professional healing arts and herbal medicine for many years and i am also a practitioner for more - a Traditional ND (naturopath) as well as a clinical herbalist. On the one hand, there is a challenge and learning curve in teaching students about herb use in general- it just takes time, experiences, integration, and more experience.
On the other hand, I have a special affinity to help people- anyone- including myself - improve their emotional and mental wellness. And I know, through Practice Based Evidence, our natural medicine methods and protocols can be quite superior to medicating people with the pills that get prescribed like candy, but often do not get to the root, or nurture systems, or allow for release and integration of feelings.
When starting out with foundational students, there is often the sense that the nervine herbs we introduce experientially in class - such as valerian, California poppy, Scullcap, Wood Betony, Passion Flower Vine, Kava Kava, and et cetera....will either "cause sleep" or somehow "supress feelings " (like drugs do). That is not the goal of any of them, although certainly I use nervine herbs regularly to improve my sleep quality, and help me process natural feelings in a productive manner. When we work with students, we are experientially teaching several things at once- dosage, frequency, herb choice, preparation of herb, compliance, duration......along with the whole gestalt of "How did my body/mind react to this herb, this time?"
One illuminating exercise we partake in early in our foundational program is to dispense 4 nervine formulas, each, to the students, with instructions to take them and journal what they notice. (This is a powerful teaching exercise, and group dynamics play a strong role.) Then a few weeks later they reconvene to class as a group, and there are ALWAYS differences in what people report as to the outcome. One , for example, may have felt nothing when taking Wild Lettuce - another may have felt reduction of pain and ease of sleep when taking the same herb, same batch, same dose. One person reported a fair amount of "feelings" coming to the surface when taking California Poppy- but did that co-incide with a period cycle shift? Or do we actually WANT to feel , integrate and release "feelings" in order to improve mental and emotional health? For me, and countless others, there is a mellow calmness coming with California Poppy, and I have used it to dissolve the rare headache I might have.
I feel it is best to have at least half a dozen types of nervines on hand, or be in touch with an herbalist who does., Some are better for pain , some are better to reduce held tension patterns, some are more calming. And, we are not always taking them to "fall asleep", Nervines, particularly certain formula mixtures, SUPPORT AND NOURISH our actual nervous system, they are not merely sleeping pills. Itake certain nervines during the day specifically FOR better energy.
This blog post is not meant to solve all the ills of mental and emotional wellness, it would take a lot more discussion, experience, incorporation of other modalities, and teaching.... but, lets go there. Setting aside extreme cases (psychosis, delusions, deep depression) needing acute but hopefully short term medical help- we can bring ourselves out of patterns of anxiety and depression WITH natural medicine support. I don't know ANYONE who could not benefit from this support either now and then or on a regular basis. Nervine herbs NOURISH, and when we are nourished with the constituents and nutrients we need, we fare better.
In my practice it is very common that I receive calls for this very reason- to find natural pathways and methods to better work to create mental and emotional health and fitness.
Adaptogen herbs are key here , too. My mixtures of ashwaganda, rhodioloa, siberian ginseng and fo ti may not be considered strictly "nervine" by some in the herbal community, but they are essential in helping my clients and myself deal with stress on a much improved level. They are essential to my apothecary in working with PTSD, depression, anxiety, conception issues, menopause, recovery, and any challenging transition.
I highly recommend that people get the advice of an herbalist, which can potentially be done via e mail or phone. Some herbs may not be compatible with medication. Cherry picking herbs can lead to taking them the wrong way, in the wrong dosages.... in ways which will not work. For example, you would not eat a strawberry and consider you "had lunch". You would eat a balanced lunch. Cherry picking herbs can lead to choosing bad, watered down brands, paying too much for herbs, or taking them in the wrong form. (Not everything should be taken as a tincture).
In short, learning what nervine herbs work for you is a somatic experience, and if you have the right guidance, and reliable formulas, you will have allies in your journey through life.