After a long and busy day, using an herb or two to unwind can be a wonderful stress reliever, but as the holidays approach with its worries of family, finances, and making time for a little holiday fun, des-stressing can be down-right essential! There are many herbs that can help de-stress from a hard day. Some are great for people who are usually cold; others are a good choice for people with mild indigestion. Let’s explore them and find the perfect relaxations herbs and oils!
Linden Flower is a classic relaxant. Once considered the mildest of narcotics, Linden is mildly sweet and a little relaxing. The label “narcotic” was taken away from this little beauty once scientists understood the chemical structure of narcotics. They discovered that Linden is not a narcotic at all! It simply acts to relax tensions. This is especially true when it comes to tensions felt when arguing…a common holiday pitfall. This was known even in the Dark Ages of Europe. Legend says that it was desirable to have town meetings under Linden trees if a town hall was not available. The reason? People would argue less and the meetings would end sooner if people could inhale the light fragrance of the Linden tree in bloom!
Linden is a little cooling to the body, so it is ideal for someone who becomes hot easily. Not only does it make a mild herb tea, it is also great in the bath! Making an entire pot of the tea and pour one cup to drink and two or three cups to pour into a warm bath can be a great way to relax. A Linden bath is also a great way to get a fussy toddler ready for bed with less resistance.
Considering toddlers, Peach Leaf is a great relaxing tea that is even used with little ones. Phyllis Light tells the tale of the neighborhood children being gathered in the shade on hot summer days and given tea, peach leaf tea, to soothe them into a much needed nap! Peach leaf is great for children who get so mad that they cannot speak! Also, this is a good herb for childish temper tantrums that grown-ups can throw too.
German Chamomile is a classic that many people know as relaxing and good for poor digestion. This is a great herb for unwinding, especially if indigestion is a common complaint. However, if there is a history of hay fever, then it is possible to have an allergic reaction to this herb. German Chamomile is related to the primary culprits in hay fever suffering. One key sign that German Chamomile is the best choice to relax with is one red cheek and one pale cheek. This seems to be a sure sign that the body wants German Chamomile. With its apple like taste, German Chamomile makes a great evening tea.
Roman Chamomile is also relaxing. This plant has been used interchangeably at times with German Chamomile. While German Chamomile has a sunny little flower, Roman Chamomile has a larger, white petals. It is usually more bitter than German Chamomile. This means that it is more effective in helping the body to digest rich foods. The slightly bitter taste makes Roman Chamomile an ok tea, but perhaps better used in a tincture or in an infusion in combination with other herbs. Pregnant or breast-feeding women should not use Roman Chamomile.
Valerian is another classic relaxation herb. It is a sedative, not just a relaxant, so it can induce sleep. In fact, it induces sleep so well that if someone gets only a poor quality of sleep, this will improve the quality of the sleep that they get. It is very pungent, sometimes being described as smelling of dirty laundry or sweat. Most of Valerian’s other common names, like Phu, refer to the bad smell of this herb! It does taste better than it smells, but only a little. Despite the smell and taste of Valerian, it remains one of the most effective and most popular sedative herbs available today. The pungent taste suggests that it is especially useful to those who are often cold, or who have a hard time getting going in the morning. It also helps relax the digestive system, removing many tension derived digestive issues. It is usually drunk as a tea, but it can be put into capsules or turned into a tincture.
Wild Lettuce is a less well-known herb that is a great relaxant. Sometimes called “Little Opium”, this herb was once considered the weakest of opiates. Like Linden, it turned out that Wild Lettuce is chemically not related on a chemical level to any of the herbs it used to be associated with. It is not an opiate at all. It is cooling to the body, so like Linden, it is best used by people who are a little over heated because they are worked up about something, be it an injustice, or an argument with a family member. Wild Lettuce makes a fine tea and can be used in many other forms.
Skullcap is a classic to help people whos’ minds will not stop chattering. People who seem to benefit the most from Skullcap are those who lie in bed at night going over conversations that they have had, conversations that they will have, things to do, things that should have been done better, and more. Like Roman Chamomile, Skullcap is bitter, so those with poor digestion also value it. The bitter flavor also leads many people to make tinctures instead of teas. It strengthens the nerves and calms the body, making tomorrow a better day. Whether using a tincture or a tea, Skullcap can make the person taking it hungry! Any time Skullcap is used, it makes sense to have a little snack, unless there is already indigestion that the Skullcap is helping the body to recover from. This is another herb that should be avoided in pregnancy.
Agrimony is a delightful herb for people who tell everyone around them that they are “fine” when they are tense or worried. Usually, being worried makes them tense! When they do open up the shoulders rise as they talk about the things that bother them, and they begin to resemble the shape of the tense little Agrimony plant. Agrimony looks as though it is tensely reaching for the sky. Agrimony calms these folks especially. There is some good nutrition in Agrimony, among other minerals, it contains silica, which gives muscles a chance to recover from the wear and tear of always being tense. It is also less bitter than Skullcap, or our next herb, Vervain.
Blue Vervain is almost the companion to Agrimony because when one doesn’t do the trick to relax someone, the other often will. Blue Vervain helps the great list makers of the world to relax. These are people who hold themselves to impossible standards, and they hold everyone else to them too! Blue Vervain is more bitter than Agrimony, so like Scullcap, it can make the person using it hungry. Also, it should be avoided in pregnancy.
European Vervain is a cousin of Blue Vervain. Some herbalists consider it too strong and prefer Blue Vervain, others prefer Blue Vervain because they think it is stronger than European Vervain! If you try one of them and it seems almost perfect, it may be worth trying the other to see if it is a better fit. The same health warnings apply to both Vervains.
Mullein Leaf is a very relaxing herb. It is most often used by those with coughs and chest congestion, but it can also make the person using it a little spacey! There is an herbalist who drinks it because it gives her just a hint of “her youth in the 60’s”. I do not recommend Mullein Leaf before a class or anything else that involves concentrating, but it can be a great way to unwind at the end of a long day! In addition to being drunk, Mullein Leaf can be smoked. It is even considered to be cleansing to the lungs to smoke mullein after quitting smoking.
Lemon Balm is actually a great resource for people who’s thyroid is a little off. Many people function with “normal” thyroids but are on the hyperactive end of “normal”. Lemon Balm can be a great normalizer, relaxing thyroid function and consequently relaxing the body. If you find that you love Lemon Balm, pay special attention to foods and herbs good for the thyroid. You might just find that much of your tension melts away once you focus on caring for your thyroid! It is also great for people who get upset stomachs when they are tense.
Catnip is a classic relaxant. It opens up a tense body, allowing for healthy sweating and more free movement of fluids through the body. This little beauty can actually take the edge off of a fever! It is ideal for people with dry skin who often become overheated. A great herb to use when coughing, or experiencing diarrhea.
Hops is a sedative. It helped George Washington fall asleep every night. It is also a depressant, so it is important not to use Hops if depression is present as it will exacerbate the problem. This issue includes beer! Hops is very bitter, so as a tea it is not the best tasting herb in the world, but it need not be drunk to be effective. When drunk, it stimulates the appetite and better enables the body to move unhealthy levels of mucous through the digestive system. George Washington slept with a pillow stuffed with Hops. Inhaling the fragrance is a great way to use Hops while avoiding the worst of the bitterness it contains.
Motherwort is most popular among people who’s heart suddenly beings to race when they are anxious or under a lot of pressure. A classic for this symptom in menopausal women, Motherwort, or Mother Plant in modern English, is very relaxing for people who’s tension sneaks up on them, or for people who suddenly become overwhelmed by pressures that they are under. This is another herb to be avoided in pregnancy, although it was once given immediately after a birth.
Passion Flower Herb is another great thyroid regulator. If this herb is the perfect relaxant, then look to other things that can be done to improve thyroid health. The name Passion Flower Herb usually makes people think of aphrodisiacs. This is a little misleading, as it is named for the passion of the Christ. This has to do with the specific structures found in the flower of Passion Flower Vine. In addition to being drunk in teas, some people choose to smoke Passion Flower Herb to relax. It is especially valuable to those prone to “Hangovers” from sedatives, because it doesn’t seem to cause any negative residual effects. Also, despite how it got its name, it can have an aphrodisiac effect in some people.
Crampbark is classically used for just what the name sounds like it would be used for: cramps. A popular women’s herb since time immemorial, Crampbark is calming and a mild sedative. In its chemical cocktail lies one of the active ingredients found in Valerian, valerianic acid. This little chemical, all by itself, is a relaxing sedative. It is present in Crampbark in smaller amounts than it is in Valerian, and it is surrounded by different chemical friends, but it is a part of Crampbark’s calming and muscle relaxing powers. One of the great benefits of Crampbark is that is does not smell or taste as bad as Valerian! Making a tea or a weak decoction of Crampbark can be a good way to remove tension during the day.
Wild Yam calms people who express tension through aggression. These are often people with irritated bowl syndrome, diverticulitus, or other intestinal issues. It is also used in RA. Like Crampbark, Wild Yam is a bit tough, so a decoction is a good way to work with it. This is not a sedative, but it can be very calming. This makes it a good daytime choice for handling stress.
Damiana is often listed as aphrodisiacal for women! This may be due to the testosterone like alkaloids found in the plant. Testosterone contributes to the sex drive in women as well as men. It is used to relax people who are tense about new situations and have a difficult time opening up. It is also great for people who often have cold hands and feet. It opens up circulation at the periphery, allowing warm blood to travel throughout the body. It has been used as an anti-depressant. This is another herb that some people choose to smoke instead of drink in teas, like Mullein or even Scullcap.
Oatstraw is a classic rebuilder. It is an ideal calming herb for people who habitually push themselves a little too hard. They are always looking for the next challenge. If they keep up a highly tense and demanding schedule, these folks can take on a hollow look, or an overfed and still unhealthy look. Skin problems are not uncommon to people whos’ body’s cry out for a little Oatstraw. Oatstraw will calm them down and give them more resources to face the next battle that they take on. Oatstraw tea can taste a little strange to the people who do not need it, but it often tastes ok or even good to those that do!
Alfalfa is more about good nutrition then anything else. Chock full of vitamins and minerals, Alfalfa gives the body many of the things it needs to function better. The list of minerals goes on and on, but it is especially high in iron, a nutrient that gives energy and calms the body at the same time. It can be put into capsules or tea once it is dried and taken as a medicine, but alfalfa sprouts are also a great way to get the benefits of Alfalfa.
Wood Betony has been popular as a tension headache remedy in this arena. It is thought to strengthen the nervous system which helps us face stressful situations. Wood Betony is a great choice when tension seems to be getting the better of a person, keeping them from accomplishing their goals. A strong infusion of Wood Betony can be drunk several times throughout the day to relax muscle tension that causes headaches and to give a little lift, a little more energy to put towards work.
Kava Kava is definitely an evening beverage. Historically drunk after work with friends, Kava is relaxing and stimulating. It is thought to remove barriers by making the drinker braver, but not by dulling decision making processes. It has been said that if one drinks Kava with someone that one has wanted to make a pass at, and the only thing in the way was nervousness, then a pass is more likely while using Kava, but, if that person is in a relationship, then nothing would happen, because poorer than normal judgment is not a part of the Kava experience. Most people do not like the taste of Kava, so blending it with other herbs and spices is popular. Spices, such as Cinnamon or Allspice can be added. Herbs like Peppermint are another way to go. There is an added sensation when Peppermint is used. Kava slightly numbs the mouth and Peppermint cools it, the combination has been popular with some of the staff here at Magus. The easiest way to make a strong Kava brew is to put it in a coffee maker. It can take a very long time to go through the filter as it is a little gummy, but it is often worth the wait. Ultimately Kava acts as a sedative and muscle relaxant, but there are about two hours before those effects kick in, during which people tend to become more talkative. The effects overall are enhanced by having other people to talk to. This herb, like alcohol, does damage the liver. It is important not to mix it with alcohol or any medications that damage the liver
California Poppy is a wonderful sedative. It has even been used on children who cannot sleep. It is a relative of opium poppy, but it is not the same plant. However, the relationship between the two plants is close enough that California Poppy will often trigger an opium response in drug tests. California Poppy is like a weaker, non-addictive form of its powerful cousin, Opium Poppy. Anyone needing to pass drug tests should not use this herb. Like Mullein and Damiana, this herb is smoked as well as drunk in teas.
The last herbs I want to discuss today are not relaxing herbs, but they are another type of herb that is very useful when trying to handle stress. Adaptagens, herbs that help people adapt to new situations and to stresses, are not necessarily relaxing, but they do make it easier to handle a bad day. Astragalus is an adaptagen that is especially useful to people who pick up every virus running around. It strengthens the immune system and gets the body to respond more quickly to changes in the environment. This is an odd tasting herb, but the flavor is perfectly hidden by chicken soup! Tossing a little Astragalus into a soup pot is the best way to give a little help to a stressed out, sickly person. I would recommend fishing the herb out before eating the soup, or putting it into the soup pot inside a tea ball or muslin bag.
Ginseng is probably the best known adaptagen today. There are several species and several types of Ginseng. We offer white American Ginseng, white Asian Ginseng, and steamed, or red Asian Ginseng. Each of these is different from the others. The American Ginseng is the most neutral Ginseng, meaning it is good for most men and women. It is a little bit cooling to the body, so it can take some of the heat off a tense time. Asian white Ginseng is also good for both men and women, but it is a little better for men in traditional Chinese medicinal thinking. Red Ginseng is definitely a yang, or male energy building herb. It increases heat and should be used in moderation. It is easy to tell if too much being used: sleep will become difficult and the tongue will begin to look like chopped raw beef. Generally, for those needing red ginseng, an inch of the root simmered in water for half an hour is plenty. It might be beneficial to drink the liquid of this decoction once a day, once every other day, or even just two or three days a week. As for the white Ginsengs, the dose is often a bit higher, but they too can be needed only a few days a week when prepared in the same way. Ginsengs do raise blood pressure, which is great for those with low blood pressure, but not so good for anyone with high blood pressure.
Eleuthero, once called Siberian Ginseng, is another adaptagen from Asia. It is sometimes considered a women’s Ginseng, sometimes used as a substitute for Ginseng when it becomes too expensive. It is a part of a blend that I think is great for dealing with stress when I am tired. It is based on the “Vitality” blend from TCM. It is equal parts Eleuthero, Green Tea, Gotu Cola & Ginseng. It may not make the day suddenly sunny & bright, but it does make it easier to handle, especially when I am tired. Eluethero can even help the body adjust to altitude changes! This herb can even help with depression by helping the body adjust physically to a healthier chemical balance.
Gotu Cola is another wonderful adaptagen from Asia. It reduces fatigue and improves sleep quality! While it is not a good bedtime tea (none of the adaptagens are) it will improve the quality of sleep if it is drunk during the day to help when dealing with stress. Gotu Cola is good for those with cold hands and feet or arthritis. It can even improve skin, hair, and nail health. Gotu cola is easy to grow indoors and if it is shade grown it is less bitter and makes a great salad green.
Suma, once called Brazilian Ginseng, is South America’s best adaptogen. Many for the claims made for Ginseng about fighting illness, stress, exhaustion, and more have been made for Suma by people living in S. America. Like Ginseng, Suma can be put into teas, capsules, or tinctures for easy travel. The doses are also similar. Taking too much Suma is much like taking too much Ginseng too, a nervousness sets in, depriving the body of sleep.
Muira Puma is also from S. America. This is more often classed with aphrodisiacs than adaptogens, but truthfully, any adaptogen can be considered an aphrodisiac. This herb also has its limits and can make people nervous when as much as an entire cup of the tea is consumed.
Jiaogulan is the right adaptagen for anyone who just gets more and more slow as they become more and more stressed. It does warm up the body, so it is for someone who gets cold easily, too. Jiaogulan is great when cholesterol is an issue or diabetes might become an issue due to family history. It has a history of use with depression, anxiety, and other psychological issues.
Reishi is fungus from Asia that can be added to soups and stews or taken alone in decoctions to reduce tension. A good anti-oxidant, it is good for people who are often too cold or people who are often too hot, or even bounce between these extremes.
Rooiboos, Red or Green, is a great adaptagen for allergy sufferers! It also benefits anyone with cancer or heart disease in their family history. This is another good anti-oxidant and it taste great. Red Rooiboos is red because of from the oxidation that happens during fermentation. This process decreases the antioxidant level, but many prefer the taste of the Red, or fermented Rooiboos. Commonly drunk as tea, Rooiboss is a great afternoon pick me up. It can interfere with iron absorption.
-Liz Johnson, Store Owner