Oats (Avena sativa, A. fatua)
Parts used: Green milky tops, seeds, stalks
Benefits: Oats are among the best of the nerve tonic herbs and are a superior cardiac tonic. Those who are overworked, stressed, or anxious, or who have irritated and inflamed nerve endings due to burns or hemorrhoids, should make oats a regular part of their diet. Oats proved energy by increasing overall health and vitality. They are frequently used for nervous system disorders, depression, and anxiety, low sexual vitality, irritability, and urinary incontinence. The plant helps sooth irritation from nicotine and other chemical withdrawals, are are one of the principal herbal aids used for convalescing after a long illness. Oat tops are exceptionally rich in silica, calcium, and chromium and are one fo the highest sources of magnesium. The stalks of the oats, though not as rich in minerals as the milky green tops, are also medicinal.
Suggested uses: The fruit, or seed, of the oat plant is primarily used, as it contains several active alkaloids, starches and vitamins. Use both the stalks and fruits together: they are at their best harvested when green-gold and not fully ripe. We’re used to thinking of oats in the classic form of oatmeal, but to herbalists, oatmeal is for breakfast and the oat tops are for tea. Both the milky green tops and stalks make a delicious, nutritive tea. Combine oats with lemon balm and passionflower for a good nervine; with valerian for a sleep aid; or with digestive bitters for any liver or digestive upset. Finally, oats (both the meal and the unripened milky tops) make one of the most soothing herbal baths for nervous stress and irritated, itchy skin. Add several drops of lavender oil for an especially relaxing experience.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Parts used: Leaves
Benefits and uses: The warming, aromatic constituents of basil help to calm the nervous system; settle the stomach; clear the mind; and fight off coughs, colds, flu and allergies. The magnitude of basil’s healing endeavors are reflected in the hundreds of therapeutic applications of this leafy green companion. Basil is known as the destroyer of phlegm - when you consider the number of ailments that are provoked by excess phlegm (from allergies to asthma to colds), you begin to understand the breadth of basil’s virtue.
Basil is most commonly thought of as part of the tomato sauce or pasta dish, but a cup of basil tea works works wonders on almost any digestive complaint. Basil tea relieves stomach cramps and spasm, nausea, gas and constipation. That must be why it’s a primary ingredient in pasta dishes: so you can eat more pasta! Basil doesn’t qualify as the world’s best tasting tea, but it isn’t so bad, especially when you find out what it can do for your stomach. Just add a little honey!
Eating more basil in the late summer and early fall helps fend off sinus and bronchial congestion during the winter. It is also antibacterial and antiviral, making it a helpful remedy for the common cold and flu as well. If you are prone to such sickness, keep some dried basil and drink the tea several times a week as a preventative remedy. It warms the body, clears out the lungs, and sharpens the mind. In the middle of winter when you are feeling cold, dark, damp and depressed, break out your stash of dried basil and let it infuse your day with a little warmth and summer sunshine.
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
Parts used: Flowers, buds, leaves
Benefits and uses: St. John’s Wort blooms around the summer solstice, bursting forth stunningly sunny flowers. I was amazed the first time I squeezed the flowers between my fingers to see a purple stain left behind! Another trick of St. John’s Wort is the perforated leaves, which you can see when held up to the light of the sun - these tiny holes are the oil glands. This in an all around magical plant that is such a joy to work with!
St. John’s Wort is commonly associated with depression, although many herbalists feel that it is best suited to mild cases of the blues, especially when related to seasonal affective disorder or lack of healing energy from the sun. I first think of St. John’s Wort as being a nervous system restorative. Besides lifting the spirits, St. John’s Wort brings relief to painful and even infected nerves - an oil or liniment can be used on nerve pain such as sciatica. It’s also a fabulous match for viruses that attack the nervous system such as in the case of cold sores and shingles.
Externally, it has wonderful healing abilities against rashes, burns, and wounds. Some people even use the oil to prevent sunburns and an external wash to heal sunburns! Taken over time, St. John’s Wort can ease insomnia and promote restful sleep. Note: Well-made medicine from this plant turns a brilliant dark red color that amazes me each time I see it!
Wild Rose (Rosa spp.)
Parts used: All parts
Benefits and uses: Roses hold a certain mystical history. Their exotic beauty and alluring smell combined with the prickly thorns have enthralled humans for thousand of years. Roses have been found entombed with the ancient Egyptian pharaohs, and were highly prized by the Greeks and Romans. Josephine, Napoleon’s wife, adored them and is responsible for many of the hybrids we have today. In modern times most roses are grown primarily for their beauty, but historically roses have been an important food source as well as important medicine.
All species of roses can be used although I prefer the wild roses that grow abundantly in my area in place of domesticated varieties. Whichever rose you use, as always, be sure it hasn’t been sprayed with chemicals. You can use all parts of the rose including the petals, hips, inner bark, leaves, and thorns. A nice way to use all of the fresh parts is to infuse them in vodka or brandy and use it as a liniment for pain.
Like many plants, roses can affect our mental as well as our physical well-being. Herbalists use rose extensively for grief and a broken heart. Its antioxidant properties make it an important ally for heart health. All parts of the rose are cooling and astringent and are great medicine for warm conditions that need tone such as bladder infections, diarrhea, and rashes. You can use rose as a tincture, tea, decoction, and even as food. The petals and rose hips infused in honey are absolutely delicious. Rose hips can also be used in a variety of ways including beverages, preserves, jams, on cereals, in breads, in butter, soups, etc.
I have obsessive thoughts that really get to me and I get so caught up in that try to destroy me. Are there any herbs that are effective for that?
That sounds fairly serious, so I am going to recommend going to a therapist if you don’t see one already. I went to one for years and found it to be extremely helpful for my depression and social anxiety!
In the mean time, look into St. John’s Wort, an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety herb that calms worried minds; valerian root, a sedative; and kava-kava, which is excellent for stress and anxiety. There are many wonderful anti-anxiety and calming herbs, but the herbs I listed would probably be the most potent for your situation. I really hope that helps, and that you find peace!
Kava-Kava (Piper methysticum)
Parts used: Roots
Benefits: Kava-kava root is used mainly to treat anxiety disorders and to relive anxiety associated with stress. It has the unique ability to relax the body while awakening the mind. It produces a sense of relaxation and at the same time heightens awareness and makes you feel brighter. Lower doses of kava cam improve activity and awareness, while large doses may cause drowsiness. Kava is also often used to treat stiffness, insomnia, pain, jet lag, uncontrolled epilepsy and anxiety. Scientists have found that kava contains chemicals called kavapyrones that reduce convulsions and enable muscle relaxation.
Suggested uses: Kava is available as a tincture, extract and capsules. The tincture is quick, effective and handy to use. It is especially helpful in times of stress when you need a quick relaxant. One of my all-time favorites teas is the Kava Stress Relief from Yogi Teas - it works like a charm and is SO YUMMY.
Lavender (Lavendula spp.)
Parts used: Flowers
Benefits: Lavender, oh lavender, how I love thee! If I could only use one herb for the rest of my life (I know, that’s a terrible thought), I would choose lavender because of it’s so versatile, both medicinally and culinary-wise. Lavender is the queen of nerve tonics, allowing you to respond to stressors of life in a less stressful way. It helps with irritability, restlessness, depression; calms anger and agitation; and invokes an uplifted feeling of well-being. It’s even useful for headaches and migraines! Lavender has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and astringent properties as well. Therefore it makes an excellent topical healer for skin conditions such as athlete’s foot, rashes, eczema, and psoriasis. Soak in a lavender bath when you are mentally or physically worn out or have aches & pains. Lavender is effective in nearly every form - tea, tinctures, oils, salves, vinegars, liniments, baths. Decide what works best for you!
Let’s not forget the versatility of lavender in the kitchen. Whip up lavender-infused oil and add it in your pesto, soups, stir-fries, sauces, and marinades. Steep lavender in vinegar and add it to drinks, dipping sauces, and salad dressings. Rub meats with lavender-rosemary salt or dazzle people with lavender lemonade! Seriously, go plant some lavender!
Hops (Humulus lupulus)
Parts used: Strobiles (the leaf bracts surrounding the find flowers) and pollen
Benefits: The one thing that most people know about hops is that it’s used in beer as a flavoring and stabilizing agent. However, hops are a beautiful plant whose gold-dusted strobiles blossom in the late summer and hang from a golden green vine. It is these strobiles that contain the inconspicuous green flowers and the golden pollen grains that are the medicinal parts of the plant. Rich in lupulin, volatile oils, resins and bitters, hops is a potent medicinal herb highly valued for its relaxing effect on the nervous system. It is especially useful for hypertension and eases tension and anxiety in men, as well as decreasing excessive sexual desire! Hops is one of the most potent bitters and is excellent as a digestive bitter. It’s especially useful for indigestion due to nervous energy and anxiety.
Suggested uses: Hops are VERY bitter. Nothing disguises the taste very well, so hops is usually made into a tincture or encapsulated. To treat insomnia, mix tinctures of hops and valerian and take a dose a couple of hours before bed. Keep the tincture bottle by the bedside; that way if you wake up in the middle of the night, you can take several more dropperfuls diluted in some water. you can make your own digestive bitter tincture by combining hops with other bitter herbs, such as mugwort, motherwort, artichoke leaf, dandelion root and yellow dock.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Lemon balm is a highly aromatic plant that is easy to grow in your garden. Like many mints, it has a variety of uses and is generally safe for all ages. It also tastes wonderful, making it an easy remedy to get down picky throats. Children seeking comfort from the pain of teething can use lemon balm as a tea or can chew on a washcloth soaked in tea.
Lemon balm is an aromatic digestant that can be used for indigestion, gas, bloating, and other digestive complaints. It is also antiviral and a relaxing diaphoretic, making it an ideal choice for colds and the flu, especially when accompanied by a fever. It is often combined with St. John’s Wort, both topically and internally, to relieve cold sores. Because both of these antiviral herbs are relaxing nervines, they make an especially beneficial pairing for these stress-related sores. Lemon balm’s calming abilities are especially suited for tissues in an excited state such as hyperthyroidism. Because it is often used for hyperthyroidism, some caution those with a hypothyroid from using too much of it.
If you’re feeling overly stressed with a go-go-go-go mentality, a daily lemon balm infusion can help you to slow down and unwind. I make a nice valerian-lemon balm tea which tastes great and is so soothing!
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
Another must-have herb! Chamomile is a cheery plant that looks and smells beautiful. It makes a wonderful ground cover in gardens, producing a sweet scent when walked upon. Chamomile is a very well known herb that has been used by everyone from the Ancient Egyptians to modern day Peter Rabbit who was given chamomile tea before bed. To harvest this plant, gather the flowering tops just before they fully open.
Like many herbs, chamomile is multi-purpose:
- Externally, it can be used as a poultice or salve to heal burns, rashes and eczema.
- Safe for young children, it’s often the preferred herb for a wide range of common childhood complaints such as restlessness, colic, teething, whining, and fevers.
- Adults can also enjoy a cup of chamomile tea to soothe the nervous system, allaying stress and irritability, and thereby promoting calmness.
- Chamomile’s common genus name, Matricaria, insinuates its affinity for women and mothers. The tea can be drunk to bring on delayed menses, reduce uterine cramping, and relieve heartburn when pregnant.
Chamomile is easily prepared as a tea. To make it by the cup, steep
one teaspoon of dried chamomile for ten minutes. This makes a delicious
tasting tea. For a more medicinal brew you can steep it for 30 minutes.