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Green Earth :: Herbs for the Nervous System

Herbs for the Nervous System

Nerve Tonic

A nerve tonic is an herb that restores tone to the nervous system. It is essentially nourishing, supportive and restorative, thus it does not have a dramatic effect but a more sure, lasting benefit.

  • Oats (Avena sativa) - Oats is one of the best remedies for "feeding" the nervous system, especially when under stress. It is specific in cases of nervous debility and exhaustion, especially when associated with depression. Also for shingles and other herpes infections and even degenerative wasting conditions such as multiple sclerosis. Oats may be taken as porridge. Tincture: Extracts of "milky" seed, 2-3 ml up to 4 times daily.
  • Skullcap (Scutellaria laterifolia) - Skullcap may be the premier nerve tonic. It is relaxing in states of nervous tension while at the same time renewing and restoring the central nervous system. This makes it valuable for stress, anxiety and tension. It can be used to treat seizure and hysterical states as well as an adjunct in the treatment of epilepsy. Also useful in easing premenstrual tension. Tincture: take 2-4 ml of the tincture three times daily. Capsules: take 800 mg - 900 mg three times daily.
  • St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum) - St. John's wort has a sedative, restorative and pain-reducing effect. Thus it can be used for the treatment of neuralgia, anxiety and tension.It's tonic action on the entire nervous system makes it useful for nervous debility and stress. Useful for irritability and anxiety due to menopause. Not recommended when there is severe depression. Infusion: pour a cup of boiling water over 1 or 2 teaspoonsful of the dried herb, steep for 10-15 minutes and drink three times daily. Tincture: take 1-4 ml three times daily.
  • Vervain (Verbena officinalis) - Vervain will tone and strengthen the whole nervous system while relaxing and easing stress. It can be used for depression, especially when it follows an illness. Vervain can also be useful for seizure control and hysteria. Infusion: pour a cup of boiling water over 1-3 teaspoonsful of dried herb, steep for 10-15 minutes and drink three times daily. Tincture: take 2-4 ml three times daily.


Sedatives reduce nervous activity and are useful in treating nervous tension, pain, neuromuscular spasm and to help induce sleep. By definition, sedatives are to varying degrees depressant agents, and their use should be minimized and only as needed.

  • Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa)
  • California poppy (Eschscholzia californica)
  • Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
  • Hops (Humulus lupulus)
  • Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)
  • Jamaican Dogwood (Piscidia erythrina)
  • Kava (Piper mythisticum)
  • Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
  • Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
  • Linden (Tilia spp.)
  • European Mistletoe (Viscum album)
  • Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)
  • Pasque Flower (Anemone pulsatilla)
  • Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnata)
  • St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum)
  • Skullcap (Scutellaria spp.)
  • Valerian (Valeriana officinalis)


Stimulant herbs increase activity in body functions without regardfor the inherent capacity of the system to support that activity: in other words they are intrinsically exhausting. Many are used in "herbal" diet products to increase metabolism.

  • Coffee (Coffea spp.)
  • Ephedra (Ma huang, Ephedra sinica)
  • Green tea (Camellia sinensis)
  • Gotu kola (Hydrocotyle asiatica)
  • Guarana (Paullinia cupana)
  • Kola Nut (Cola vera)
  • Mate (Yerba mate, Ilex paraguayensis)


Hypnotic herbs help to induce a deep and healing state of sleep.

  • California Poppy
  • Chamomile
  • Hops
  • Jamaican Dogwood
  • Passion Flower
  • Valerian
  • Wild Lettuce (Lactuca virosa)

Anti-spasmodic/Muscle Relaxant

Antispasmodic herbs reduce spasm or tension, especially in the visceral smooth muscle, the muscle of the gut wall, bronchial tubes, bile and urinary ducts, and blood vessels. Many of the antispasmodics are nervines as well, so they will sometimes ease psychological tension.

  • Black Cohosh
  • Black Haw (Viburnum prunifolium)
  • Cramp Bark (Viburnum opulus)
  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
  • Kava
  • Lavender
  • Lobelia (Lobelia inflata)
  • Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
  • Skullcap
  • Valerian


An adaptogen is an herb that improves the body's adaptability. In other words, an adaptogen enables the body to avoid reaching a point of collapse or over-stress. The core of their action appears to be in helpng the body deal with stress. In China and the East such concepts are the very basis of their preventative approach to health and well being.

  • Ashwaganda (Withania somniferum)
  • Ginseng (Panax spp.)
  • Siberian Ginseng (Eleuthrococcus senticosus)
  • Suma (Pfaffia paniculata)


Herbs rarely have specific anti-depressant action. Actions that can have the desired effect include nervine tonics, adaptogens and bitters. Some help because of their antioxidant action and improvement of circulation especially to the brain.

  • Damiana
  • Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba)
  • Gotu kola
  • Lavender
  • Lemon Balm
  • Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)
  • Oats
  • St. John's wort
  • Vervain


None of these herbs are truly narcotic such as those derived from the opium poppy. They act primarily through their muscle-relaxant and anti-anxiety properties.

  • Jamaican Dogwood
  • Valerian
  • Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa)
  • Wood Betony (Stachys betonica)
  • Yellow Jasmine (Gelsemium sempervirens)