5 April 2011
We had our last class with David Pirie to look at nervines. Now, if I look up ‘nervines’ in the index of any of my small (but growing) library of herbal books it doesn’t readily appear. But as David pointed out, the terminology of herbalism has become more scientific over the ages. In years gone by a herb now known as an 'anxiolytic' or a 'nervine' could have been called soporific. Herbs traditionally held in this group can also be found in the ‘energetic systems of medicine’ where they are categorised as being heating or cooling, drying or moisturising.
This can also associated with genetic types. A person described as ‘hot and dry’ will typically display symptoms such as a dry tongue, skin and hair, general redness, have an aversion to too much heat all of which is exacerbated by alcohol, strenuous exercise, and they tend to become hotter and dryer as they age. This naturally draws them to cooling herbs, whereas a ‘cool person, identified by paler skin, cold skin, etc will benefit from warm ones.
Back to the point. Nervines, are probably the most commonly prescribed herbs by herbalists. They work on the nervous system, but they are often combined with adaptogens, which act through the hormonal system to allow the body to adapt to stress and bolster immunity.
Well known adaptogens (Siberian Ginseng, Shiitake mushrooms, Schizandra, Roseroot) have been used for centuries on fit people to give them greater strength, vitality and resistance to disease. Others such as Borage and Liquorice have the same effect but on a shorter term, ‘tonic’ herbs are specific to a tissue or organ helping to improve the integrity of all cells in that organ and improving tone generally, while ‘tropho-restorative’ herbs are those that give nutrients to the system:
|Plantain - blood|
|Goldenrod - bladder|
|Oats - nervous system|
|Milk Thistle - liver|
Experiments with Nervines
We then did a Goethean experiment, tasting different herbal teas and describing them in terms of smell, taste, potential habitat and what kind of or person it represented. Findings were mixed - our first was Skullcap
(Scutellaria laterifolia) which is useful for someone who thinks too much or worries unduly. Take 3-4 cups of tea a day, made form the ariel parts - this will act as an excellent sedative and is anti-spasmodic and a diffusive, working on nervous tension, anxiety and overexcitiablitly. Can be used in conjunction with
Pulsatilla (for female nerves)
Passiflora (helps with sleep)
Blach Cohosh (a natural source of salicylic acid)
The nervous system itself is divided into the central nervous system (brain and spine) and the peripheral nervous system (all nerves extending from spine to all organs and muscles). The brain also has a peripheral system of cranial nerves. These form the ‘sensory’ system which deliver information from touch, scent, taste, sight, hearing and spatial awareness. The autonomic nervous system on the other hand controls how our body reacts to sensation; heart rate, breathing, digestion, most evident in ‘fight or flight’ mode.
Not surprisingly the fight or flight mode has a dramatic effect on the whole body: the digestive system shuts down, adrenaline is released, there is vasodialation of all major organs, the body sweats, and skin goes pale.. this can only be sustained for a short time as the stress on the adrenal glands and cardiovascular system is enormous and a there is a huge release of inflammatory agents (lucatines) into the body. Those inflammatory agents keep popping up as one of the major barriers to healthy tissues, organs and systems…
We also looked at the brain and its amazing structure. Physically it is composed of the Reptilian brain (controlling essentials such as sex, fighting and breathing… in that order), the Emotional brain based within the limbic system and hippocampus; and the Thinking brain, providing us with rational thought - all housed within a big fatty mass with millions of nerve fibres. These nerves are extraordinary, communicating their messages through neurotransmitters at synaptic junctions - the permutations of connections being greater that the number of atoms in the universe.
|Brain cells - (from ft.com Dr. Kristen Brennand)|
Damage to nerves, myelin sheaths in the case of MS, Parkinsons and Motor Neuron disease, or plaques of protein in the case of Alzheimer’s, can affect our long term health immensely. And the impact of chemical constituents both in the destruction and health of the nerves is not to be overlooked. Many herbal remedies, nervines amongst them, have been found to be efficacious in restoring and promoting good health. These have been classified as:
Tonics – Verbena, Oats
Wort, Yarrow, Willow Birch, Meadowsweet St John’s
Astringents - Evergreen Jasmine, Latuca, Calfiornia Poppy
Anodynes - Avena sativa, Hypericum, Salix alba, Eschscholsia californa
Sedatives – Valerian, Passiflora, Geleseminum sempervirens
Narcotics – Atropa belladonna, Latuca, Papaver sominiferum (opium)
Antidepressants – Hypericum,
Rosa damescena, Verbena officinale
In any case, all are dose dependant, and can have the opposite or a detrimental effect if taken in the wrong way, wrong time, or by wrong person. One of the best things we can take for our nervous system is vitamin B, found naturally in animal products, pulses, greens, germs of seeds and in a marvellously named Hemp, Hemp Hooray oil.
But herbal remedies are not always enough alone and the capacity of the mind to heal itself through thought, both cognitive and meditative, is extraordinary too. So our late afternoon was spent mulling the mystical healing practices of Native American shamans, Indian yogis and Chinese masters with a cup of Stachus officinales (Wood Betony) in hand.
|Native American Indian woman shaman|
For further searching…
Metamorphosis of Plants – Goethe
Herbal Medications – AW Priest & LR Priest