The Nervous System
The nervous system is a complex collection of nerves and specialized cells known as neurons that transmit signals between different parts of the body. It is essentially the body's electrical wiring.
Structurally, the nervous system has two components: the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. The central nervous system is made up of the brain, spinal cord and nerves. The peripheral nervous system consists of sensory neurons, ganglia (clusters of neurons) and nerves that connect to one another and to the central nervous system.
Functionally, the nervous system has two main subdivisions: the somatic, or voluntary, component; and the autonomic, or involuntary, component. The autonomic nervous system regulates certain body processes, such as blood pressure and the rate of breathing that work without conscious effort. The somatic system consists of nerves that connect the brain and spinal cord with muscles and sensory receptors in the skin.
The Nervous System is the only system of the Body where the connection between the body, the mind and occasionally spirit, manifests and exists. The nervous system is part of the physical make up of the body and, all psychological processes take place in the nervous system. Therefore, if there is dis-ease on the psychological level, it will reflect in the physical; and when there is disease on the physical level, this will inevitably reflect in the psychological.
A holistic approach to herbal healing acknowledges this interconnectedness and regards nervous tissue and its functions as a vital element in the treatment of the whole being.
Mainstream medicine tends to reduce psychological problems to the biochemical level and assumes that ‘appropriate’ drugs will sort it out, or at least hide the problem sufficiently to allow ‘normal’ life to continue. Many techniques in the field of ‘alternative’ medicine assume or imply the other extreme, namely that psychological factors are the cause of any disease, and that treatment of the psyche is the only appropriate way of healing, which will then take care of any physical problem.
By bringing these two different approaches together we come closer to a holistic approach. In herbal medicine, we can treat the nervous system and part of the whole body, and can feed and strengthen it and help the psyche. For our being to be whole and healthy, we have to take care of our physical health through the right diet and lifestyle, but we are also responsible for a healthy emotional mental and spiritual life.
With the nervous system, its connection with the other body system is only too plain to see.
- The Circulatory System; high blood pressure and coronary disease.
- The Respiratory System; asthma, hay fever and irritable coughs.
- The Digestive4 System; peptic ulcer, colon disorder, flatulence and indigestion.
- The Skin; eczema psoriases
- The Glandular System; thyroid problems.
- The Reproductive System; the many problems associated with menstruation.
All these Systems can manifest problems when the body and mind are not in equilibrium, which, if the root of the problem is found, will usually disappear.
The society we exist in is plagued by self-doubt, by fear and alienation, by de-humanisation and violence. It is understandable that an epidemic of stress-related conditions exist in society.
Stress is perhaps one of the most problematic illnesses in the Human Body. Stress at work, at home, can cause a myriad of problems, such as muscle tightening, usually across the shoulders and in the neck, this is a very painful condition.
A certain degree of stress reaction is essential to survive in a modern society; the problems arise when an individual stress response moves behind that which helps, to a state that detracts. By definition, stress itself cannot be treated as it is a result of outside influence upon the mind and body. What can be done, however, is to help the body as it responds. This is possible with the use of herbs and some vitamins, but perhaps more important are relaxation exercises to give the body a chance for recovery. In addition, the situation causing the stress should be re-evaluated. Rather than alter the response to a situation, change the situation.
When stress leads to a problem, the treatment can be based on a number of approaches. It is vital that the body’s nutrition is adequate, it is often appropriate to supply the body with additional Vitamin C and B-complex, as it needs more of both when stressed.
Nervine tonics will feed and tone the nervous system. The best ones in this instance are Skullcap and Oats, but others may also be indicated if there are related physical symptoms. Ginseng is an excellent herb to increase one’s ability to cope with stress when it is taken over a period of time. Of equal relevance and potency as an adaptogen is Siberian Ginseng.
It’s normal to feel anxious, worried or fearful in certain situations. These feelings bring out our bodies natural ‘fight or flight response’ to a perceived dangerous or risky situation. However, if continuous feelings of anxiety impact your ability to carry out life as normal, then anxiety could be a problem needing addressing.
Sometimes, it becomes a habitual pattern, influencing our thoughts and behaviour. We then perceive the world filtered through our attitude of anxiety and we act accordingly. We enter a vicious circle where anxiety produces more anxiety.
All the Nervine relaxants will ease anxiety and tension, the specific ones varying with each individual, as some are more effective with a particular mind than others. We are all different, all individuals, and this must be taken into consideration. The most effective ones in the cupboard of the herbal healer, are Lady’s slipper, Lime blossom, Mistletoe, Skullcap and Valerian.
In addition to the Nervine relaxants, the anti-spasmodic herbs are useful, as often, in cases of anxiety, there is also muscle tension, the relief of which helps the whole being to move to a state of ease and well being. The perfect inner state within which to bring about healing. A mixture of equal parts of Skullcap and Valerian is usually best, it doesn’t taste very good but a spoonful of honey usually does the trick. Drink this three times daily when it is needed.
This distressing problem which is, of course, connected with the menstrual cycle, and can create emotional disruption, to ease PMT in the short term Skullcap and Valerian can be effective. However to really solve the problem the state of hormonal balance, in general, has to be examined and treated. This can be found in The Reproductive System.
Depression can be a reaction to external factors, or it can be an internally created state of mind, it is often a combination of the two. Herbs can help to lift the depression, but the basic cause must be treated too. An honest look at the factors involved and a courageous re-appraisal of ones lift is called for, and this is not an easy thing to achieve. Herbs by themselves will not solve the underlying problem. Chamomile is a gentle sedative, it is particularly safe for children but will also give some relief for adults. The time and space that a little relief and ease of mind can give, allows one to stand back and perhaps see where the problem stems from.
The best anti-depressive herbs include Damiana, Ginseng, Lady’s slipper, Lavender, Lime blossom,
Oats, Rosemary, Skullcap, Valerian and Vervain.
Choose three to four of the Herbs above and no more, take a look at each herbs Monograph for indications of how much to take and when.
At one time or another everyone has a sleepless night; stress during the day or anxiety about the next day can keep us awake and restless all night, or keep us from finding the deep and peaceful sleep we need. However, it is when this becomes the ‘norm’ rather than a one-off where problems can occur. When this happens, the whole body will suffer, as it is during sleep that most healing and reviving of the body and mind takes place. There are many powerful herb hypnotics that can aid a restful nights sleep, but often a gentle relaxation with the help of Nervine relaxants is enough to allow the natural sleep process to take over.
The most effective sleep inducers are Californian poppy, Hops, Jamaican dogwood, Passionflower and Valerian.
Before bedtime take 1 part Passionflower, 1 part Valerian, and 1 part Hops, and 1 part Jamaican dogwood. This recipe is safe and well tested, although the amounts needed will vary in strength from person to person.
Another way of getting these herbs into the system is by putting the herbs into a bath before bedtime, or another way still is to use massage as a way of infusing the herbs through the skin, these two ways relax both body and mind. Lime blossom is recommended for this.
Most of the Nervine relaxants will promote restful natural sleep. Chamomile, Lime blossom and Red clover are especially good, making a delicious infusion to drink warm before bed.
Headaches are a part of tension, stress, insomnia and depression, and other problems in the Body. Herbs which are useful for headaches is therefore extensive.
Lemon balm, Cayenne, Chamomile, Elderflower, Ground ivy, Jamaican dogwood, Lady’s slipper,
Lavender, Marjoram, Peppermint, Rosemary, rue, Skullcap, Tansy, thyme, Valerian, Wood betony and Wormwood.
The actions of the herbs above are more than pain relief for the treatment of headaches. This reflects the diversity of possible causes, which range from eye strain, neck tension, postural problems, bad diet, allergies or other factors.
A Migraine is not just a headache; it is a distressing and intense headache which is often accompanied by digestive disruptions of nausea and vomiting, and by visual disturbances which can last for hours or for days. It can be triggered by a myriad of factors, and their treatment often involves both long term attention to the cause and specific medications for an individual attack.
To discover the underlying cause it is sometimes necessary to seek expert advice, as self-diagnosis can be difficult.
The invaluable herb Feverfew may be worth mentioning here. Whilst it isn’t the wonder remedy, the regular use of it, either in tablet or herb for, will often clear the migraines after a month or so of treatment.
A number of herbs will ease the pain of an attack if they are taken at the first sign. These include White willow, Jamaican dogwood, Passionflower and Wood betony. I have seen some recommend Valerian for this, but I wouldn’t recommend it, as if taken in too large a dose, can actually bring on a heavy feeling and headache that may be difficult in itself to remove.
There are also digestive symptoms where herbs like Black horehound, Chamomile, Goldenseal or Meadowsweet can be useful.
Again relaxation techniques such as a warm bath with oils or herbs, stress-relieving massage, and breathing techniques which we will cover below.
A breathing technique will calm the body and mind, and when the body relaxes, tension, headaches and stress will calm and so will the mind.
We call this one “The Breath of the Beast”.
Lay on the floor or the bed, or it can be done sitting relaxed in a chair, in fact, and in reality, it can be done anywhere if you have the space to sit relaxing for a while, although it isn’t advisable to do it when driving!
Concentrate on the chest, the lungs, and the breath we are taking in through the mouth and nose, close the eyes.
Breathe in for a long count of six, making sure the lungs are full and no more can be breathed in, breath slowly and long. Retain the breath for a count of six. And then breathe out again taking the slow count of six to exhale, exhale the entire contents of the lungs.
Don’t breath for a long count of six and then begin the exercise again. The longer you can continue this the more the body and mind will relax.
Just concentrate the whole of the mind on the breath and what it's doing, and keep going. When first beginning this exercise it is usual to find it difficult to complete, don’t worry, just keep on going and it will become easier the more it's done.
Another technique concentrates on relieving tension in the body, start by taking the telephone off the hook and make sure you have no distractions, and relax the body until you are feeling floppy.
Beginning with the feet, try to sense or feel the muscles of the area you are concentrating on. Curl up the toes and tighten the muscles in the feet, and hold this for 5 – 10 seconds. Feel the tightening and think about what you are doing, don’t let anything take over what you are thinking if it does then bring the attention back to the part of the body you are working on. Now let go of the muscles and feel how good it feels to have the muscles relaxed, keep this state for a few minutes and keep control of your thoughts, keep them on the muscles.
Now move to the calf muscles and do the same, slowly tighten the muscles, keep them for around 5 -10 seconds, and let the muscles go slowly, feel how good it feels to be relaxed.
This exercise is best done by coming up the knees, legs, thighs, buttocks, back, chest, shoulders, arms, hands and fingers, neck and the head.
As you do the exercise, keep the breath slow, breath rhythmically and after the exercise is done, slowly return to every day.
Done often, these two exercises will help to bring the body and mind to equilibrium, and will definitely help with stress and muscle tension.
Count this time as your time, no one else matters, nothing else matters, there will be further exercises to be found on here in the near future, it is recommended that you try these, you will find they are calming and put the mind at rest.
To recap on Herbs for which situation:
Nervine tonics - Skullcap and Oats (these are not the breakfast oaty cereal where hot water is poured over, the oats needed are the whole oats which are bought to make up a proper pot of porridge) and Siberian Ginseng.
Anxiety - Lady’s slipper, Lime blossom, Mistletoe, Skullcap and Valerian.
Anti spasmodic - Skullcap and Valerian
Premenstrual tension - Skullcap and Valerian
Anti depressives - Damiana, Ginseng, Lady’s slipper, Lavender, Lime blossom, Oats, Rosemary, Skullcap, Valerian and Vervain
Insomnia - Californian poppy, Hops, Jamaican dogwood, Passionflower and Valerian.
Headaches - Lemon balm, Cayenne, Chamomile, Elderflower, Ground ivy, Jamaican dogwood, Lady’s slipper, Lavender, Marjoram, Peppermint, Rosemary, rue, Skullcap, Tansy, thyme, Valerian, Wood betony and Wormwood.
Migraine – Feverfew, White willow, Jamaican dogwood, Passionflower and Wood betony
Take no more than three to four Herbs for each potion, and take the medication as described above.