Posts

One of my absolute favorite herbs, this flavorful berry has been a lifesaver for me personally, as it excellent for the adrenal glands and the stress response, helping to increase resiliency and stabilizing energy levels. As an herbal “adaptogen,” schisandra berry is in a category dominated mostly by the roots of plants, such as ginseng, rhodiola, and ashwagandha. It is a berry that possesses all five flavors – sour, sweet, salty, pungent, and bitter. I like to describe biting into one of the dried berries as a “party in your mouth.” I often encourage people to try it in my classes, as it’s interesting to see who wants to spit it out immediately, who finds it complex and interesting but scrunch up their faces anyway, and who actually really likes the taste! In Chinese medicine, there is a lot of significance to the flavor/taste profile of an herb. Because schisandra berry has all the tastes, it is considered beneficial to the five yin organs: the liver, kidneys, heart, lungs, and spleen, as well as activating all the meridians.

Schisandra is used as a balancing adaptogen, helping the body adapt better to stress via its effect on the HPA axis (Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal axis). Taken morning and evening, this herb can help balance the daytime flow of energy in the body, helping to increase energy through the day and helping to calm down the body for restful sleep at night. If this rhythm is out of whack, then this herb can be your ally when taken morning and evening consistently for 2-3 months. If you’re a fan of the dried berries, a small palmful (about 1 tsp) of the berries can be chewed. But, for those of us who are not so tough, I recommend the tincture (alcohol extract) or the glycerite (vegetable glycerin extract) which is my personal favorite. I can take this directly in my mouth or in some water and enjoy the sweet-sour flavor. We have also made tea formulations with the dried berry, but it is really best when crushed and simmered to extract the most medicine, so can be blended with herbs like ginger, licorice, and/or cinnamon to improve the sour-bitter flavor.

Schisandra berries are also hepatoprotective, showing protective effects on liver cells and even regenerative benefits as an effective antioxidant. This is partially due to constituents of schisandra extracts stimulating liver cells to make the enzyme glutathione peroxidase, helping deactivate several kinds of free radicals. This and other actions make this herbal medicine beneficial for protecting the liver in cases of chemical exposure, drug/pharmaceutical use, and certain infections that can harm the liver, as well as helping to restore healthy liver function after damage. Since we live in a world where we have much for our liver’s to process and contend with, this herb can be so beneficial.

Schisandra has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-asthmatic effects also, helping with lung health and asthma that includes wheezing and a wet cough. It is also a useful remedy for balancing the nervous system, helping with stress-induced heart palpitations, anxiety, and insomnia, while also helping with alertness and mental focus/performance. It is also one of the herbs used to address attention deficit disorders, especially when combined with other nervine stimulants, like bacopa and rhodiola.

As an endocrine-balancing herb, with some drying effects, it is useful for decreasing hot flashes, night sweats, and heart palpitations in menopausal women. It is also thought to regulate ovarian and testicular function based on animal studies, so may be helpful for fertility for both males and females. Schisandra is also used to nourish and balance the thyroid gland, so can be useful for someone with a low-functioning thyroid and/or experiencing symptoms such as low energy and hair loss.

Schisandra berry is also an immune amphoteric, meaning it can help regulate the immune response, whether immune depletion (low-functioning immune system, cancer) or hyperactive immune response (such as allergies or allergic asthma).

In summary, this herb has a broad spectrum of actions that are incredibly beneficial for the human body, and is a classic example of an adaptogenic herb. In general, you want to use this herb over a period of time to achieve beneficial results, especially for chronic conditions and stress states. Cycling off of it every 3-6 months for a couple of months is a good idea also simply because the body may stop responding as well over time, but it can be used safely long-term.

When looking at herbal approaches to stress relief, the adrenal glands and the nervous system are the primary systems to support.


The adrenal glands are located on top of the kidneys and produce some hormones, including the “fight or flight” hormones epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline), and the stress hormone cortisol. The adrenal glands become overworked (this is a simplified explanation, of course) when we are under prolonged periods of stress because, evolutionarily speaking, these hormones are only supposed to be produced for short periods in response to a threat.


Adaptogens – a category of herbs that help with stress adaptation and recovery.


These herbs act to help the body “adapt to stress”, of all kinds. They work generally in some way by supporting the adrenal glands and acting on the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (H-P-A) pathway from the brain. They need to be taken over a period of time for the best effect, and can support energy levels, physical and mental stamina, athletic performance, and much more.

Here are some of my favorites and some unique features of each:


Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng)- used as a general “adaptogen” to help with stress, help with energy and stamina, and strengthen the immune system.
Schisandra – called the “five flavor herb” in Chinese medicine, this berry is used for helping the body adapt to stress, supporting thyroid, liver, and heart function, helping with increasing energy and stamina, and balancing the mood.
Ashwagandha– used as a general “adaptogen” to help with stress, relax the body, calm the nervous system, and also can help with energy, hormone balance, libido, and thyroid function.
Rhodiola– used to help uplift the mood, increase energy and stamina, and to help fight mental fatigue and increase focus and retention of information.
Licorice – helps “spare” cortisol in the body, so can be helpful for low cortisol levels and fatigue. Also is a good anti-inflammatory and liver protective.
Holy basil – helpful for mood balance, anxiety that effects the digestive tract, and overall supporting calm and well-being.
Reishi mushroom– used long-term for stress and a feeling of well-being, strengthening the immune system, acting as an antiviral and anti-tumor.

*There are many options of blends of these herbs, including our Stress Drops, Stress Adaptation Tea, Energy & Metabolism Drops, and capsule blends. We also have single herb powders of many of these to add to smoothies, food, chocolate, etc., as well as single cut herbs for tea, single tinctures or glycerites, and single capsules. Take whatever form you will take consistently!

These herbs are generally very safe to use and need to be taken consistently for 1-3 months to notice a lasting effect. I always remind people that it took months or years to get them to the fatigued, stressed, low-immune state they are in today, so to give these herbs some time to work.


Nervines – herb that support the nervous system.


These herbs are used to calm or uplift the nervous system. Stress often leaves us feeling depleted or anxious, so the nervous system needs strengthening and nourishing, and often calming or soothing. If you feel “on edge,” many herbs can help.


Nourishing nervines include lemon balm, skullcap, oat pods, chamomile, linden flowers, St. John’s wort, motherwort, and passionflower.
*Herban Wellness makes a Chill Out Tea and Chill Out Drops to calm and help with anxiety and tension.


Uplifting nervines include holy basil, lemon balm, damiana, St. John’s wort, and mimosa bark. Take one or a blend of herbs in a tea form to have the added benefit of enjoying a hot beverage to soothe your frayed nerves.
*Herban Wellness makes a Happy Tea and Happy Drops to help uplift the nervous system. We also make a blend called Heart Mender Drops for more situational depression and grief.


More sedative herbs for help with sleep include valerian root, hops, passionflower (in higher amounts), California poppy, nutmeg, and skullcap (in higher amounts).
*Herban Wellness makes a Get Sleepy Tea and a Sleep Well Drops with these herbs. We also carry a capsule blend called Sleep Thru that helps calm excess cortisol at night to help with deeper, longer sleep.


Essential Oils


Because the tiny little volatile compounds from aromatic plants cross so easily into the brain, inhaling or applying them can have a profound impact on our nervous system – calming, uplifting, and balancing.


Oils such as Bergamot, Spruce, Frankincense, Vetiver, Sandalwood, Lavender, and Roman chamomile, can relax the body, calm the mind and nervous system, and generally lead to a greater sense of well-being, even if temporarily.


Bergamot – balancing to mood and the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Apply in the upper divet of your ear and inhale deeply for a stress-relieving and balancing effect (shen men point in Chinese medicine).
Vetiver – extremely grounding and earthy, so can help you feel more rooted and helps calm your nervous system. Apply to the bottoms/arch of your feet for helping relax and promote restful sleep.
Roman chamomile – very calming to your nervous system, this oil is also antispasmodic so is useful for headaches, muscle tension, and general stress.
Oils such as Spruce & Frankincense can also strengthen weakness in the body and heighten energy levels. In fact, many of the conifers, such as Black Spruce and Siberian Fir are considered adrenal support oils that balance the H-P-A axis and increase energy reserves.
*Blends we carry that can be helpful and incorporate these essential oils include Stress Release, Calm Spirit, Adrenal Support, and Meditation.


Flower Essences


Because of how these energetic formulations are prepared intentionally from fresh flower buds, they capture the more subtle energies of the plant. These remedies are taken in drop doses under the tongue or in water to help support our more subtle systems – emotions and spirit. I have found these work best when you set an intention with them.


Five Flower Formula (also called Rescue Remedy by another brand) – acute stress or trauma
Pink Yarrow – for emotional boundaries when you’re overly absorbent of others’ energies and emotions
Aspen – fear of the unknown, vague anxiety and apprehension, nightmares
Mimulus – fear of known things, apprehension toward new experiences
White chestnut – overactive mind, circling thoughts, insomnia as a result
Mustard – depression or despair due to fluctuating life events; bouts of mania followed by depression.

Nervines are a category of herbs that act on the nervous system, helping to soothe, restore, and sedate the Central Nervous System (CNS) or the nerves of the Peripheral Nervous System (PNS).  Herbs in this category exist on a continuum, from herbs that calm but don’t affect alertness (good for those who feel “stressed” and tense, and who may experience symptoms of anxiety during the day) to those that sedate and promote sleep (good for those with insomnia, trouble falling or staying asleep, a busy mind and tense body when laying in bed).  Many herbs can do both. When taken in small amounts, these help relax and calm anxiety (valerian is a good example) but when taken in larger amounts, they make you sleepy and very relaxed.
Some nervines include: Lemon balm, Oat pods, Chamomile, Passionflower, California poppy, Valerian, Hops, St. John’s wort, Linden flowers, Skullcap, and Kava root.
Many others abound, since herbs do seem to have a particular affinity for the human nervous system.  Since many people suffer from issues such as insomnia, anxiety, muscle tension, and stress (an all-encompassing word), these herbs can come in very handy.  For other nerve-related issues such as tingling or numbess of the skin, damaged nerves from car accidents or other tissue trauma, and digestive irritability, nervine herbs can also help restore nerve tissue, reduce nerve tingling, pain, or itching, and calm and soothe stomach or head aches.
Nervines most commonly used for their sedative and sleep-promoting properties: Valerian, Wild lettuce, Jamaican dogwood, Hops, and Nutmeg (fresh grated). 
Antispasmodic herbs for muscle tension, cramping, and overall pain during the day or night may benefit from Wild lettuce, Jamaican dogwood, Crampbark, Skullcap, Betony (aka Wood betony), and Kava root, and dosing is individualized.
Antidepressants (mood stabilizing and elevating) herbs include: St. John’s wort, Damiana, Holy basil, Rhodiola, Ginseng, Vervain, Mimosa, and Lemon balm (mild). Many of these are also useful for nerve healing and nerve pain. 
Sleep can be a challenging activity to pin down for some people, as critical as it is for so many functions in the body. The reason for this is that many systems in the body, when out of balance, can cause sleep disturbance. The endocrine system is particularly important, and when hormonal changes such as menopause occur, this can interfere with sleep. Adrenal health can also play a big role, as the constant state of fight or flight many people operate from, can make it hard to calm down and find a relaxed state when sleep is in order. If cortisol levels get thrown off, this can also impact sleep. In addition, melatonin levels can be affected by light exposure into the evening hours, especially now that so many people are looking at their computer or phone screens right up until sleep time. Blood sugar imbalance can also affect sleep, so what you eat at night and when you eat, can also affect sleep quality. Liver health can also be a contributor, as the liver does a lot of its “dumping” at night and if it’s not functioning properly because of numerous factors, this can lead to sleep disturbance. As you can see, there is a lot of troubleshooting and balancing needed in order to support healthful, restful sleep for some people,
Adaptogens help with adrenal health and regulating the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis (HPA Axis) and help with long term stress support: Eleuthero (Siberian Ginseng), Schisandra, American Ginseng, Holy Basil, Ashwaganda, Devil’s club, Rhodiola. Most of these should not be taken at bedtime, with the exception of Ashwaganda and possibly Holy basil, but should be taken in the morning and early afternoon. 
Some of our products to support sleep and relaxation: 
Get Sleepy Tea is formulated to help relax the body and tense muscles, calm the mind, and promote sleepiness and the body’s ability to drop into deep, restorative sleep.  A tea can be a relaxing ritual to get into before bedtime, comforting and warm. This is best for trouble falling asleep and calming a busy mind at night.
Contains: Lemon balm, Skullcap, Chamomile, Orange peel, California poppy, Passionflower, and Valerian.
Sleep Well Drops is a tincture blend (extract in alcohol and water) of Passionflower, Hops, Valerian, and Skullcap.  These herbs in particular can help you get a more consistent, restful sleep.  A tincture can be ideal for those to whom tea doesn’t appeal, or who do not wish to consume a cup of fluids before bed, which can interfere with sleep.
Chill Out Tea is a relaxing blend of herbs formulated for daytime or evening use because they don’t necessarily make you tired or reduce mental alertness.  This blend is great for anxiety, stress, tension, and to help the body relax and reduce muscle pain and spasm.  It also contains herbs that help restore and soothe the nervous system and can help reduce mental chatter and an overactive mind. Some customers drink it for a similar feeling to having a glass of wine to relax in the evening.
Contains:  Lemon balm, Oat pods, Kava root, Lemon verbena, Linden, Skullcap, and Rose petals.
Sleep Thru is a capsule blend made by Gaia Herbs that helps lower cortisol production at night, while supporting overall adrenal health, and calming the nervous system. This should be taken for at least a month, an hour before bed every night.
Contains: Ashwaganda, Magnolia bark, Passionflower, and Jujube date.
As you know, we can customize herbal formulations in tea, tincture, and powder form. There are also options in the essential oil realm, using the benefits of aromatherapy for your nervous system, endocrine system, and grounding.
In summary, herbal nervines are very effect for falling asleep. With issues of staying asleep, it could also be an adrenal imbalance (cortisol spike) – think of Ashwaganda at night, or other adaptogens during the day to regulate;  liver stagnation – think of artichoke leaf, dandelion root, milk thistle morning and night for a month; blood sugar balance (eat protein and vegetables with evening meal; inadequate nutrients (especially minerals such as Magnesium, B- vitamins, and Calcium). 
Here’s to restful, restorative sleep!