Simple herbal solutions to Stress and Anxiety (an extract from Natural Cures for common ailments ISBN: 9781781174142)
Stress is often seen as a state of mind but it is physical too and is both the mind’s and the body’s natural reaction to a perceived or real threat or danger. Stress is often seen as a pressure exerted by an external source – a work deadline, a sick child, a bill to be paid, etc. Often it is a pressure we put on ourselves, by overextending ourselves or biting off more than we can chew. Yes, there is a benefit in easing up, but understanding stress can help lessen its ability to grip us psychologically.
Stress is not abstract: it is a fundamental part of the workings of the human machine. Stress and all its responses, including anxiety, panic, insomnia and appetite changes, are the consequence of our inherent ‘fight or flight’ response. We evolved this mechanism to pre-emptively release hormones such as adrenaline and corticosteroids, so that if the rustle behind us turns out to be a tiger we get enough of a surge to punch it on the nose or run away from it. These are the two best natural survival responses – get the threat out of the way or get the hell out of its way. But in the modern world how do you punch away or run off excess hormones when it’s only somebody in your parking space or the thousandth menu in the letter box this week – we still get the hit of hormones pushing all our buttons but we have no way to use them up. We carry this hit to the next pushed button and each pushed button in a given day has more biochemical impact.
So we need to employ some strategies to escape our reactions to perceived threats or situations that we connect with danger or anger. Mindfulness is excellent, as is some physical action – if you miss your train, instead of having a tantrum do a few star jumps or some skipping on the spot: it will work and keep you limber. A sense of humour is key, as it activates happiness, which is the antidote to stress hormones. Of course chemical constituents in food and plants can counter the surges and ease the system too.
Turning to the Garden for treatments: Prescribed anti-anxiety pharmaceuticals target gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptors in the brain to influence neural signalling and calm the central nervous system – thus providing a more tranquil experience. Chamomile, parsley, thyme, yarrow, vervain and other herbs and foods with apigenin have similar GABA-influencing properties.
Chamomile is equally effective in the form of a natural soothing beverage or an aroma. It also significantly influences or triggers monoamine neurotransmitters – which include serotonin and dopamine, the ‘happy’ hormones. Likewise as a tea, culinary herb or aroma, lavender has the ability to neutralise stress thoughts and effect a calm response. Infusions of lemon balm foliage are packed with the phytochemical terpene that reduces stress responses and promotes calm, as does valerian tea.
Passionflower is another powerful anxiolytic (reduces anxiety and stress responses) and has a long herbal tradition in treating anxiety, apprehension and excitability – the flowers, leaves and stems of the plant yield a slightly sedative tea; capsules of the herb are readily available. Similarly, infusions of evening primrose flowers are reputed to reduce mental stress; the calming neurotransmitter support of gamma-linolenic acid in evening primrose oil is beneficial also and easily sourced in a local health store.
The roots of rhodiola are considered an adaptogen and thus help the system cope more effectively with mental, physical, biochemical and even environmental stresses. Basil is also adaptogenic, as are white mulberry, sea buckthorn and schizandra berries. At the extreme end of the anxiety spectrum St John’s wort has a long history of use as a regenerative nervine for both neurologic and psychiatric disorders. Hyssop tea is sedative.
Clementine, Passionfruit and Chamomile Coulis
Drizzle over cereals, fold into natural yoghurt or add to sparkling water as a cordial.
• 1 teaspoon chopped chamomile
• 1 cup boiling water
• 1 cup sugar
• ½ cup honey
• 1 cup passionfruit pulp (approximately 6–8 fruits)
• Juice and flesh of 2 clementines
• Juice of 2 lemons
• 1 teaspoon tartaric acid
Make a cup of chamomile tea. Strain the solids from the tea and add the liquid and the sugar to a saucepan. Bring to the boil, stirring constantly until fully dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the honey – stirring well. Add the passionfruit pulp to the saucepan along with the lemon and clementine juice. Add the flesh of the clementines and the tartaric acid, bring back to the boil and reduce for 3 minutes, constantly stirring. Let it sit off the heat, covered, for 10 minutes. Push through a sieve to strain out the seeds and clementine flesh and pour the strained mixture into a clean bottle. This will store in the refrigerator for three weeks.