Herbal Therapy for Nervous System Disorders

Perhaps the most dramatic and fascinating field of Herbalism is the way in
which plants affect consciousness. The integration revealed by the Gaia
hypothesis lays a philosophical foundation for this. Awareness and expanded
consciousness are part of the life of the greater being we are part of. Words
and names are meaningless when considering such things, but just as our Earth
feeds us, heals our arthritis & strengthens cardiac function, so the
nervous system is supported and nurtured.

Herbalism is a co-operation between humanity, plants and the earth in healing.
This experience of wholeness is spirit in action, and opens the door for
change, transformation and participation in the Great Work. Plants provide us
with herbs that transform and enlighten, and also with plants that heal and
nurture nerve tissue its self. It is this physical healing that will be
considered here. Remember that the physical action of nervines is but one side
of the whole interface between plant and mind.

The whole therapy of Herbalism is uniquely suited to treating nervous system
problems. From one perspective herbs are embodiments of energy and spirit,
whilst from another they are packets of biochemicals. In fact a reflection of
the human mind/brain itself! If used with awareness it is possible to address
the needs of the human energy body as well the tissue involved. The
complexities of the mind-body interface, that so confuse doctors concerned with
‘psychosomatic’ medicine, become an aid in remedy selection to the herbalist.

All of the many herbal nervines have impact on somatic symptoms as well as the
mind. A simple example is Motherwort, a herb used in treating anxiety and
tension. It also has specific affinity for the heart, reducing palpitations
reactions and the fear that often accompanies them. This is even recognized in
the Latin binomial.

Recent advances in the field of neurology have come about through the
examination of claims for herbal remedies. Most of the areas of concern of
neurology will potentially benefit from herbal therapeutics, and indeed the
science of psycho-pharmacology itself is largely based on chemicals discovered
in plants.

How Stress Causes Illness

There can be no doubt that there is a definite relationship between stress and
illness. Although the exact nature of that relationship is not yet understood,
a number of ideas have been suggested. Early theories tried to connect
different illnesses with specific types of emotional conflict or personality
and body types. According to these theories, certain body types and
temperaments would be more likely to develop one physical disease under stress
than others. However, there is little agreement among the experts about what
correlates with what.

Selye has more to say on the subject. He maintains that the biological
reactions accompanying the GAS result in both short- and long-term adverse
physical changes. He calls these changes diseases of adaptation, since they are
the outcome of a system of defenses against threatening stimuli. The disease
process is thought to arise as a result of factors such as: The physiological
effect of certain hormones from the adrenal and pituitary glands; the impact
of the inflammation process, and a general state of lowered resistance. The
actual disease that manifests itself depends on a range of factors, including
genetics, physical weakness, and even specifically learned bodily responses.

The GAS helps explain the effects of life changes or events on health. Life
changes require adjustments that could produce physiological reactions, and
sustained and unsuccessful attempts at coping with life could lower bodily
resistance and enhance the probability of illness. Thus, the more frequent and
severe the life changes we experience, the more likely we are to become ill.

How to Recognize Stress

Stress can affect our lives in many ways, and it is impossible to talk about
them all here. However, when the level of stress goes beyond the point of being
a healthy stimulant and starts to adversely affect our health, it usually takes
some form of “anxiety.”


Anxiety comprises various combinations of mental and physical symptoms that
occur either in panic attacks or as a persisting state. It is often described
in the following terms:

  1. An emotional state colored with the experienced quality of fear.

  2. An unpleasant emotion that may be accompanied by a feeling of impending

  3. A feeling directed toward the future, associated with a perceived threat of
    some kind.

  4. An experience of bodily discomfort and actual bodily disturbance.

There may be no recognizable basis for the fear or feeling of threat, or the
actual stimulus may be completely out of proportion to the emotion it provokes.
Nevertheless, the symptoms it provokes are very real. For some people, anxiety
takes the form of recurrent attacks that, though they occur unpredictably, may
become associated with specific situations. They start with a sudden, intense
apprehension, often combined with a feeling of impending doom and sometimes
with feelings of unreality. Any of the body symptoms described below may occur.
An “anticipatory fear” of loss of control often develops, so that the person
experiencing the attack becomes afraid of, for example, being left alone in
public places. The anticipatory fear may itself precipitate other symptoms that
escalate the attack.

Symptoms of Anxiety

There is not just one anxiety symptom, a whole range of reactions can be
associated with it:

Anxious Mood:

Anticipation of the worst

Fears of:

The dark
Being left alone
Large animals

Intellectual (Cognitive) Symptoms:

Difficulty in concentration
Poor memory

Depressed Mood:

Loss of interest
Diurnal swing
Lack of pleasure in hobbies
Early waking

General Body Sensations:

Hot and cold flushes
Prickling sensations
Blurred vision
Feelings of weakness

Respiratory Symptoms:

Pressure or constriction in chest
Tightness of breath
Feelings of choking

Genitourinary Symptoms:

Frequency of urination
Suppressed periods
Premature ejaculation
Urgency of urination
Excessive bleeding during period
Loss of erection

Physiological Accompaniments of Behavior:

Tremor of hands
Strained face
Furrowed brow
Facial pallor
Eyelid twitching


Feelings of tension
Inability to relax
Easily moved to tears
Feelings of restlessness
Startled response


Difficulty in falling asleep
Unsatisfying sleep
Fatigue on waking
Night terrors
Broken sleep

General Somatic Symptoms:

Muscular aches and pains
Muscular twitching
Muscular stiffness
Grinding teeth

Cardio-Vascular Symptoms:

Pain in chest
Feelings of faintness
Throbbing of vessels Skipped heartbeats

Gastrointestinal Symptoms:

Difficulty in swallowing
Looseness of bowels
Feelings of bloating Loss of weight

Autonomic Nervous System Symptoms:

Dry mouth
Tendency to sweat
Raising of hair

Adapted from: Hamilton, M. “The Assessment of Anxiety States by Rating,”
British Journal of Medical Psychology, 32, 1959, pp 50-55.

Emotional and Mental Responses to Physical Illness

Any illness occurs within the context of our whole lives and so will affect us
psychologically and socially, as well as physically. It might be useful for us
to consider ways in which illness itself may produce psychological problems.
The difference between this type of problem and a problem that affects the body
but arises in the mind is purely one of perspective.

Technical, if orthodox doctors consider the primary problem to be in the mind,
they label it a psychosomatic problem, but if they consider the root of the
problem to be in the body, they label it a somato-psychic problem. The
distinction is subtle, as shown here:

psyche <-- (psycho-somatic) --> disease
disease <-- (somato-psychic) --> psyche

Psychological reactions to physical illness are common and may need some sort
of specialized help. This help may come from an orthodox psychiatrist, from a
holistic health practitioner, or simply from a friend.

Importance of the Patient’s Perception

The lack of knowledge about psychological responses to physical illness
that is exhibited by most health practitioners reflects their narrow view of
the nature of illness. When the illness is seen in strictly biological terms,
the patient’s own perception of the problem is ignored. For the patient, there
is no difference between the biological process of the disease and the
repercussions it has on social life and feelings. In a truly holistic way, they
are part and parcel of the whole problem. However, if the doctor ignores
psychological reactions in favor of medical pathology, further problems can
occur that will interfere with treatment and impede recovery.

Psychological reactions to physical illness vary in type and intensity with no
clear point beyond which the reactions can be considered “abnormal.” Many are
common and understandable reactions to the social disruption and fears
generated by illness. Whilst severity and type of illness often affect
response, the relationship is not clear-cut. A mild illness may give rise to
marked emotional changes in one person, while a life-threatening illness will
evoke little or no response in another. One way of accounting for this
variation is to look at the patient’s perception of the problem. This
perception will in turn be affected by personality and experience, the nature
of the illness, and the social context. It is worth looking at these in more

Personality and experience

Illness is dealt with in different ways be people with different
personalities. For example, the extent to which we experience, remember, and
complain about pain can be affected by whether we are naturally “highly strung”
or “laid back”. The amount of information we are given about the illness can
play a large part in diminishing uncertainty and anxiety about both the illness
itself and its treatment. Previous experience of similar problems may give us
the sort of information most needed to reduce anxiety. However, if our
information comes from seeing apparently similar but actually more serious
symptoms in another person, then very strong but possibly groundless fears may
build up.

Our psychological state at the time of the illness will play a great part in
the way we perceive its severity. If a gallbladder problem arises during a time
when we are anxious about another member of the family, or we are having
problems paying the mortgage, the experience of physical illness may be much
worse, since it is well known that anxiety lower our pain thresholds.

The nature of the illness

There appears to be no direct relationship between the severity of an
illness and the possibility of psychological problems accompanying it. However,
the likelihood of psychological problems may be higher if the part of the body
with the clinical disorder has particular significance. An obvious example is a
hand injury for pianist. It has been suggested that disabling diseases are more
threatening for men, whereas disfiguring diseases are more threatening for
women. This does not mean that this correlation is natural. We are all at the
mercy of the roles we play and the assumptions we make about what makes us
attractive or our lives more meaningful. What is socially normal may not always
be good or sane. Illness, even when extreme, can be an agent of change and an
opportunity to grow beyond previous personal boundaries.

The social context

An illness of any severity may have a greater or lesser impact on us
depending upon the social context within which it occurs. We may perceive it
very unfavorably if it occurs at a bad time, such as when we are starting a new
job, but we may accept it with relief if it helps us avoid an unpleasant social
situation, such as exams! The reactions of the people around us will also play
a role in determining the ultimate impact. The social context can have a direct
effect on the perceived severity of a symptom, and may even cause us to delay
seeking medical help.

Psychological Reactions to Illness

People commonly respond psychologically to major illness in one of a few
ways: with depression, anxiety, or denial. These responses may even occur in
more sensitive people when the illness is apparently minor. The psychological
response is unique to the person involved and shouldn’t be labeled


The most common response is depression . Studies have shown that between
20 and 30 percent of all medical patients suffer some degree of depression.
This may be relatively mild and seem like a “flattening” of the emotions
together with some loss of interest in the outside world, or it may be quite
pronounced, with emotional discomfort, withdrawal, and even suicidal

Depression is often associated with an actual or threatened loss. Illness can
involve loss of parts of the body or loss of bodily and social functions. There
are direct parallels between such losses – real or imagined – and the
psychological effects of bereavement.

Depression most often occurs after the initial stages of an illness, when its
full implications become apparent. We may interpret the illness as punishment
for something we have or have not done in the past, in which case the
depression is commonly colored by feelings of guilt and self-criticism,
especially if we consider the “punishment” justified.

A “giving-up” complex commonly develops if the patient feels there is little to
live for. This complex is characterized by feelings of helplessness and
hopelessness. By helplessness, I mean feelings of impotence and failure, or
frustration in getting help from the world and other people. Hopelessness
refers to the feeling of no longer being able to cope with problems. This
complex is common in a short-lived form and passes away when the situation
improves. However, for some people, the complex can persist and radically
affect both their response to their current illness and their openness to
subsequent illnesses.


The anxiety commonly associated with illness stems partially from the
reasonable uncertainty the patient may have about the cause and outcome of the
illness. It can be compounded by inadequate information given by doctors as to
the nature of the problem and the treatment prescribed, As one doctor has put
it, “For the patient, no news is not good news; it is an invitation to fear.”
An herbalist or other practitioner of holistic medicine should not fall into
this trap.

Anxiety usually shows as fear, apprehension, and bodily symptoms. These are
most prominent in the early stages of the illness and represent a reasonable
reaction to the onset of illness and the related uncertainties. In this
situation, we should talk freely of our fears and our medical practitioner
should supply clear information. This will not only minimize anxiety but also
bring about a better healing response.


Denial is one way in which we deal with threatening situations and it
may even be a necessary and adaptive response to the full physical and
psychological impact of an illness. It has a protective function, preventing
us from being overwhelmed by anxiety. However, it can go too far when it
prevents us from making a realistic assessment of the severity of our symptoms.
Thus, denial can be the cause of delay in seeking medical help and so may
reduce the chances of a favorable outcome.

Disease and Stress

From this discussion, it should be apparent that illness does not occur
in isolation but happens to an individual with a particular personality and in
a particular social context. Both personal and social factors play a role in
determining the impact of an illness, and the nature of the psychological
response can provide considerable insight into the patient’s underlying

Stress and the Adaptogens

When attention is given to appropriate support for the body under such
stressful conditions, Gaia supplies our needs yet again. Technically what is
needed is an increase in non-specific resistance to damaging man made factors
and illnesses. A range of herbal remedies are coming to light that do this.
Soviet scientists have coined the term “adaptogens” to describe herbs that
produce this wonderful increase in resistance and vitality. Two main herbs that
are correctly described as Adaptogens are Ginseng (Panax spp.), Siberian
Ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus).

Pharmacological research suggests that the active principle of these plants are
the glycosides present. The eleutherosides from Siberian Ginseng and
panaxosides from Ginseng are examples. They increase the general non-specific
resistance of the body to a whole range of diverse chemical, physical,
psychological and biological factors. However, it comes as no surprise to the
herbalist that the extracted chemicals cannot reproduce the effects of the
whole plant.

Siberian Ginseng, one of the most remarkable of these plants, has a broad
action range and very low toxicity. There has been a great deal of excellent
clinical and laboratory research conducted in the USSR, where Prof. Brehkman
and his team in Valdivostock have been studying the herb for over 20 years.
Large scale clinical trials have been undertaken on both health and sick people
with more than 1000 research papers published devoted to its application, the
mechanism of action and investigation of its active principles.

Its safety and ability to increase the resistance of the normal human body to
extreme conditions, make it a remedy of great social importance. Siberian
Ginseng and analogous herbs might be seen as sources of substances that would
have been naturally evolved by nature in the human body given time. However,
the rate of evolution has been outpaced by the growth of the adverse effects of
`civilization’ on the human body!

Russian research findings

Studies on Siberian Ginseng provide some of the best clinical trials
done on herbal medicines so far. Large numbers of people were involved, using
controls groups and long term planning. In one such experiment with adaptogens
30, 000 people took part! The results were favorable and sometimes very
noticeable. The Soviet concern with production and efficiency is very evident
in the findings, where quality of life and individual health are only touched
upon as factors in economic equations. However the results speak for

In another clinical trial a group of 54 miners received the extract before the
beginning of their shift daily in June & July of 1976. The number of people
reporting sick dropped by 33.3% and the number of days lost through illness by

Clinical findings from Vladivostok

  • A Reduction of total disease incidents. Between the years 1973 &
    1975, 1200 drivers engaged at the Volga Automobile Plant (V.A.P.) were given
    8-12 mg of Siberian Ginseng extract daily for two months each year in the
    spring and autumn. By the end of experiment the total disease incidence had
    decreased by 20-30%. In the winter of 1975 the authorities at the factory
    undertook a mass program of preventative medicine with the herb. It was
    included in the diet as Siberian Ginseng sugar at a dose of 2 ml. Altogether
    13, 096 persons were engaged in experiments. Disease incidence dropped by 30-35%
    as compared to a control group that did not use the remedy.

  • A Reduction of influenza and Acute respiratory disease. Siberian
    Ginseng is an adrenal `stimulant’ and not an anti-viral herb. However, the
    Russians have accumulated much data on the anti-influenzal effect of the herb.
    Such findings imply that either it possesses an invigorating and tonic action
    on natural immunity, or it has direct anti-virus activity. In the Primorye
    region of Pacific Russia, a group of 180 men were given 0.5ml every other day
    during March. As compared to the control group, the influenza and acute
    respiratory disease incidence decreased from 17% to 12.7%. In the winter of
    1972-1973, about 1000 workers received 22ml of Siberian Ginseng extract daily
    for two months. The influenza and acute respiratory disease incidence reduced
    almost 2.4 times versus the same number of workers engaged at a shop with the
    same working conditions.

  • Reduction of hypertension and ischemic heart disease. The test group
    were 1200 drivers of the Volga Automobile plant. In 1973, the number of cases
    of hypertension at the motor transport administration was approximately the
    same as that at the whole plant. After prophylactic treatment with the herb in
    1975, the number of hypertensive drivers reduced 3.5 times. The number of cases
    with exacerbation of ischemic heart disease was 6.7 per 100 workers in 1973; in
    1978 it dropped to 0.2. In 1973 the number of work days lost was 282 which in
    1978 decreased to 3.

Other early clinical findings

  • Improvement of vision. An hour after taking it, in healthy young people with
    normal vision, acuity increased from 1.15/1.16 to 1.26/1.32. Eight hours
    following the intake of the herb it had increased to 1.46-1.52 and remained
    high for 32 hours. By the end of the second day visual acuity returned to

  • Reduction in disease under environmental stress. During long term
    navigation in the tropics where high temperature and humidity affect endurance,
    sailors were given an extract from the root of Siberian Ginseng. The herb
    substantially reduced unpleasant shifts on the part of the central nervous
    system, cardiovascular system and thermo-regulation that characterize
    physiological stress under such conditions. It promoted an increase in
    physical and mental endurance, improving vision & the ability to think

Conditions shown to improve with use of Siberian Ginseng

There is an ever lengthening list of pathologies that have been
demonstrated to improve with the use of this adaptogen. Here is a partial list
based on published results:

  • neurasthenia

  • diabetes

  • tuberculosis

  • infectious disease

  • chronic gastritis

  • atherosclerosis

  • brain injuries

Results found in Surgical Studies

It is of great interest to note that the published papers also cover the
field of surgery. Apart from the actual findings, it demonstrates the open
approach of orthodox medicine to plants in other parts of the world. The
provisional results indicate that:

  • It speeds post operative recovery.

  • It is being used in post operative treatment of oncological patients as it
    ameliorates the stress response that can aggravate metastasis.

  • There was an improved prognosis if Eleutherococcus was used
    with the orthodox techniques in the treatment of lip cancer and breast
    cancer. The ability of Siberian Ginseng to potentiate antitumor immunity has
    been discovered recently. An increase in the membranotoxic and cytostatic
    activity of a group of antineoplastic white blood cells, called natural
    killers, occurs due to the herbs’ effect. The toxicity of cancerous cell does
    not increase either. It also induced the synthesis of y-interferon by
    leukocytes. Glycosides which seem to be largely responsible for ‘natural
    killer’ activation have been isolated from the herb. It is well known that
    stress decreases the activity of the immune system and particularly that of the
    ‘natural killers’. An obvious association exists here on a bio-chemical level
    between stress, immune function and the herb.

Reduction in Toxicity facilitated by Eleutherococcus senticosus

In these times of pollution & exposure to dangerous
chemicals, this fascinating plant may prove of vital help as it also reduces
the toxic impact of a number of chemical compounds. In lab tests it was shown
to decrease the sensitivity of mice & rats to the toxicity of a range of

  • reduction in cytotoxicity of anti-neoplastic drugs. When the
    unfortunate animals were treated with cytotoxic drugs combined with Siberian
    Ginseng, they lost less weight and their white blood count was
    higher than in the animals treated with the drugs alone. The
    implications for its use as an adjunct in anti-cancer chemotherapy are clear
    & exciting. A fundamental problem with the use of cytotoxic drugs in cancer
    therapy is that not only do they destroy cancer cells, but healthy ones as
    well. In these tests, lethal doses of the drugs resulted in the animals’ death,
    but when Siberian Ginseng and drugs were combined, the death rate dropped. In a
    group of mice given thiophosphamide in a dose of 16 mgkg, 53% of the animals
    died. After administering combined Siberian Ginseng and thiophosphamide only
    15% of the animals died. Similar results were obtained in a group of animals
    given ethymidin in a dose of 1.5 mgkg. 30% so treated died, whilst all those
    receiving both herb and drug remained alive.

  • reduction in the narcotic effects of sedatives. It shortens the
    duration of sleep induced by sedatives. The suggestion is that it may prove
    useful for prophylactic and therapeutic applications in acute and chronic
    poisoning with some insecticides and industrial poisons. This ability of
    Siberian Ginseng involves the activation of the body’s own system of
    metabolically inactivating foreign poisons. This system includes a complex of
    specialized enzymes called the mono-oxygenase system, closely linked with the
    immune system, playing a pivotal role in the neutralizing toxic compounds.
    Russian pharmacologists advise the use of the extract in different drug
    formulae to reduce their inherent toxicity.

  • possible effect upon poisoning by insecticides & other

  • increased life span of irradiated laboratory rats.

Effects on the General Adaptation Syndrome

  • 15 min. after administration to fasting rats, blood sugar increases
    with a decrease in liver glycogen.

  • at the initial alarm reaction

    • activates glycolysis

    • promotes peripheral effects of adrenal & adreno-cortico-throphic

  • at the height of alarm phase there is an opposite effect: an anti-alarm action

    • reduces blood sugar

    • prevents liver glycogen loss

    • less of an increase in corticosteroids

  • following severe stress there was an enhancement of catabolic & anabolic

  • in exhaustion phase Eleutherococcus continued to maintain functioning
    of hypothalamus/pituitary/adrenal system at near optimal levels.

Eleutherococcus senticosus prolongs the resistance phase of the G.A.S.
whilst reducing the alarm reaction and exhaustion stage.

Metabolic Activity of Eleutherococcus senticosus

It broadly regulates the different body system’s response to
functional shifts.

  • an increase in duration of muscular activity

  • this occurs with less loss of glycogen, creatine phosphate & protein

  • mobilization of lipids is accelerated

  • pretreatment doubles the recovery rate of messenger & ribosomal RNA
    synthesis in the rat liver following severe muscle load.

From all of this, Siberian Ginseng starts to look like a very special remedy
indeed. It can increase individual resistance to the whole spectrum of
factors that contribute to stress reactions and exhaustion. Apparently the herb
will help whether the stress is from extremes of weather or psychological
exhaustion. Its’ universal properties make this herb one of the most
efficacious and promising medicines for increasing the non-specific resistance
of humanity.

An evolutionary role for adaptogens?

Adaptogenic plants offer such an array of benefits to humanity, it
raises the question of their purpose in evolution. Such a question is as much
about the evolutionary role of the unique glycosides in the herbs themselves.
What is the role of the eleutherosides in Siberian Ginseng? What do panaxosides
do in Ginseng? The Russian investigators have developed an intriguing theory.

It is known that the Araliacaea, the botanical family the ginsengs belong to,
is more than 150 million years old. This makes them amongst the oldest
flowering plants found today. They thrived long before the appearance of man,
even during the time of the giant dinosaurs. Fossilized Aralia plants are found
in the Cretaceous deposits throughout the Far East. During this long existence
the Earth has experienced repeated glaciation. During these ice invasions there
were dramatic changes in climate affecting the regions of the Earth where the
Far East, Korea, the northern part of China and Canada are found now. Some
representatives of the Aralia family lived in the ice age affected zone.

Exposure to such severe climatic conditions and evolutionary selection
distinguishes those Aralia plants which have a definite complex of substances
that increase the plants resistance. These are the unique substances found
today in Ginseng, Siberian Ginseng and other representatives of the Aralia
family. They formed under the action of definite climatic conditions. That is
why the representatives of the Aralia family that were not effected by the ice
age, living far southwards did not acquire such a set of properties and are not
medicinal plants of the same value as the Ginsengs. After the glaciation had
ended and the climate became far milder, the increased resistance gave Ginseng
definite advantages over other plants.

Where did these substances come from? Did they exist before the climatic trials
that were undergone by the Aralia family or was it a consequence of the genetic
changes that occurred at that period leading to the appearance of a new
ecological trait? Difficult questions to answer. It is known that glycosides
are widely spread among plants. In particular, they are found as the
medicinally important saponins, cardiac glycosides, steroidal alkaloids etc.
Eleutheroside B has been discovered in the bark of Lilac, whereas eleutheroside
C was isolated from the seeds of Lupin. These examples illustrate the
prevalence of such substances in the plant kingdom. Selection simply increased
their number favoring an increase in plant resistance.

Russian researchers regard these pharmacologically active substances as a class
of plant hormones. One group of plant hormone, the Gibberellins, belong to the
same class of chemicals as panaxoside and eleutheroside A. Whilst plant
hormones are primarily growth regulators, the Aralia glycosides may be
considered hormones of adaptation. This is a concept new to physiology, but is
an idea inherent within both traditional Chinese medicine and western
Herbalism. The action lies in increasing the resistance and adaptation
abilities of the plants.

Being in the form of glycosides facilitates rapid and easy transport of such
`adaptation’ hormones among all parts of the plant. Such a system may be very
roughly compared to the system of hormones involved in the stress reactions in
humanity. By analogy the plants may have a hormonal system of their own that
provides protection under stress. This system was produced as a result of long
term exposure to environmental but factors also plays an anti-stress role in
comparatively short term exposures Thus, according to the suggested hypothesis,
the assemblage of Siberian Ginseng glycosides is a complex of chemical
compounds which ensure the increased resistance of the body to external factors
of the environment.

During the evolution process, this primary defence mechanism was apparently
replaced in man by a complex system of homeostatic regulation. This includes
the whole plethora physiological systems that control, amongst other things,
blood and temperature stabilization, the immune system and the system of
stressor reactions.

Siberian Ginseng might be regarded in the light of this hypothesis as
humanities appeal to nature for help, the return to the source of biological
life. This is an appeal to the most ancient form of protection in the face of
the aggressiveness and violence of modern civilization towards the human body.
Natural chemicals with a specialized function responsible for the resistance of
the body to environmental factors exist in all living organisms. Substances
that increase bodily resistance have been named resistins by scientists
in Russia. This implies that adaptogenic substances should be found in all
herbal remedies. The fact that they are not known simply shows that they have
not been looked for yet. The herbalist who uses `tonics’, `alteratives’ and all
the other healing remedies may well be utilizing resistins.

Humanity appears to have created a world of stress, pollution, lack of meaning
and lack of purpose. In the face of such a cultural alienation from nature, the
plethora of diseases assailing the `civilized’ world should come as no
surprise. To heal the ills, the causes must be addressed and such causes are
not only within the individual but within our culture as a whole. Where a
health problem is related to lowered resistance due to the increased impact of
a hostile environment, the healer should `heal’ the hostile environment. In
other words, whilst we seem to have found a remedy that offers an increased
resistance to toxic drugs, it is always preferable to remove the toxic
chemical. This makes economic sense, is the right stance in Hippocratic terms
and it is right action in spiritual terms.

Adaptogens are yet another example of Gaia supplying the needs of all beings.
It is a humbling and yet enlivening thought that even in the wastes of
Siberia planetary integration is generating miracles.

Daily Mild Stress

If a period of stress is predictably about to occur, it can be prepared for
ahead of time, as herbs, diet and life-style changes will minimize the impact.
Nervine relaxants can be used regularly as gentle soothing remedies. Those
listed below are examples, from which it should be clear that most of the
nervine relaxants can be used in this way. However, bitter tonics may also be
important in some people due to their metabolic toning effects.

Please review these nervines to clarify their secondary actions and specific
properties. They can be drunk as teas, cold drinks, infused in massage oil,
used in relaxing foot baths or full baths.

Balm — Chamomile — Lavender
Linden — Mugwort — Oats
Skullcap — Vervain

A daily supplement of the B-complex vitamins and vitamin C is also indicated.
As well as responding to stress in a healthy way, by using herbs and improving
the diet, the impact of the various stressors can be ameliorated. This is
sometimes impossible, but don’t support putting up with something or someone
just because they are there. People can change and change their lives. It helps
to re-evaluate choices.

  • ‘Are you doing what you really want to do?’

  • `If not, what would you rather be doing?’

  • Give `permission’ for your patients to ask some searching questions about
    themselves and their life-style, without censoring any of the answers that may
    come up!

  • After pinpointing inner motivations the patient can then choose what you want
    to do about them. If changing is too difficult or painful, they are free not to
    change. Instead, use herbs and, perhaps, counseling to help ease the strain so
    they may live a less tense and anxious life. However, if they choose to change,
    herbal medicine if used wisely can aid in the process of transformation.

Relaxation exercises and an honest re-evaluation of both life-style and
life-goals are invaluable.

Long Standing Stress

The line between chronic stress and the daily levels we all seem to put up
with is fuzzy. A gentle soul with not too strong a constitution will cross the
line sooner than a stronger person who copes well. Neither of these extremes is
“better” than the other; they merely reflect the fact that we live in a world
of human diversity. That’s sometimes a joy and sometimes an actual cause of the
stress! The advice given for daily stress relief holds for chronic stress, but
in addition adaptogens become pivotal. Adaptogens are discussed above. The
following two remedies are most important:

Ginseng (American or Korean) Siberian Ginseng

In addition to adaptogens, every attention must be given to general health. The
body will often show its weakening through some somatic symptom. This may be a
long-standing complaint that gets worse, an old problem that reappears or just
a speeding of the aging process. Apply the model to any symptoms that arise in
the context of the persons medical history. Some examples follow.

Short Term Extreme Stress

There are times in most peoples lives when things get to be too much and the
pain of existence builds to a crescendo. Immediate herbal relief may be needed
in a whole range of traumatic situations-from being involved in a car accident
to some personal emotional crisis. In all cases, herbs will take the edge off
the trauma but will rarely remove it. At such times herbs can be only an aid –
one element of the approach taken to deal with the difficulties being faced.
This approach may also include seeking help from the various caring
professions, going on vacation or on a retreat, or even checking into a

The plants that are capable of easing intense stress are considered dangerous
in our society and because they are restricted drugs, they will not be
discussed here. However, in addition to the herbs previously mentioned, the
following remedies might be considered:

Passiflower — Valerian — Wild Lettuce

One possible prescription for acute stress:

Skullcap — 2 parts
Valerian — 2 parts
Oats — 1 part 5 ml of tincture taken as

Notice the dosage here of `5 ml of tincture taken as needed’. This is a
recognition that stress response has a cyclical nature and each person will
different times of the day that are more challenging than others. As this is
largely symptomatic medication, it may be increased until the desired relief is
experienced. The dosage regime may be altered as necessary, varying time of day
and quantity of dose to suit individual needs. For example, this may be a large
dose first thing in the morning, or smaller amounts at frequent intervals
throughout the day. The patients experience is the guiding principle here.
Always treat the human being and not the theory about the `disease’!

One possible prescription for acute stress associated with `indigestion’
and palpitations:

Skullcap — 2 parts
Valerian — 2 parts
Motherwort — 1 part
Chamomile — 1 part
Mugwort — 1 part 5 ml of tincture taken as needed

The Motherwort supports the relaxing of the other nervines but also has
specific calming impact upon tachycardia.

One possible prescription for acute stress associated liver problems (such as alcohol related hepato-toxicity):

Skullcap — 2 parts
Valerian — 2 parts
Milk Thistle — 1 part
Vervain — 1 part
Oats — 1 part to 5 ml of glycerate extract

A glycerate extract is suggested here because of the alcohol related

Broader Context of Treatment

Please refer to the earlier sections for the discussion of relaxation and
meditation. Adequate levels of the B vitamin complex are essential.

Herbal Treatment for Specific Nervous System Disorders:

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Written by David L. Hoffmann BSc Hons MNIMH

Explore Wellness in 2021