The Nervous System and Herbal Remedies

In no other system of the body is the connection between the physical and psychological aspects of our being as apparent as in the nervous system. Clearly, the tissue of the nervous system is part of the physical makeup of the body but, just as clearly, all psychological processes are anchored in the nervous system. Therefore, if there is “disease” on the psychological level, it will be reflected on the physiological level, and visa-versa.


Orthodox medicine tends to reduce psychological problems to a biochemical level, and assumes that “appropriate” drugs will sort out or at least hide the problem sufficiently to allow “normal” life to continue. Interestingly enough, some techniques in the field of complementary medicine assume or imply the other extreme: namely, that psychological factors are the cause of all disease. Treatment of the psyche is, therefore the only appropriate way of healing, and will take care of any physical problem. By bringing these two reductionist views together, we come closer to a holistic approach.


A holistic approach to healing acknowledges the interconnectedness of physiological and psychological factors, and regards the nervous system and its functions as a vital element in the treatment of the whole being. To be truly healthy, we have to take care of our physical health through the right diet and life style, but we are also responsible for taking care of our emotional, mental, and spiritual life. We should endeavor to live in a fulfilling, nurturing environment that supports emotional stability. Our thoughts should be creative and life-enhancing, open to the free flow of intuition and imagination, rather than conceptually rigid. And we should stay open to the free flow of the higher energies of our souls, without which health is impossible.


Herbal medicine can be an ecologically and spiritually integrative tool that is an ideal counterpart on the physical level for therapeutic techniques on the psychological level. Herbs can benefit the nervous system in a number of ways, in addition to the rather simplistic ones of stimulation and relaxation. In Western Herbalism today, it is common to differentiate between three kinds of herbs that act on the nervous system, collectively called nervines. These are nervine tonics, nervine relaxants, and nervine stimulants.

What is a Nervine?

A nervine is a plant remedy that has a beneficial effect upon the nervous system in some way. This makes the word nervine another catch-all expression, and to study them properly it helps to differentiate them into a number of categories. It should be superfluous to point this out, but any successful treatment of nervous system problems with herbs must involve treating the whole body, heart and mind, not simply the signs of agitation and worry. Of course, the agitation can be reduced greatly, but the whole system must be strengthened in the face of the storm! The main sub-divisions include:

Nervine : Tonic : Oats, St. John’s Wort, Scullcap

Nervine: Relaxing : Balm, Black Cohosh, Californian Poppy, Chamomile, Hops, Lavender, Linden, Motherwort, Pasque Flower, Passion Flower, St. John’s Wort, Scullcap, Valerian, Vervain

Nervine: Stimulating : Kola, Coffee, Mate, Gotu Cola, Guarana

Hypnotic : Californian Poppy, Chamomile , Hops, Passion Flower, Valerian

Anti-spasmodics for smooth muscles : Cramp Bark, BlackHaw, Valerian

Anti-depressant : Mugwort, St. John’s Wort, Damiana, Vervain, Lavender, Oats, Balm

Adaptogen : Ginseng, Siberian Ginseng

Analgesic : Jamaican Dogwood, Valerian, Wood Betony, Yellow Jasmine



Anti-spasmodics active in other body systems:


Circulatory – Linden, European Mistletoe, Motherwort, CrampBark, Valerian
Respiratory – Wild Lettuce, Lobelia, Wild Cherry, Gumweed
Digestive – Chamomile, Cramp Bark, Lemon Balm , Valerian, Hops, Peppermint, Fennel, Wild Yam
Reproductive – Cramp Bark, Black Haw, Pasque Flower, Valerian, Skullcap




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David L. Hoffmann BSc Hons MNIMH Written by David L. Hoffmann BSc Hons MNIMH

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