Tag Archive | nervous exhaustion

Massage & Herbs for Restoring Vitality

I am blessed with a daughter and son-in-law who are talented massage therapists. When they undertook opening and running a successful massage therapy center in Asheville’s hip west side, I couldn’t have been more proud. Not only would they experience the growth opportunities inherent in owning their own business, they would also be providing a valuable service in these unprecedented and transitional/transformational times. Now that spas have come back on line, they are again able to serve their community at a time when it is needed most.

Massage is not only essential for tense, overworked muscles and to calm the mind, it also helps to re-calibrate the nervous system. I have personally found the benefit received from a massage with moderate pressure from a good therapist, to be an invaluable investment in restoring my deep yin, adrenal reserves.

When my daughter was a young girl, she would rub and massage me, and I would say to her, “You have great hands! You should be a massage therapist.” Not only did she become an excellent therapist, she partnered with one! I have been getting professional massages for over forty years, and now that I am 65, I can’t imagine a wellness, or longevity plan, that doesn’t include regular massage.

Many of us over the years have burned the candle at both ends, pushing ourselves with caffeine, sugar, and chocolate, until “burn out” left us searching for ways to replenish and restore. The toll of stress on our nervous system, which keeps us in sympathetic nervous system response, goes mostly unnoticed as we continue to push through our day. We have become valued for human doings, rather than human beings.

The sympathetic nervous system is where fight, flight, or freeze gets turned on. If the switch gets stuck in the “on” position, our deep, cooling, yin reserves become depleted. The result is that we become anxious, fearful and angry. It is well known that massage helps to regulate the autonomic nervous system consisting of the sympathetic and parasympathetic. The Parasympathetic nervous system is where rest and digest gets turned on. The heart rate slows, and energy is conserved and sent to the digestive system.

Stress in the form of driving and eating, being late for work, loud sirens, a cell phone constantly dinging, a sick child at home with a fever, a flat tire, or a fight with your spouse… all cause muscles to tense, heart rate to increase, and stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol to dump into blood stream. Sustained stress keeps the sympathetic nervous system stuck in the “on” position, never allowing the parasympathetic to relax and recover. This can result in GI dysfunction, weight gain, chronic disease, inflammation, insomnia, and decreased immunity. When the cycle of repair and healing gets disrupted, it becomes a vicious cycle.

In no other system is the connection between the physical and psychological aspects of our being as apparent as in the nervous system. All psychological processes are anchored in the nervous system. Herbal medicine addresses the way in which plants affect human consciousness and the physical action of nervine herbs is but one side of the whole interface between plant and mind. Many scientists are now calling the totality of neurons in the gut, “the second brain.” Not only does this second brain regulate muscles, it also manufactures up to 90% of the serotonin in your body. Many neurologists now realize that antidepressants are often less effective in treating depression than dietary changes are.

Massage, breathing, meditation, walks in nature, yoga and moderate exercise are all important strategies for calming the mind, ensuring adequate digestion, and are an important component of any longevity plan. You may also want to consider using the follow nervines for additional support:

Hops: Humulus lupulus

You may be surprised to learn that Hops, primarily used as a bitter to flavor and stabilize beer, is in the same family as marijuana, cannabaceae. It is sedative, hypnotic, antimicrobial, antispasmodic and astringent. It has a relazing effect on the Central Nervous System and is used extensively to treat insomnia, to ease tension and anxiety, and is appropriate when tension leads to restlessness and indigestion.

May be taken as a tincture, infusion, capsules, dried extract, tablet or tea. And of course if you live in Asheville, known as one of the Best Craft Beer Cities in the U.S. ~ you could drink a nice “hoppy” high IPA beer.

Tincture: 1-4ml 3x/day (1:5 in 40%)

Infusion: 1 cup boiling water over 1 tsp dried herb and infused covered for 15 minutes, drink 1 cup at night to induce sleep, increasing as needed.

Wild Oats: Avena Sativa

The same common oat grain that is widely used as food if allowed to fully mature, Wild Oats may be either wild or cultivated, and is also known as oatstraw and milky oats. It is a nervine tonic, antidepressant, nutritive, demulcent, and vulnerary. Wild Oats feed the nervous system especially when under stress. It is a specific remedy for nervous debility and exhaustion associated with depression.

May be taken as a tincture, infusion, bath and as food.

Tincture: 3-5ml 3x/day (1:5 in 25%), or 1-2 droppers full up to 3x/day for at least 3 months for long term benefits.

Infusion: Pour 1 cup boiling water over 1-3 teaspoons of dried straw and infuse for 15 minutes, strain, drink 3x/day.

Bath (use for neuralgia and irritated skin): Boil 1 pound of shredded oatstraw in 2 quarts water for ½ hour. Strain and add to bath.

Broth: Boil oats in a broth, strain, and drink to soothe esophagus, stomach, and irritated mucous membranes of the bowel.


Woolgathering & Wildcrafting Blog Post ~ Avena Sativa: The Warm Weather Medicine of Milky Oats https://woolgatheringwildcrafting.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/avena-sativa-the-warm-weather-medicine-of-milky-oats/


Brain Maker, by David Perlmutter

Delmar’s Integrative Herb Guide for Nurses, by Martha Libster

Asheville Is One of the Best Craft Beer Cities in the U.S., https://www.travelandleisure.com/food-drink/beer/best-brewery-in-asheville-north-carolina



Summer & The Fire Element

Scutellaria lateriflora

Skullcap, or scullcap, tomatoe or tomato? Isn’t it interesting that this member of the mint family, which contains approximately 300 species, can be found spelled either way with a c, or a k? Even the herb companies have taken sides. For example: Herb Pharm spells their product Skullcap, while Nature’s Way spells it Scullcap. Somewhat confusing I know when you also consider that spell check doesn’t like scullcap spelled with a c, i.e. “not found in dictionary.” No matter how you choose to spell scullcap, the plant I will be talking about is the botanical, Scutellaria lateriflora. Since its name derives from the Latin scutella, meaning “a small dish” and referring to the shape of the flower, I prefer to use the spelling closest to the genus name of this plant. Let’s keep it simple. And that is how I prefer to use scullcap, as a simple. What that means is that I like to use one herb at a time, when appropriate, because that way I don’t have to wonder which herb is working or which one is not.  Besides, you can only put so many herbs in your body at one time (like food) so why confuse it with a smorgasbord or dilute it by adding too many. I also believe that healing takes place in the context of relationship, so using one herb at a time allows for a deeper intimacy with that plant and helps to build trust.

Harvesting Scullcap

I live in the Appalachian Mountains of Western North Carolina and for that reason I am particularly interested in plants growing in this region. Scullcap is one of these and a North American native highly valued by the Cherokee who use it as a nerve tonic and sedative. It likes to grow along the sunny edges of damp meadows near small bodies of water and is a perennial that thrives in the moist eastern woodlands. Small pale blue or violet blue flowers are not long lived and bloom in the summer between June and September. These flowers are in one-sided racemes from the leaf axils, which makes scullcap easier to identify. The aerial parts are best tinctured fresh when in full bloom.

Scullcap, according to medical herbalist, David Hoffman, “… is perhaps the most relevant nervine available to us in the Western materia medica.”  It soothes nervous tension while strengthening the central nervous system and has a long history of use for petit mal seizures, sleepwalking, night terrors and insomnia.  It is also useful for nervous irritability, tension headaches, relieves PMS tension, and lessens the symptoms of drug and alcohol withdrawal. Herbalist, Patricia Kyritsi Howell, says, “Skullcap is a specific remedy for mental fatigue and nervous exhaustion caused by over-stimulation and the effects of long-term stress.”

My personal encounters with scullcap have been most rewarding. Gathering it in and of itself is a blissful occupation. I have made and used fresh scullcap tincture for both myself (nervous exhaustion) and with clients. One scullcap success story resulted when a mother brought her 9-year-old son to me for a consultation regarding his bedwetting. Let’s call him Jimmy. Jimmy had been sleepwalking, bedwetting and having night terrors for as long as his parents could remember. They had recently adopted another child (from China) and were consumed with caring for this new family member with special needs and no longer wanted to be up in the middle of the night with Jimmy. Besides, they were genuinely frightened and concerned for his safety and well-being when they would find him walking around in the middle of night while completely asleep. Jimmy did not know what was happening and woke in the morning with no recall.  He was also diagnosed in school with ADD. I recommended scullcap tincture in the morning and evening along with some dietary changes (no wheat and dairy) and asked his mother to follow up with me in one month. At one month I tried contacting the mother but she never got back to me. A few months later I ran into them at a social gathering and asked how Jimmy was doing.

“Oh, great!” She said, and went on to tell me about all the exciting things they had been up to.

“Great!” I said, “ but what about the night terrors, sleepwalking and bedwetting!?”

“Oh!” She answered back, mildly surprised. “That is completely gone and he’s had no problems with that since.”

What I realized was that she had simply gotten on with her life and not looked back. Then she told me that they had been unable to make any dietary changes, but that Jimmy had started to improve almost immediately with the scullcap. Amazing.

On another occasion a friend of mine’s daughter called frantic with a 9-month old baby who wasn’t sleeping and woke hysterically crying every night and had a hard time getting back to sleep. This had been going on for 3 months and the parents were exhausted. They had tried everything; more food to settle her stomach (maybe she was hungry?), different food, chamomile tea, homeopathic remedies, and they had ruled out teething and been checked out by the pediatrician. You know what worked? Scullcap: 5 drops of alcohol tincture up to 3 X a day. The beauty of scullcap is that it is a tonic that can be used long term and is not addicting.

TCM 5 Element Theory

The other thing I learned from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Five Element Theory is that scullcap is a cooling bitter herb that calms the mind and restores the shen to the heart (Fire Element). In TCM the mind is seen as referring to the heart and in this context shen corresponds to mind and consciousness with the process of thinking being accomplished by the heart. One of the hearts main duties is to store the shen, which describes spirit, or the animating force of life. Shen has been translated from the Chinese as both “mind” and “spirit.” As the integrator of consciousness and perception, the shen unites the disparate aspects of the self. When the shen is restless for any reason, as we have seen in the examples above, scullcap has the amazing ability to restore the shen. We may call this restlessness nervous anxiety or nervous tension, but the nervous system is what carries the electrical impulses generated by the brain and heart.  Heart-Mind in TCM corresponds with the Fire Element and the Summer season. The benefits of scullcap to reduce nervousness and treat insomnia by quieting the spirit or shen and helping it to stay centered in the heart cannot be over estimated. Summer is the perfect time to be introduced to scullcap in her season of bloom, so I invite you to bring her into your life in whatever manner you may choose and get to know her, for her gift is great.

When the heart is serene, pain seems negligible. – Inner Classic.

Fresh Tincture Dosage, Adult: 30 drops (1 dropper full) 1:2 (75A:25W) 2-3 x a day

Can also be tinctured fresh using Vodka in the folk tradition.


Making Plant Medicine, Richo Cech, Horizon Herbs

Medical Herbalism: The Science and Practice of Herbal Medicine, David Hoffmann, Healing Arts Press

Medicinal Plants of the Southern Appalachians, Patricia Kyritsi Howell, Botanologos Books

The Cherokee Herbal: Native Plant Medicine from the Four Directions, J.T. Garrett, Bear & Co

Learn more strategies for coming into harmony this summer season in Thea’s upcoming, work-at-your-own pace, online class at Wise Woman University, “Heal Your Heart: Summer and the Fire Element.”