One of the oldest reasons for using herbs throughout the centuries has been to calm the nervous system and relax the mind, and a delicious calm it can be.
At a time when people are feeling super stressed out and having difficulties with the multilayered stresses of a pandemic, I encourage everyone to lean into the remarkable herbs that Mother Nature has to share with us. There are herbs that can help you feel calmer, herbs that can take you to deep states of relaxation, and herbs that can lower anxiety levels and even help you to fall asleep.
Common herbs that are often associated with assisting sleep are Chamomile, Lavender, Lemon Balm, and Passion Flower.
The benefits of these herbs are more focused on calming and soothing than for sleep (even though they are marketed that way).
The thought is that as you feel calmer, you can slip into a goodnight’s sleep more easily. They aren’t really for sleep, though, which is why most people can have a nice cup of Chamomile tea for lunch without the worry that they will fall asleep at their desk. For those interested in brewing their own calming/soothing tea, I suggest whipping up your own concoction of the herbs above and throw in some Orange Peel or Lemon Peel to round out the flavor.
Some herbs that calm and potentially reduce anxiety issues are Ashwagandha, Skullcap, Holy Basil (Tulsi), Licorice Root, Fennel Seed, and Hawthorn Leaf & Flower.
When blended together, these herbs have an earthy, light, and even sweet taste that I love. I keep several of these herbs in my personal stock and will sometimes throw a pinch of each in an infuser, add hot water, and make myself a one-of-a-kind healing blend. I have served similar blends like this quite a few times at events, and I am always surprised at how many people say they don’t want to add sugar to their tea.
If you’re interested in taking this calm a little deeper, then Kava Root or Catnip might be just what you need. Catnip is traditionally thought to act as a natural sedative. Yes,…Catnip! It makes a surprisingly delicious tea. For those interested in crafting your own blend, it mixes well with the herbs listed above, especially the florals. Add some rose hips if you’d like to “lift” the flavor a little. Kava Root makes a delicious tea straight up, as is, just boil and drink. There are actually Kava Bars in some parts of the world, and the trend seems to be expanding.
The most studied calming herb is the remarkable St. John’s Wort. A meta-study published by the National Institute of Health found that “St. John’s Wort has better antidepressant efficacy than placebo and lower rates of side effect than conventional antidepressants.” Unfortunately, St. John’s Wort can be a bad combination with many pharmaceuticals, so please keep this in mind when using this amazing herb. My “I Am Happy” herbal tea is a simple combination of St. John’s Wort, Orange Peel, Lemon Balm, and Lavender. This tea blend has a delicious and light flavor that is another crowd favorite from my little tea company, particularly in the summer.
The winner of the stinkiest calming herb is Valerian Root. This herb shares a very similar sedative quality as Catnip, and it is generally safe for both cats and humans. Valerian seems to have more of a lasting effect on cats over Catnip…FYI! There are reports of people having issues with Valerian, but they ingested more than 20 times the recommended daily limit (as with everything, moderation). Valerian is an important ingredient in my “Sleep Better” tea, and I combine this with Chamomile, Lavender, Lemon Balm, and Passion Flower. These basic soothing herbs provide a “cover” for the smelly sedative that is Valerian Root and give this tea a delicious floral taste.
Many of the herbs listed above have centuries of use behind them as ceremonial elixirs (Kava, Holy Basil) and healing tonics (Ashwagandha, Valerian), and all of them have the potential to provide you a sense of calm in these turbulent times. As always, I recommend connecting with these herbs in a thoughtful manner. Pause for a moment, take in the amazing smells and textures of these beautiful plants. Invite creativity into your life by creating your own calming concoctions. Breathe deeply as you steep the herbs and take a moment to savor their goodness while you quietly say, “Thank You” to Mother Nature for all the yummy goodness she so willingly shares with you.