5 Herbs to Protect You Right Now
Self-care in a cup? These are tough times for some of us and even tougher times for many more. In whatever way the current situation is impacting you, it’s critical to engage in measures of self-care.
While long walks on the beach and laughter with dear friends can’t be placed in a bottle, there are herbal medicines which you can quickly use each day to mitigate the effects of stress you are experiencing. Whether your goal is to build and nourish yourself for each day or to have some extra help in the moment, these 5 herbs can offer you self-care when you most need it.
Ashwaganda (Withania somniferum)
Ashwaganda demonstrates the fantastic multiplicity herbs can have: this plant is perfect for the person who has anxiety and needs calming and who is also fatigued and needs something to support her energy levels. It’s an adaptogen at its best (in that it helps protect your body from the negative effects of stress) and has long been traditionally known for helping aide sleep. In a 2014 review of the effects of Ashwaganda on anxiety, the authors found that in all the studies examined there was a significant positive effect on anxiety (Pratte, 2016). You can use Ashwaganda as a tincture (alcohol extract, about 2 dropperfuls twice / day) or as a capsule (about 3 capsules twice / day) or as it was traditionally used as a powder. To use a powder, you can add it to oatmeal or yogurt or combine ½ teaspoon with dairy or non-dairy milk and honey as it is used in India. This herb isn’t safe in pregnancy or along with sedative medications.
Chamomile (Matricaria recutita)
Do you hold stress in your gut? Chamomile is both a digestive herb extraordinaire as well as a calming systemic nervine. It’s safe, affordable, and should never be underestimated despite it’s cute appearance and sweet flavor. It’s also appropriate for pregnancy as well as for children if your little ones are responding to the stress around. In one study, where it was examined in the post-partum pregnancy period, the authors found that it was effective in alleviating depression and sleep quality problems (Chang, 2016). While you may not be pregnant, the effects of this herb should be consistent regardless. It’s a wonderful tea, 2 tbsp in 3 cups of water steeped for about 3-5 minutes and consumed throughout the day, but also a useful tincture which can be used several times a day in 1-2 dropperfuls. It can be a lovely iced tea as well as a hot tea, and adding a slice of fresh ginger is one of my favorite additions.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
Everyone seems to be taking this sunshine yellow herb right now, and with good reason. Its anti-inflammatory action is legendary, but even more than that it is stabilizing to blood sugar in a serious way. One of the effects of stress is a chronic elevation in blood sugar and this herb can be a perfect preventative to the negative cardiovascular effects (Chuengsamarn, 2014). In one paper, it even demonstrated supporting better working memory in diabetic patients (Lee et al, 2014). There are a million ways to take it, including adding ¼ tsp to your milk and Ashwaganda blend above, using it in a curry, or taking it as a savory yogurt dip with veggies. However you take it, it’s most bioavailable combined with something with fat in it as well as a little black pepper.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)
Culpepper called this the “gladdening herb”, and this sweet and gentle herb is nourishing and lightening to a heavy mood. It’s a lovely tea and safe for pretty much everyone. If you are looking for a bit of light in your life this may be your elixir. It can be used as a tea, hot or cold, by adding 2 tbsp to 3 cups of water and steeping for 5 minutes, straining, sweetening as desired and consumed throughout the day. It’s also safe for children and in pregnancy and the flavor is well tolerated.
Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora)
If your mind starts circling and can consume you, then skullcap will be a new friend. This plant has more traditional than modern biomedical indications although a 2014 paper by Brock et al concluded that “S. lateriflora significantly enhanced global mood without a reduction in energy or cognition” which sounds exactly what many of us need at this moment. You can use this plant preventatively by taken 2-4 dropperfuls 1-2 times / day but can also use it as a tincture more acutely when you feel like you need extra support. It’s also a lovely tea in combination with lemon balm and chamomile, with which you can mix it in equal parts.
Plant medicines can offer more than simple biochemical solace. They are living medicines, themselves adapted to profound stress, and can serve to connect you with the greater plant world around us, something we undoubtedly need right now.
Brock, C., Whitehouse, J., Tewfik, I., & Towell, T. (2014). American Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora): A Randomised, Double‐Blind Placebo‐Controlled Crossover Study of its Effects on Mood in Healthy Volunteers. Phytotherapy Research, 28(5), 692-698.
Chang, S. M., & Chen, C. H. (2016). Effects of an intervention with drinking chamomile tea on sleep quality and depression in sleep disturbed postnatal women: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of advanced nursing, 72(2), 306-315.
Chuengsamarn, S., Rattanamongkolgul, S., Phonrat, B., Tungtrongchitr, R., & Jirawatnotai, S. (2014). Reduction of atherogenic risk in patients with type 2 diabetes by curcuminoid extract: a randomized controlled trial. The Journal of nutritional biochemistry, 25(2), 144-150.
Lee, M. S., Wahlqvist, M. L., Chou, Y. C., Fang, W. H., Lee, J. T., Kuan, J. C., ... & Pan, W. H. (2014). Turmeric improves post-prandial working memory in pre-diabetes independent of insulin. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr, 23(4), 581-591.
Pratte, M. A., Nanavati, K. B., Young, V., & Morley, C. P. (2014). An alternative treatment for anxiety: a systematic review of human trial results reported for the Ayurvedic herb ashwagandha (Withania somnifera). The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 20(12), 901-908.