Nervines are herbs that support the nervous system. Within the category of nervines, there are subcategories such a relaxing nervines, antispasmodics and stimulant nervines(Hoffmann & Hoffmann, 2003). Nervines can also affect specific systems including the respiratory, digestive, reproductive and circulatory. Sometimes nervines are used to treat symptoms of larger problems, although there are adaptogenic nervines that simply strengthen and support the entire nervous system which can be highly successful for those with ongoing stress reactions within the body.
Often people leap to depression when they think of nervines, but the support they can supply to the body outside of depression should not be underestimated. Aging brings its own stresses on the body and the nervous system, and several nervines can ameliorate or reduce the effect. Poor sleep is often caused by nervous or stress conditions, but failure to sleep can also exacerbate those same conditions. Treating both cause and symptom may be more critical to the nervous system disruptions than any single of system as issues with the nervous system can affect all of the other systems in the body.
Some examples of the nervine family are valerian, gingko, skullcap and catnip (Petersen, 2016). Valerian, Valeriana officinalis is an antispasmodic and can be used for tension induced muscle tightness as well as for uterine and intestinal colic cramping. It is believed that valerian acids are the primary relaxing factors for hypertension with stress. The dose must be high enough to cause the desired effect. A tincture is the most effective preparation (Weiss, Fintelmann, & Wandrey, 2000). With the tincture the dosage should be 1-2 teaspoons, and valerian tincture can be added to valerian tea to add to the effects. There are no known drug interactions although it may increase the effect of sedatives.
Skullcap, Scutellaria lateriflora is American skullcap which is not the same as Chinese skullcap (Erlich, 2014). American Scutellaria uses the leaves and Chinese Scutellaria uses the roots. Skullcap is also a nervine that affects hypertension and has been used to treat petit mal seizures. Neither Scutellaria should be used while taking sedatives, during pregnancy or lactation and American skullcap must be from a trustworthy source to ensure it is not adulterated with germander which can cause hepatotoxicity. Skullcap is still often used for insomnia, restless sleep and may help protect against neurological disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Gingko, Ginkgo biloba is well known for it’s effect on memory complaints. It is used as a vasodilator, anti-inflammatory and relaxant. It has shown to be useful in treating peripheral vascular disease, vertigo, memory deterioration related to aging and cerebroprotective properties. Cerebral insufficiency can cause dizziness, confusion, issue with memory and concentration as well as anxiety and a depressed mood. There is a toxin in the Gingko seeds and taking gingko leaves and dried fruit may cause spontaneous bleed which can cause difficulties during surgery, and has a multitude of potential interactions with various drugs. It should also be noted that it can take 4-6 weeks to notice the effects. Standardized dosages are the best option in extract form with dosages ranging from 120 mg/day to 240 mg/day, with those amounts being divide and supplied in two or three doses throughout the day.
Catnip, Nepata cataria is a nervine that is also used as an antispasmodic. While useful for sleep and nervous disorders, it also used for many stomach complaints such as dyspepsia, colic and diarrhea as an antispasmodic. Some list it as an herb to be avoided during pregnancy although it is safe for children. Excessive doses can cause headaches and a general unwell feeling. Preparations can be either tincture or infusion, although the water should never be boiled. The infusion should be 2 teaspoons to 1 cup of boiling water that is immediately covered and let to steep for 10-15 minutes, 3 times a day.
Erlich, S. (2014, July 6). Skullcap. Retrieved November 13, 2016, from Univeristy of Mayland
Medical Center, http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/skullcap
Hoffmann, D. L., & Hoffmann, F. N. (2003). Medical herbalism: The science and practice of herbal medicine. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions Bear & Company.
Petersen, D. (2016). Herb 303 Textbook. Portland, Oregon: ACHS.
Weiss, R. F. A., Fintelmann, V., & Wandrey, S. O. (2000). Herbal medicine (2nd ed.). Stuttgart, Germany: Thieme Medical Publishers.