9 Herbs to Help Relieve Stress

Stress seems to be the one constant in our lives today. It is all too easy to end up taking on more than we feel we can handle, whether out of a sense of duty or a dislike of saying no to those closest to us. This is particularly true in the holiday season – the pressures of trying to balance money, work and family can seem truly overwhelming.

Taking a few minutes to relax with a warm cup of herbal tea can help to take the edge off the ragged nerves of this time of year, and here’s a list of the top 10 to try.

Chamomile

Chamomile is probably the best-known herb in use today, precisely because it is a wonderful stress reliever and, unlike some of the herbs on this list, it tastes good in a tea. Adding a cup of chamomile tea to your nightly routine can help you to sleep better, which helps to control the production of the stress-hormone, cortisol.

Lavender

Like chamomile, the stress-relieving properties of lavender are well known, making it a popular scent to add to a wide range of products from sleep pillows to bath salts. It is particularly good at easing tension headaches and other aches and pains caused by stress-induced muscle clenching.

Lemon Balm

Lemon balm is a calming herb which has been used to help to reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety since the Middle Ages or longer. It is seldom used alone, but is often combined with chamomile and valerian for a wonderfully relaxing bedtime drink.

Passionflower

In spite of the name, it is the fruit of the plant which holds the benefits. It boosts production of a chemical called GABA which helps to lower anxious brain activity and soothe away worries caused by overthinking. Studies have shown these benefits to be short-term, however, so saving passionflower for when you really need it might be a better idea.

Ginseng

Both Chinese and Siberian ginseng help to boost our ability to cope with the stress of modern living. It delays and reduces the production of cortisol, helping to ease stress without the sedative effects of valerian, hops, and chamomile.

Holy Basil

This is a close cousin to the sweet basil commonly used in cooking, and is also known as Tulsi. It helps to regulate cortisol levels, along with helping to boost the immune system – an added benefit at this time of year, when colds and flu are more common. However, it is a herb to be cautious with while pregnant – seek advice in this case.

Green Tea

Green tea is packed full of antioxidants, so it should come as no great surprise that it has uses other than being a great tasting and refreshing drink. Studies have shown that people who drink five cups of green tea a day have significantly less trouble dealing with stressful situations than those who don’t.

Valerian

Valerian is often used to help to cure insomnia, since it causes drowsiness, but it is also a great herb to use to help to combat the effects of stress. It is a mild sedative, and as such can certainly help you to get a good night’s sleep, and that is a stress-reliever all on its own.

Hops

Yes, hops. They’re used in beer, but that is only the start of their uses. They don’t taste very good, though, so use very sparingly and add a sweeter tasting herb such as lavender if you intend to give hops a try. They do have a wonderfully relaxing effect – if you can stomach them.

The Difference Between Herbal Medicine and Homeopathy

A good many people seem to be confused by this, and so I felt that it was necessary to get my opinions about the two down very clearly. It has been a source of irritation for many years that herbal medicine and homeopathy are often confused by people, so I will do my best to outline the differences between the two.

Herbal Medicine

Herbal medicine has been the foundation of healthcare throughout recorded history. Even today, the World Health Organisation believes that around 80% of the world’s population still uses herbs and their properties as a primary source of medical care.

Herbal medicines, just like conventional medicines, have a direct effect on the body and need to be used with care because they can be potentially harmful if not used correctly. Therefore, they need to be used with the same care and respect as conventional medicines, and it is always a good idea to tell your doctor about any herbal medicines you’re taking before starting on a new prescription.

Homeopathy

Homeopathy is a complementary or alternative medicine based on a series of ideas originally developed in the 1790s by a German doctor called Samuel Hahnemann. He believed that to successfully treat an illness, ‘like cures like’, and so that a substance which causes a headache should be used to treat a headache.

Very early on, this caused the deaths of a good many of Samuel Hahnemann’s patients, because a good many of the substances he was using in order to  treat people were toxic. Instead of abandoning the idea, he decided that a process called succussion should be used. This process is based around diluting and shaking the original substance repeatedly.

Practitioners of homeopathy believe that the more a substance is diluted in this way, the greater its power to treat the symptoms becomes. In effect, this means that most homeopathic remedies have less than 0.00001% of the original substance available to them, the rest of the solution being water.

There has been extensive scientific investigation of the effectiveness of homeopathy, and there is no good quality evidence that homeopathy is effective as a treatment for any health condition. The results consistently show that homeopathy works thanks to the placebo effect, nothing more.

Conclusion

Please don’t confuse herbal medicine with homeopathy. They are very different things, with very different results. I would never encourage people not to use something that they believe helps them, so if you like homeopathy treatments, by all means continue to use them. But please don’t suggest that a herbalist is a homeopath. It becomes very irritating very quickly.

Healing with Lavender

Lavender is one of the most widely used and versatile herbs known today. Lavender flowers have been used for centuries to treat digestive problems, insomnia, anxiety, and restlessness. Until World War I, lavender was used to treat and disinfect wounds. English farmers have placed lavender flowers in their hats in order to prevent headaches and sunstroke for years. In more domestic uses, women still place sachets of lavender in their wardrobes for fragrance, and it is a common element in potpourri.

Today, lavender is most commonly used to help to treat anxiety, depression, mental exhaustion, insomnia, scrapes and wounds, digestive problems, headaches, skin problems and women’s health problems. In addition to this wealth of uses, lavender can be used to help treat exhaustion, heat exposure, fevers, aches and pains, over-exertion, jet lag, rashes, sprains, sunburn, sunstroke, bruises and burns. It is a good mild disinfectant and insect repellent, along with being antiseptic, a natural antibiotic, a mild sedative and a detoxifier.

Anxiety

Lavender essential oil has a calming, sedative and anti-convulsive effect. When used in combination with other relaxants, it can also help to boost their effectiveness.

Insomnia

This is likely the most common use of lavender. Studies conducted at the University of Leicester have shown that using lavender essential oil is just as effective in promoting a healthy sleep pattern as traditional medication, and many hospitals offer lavender pillows in order to help their patients get a good nights’ sleep.

Scrapes and Wounds

Lavender essential oil has antiseptic properties. Applying it to wounds can not only increase cell growth and so help the wound to heal faster, it also helps to decrease the appearance of scars. The oil is anti-microbial, helping to protect scrapes and wounds from becoming infected, while allowing them to heal effectively.

Digestive Problems

Lavender helps to sooth the lining of the digestive tract and promotes the secretion of bile, which helps the body to digest fats and helps to reduce the instances of heartburn. In addition to this, lavender can also help ease bloating and constipation.

Headaches

Massaging lavender oil onto the temples, neck and forehead can relieve neck and head tension and promote relaxation, thus helping to relieve a variety of headaches. Those included are gastric headaches, nervous headaches, sinus pain and tension headaches.

Skin Problems

Massaging lavender oil into the skin can help to treat a number of skin problems including acne, dry skin, eczema, itchy skin, sunburn and burns.

Conclusion

Lavender is a must-have for all homes, and is an essential part of every herbal medicine cupboard. Few herbs can truly claim to have the sheer number of uses offered by lavender. It is as close to an all-round treatment as there is to be found anywhere.

Healing with Honey

Honey has been a medicinal substance for centuries. In Ancient Egypt it was used as a wound dressing, embalming fluid, and was often included in offerings to the gods.I know. Honey is not a herb. But it is such a great healer that when I started thinking of plants to concentrate on, I just kept returning to it. So here is a run-down of what makes honey so great. Don’t worry – I’ll do similar overviews of various herbs over the next few weeks.

Today, honey is often used for its antibacterial properties. Even some hospitals use manuka honey as a wound dressing, because it helps to keep bacteria out of the wounds. It is also an anti-inflammatory, and is a general all-round remedy. Not to mention, it tastes great.

Finally, for those who want to try and live a more natural life and eat fewer processed foods, honey makes an excellent sweetener for a wide range of foods and drinks.

What to look for

There is such a bewildering array of honeys available in supermarkets now that it can be difficult to work out what to buy. You also need to be very careful, because fake honey is easily and cheaply produced.

As a general rule of thumb, you need to look for the darker honeys, as these have a greater antioxidant level and are better at fighting off bacteria.

Unfortunately, most honey that you can find on supermarket shelves is pasteurized. This is meant to help increase its shelf-life, but I struggle to believe that it is necessary. Honey has been found in Egyptian tombs which was perfectly edible. What this process certainly does do, however, is to get rid of the heat-sensitive properties of honey, severely curtailing its use as anything other than a sweetener.

Ideally, you need to find somewhere which sells raw honey. This is precisely what it sounds like. It is untreated, unpasteurized honey. It crystalises very easily, and therefore cannot be poured as easily as commercial honey, but it is delicious, and very good for you.

Uses of Honey

Coughs and Colds

I have already mentioned the fact that honey is very useful in helping to treat colds and ‘flu. It helps to soothe inflamed membranes and eases coughs. It has been proved to be as effective – or more – than certain over-the-counter medications in both easing a cough and helping to promote restful sleep.

Improve Digestion

Any sort of nausea or digestive distress can be helped with a tablespoon of honey. If mixed with other ingredients, this can make a highly effective digestive syrup.

Lower cholesterol

As a natural sweetener, raw honey can help to control cholesterol levels when introduced as a way to help diets taste better.

Improves SleepHoney is a relaxant. It helps to produce melatonin, which is the hormone which helps to encourage natural, restful sleep.

Heal Wounds

I have already mentioned that honey can be used topically as an aid to promote swift healing of wounds, mild burns, rashes and grazes.

Shampoo

Raw honey can be added to home shampoo recipes very easily. When used in this way, it can help to cleanse and restore the health of your hair and scalp.

Moisturiser and Skin Care

If mixed into a lotion with lemon and olive oil, raw honey makes for a great moisturiser. Leave it on the skin for a minute or two and then rinse thoroughly.

As you can see, there are many uses to honey. This list really does only scratch the surface of its many and varied uses. It makes it a necessary part of the medicine cupboard for anyone who happens to be remotely interested in adding natural health to their daily life.