Herbal Relaxants – Vitamin Retailer Magazine

Have you ever had someone quite seriously get on your nerves? Or perhaps at one point in your life, you felt like you were on the verge of a nervous breakdown. It should come as no surprise that if you have experienced something of this magnitude, then your nervous system might be a bit on edge, which is the perfect segway into understanding nervines, or a category of herbs intended to nourish and support the central nervous system (CNS). As a quick reminder, your CNS plays a role in nearly every aspect of your health including your physical, mental and emotional health, your stress and relaxation responses, and the functioning of your brain, nerves and digestive tract.1

Nervines 101

The term nervine is a bit of a catch-all, but a nervine is a plant/herb that has a beneficial effect upon the nervous system.

As stated earlier, the nervous system is broken down into two main partsโ€”the central nervous system, which is made up of the brain and spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system, which is made up of nerves that branch off from the spinal cord and extend to all parts of the body. Your nervous system is responsible for getting messages from your brain to the rest of the body and back again either to chill out (known as parasympathetic mode or rest/digest) or to go into hyperarousal (also known as sympathetic nervous system response or fight/flight).

There are stimulating nervines, calming nervines, and some that fall right in the middle, but for the most part, they work to support relaxation, stress and anxiety. They are generally tonic, meaning you can be in a long-term, committed relationship with them. However, some are more sedative in nature and might be used on an as-needed basis.2


Skullcap is known for its ability to relax and soothe the nervous system. Stress, tension, anxiety, nervousness and panic attacks are all indications for this broadly useful herb. Energetically speaking, skullcap is a bitter and cooling herb. It is especially indicated for people who tend toward a warm constitution. It also provides relief during situations of excitability and overstimulation, such as stress, anger and panic attacks.3

Skullcap excels at relieving acute and intense situations of stress and anxiety. Itโ€™s calming and soothing to the nervous system. While it works well for acute situations, it can also be taken long-term to broadly support the nervous system and help to reduce the negative effects of chronic stress. As a nerve tonic, it can help people who have been through prolonged periods of stress and feel like their nerves are constantly on edge.


Lobelia essentially decreases adrenaline. It is a vagus nerve stimulant or 10th cranial nerve stimulant. The Materia Medica explains that lobelia will stimulate a parasympathetic or relaxation response transmission and decrease adrenaline levels. As a result, lobelia can help conditions that may be aggravated or caused by adrenaline stress. This relaxation effect will help other parasympathetic actions, such as stimulating digestive enzymes, relaxing a spastic and irritated bowel, lower blood pressure, lowering the respiratory rate, helping hyperactivity in adults and children, and assisting in sleep, all of which can be impacted while experiencing anxiety.4


Kava is a relaxing nervine and has become popular over the last several years for its sedative and psychotropic properties. Kava has been shown to relax the nervous system, particularly for those who are experiencing anxiety and stress. The effects of kava can relax the mind and body; it can have a relaxing effect without impairing mental and physical function, although it can also be used to promote sleep. While relaxing, it does not dull the senses but rather tends to focus the mind. Kava is also great for those who experience emotional and mental nervousness.5

Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is a cooling nervine with a strong lemony smell that belongs to the mint family. It can be called a nervous trophorestorative, which indicates that over time it can support the nervous system. Lemon balm is said to โ€œuplift the spiritsโ€ and is known as the โ€œgladdeningโ€ herb. It is indicated for those who are anxious or experience nervousness and poor mood.6


Hops are a bitter relaxing nervine and are both cooling and drying. They are used for many types of nervous tension, especially when associated with digestive distress, pain or spasms (Hops-American Botanical Council). Hops are suited to people with intense personalities and strong emotions that result in nervous exhaustion, insomnia and worry. The relaxing and mild sedative properties of hops are often useful for people with difficulty sleeping. Peter Holmes, author of The Energetics of Western Herbs, said hops fit the profile of โ€œhot-typeโ€ insomnia. In other words, people who struggle with sleep and who also feel hot and restless can benefit from hopsโ€™ cooling abilities.7

In Conclusion

While stress is an unavoidable and necessary part of life, there are ways that you can support your bodyโ€™s stress response, partially by incorporating herbal nervines. This class of botanicals works to support and relax the nervous system. The good news is you donโ€™t have to be an herbalist to start adding herbs into your routine! You can create your own herbal teas by ordering bulk herbs from somewhere like Starwest Botanicals or Mountain Rose Herbs or buy individual tinctures of each herb and make your own formula at home.VR


1 Thau et al, 2022.
2 Liu et al., 2015.
3 Brock et al., 2014.
4 Barker, J., 2001.
5 Savage et al., 2015.
6 Ulbricht et al., 2005.
7 Franco et al., 2012.

Brianna Diorio holds a PhD in integrative medicine from the University of Natural Medicine and is a clinical nutritionist with a Masterโ€™s of Science in Human Nutrition from the University of Bridgeport. She is also a functional diagnostic nutrition practitioner (FDN), an herbal practitioner through the Herbal Academy, a family herbalist through The School of Natural Healing, a NASM certified personal trainer, and a holistic lifestyle coach from the C.H.E.K Institute. Diorio is the host of the Brianna Approved Podcast, which is a podcast for people who like a holistic approach to real science and clinical research on all things nutrition, botanicals and balance. She currently works as a clinician with her private practice that specializes in alternative health, functional medicine and dietary supplements. Diorio works with a vast array of clients and businesses to educate and improve their health and dietary needs.

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