Renew and Restore with Herbs
Originally published in The Messenger, June 2007
Our body is intrinsically complex and delicate. When we fall out of step with our walk of balance – due to external stress or illness – we must quickly seek to restore the harmony of our bodies in order for us to once again experience the fullness and richness of our radiant wellbeing.
To become fully familiar with how our body restores itself, we must look to our nervous system. With our brain serving as command central and our spine the main highway of information, our nervous system spans forth into all parts of our body, serving to integrate our body with our outside environment and experience, as well as our mind with our body.
Our nervous system allows us to experience the world in all its richness and depth. It is the system through which we experience the colors we see, the aromas we smell, the rich tastes on our tongue, and the warmth or coolness, pleasantry or pain in each touch. It receives signals, interprets them, and responds to them in every second of every day – even (and especially!) in our dreamtime!
Our nervous system helps us experience bliss, but also helps us avoid danger. Imagine you place your hand accidentally on a hot stove – and quickly, and involuntarily, our hands reflexes away from the burner. That is our nervous system in action!
Our nervous system is bombarded by stimulus each and every day, no matter how balanced and harmonious of a life we seek to live. With every cell phone ring or argument with a coworker, your nervous system ramps into high gear. Thus, from a holistic viewpoint, we must seek to integrate aspects into our daily life to balance the stimulus our society – such as intentional quiet time, meditation, or warm baths.
Our nervous system relies on nutritional and chemical balance to maintain harmony. Often, when our nervous system is out of balance, other systems – such as digestive or musculoskeletal – will quickly fall out of harmony as well. Thus, when looking to restore any part of our physical body, we must always pay special attention to our nervous system.
Nutritionally speaking, particular foods – such as caffeine, sugar, acidic foods, processed foods and flours – will agitate our nervous system, demanding our greater attention towards restoration. By avoiding these foods and instead looking to warming, alkalizing foods – such as dark green leafy vegetables and whole grains – we will help our body nutritionally renew itself following the stresses of daily life.
Our nervous system falls most quickly out of balance when it has too little of three key nutrients: oxygen, vitamin B complex, and calcium. Synthetic supplements of these nutrients are difficult for our body to process and digest, must less absorb and use to our benefit. Thus, seek to supplement these nutrients through foods rich in them. Green foods and herbs, such as Spirulina and Chlorella, use their high chlorophyll content to help oxygenate our body. Spirulina is also rich in B vitamins, as is nutritional yeast, a nutty, buttery food found in flakes or powder that is easy to incorporate into savory meals. Calcium from animal sources is also difficult for our body to process, as the enzymes and proteins inhibit our body’s ability to assimilate the calcium while they concurrently deplete other minerals needed by our body to use the calcium. Look instead to herbs such as Nettle and Oatstraw, which contain large amounts of bioavailable calcium. Futher, look to seaweeds, such as Kelp, Hiziki, and Wakame, to complement soups and salads and provide ample amounts of digestible calcium.
In addition, many herbs are well suited to gently sustain our nervous system so we may feel whole and restore. “Nervines” such as Chamomile, Catnip and Lemon Balm are gentle, safe, and effective at restoring our nervous system – even for children and elderly! For those who have difficulty sleeping, herbs such as Hops and Valerian can be helpful herbs – but are stronger, and should be used with the care of an herbalist or appropriate health practitioner. Anxiety can often lead to continued states of imbalance and a great need for renewal and restoration – herbs such as Skullcap and Passionflower may be called upon in these cases, but again, under the guidance of an informed practitioner.
Above all, we find our greatest source of renewal and restoration from our interaction and communion with the green world – time spent breathing in the oxygen rich fresh air created for us by the plant friends that surround us. Stepping away from our busy lives and into the green world of our backyards, local parks, or natural preserves is the most restorative medicine of all.