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 Herbal Medicine: Herbal Therapy for Nervous System Disorders 
Perhaps the most dramatic and fascinating field of Herbalism is the way in which plants affect consciousness. The integration revealed by the Gaia hypothesis lays a philosophical foundation for this. Awareness and expanded consciousness are part of the life of the greater being we are part of. Words and names are meaningless when considering such things, but just as our Earth feeds us, heals our arthritis & strengthens cardiac function, so the nervous system is supported and nurtured.

Herbalism is a co-operation between humanity, plants and the earth in healing. This experience of wholeness is spirit in action, and opens the door for change, transformation and participation in the Great Work. Plants provide us with herbs that transform and enlighten, and also with plants that heal and nurture nerve tissue its self. It is this physical healing that will be considered here. Remember that the physical action of nervines is but one side of the whole interface between plant and mind.

The whole therapy of Herbalism is uniquely suited to treating nervous system problems. From one perspective herbs are embodiments of energy and spirit, whilst from another they are packets of biochemicals. In fact a reflection of the human mind/brain itself! If used with awareness it is possible to address the needs of the human energy body as well the tissue involved. The complexities of the mind-body interface, that so confuse doctors concerned with 'psychosomatic' medicine, become an aid in remedy selection to the herbalist.

All of the many herbal nervines have impact on somatic symptoms as well as the mind. A simple example is Motherwort, a herb used in treating anxiety and tension. It also has specific affinity for the heart, reducing palpitations reactions and the fear that often accompanies them. This is even recognized in the Latin binomial.

Recent advances in the field of neurology have come about through the examination of claims for herbal remedies. Most of the areas of concern of neurology will potentially benefit from herbal therapeutics, and indeed the science of psycho-pharmacology itself is largely based on chemicals discovered in plants.

How Stress Causes Illness

There can be no doubt that there is a definite relationship between stress and illness. Although the exact nature of that relationship is not yet understood, a number of ideas have been suggested. Early theories tried to connect different illnesses with specific types of emotional conflict or personality and body types. According to these theories, certain body types and temperaments would be more likely to develop one physical disease under stress than others. However, there is little agreement among the experts about what correlates with what.

Selye has more to say on the subject. He maintains that the biological reactions accompanying the GAS result in both short- and long-term adverse physical changes. He calls these changes diseases of adaptation, since they are the outcome of a system of defenses against threatening stimuli. The disease process is thought to arise as a result of factors such as: The physiological effect of certain hormones from the adrenal and pituitary glands; the impact of the inflammation process, and a general state of lowered resistance. The actual disease that manifests itself depends on a range of factors, including genetics, physical weakness, and even specifically learned bodily responses.

The GAS helps explain the effects of life changes or events on health. Life changes require adjustments that could produce physiological reactions, and sustained and unsuccessful attempts at coping with life could lower bodily resistance and enhance the probability of illness. Thus, the more frequent and severe the life changes we experience, the more likely we are to become ill.

How to Recognize Stress

Stress can affect our lives in many ways, and it is impossible to talk about them all here. However, when the level of stress goes beyond the point of being a healthy stimulant and starts to adversely affect our health, it usually takes some form of "anxiety."


Anxiety comprises various combinations of mental and physical symptoms that occur either in panic attacks or as a persisting state. It is often described in the following terms:
  1. An emotional state colored with the experienced quality of fear.
  2. An unpleasant emotion that may be accompanied by a feeling of impending doom.
  3. A feeling directed toward the future, associated with a perceived threat of some kind.
  4. An experience of bodily discomfort and actual bodily disturbance.

There may be no recognizable basis for the fear or feeling of threat, or the actual stimulus may be completely out of proportion to the emotion it provokes. Nevertheless, the symptoms it provokes are very real. For some people, anxiety takes the form of recurrent attacks that, though they occur unpredictably, may become associated with specific situations. They start with a sudden, intense apprehension, often combined with a feeling of impending doom and sometimes with feelings of unreality. Any of the body symptoms described below may occur. An "anticipatory fear" of loss of control often develops, so that the person experiencing the attack becomes afraid of, for example, being left alone in public places. The anticipatory fear may itself precipitate other symptoms that escalate the attack.

Symptoms of Anxiety
There is not just one anxiety symptom, a whole range of reactions can be associated with it:

Anxious Mood:

Anticipation of the worst Irritability

Fears of:
The dark
Being left alone
Large animals

Intellectual (Cognitive) Symptoms:
Difficulty in concentration
Poor memory

Depressed Mood:
Loss of interest
Diurnal swing
Lack of pleasure in hobbies
Early waking

General Body Sensations:

Hot and cold flushes
Prickling sensations
Blurred vision
Feelings of weakness

Respiratory Symptoms:

Pressure or constriction in chest
Tightness of breath
Feelings of choking

Genitourinary Symptoms:
Frequency of urination
Suppressed periods
Premature ejaculation
Urgency of urination
Excessive bleeding during period
Loss of erection

Physiological Accompaniments of Behavior:

Tremor of hands
Strained face
Furrowed brow
Facial pallor
Eyelid twitching


Feelings of tension
Inability to relax
Easily moved to tears
Feelings of restlessness
Startled response


Difficulty in falling asleep
Unsatisfying sleep
Fatigue on waking
Night terrors
Broken sleep

General Somatic Symptoms:

Muscular aches and pains
Muscular twitching
Muscular stiffness
Grinding teeth

Cardio-Vascular Symptoms:
Pain in chest
Feelings of faintness
Throbbing of vessels Skipped heartbeats

Gastrointestinal Symptoms:

Difficulty in swallowing
Looseness of bowels
Feelings of bloating Loss of weight

Autonomic Nervous System Symptoms:
Dry mouth
Tendency to sweat
Raising of hair

Adapted from: Hamilton, M. "The Assessment of Anxiety States by Rating," British Journal of Medical Psychology, 32, 1959, pp 50-55.

Emotional and Mental Responses to Physical Illness

Any illness occurs within the context of our whole lives and so will affect us psychologically and socially, as well as physically. It might be useful for us to consider ways in which illness itself may produce psychological problems. The difference between this type of problem and a problem that affects the body but arises in the mind is purely one of perspective.

Technical, if orthodox doctors consider the primary problem to be in the mind, they label it a psychosomatic problem, but if they consider the root of the problem to be in the body, they label it a somato-psychic problem. The distinction is subtle, as shown here:

psyche <-- (psycho-somatic) --> disease
disease <-- (somato-psychic) --> psyche

Psychological reactions to physical illness are common and may need some sort of specialized help. This help may come from an orthodox psychiatrist, from a holistic health practitioner, or simply from a friend.

Importance of the Patient's Perception
The lack of knowledge about psychological responses to physical illness that is exhibited by most health practitioners reflects their narrow view of the nature of illness. When the illness is seen in strictly biological terms, the patient's own perception of the problem is ignored. For the patient, there is no difference between the biological process of the disease and the repercussions it has on social life and feelings. In a truly holistic way, they are part and parcel of the whole problem. However, if the doctor ignores psychological reactions in favor of medical pathology, further problems can occur that will interfere with treatment and impede recovery.

Psychological reactions to physical illness vary in type and intensity with no clear point beyond which the reactions can be considered "abnormal." Many are common and understandable reactions to the social disruption and fears generated by illness. Whilst severity and type of illness often affect response, the relationship is not clear-cut. A mild illness may give rise to marked emotional changes in one person, while a life-threatening illness will evoke little or no response in another. One way of accounting for this variation is to look at the patient's perception of the problem. This perception will in turn be affected by personality and experience, the nature of the illness, and the social context. It is worth looking at these in more detail.

Personality and experience
Illness is dealt with in different ways be people with different personalities. For example, the extent to which we experience, remember, and complain about pain can be affected by whether we are naturally "highly strung" or "laid back". The amount of information we are given about the illness can play a large part in diminishing uncertainty and anxiety about both the illness itself and its treatment. Previous experience of similar problems may give us the sort of information most needed to reduce anxiety. However, if our information comes from seeing apparently similar but actually more serious symptoms in another person, then very strong but possibly groundless fears may build up.

Our psychological state at the time of the illness will play a great part in the way we perceive its severity. If a gallbladder problem arises during a time when we are anxious about another member of the family, or we are having problems paying the mortgage, the experience of physical illness may be much worse, since it is well known that anxiety lower our pain thresholds.

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 About The Author
David Hoffmann BSc (Hons), MNIMHWhilst working in conservation and lecturing in ecology and the eco-crisis for the University of Wales, David Hoffman became convinced that to heal the world, to embrace planetary wholeness and responsibility for it......more
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