Native Nervines – Wild plants that calm the mind
Nervines are plant medicines that act to re-establish balance in the nervous system. The nervous system comprises the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves. Peripheral nerves connect the central nervous system to the body and control voluntary and involuntary movements. Stress, anxiety, depressed mood, fatigue, irritability, insomnia, muscle tension, and/or poor digestion can be signs that the nervous system may be out of balance.
Many of the herbs classified as nervines don’t come from Alberta. These include well-known herbs for sleep and anxiety such as Valerian and Passionflower. Over the past year I have been seeking common wild plants in Alberta that could serve as nervines. The earth has shown me a number of native nervine plants—some that I literally stumbled upon—exploring the area. A few of these include: Marsh Skullcap (Scutellaria galericulata), Bracted Vervain (Verbena bracteata) and Wild Rose (Rosa spp.)
A beautiful, delicate plant in the mint family. It grows along creeks and streams in Southern Alberta. It is best identified by its characteristic blue-purple flower; the upper lip of the petals forms what looks like a helmet. Imagine the type of cap placed over the head and eyes of predatory birds to keep them calm. Imagine this plant affecting you as that cap did the bird: covering the mind to quiet thoughts. If this analogy makes sense to you then either Marsh Skullcap or the commercial Blue Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) might be an effective herb for you. Both contain Baicalein (1), a plant chemical, that can bind onto brain cells, affecting a particular area to decrease anxiety(2,3,4).
Grows on roadsides and in dry exposed sandy soil in Southern Alberta. It grows in disturbed areas like a weed and has beautiful small lilac-coloured flowers. The use of North American Vervains by contemporary herbalists is mainly based on the medicinal usage of European Verbena officinalis. There is limited research available on the use of Bracted Vervain. However, recorded ethnobotanical usage by the Navajo suggests overlap in the usage of the two plants(5,6). Generally speaking Vervains are antispasmodic, support digestion, and are used to calm an agitated or anxious mind. The bitterness of this plant supports the digestive system, which cannot function properly under stress. Conversely when the digestive system is working properly the nervous system is by default in a calmer state.
The feeling of pleasure and calm we feel when taking time to smell the roses isn’t just an expression. Studies in humans have shown that the fragrance of roses decreases anxiety and reduces stress-induced nervous system response(7,8,9). Traditionally in Europe rose petals as a tea or tincture are used to improve the mood when experiencing grief from heartache, loss, or a lack of self-love. I find the best way to preserve floral fragrance is through making a simple infused syrup which can be added to beverages for an uplifting treat. Rose flavoured drinks also make a wonderfully romantic gift to share with loved ones.
Wild Rose syrup recipe
1) Sustainably harvest 3 cups of rose petals by picking only 1-2 petals from each flower. Do not wash, heat or bruise petals.
2) In a small pot add 1 cup of sugar to 1 cup of water and heat over a medium temperature until the sugar dissolves and there are no granules remaining.
3) Allow simple syrup to cool to room temperature.
4) Add petals to syrup, stir gently to ensure all the petals are coated in syrup, and allow to infuse for 24 hours in the fridge.
5) Strain out petals.
Add 2-3 tablespoons of rose-infused syrup to carbonated water for a refreshing summer beverage. The syrup can remain unfermented in the fridge for 2 weeks. For long-term storage I recommend freezing the syrup in an ice cube try and using as needed.
Meet the Author, Latifa Pelletier-Ahmed
Latifa is a medical herbalist who has recently returned back to Calgary. Read more.