Nervine (Majja/Rajas Hara)

Nervinessare herbs that strengthen the functional activity of the nervous system. They may be stimulants or sedatives and can be used to correct excesses or deficiencies of nervous function. They have a strong action on the mind and are useful in promoting mental health and clarity as well as aiding in the treatment of psychological imbalances and mental disease. Nervines can be differentiated into 3 major categories: nervine relaxants, nervine stimulants, and nervine tonics. Any successful treatment of nervous system problems with these herbs will involve treating the whole body and not simply the signs & symptoms. With life being such a stress and problem for humanity today these herbs can be of great use and importance.

Nervine Tonics (or trophorestoratives) are perhaps the most important contribution herbal medicine can make in the whole area of stress & anxiety, and in strengthening & “feeding” the nervous system. In cases of nervous debility, the nervine tonics strengthen and restore the tissues directly. Note: Adaptogens should also be considered in this group due to their ability to aid the whole of the body and mind to cope with demands made upon it. Some herbal examples include:

Avena sativa (Oats)

Bacopa monniera (Brahmi)

Boragoofficinalis (Borage)

Centellaasiatica (Gotu kola)

Hypericumperforatum (St. John’s wort)

Verbena officinalis (Blue vervain)

Vinca major/minor (Periwinkle)

Nervine Relaxants are a group that has become increasingly important in our times of stress and tension. They are the closest natural alternative for the orthodox nerve tranquilizers, but should always be used in a broad holistic way. Too much tranquilizing, even that achieved through herbal medication, can in time deplete and weigh heavily on the whole nervous system. However, the physical symptoms that can so often accompany the ill-ease of anxiety may be well treated with herbs that work on the anxiety itself. When the physical body is at ease, ease in the psyche is promoted. Note: In high doses many of these herbs can act as sedatives or Hypnotics. Some herbal examples include:

Lavendula off. (Lavender)

Humuluslupulus (Hops)

Melissa off. (Lemon Balm)

Matricariarecutita (Chamomile)

Stachys off. (Wood Betony)

Scutellerialateriflora (Skullcap)

Passifloraincarnata (Passionflower)

Tiliaeuropea (Linden)

Lactucavirosa (Wild Lettuce)

Piper methysticum (Kava Kava)

Nervine Stimulants cause a direct stimulation of the nervous system, and not very often needed in our times of hyperactivity. In most cases it is more appropriate to stimulate the body’s innate vitality with the help of adaptogens, nervine or even digestive tonics, which work by augmenting bodily harmony and thus have a much deeper and longer-lasting effect. A problem with commonly used stimulants (such as coffee) is that they have a number of side effects and can themselves be involved in causing many problems such as anxiety and tension. Some herbal examples include:

Cola vera (Kola)

Coffeaarabica (Coffee)

Camellia sinensis (Green/Black Tea)

Note: Nervine stimulants should not be confused with Cerebral Circulatory Stimulants (eg. Ginkgo biloba or Rosmarinus off.), which can improve blood flow to the brain and therefore aid in cognitive processes such as memory and concentration.

Most nerviness are also antispasmodic, herbs that relieve spasm of the voluntary or involuntary muscles and thereby relieve cramps, stop tremors and convulsions. They may also serve as bronchodilators, stopping spasm in the bronchial tubes, thus proving effective for respiratory afflictions. Others may help relieve menstrual cramping and headaches. Many of these herbs are fragrant, aromatic herbs like mint or valerian. Such aromatic herbs open the mind and senses, clear the channels (srotas), relieve congestion, stop pain and restore the smooth flow of energy in the body-mind system.

Aromatic nervinessare often also carminative and stomachic herbs, herbs that dispel intestinal gas and cramping.  

Most diseases of the nervous system are diseases of Vata, therefor when treating nervous disorders the first step is to evaluate the involvement of Vata. Most nerve pain, lumbago, sciatica, paralysis and degenerative nervous disorders are excess Vata diseases.

Many emotional or nervous disorders may be caused by other Doshas, as those due to anger which would be a Pitta condition. Or Vata may be blocked or aggravated by the other Doshas, in which case an apparent Vata disorder would be due to an underlying excess of Pitta or Kapha.

Vata type emotions such as fear and anxiety weaken the kidneys and adrenals. They damage the nerves and cause insomnia, mental instability, nerve pain, cramping and numbness, which may lead eventually to the wasting away of nerve tissue. Most nerviness, particularly those which are aromatic, move Vata, and so help to remove the obstructed Vata behind these disorders.

A few herbs are not only aromatic, but possess Tamasic, heavy or dulling properties. These are particularly good for both moving and grounding Vata, which suffers from “ungroundedness”. Such herbs include garlic, valerian and nutmeg.

Yet when there is a deficiency of nerve tissue, often due to excess Vata eroding nerve tissue, nutritive herbs are needed such as ashwagandha or licorice (also see tonic herbs). Excessive use of aromatic nerviness may further weaken the nerve tissue by their drying action; they may also be over stimulating and in the long run increase Vata.

Pitta type emotions, anger, envy, hatred and so on, heat up the blood, the liver and the heart, creating internal fire. Thereby they can cause hypertension, insomnia, irritability and other mental and nervous imbalances. They can also “burn out” the nerves as seen in the autoimmune disease Multiple Sclerosis. Pitta caused nervous disorders can often be treated with general anti Pitta herbs like bitter tonics or purgatives, without having to resort to any specific nervine herbs at all. Yet many of the herbs that act upon the mind are cooling. This is because when the mind is overactive it heats up. A calm and clear mind is usually a cool mind. Many herbs for the mind, like bacopamonieri, are good anti-Pitta herbs.

Kapha nervous conditions are more a matter of dullness, lethargy, hypoactivity of the nervous system. Psychologically, excess Kapha causes greed, attachment and clinging to the past. In terms of the mind and nerves, Kapha requires stimulation. Nerviness that are aromatic, stimulant and decongestant are best for Kapha, and most aromatics, by their drying nature, are good for Kapha. 

Many herbs that calm the mind tend to have a positive effect on all three Doshas, as it is in the balance of the Doshas that the mind is calm. Cooling aromatics such as chamomile or fennel can be widely used as mild nerviness. Their light nature relieves Kapha, their cooling nature relieves Pitta and their aromatic oil property removes obstructed Vata.

Typical heating nervine and antispasmodic herbs: asafetida, basil, calamus, garlic, guggul, nutmeg, poppy seeds, sage, valerian.

Typical cooling nervine and antispasmodic herbs: chamomile, gotu kola, jasmine, jatamansi, oatstraw, passion flower, peppermint, sandalwood, spearmint, st.john’swort, wild yam.


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