Worn Out and Overwhelmed
Constantly tired, exhausted, and overwhelmed, we find ourselves with too much to do, and too little time to do it. With long hours at work, we scramble to keep up with our household and family responsibilities. Money is always tight, and daily we hear horrific stories in the news of violence, death, and pending economic and environmental catastrophe.
This is modern life. In the middle of all this we are supposed to be making healthy lifestyle choices for ourselves and our families. But there is only so much time, energy, and motivation, and it’s hard to make good choices when we are living with constant stress, anxiety, and depression.
Five years ago I suffered from overwhelming stress. In desperation, I began exploring natural remedies for anxiety and depression. After years of struggling, I finally connected with an herbalist. She became my mentor and teacher, and the herbal remedies for stress that she suggested changed my life in so many ways.
I quickly found relief from my chronic stress, began sleeping better, felt more calm and focused, and was able to start making positive changes in my life.
I want to share four of the simple, all natural remedies for managing stress that helped me. These herbs had profound effects on my life, and I believe they can help you too.
Let me introduce you to the herbs and the benefits they offer, then I will explain how easy it is to include them as part of your daily routine.
But first, let’s talk about the elephant in the room – adrenal fatigue.
Many people are talking about Adrenal Fatigue – the condition where the adrenals function below optimal levels. The adrenal glands, along with the hypothalamus and the pituitary glands form the HPA axis (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis).
This system is essentially the control center for many important functions in the body, and works to regulate heart rate, the immune system, energy storage, digestive processes, and sleep-wake cycles (among many others).
What does all of this have to do with managing stress, anxiety, and depression?
Think about it, if you are stressed and anxious, you have trouble sleeping, might suffer from indigestion, tend to become ill more frequently and probably feel pretty worn down and exhausted.
I will tell you adrenal fatigue is not currently a medically recognized condition. But in my humble opinion, a formal diagnosis is not necessary for us to understand when the situations in our life are wreaking havoc on our health. We suffer the consequences, diagnosis or not.
The wonderful thing about these herbal remedies for stress is that they work to support the adrenals. Using natural remedies for managing stress, we not only eliminate the symptoms of stress, but actually go deeper and support our health.
Simple All-Natural Remedies for Stress
There are many medicinal herbs to choose from, but the four herbs I suggest offer many benefits, are specific to stress and adrenal function, are not over-harvested or endangered, and have a long history of use prior to the over-commercialization so common today.
I typically use these herbs as teas and infusions, but you can also infuse them in alcohol for a very effective and convenient herbal tincture for stress-relief. I have instructions for making your own herbal stress-relief tincture – all you need is fresh or dried herbs, 80-proof alcohol, and a strainer.
Drinking herbal teas and infusions is a simple and inexpensive way to bring herbal medicine into your life. A handful of dried herbs and a kettle of hot water is all you need to enjoy the benefits of plant medicines.
Yet there is a difference between a simple tea and a medicinal infusion and for a long time I didn’t understand this.
Teas are typically beverages for pleasure – a cup of herbal tea with honey to warm, relax, or stimulate us. The aroma is often part of the experience – my five-year old enjoys an evening cup of chamomile tea, sometimes blended with lavender. She enjoys the taste as well as the floral scent, and it helps relax and soothe her as she prepares for sleep at night.
If you want to extract more from your herbs and enjoy the greatest benefits, herbal infusions are best.
Infusions are made with loose herbs – leaves, flowers, roots, or stems, depending on the plant medicine you are seeking.
While a relaxing cup of tea can be made in just a few minutes, infusions should be allowed to steep for several hours, or even better, overnight. The purpose of infusing the plant material in water is to extract as much of the constituents – the plant chemicals – as you can. Some plants easily give up their medicines and are highly soluble in water. Others require more time and energy to remove significant amounts of their medicine.
And some plants are most soluble in alcohol, vinegar, or oil, and that’s where tinctures, vinegars, and oils are used. You can read about the five best herbs for better sleep and how easy it is to make a wonderful herbal tincture for better sleep.
An herbal infusion can be a single plant, such as nettles, or can be a combination of herbs. I am going to share some of the herbs I use and the reasons I include them in my daily wellness routine. For this I create my own Daily Wellness Blend.
Nettles – Urtica dioica
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Although fresh nettle has tiny hairs on the stems and leaves that contain formic acid – causing an unpleasant stinging sensation, drying and cooking nettle deactivates the formic acid.
Why the big fuss over such a plant? Because they are full of nutrition! If you drink a strong infusion of nettles, you will notice the mineral taste. Nettles contain the highest plant source of iron, and an abundance of amino acids.
Nettles act as a gentle diuretic, helping to remove wastes and uric acid from the body, and are often used to support kidney health.
But most importantly, nettle is known as a trophorestorative for the adrenals. Trophorestoratives are herbs, plants, or food substances that have a specific affinity for a particular organ in the body, provide important nourishment, help repair and heal, and can be taken for a long time without causing harm.
Nettles are also considered an alterative. An alterative literally alters the body. This means when used consistently for several months, nettles cause a lasting improvement in tissues or functions, even when you stop using the nettle.
Nettles are considered a tonic – meaning they are mild and nourishing, and are best taken long-term and consistently. They have no contraindications or side effects (other than good health!)
Southwest herbalist Michael Moore puts it well:
Every year we see some new harebrained food supplement derived from weird sources, containing new stuff we didn’t know we needed (or even existed), and which we can now obtain… usually at great expense. Nettle is something you can gather yourself in places that you trust, and you can add it to smoothies and salad dressings, put it in bread, and add it to your tea, home beer and so forth. It is green food that your body recognizes and can help build blood, tissue and self-empowerment.
I make an infusion every evening, allowing the nettle (in combination with other herbs) to steep overnight. In the morning, I strain off the plant and drink my infusion throughout the day. Nettles have a strong taste, one I describe as “minerally”, “green” and slightly reminiscent of mushroom.
I recommend combining nettle with other herbs to improve the taste of your infusion. More on that later.
You can buy dried nettle here
Dosing: 8-ounces boiling water added to 1 tablespoon dried leaves. Allow to steep at least four hours.
Milky Oats and Dried Oatstraw – Avena sativa
Avena sativa – oats, are the indeed the same oats we enjoy in our breakfast cereal. Herbalists have long used preparations of oats for treating nervous conditions. There are two forms of oats used – milky oats and the dried oatstraw. Each provides similar benefits to our nervous systems, but work in slightly different ways.
Milky oats are harvested at an early stage in development. When the seed tops reach their milky stage, you can squeeze the small seeds and they will exude a white, “milky” substance. These milky oats are then immediately used to make an alcohol-based tincture to extract the important constituents.
Oatstraw is harvested later and includes the green stems. The dried oatstraw is used to make an infusion or decotion in hot water.
Milky oats tend to provide a more immediate effect, while the oatstraw works more slowly with consistent use.
So what is so special about these milky oats?
In Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, Volume 53, Issue 2, 2013, Avena sativa is summarized as:
Oat possesses different pharmacological activities like antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, wound healing, immunomodulatory, antidiabetic, anticholesterolaemic, etc. A wide spectrum of biological activities indicates that oat is a potential therapeutic agent.
In other words, oats help us function at our best, protect us from oxidative damage, lower elevated blood sugar, lower high cholesterol levels, and generally keep us healthy.
Oats act on the nervous system by gently calming the mind and strengthening the adrenal systems. Experienced herbalists recommend oats for people with nervous exhaustion – feeling exhausted but unable to relax due to the nagging sense they should be getting things done. And for people who have difficulty focusing, and feel overwhelmed and unable to complete simple tasks.
I don’t know about you, but I certainly find myself quite frequently feeling overwhelmed, tired, and anxious. Milky oats has helped me get through some difficult and stressful times, and maybe they will help you too.
Dosing: Add 8-ounces boiled water to 1 tablespoon oat tops and allow to steep for at least four hours.
Holy Basil (Tulsi) – Ocimum sanctum
Holy Basil, also known as Tulsi, has a long history in India as a sacred plant, for both its spiritual and medicinal properties. There are at least three varieties of Tulsi – Rama Tulsi, Krishna Tulsi, and Vana Tulsi. All three have similar medicinal properties, but the Rama Tulsi is the most commonly used.
Although similar to our culinary basil, Tulsi is a different species.
Spiritually and emotionally, Tulsi is said to help us relax, focus, and find clarity.
Physiologically, Tulsi offers a host of benefits, including:
- studies have shown that it helps control blood sugar levels (both hyper and hypoglycemia)
- strengthens the adrenals and helps regulate cortisol levels
- acts as a COX-2 inhibitor, similar to many pain-relieving medications, making it useful for arthritis and other inflammatory conditions
- strengthens the immune system
Dosing: Add 8-ounces boiled water to 1 tablespoon dried or fresh leaves and allow to steep. Tulsi can be steeped less than the other herbs, as little as 10 minutes covered will provide the healing aromatic oils.
Contraindications: A trusted herbalist, Rosalee de la Foret suggests Tulsi can lower fertility and should not be used by women and men trying to conceive, or by pregnant women.
Because Tulsi can cause blood thinning it should not be taken by those who are currently taking warfarin. Those who are taking insulin to control their diabetes may need to adjust their insulin levels while taking Tulsi.
You can purchase dried tulsi here
Licorice root offers excellent support for the adrenals. It is only needed in small quantities and adds a pleasant sweetness. Although I despise the taste of licorice candy, I find licorice root to be quite pleasant.
Licorice root is frequently added to herb blends for its general medicinal qualities, flavor, and its ability to help the other medicines work synergistically. It is one of the most common herbs used in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Because licorice root stimulates the antidiuretic hormone, it causes the body to hold more water, which can raise blood pressure. Licorice should be used with caution for people being treated for high blood pressure; however, problems have typically occurred in cases where people were consuming large doses of licorice over long periods of time.
I avoid this problem by only using licorice root in small quantities intermittently.
Dosing: 1/2 teaspoon dried root steeped in 16-ounces of water for at least four hours. Use only 2-3 times a week.
Contraindications: See above.
You can buy dried licorice root here
How to Make Your Daily Wellness Blend
I create my own blend of the dried herbs, using a combination of Nettle, Milky Oats, and Tulsi. I usually add other herbs for their flavor or benefits – for example, I might add some mint leaves, cinnamon sticks, or a bit of fresh ginger for flavor. My “recipe” varies depending on mood and the season.
To make your own blend of dried herbs, use a quart-sized jar and fill 1/3 with dried Nettle, 1/3 Milky Oats, and 1/3 with dried Tulsi.
When you are ready to make your infusion, measure 2 tablespoons of your blend for a 16-ounce infusion, or 4 tablespoons for quart-sized infusion. Add boiling water, cover, and allow to steep for at least 4 hours. (I leave mine overnight.)
Two or three times a week I add a teaspoon of licorice to my infusion.
Strain the herbs and drink room temperature, chilled, or warmed, depending on your preference.
I enjoy these herbs 4-5 days each week.
Stress and Lifestyle
Of course, there is more to recovering from stress and exhaustion than simply using herbs. But starting with the herbs brought more peace and clarity in my thinking, better sleep, and more energy. This allowed me to focus on supporting my health in other ways, including nutrition and exercise. Each small step toward better health leads to the ability to make further changes, eventually bringing us to a place of greater health and well-being.
Wishing you health and wellness,