Friday, April 4, 2008

Medicinal Herbs for Athletes -- NERVINES

Nervines are my favorite category of medicinal herbs. They are particularly interesting because they affect the mind/body interface moreso than any other category of herbs. Herbalists can often match an individual with a particular herb based on the personality of both, or based on an individual's constitution type. Nervines are often known more for their relaxing and sedating properties, and used for conditions such as anxiety, stress, and hypertension. But many nervines can be useful for conditions which require a more stimulating action, such as with depression or lethargy.

Nervines are used to treat a variety of conditions including neurological disorders, hypertension, restlessness, insomnia, anxiety, nerve fatigue, nerve pain, numbness, and muscular aches and pains. Some nervines work to relax muscle tissue—alleviating spasms and cramping and pain. Others work by supplying specific minerals to the nerve tissues, such as calcium and magnesium, which act to counteract the debilitating effects of stress and pain. Many nervines are calming and sedating, helping to relax nervous tension, easing feelings of stress and anxiety, and assisting in relaxation. Fortunately most nervines have none of the side-effects of typical sedatives or narcotic pain relievers.

Athletes tend to push themselves harder than the average person, and as such often experience more than average aches and pains following hard sessions of training or after races. Many nervines contain antispasmodic properties and can help to alleviate muscle pain, or nerve pain such as sciatica, that may result from periods of enduring physical stress.

The following are some nerviness that may be useful during training:

1. Scullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) – Considered to be a restorative nerve tonic, is useful in preventing muscular spasms, and is a mild sedative. I call this my Grumpy Mama herb—the one I choose when I start feeling like the Mama I don’t want to be…works quickly! Scullcap is effective for a variety of personalities and constitutions.

2. Passion Flower (Passiflora incarnate) – This herb is considered to be a calmative and sedative, it helps to prevent nervousness and restlessness, is considered an anodyne for the relief of pain, and is antispasmodic. It is especially useful for children and the elderly. Helps to induce a calm, natural sleep, useful for painful menses, muscular twitching, nervous headache, and persistent hiccups. Also useful for teething babies. Used to prevent worry and anxiety.

3. Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) – This herb is antispasmodic, calming, mildly sedative. It is also anti-inflammatory and especially useful for external skin eruptions. This is another good choice for children and babies who are teething. This herb is considered for nervous irritability, PMS, nervous stomach, fevers, colds, and flus. Chamomile is said to restore a sunny disposition by driving out darkness and despair.

4. California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica) – Safe and non-addictive sedative. This herb is antispasmodic, helps to prevent muscle spasms, is analgesic thus preventing and relieving pain, and is soporific, meaning it induces sleep. It is useful for anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, headache and toothache. This herb is also useful for children and is especially indicated for bedwetting associated with nervousness.

5. Saint John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) – Saint John's Wort is currently more commonly associated as a depression remedy, but among herbalists it is better known as a highly effective remedy for nerve and spinal damage. It is also extremely useful for nerve pain associated with viral conditions such as herpetic inflammation (shingles), as well as trigeminal neuralgia and sciatica. It is considered a long-term restorative for the nervous system as a whole, and can be useful is addressing depressions caused by long-term exhaustion, stress, illness, and injury.

All these nervines can be taken in tea form, tincture, and capsule or tablet. Many can also be applied in tea or tincture form externally to reduce inflammation and pain. There are a variety of other nervines such as Valerian, Black Cohosh, and Lemon Balm that contain many of the above-described properties, and which may be more specifically useful to certain individuals. Lemon Balm is considered to be the Children's Remedy Extrordinaire as it is good for colds, fevers, nausea, vomiting, and restlessness.

My next discussion will be on external remedies for pain, soreness, and injury.

Happy Training!

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