by Esme Addison
My novel, A Spell For Trouble is set in an herbal apothecary. But I didn’t choose that location because I thought it was cute and charming (I mean, it is all of those things, of course!). I selected it because I personally have an interest in herbal remedies. I use them all. the. time. I like to think of myself as an herbalista. Whenever someone in my household gets sick, I don’t go to the drug store first, rather, I check my kitchen cabinet of herbal teas, essential oils and homemade remedies.
After many years of reading about, researching and experimenting, I feel comfortable creating natural remedies for my family. It’s fun, it’s crafty, and it’s satisfying knowing that I’m giving my children (and myself) natural ingredients. This doesn’t mean that I don’t use traditional medicines or visit our family doctor, because I do. Sometimes natural remedies are not strong enough for what ails a person, and good old western pharmaceuticals are needed. But. if you treat a symptom or malady early enough, you can sometimes prevent it or decrease it.
Anyway. Stress. Cumulative stress. Or stress brought on my a recent situation. Either way. It’s a very real thing. And so is the inability to get a good night’s rest. Those types of situations are one of the best ways to utilize natural remedies. Of course, you should take a holistic approach to those situations: eat correctly, exercise, meditate, make sure you have work-life balance, etc. etc. But having a cup of tea (or several) can help. And so can inhaling certain essential oils.
One of my favorite ways to use herbal remedies is for natural relaxation aids. There are many different types of herbs that have calming properties, but after researching and trial and error, I have my top four that I use whenever I’m stressed or need help getting to sleep.
And to be clear, this list does not include the best herbs for a cumulative effect, i.e. you take it everyday and over time the result is decreased stress. Herbs like ashwagandha and St. John’s Wort. That’s another strategy, but I’m talking about herbs you can use for immediate results. My stress usually comes from everyday stuff, parenting three boys, juggling several work responsibilities, you know, generally taking on too much – the life of the modern woman. Anyhoo. So. I drink a LOT of herbal tea.
I also drink wine (and occasionally a neat whiskey) but herbal tea is my go-to. And while herbs can react differently with different people – there are variables, the quality of the herbs, the amount used and the degree of relaxation needed. I recommend those interested in using herbal remedies research the best form to use: tinctures, dried herbs, fresh herbs, supplements and essential oils. There are probably more ways to use these herbs, but these are the ones I primarily use.
Oh, how I love lavender. It’s soooo pretty. Purple is one of my favorite colors., and it just smells so lovely. But more importantly, lavender does a wonderful job of helping a body to relax. My favorite way to use lavender is as an essential oil. (All essential oils are not created equal or smell the same. I use one particular brand always.
It’s Aura Cacia, It works for me and I love the smell. I’ve tried other brands and either they didn’t work or I didn’t like the smell.) I put in on my hair and face and just inhale. I also pour a few drops in my hands, cup them and inhale. Very simple but very effective. It depends on the level of your stress as to how many drops you need and how many deep breaths you should take. I inhale into my cupped hands. until I literally feel the stress (usually a tight hard ball in my chest) release.
You can also add the essential oil to your favorite body oil or lotion and deliver it that manner. The essential oil will absorb into your body and work that way too. But for me, inhaling the essential oil is the fastest way to get results. Fun fact: I recently started making slime (yes, slime) and I made a beautiful glitter purple slime infused with this essential oil. So it’s fun to play with it but also relaxing because the scent wafts around as you play with the slime.
There are many herbal tea blends with lavender. I think they’re pretty and taste nice, but they’re not effective for me. Your experience may be different. Have fun experimenting with lavender to find the best form for you.
Kava. Kava. Kava. This herb is heavy duty, ya’ll. Proceed with caution. But man does it work. I could do an entire post on Kava. It has a very interesting history. Kava has been used medicinally and recreationally for thousands of years in Polynesia, Micronesia, and Hawaii. It has proven, over thousands of years, that it has far more benefits than side effects, but it’s important to educate yourself about what exactly those are. Some contemporary studies have found negative interactions with the liver. Those findings usually include high dosages over a long period of time but do your research.
I have used Kava off and on for over four years with zero negative side effects. There are different forms of Kava. Initially, I purchased a huge bag of the finely refined powder from a reputable source. I’m going to be real with you, it tastes like dirt. But who cares. It works. I simply mixed mine with water and drank it. It relaxes you as fast as a glass or two of wine and it also can numb your mouth and throat a bit. Which makes it a nice herb for sore throats.
I also purchased the dried herb from another reputable online retailer and made tea with it. The taste is not great, but I created my own blend with other tasty herbs like cinnamon and licorice root, so it was okay. I mixed it With All The Things. Lavender, chamomile, lemon balm, hops… sadly, the effect was not as strong as I would’ve liked.
But recently, I found a tea blend at my local grocery store. And you guys, it works! And it tastes ah-may-zing. I have tried many of Yogi’s relaxing tea blends, and they didn’t work for me. But this one did. I’m a huge fan and I usually make a big pot of this and just sip on it all day. Again, you have to experiment to see what works for you. I personally brew two bags for one cup. Follow the steeping time on the back (that’s for any tea) to get the best results.
I drink one cup before bed just to ensure a good night’s rest. But if I’m stressed out during the day, I’ll drink one or two cups in the afternoon. The cumulative effect will help you sleep better as well.
Valerian is another very potent herb. I’ve tried it as a loose dried herb, a tincture and in pill form, and none of them worked except for the dried herb which I purchased from Tin Roof Teas, one of my favorite places to get high quality dried herbs for tea and medicines in the Raleigh, NC area.
Is this shop not the cutest? Honestly, it should be the setting of a cozy mystery, am I right? Anyway, Valerian is what you take before bed when you can’t fall asleep. I really don’t use Valerian often because it’s so strong. And I have not experimented with this one as much as I have the other herbs on this list, because one – I felt it was too potent for what I needed, and two – my sweethearts lavender and kava do the job so well.
But it’s worth looking into for stress, anxiety and depression. I’d guess that smaller amounts over a longer period of time could be beneficial. But do your homework first.
Peppermint on this list may be a surprise. If you know anything about herbs, you’ll know that peppermint works well for colds, sore throats, dental care and sore muscles. But it also works well when stress relief and relaxation is needed. And the great thing about this herb is that almost any brand of tea or loose dried herb will work. As will the essential oil. I’ve never tried tinctures or pill form, so I can’t speak to those. However, if you understand that peppermint oil which has an uplifting smell and inspirational vibration can be rubbed into your muscles like eucalyptus, ginger and wintergreen oils which have analgesic and inflammatory properties to stimulate and relax at the same time, you’ll understand why peppermint is so effective.
It works on your nervous system the same way. For me, peppermint is a happy herb that seems in direct contrast to the calming effects of lavender, kava and valerian, but they all work very well together. So, for an added boost, add peppermint to other herb blends you may use.
It goes without saying, I am not a doctor, I’m a mystery writer! And I’ve learned about herbs for my own personal use. If you’re interested in incorporating herbal remedies into your daily life, do your due diligence and discuss with professional herbalists. You’ll often see warnings like this reminding you to discuss any herbal remedies you’re taking with your doctor. And that’s because herbs are medicine and they can be incredibly powerful, often interacting negatively with traditional pharmaceuticals. So keep that in mind as you do your research.