Nourishing Herbs and Mushrooms for Mental WellnessOct 31, 2022 08:00PM ● By Linda Conroy
Maintaining and promoting mental wellness is as important as keeping up with physical health. Often neglected, stress and anxiety can contribute to illness and can exacerbate mental health conditions. Staying well, getting enough sleep and exercise, and eating well are important for physical and mental health. Adding herbs and mushrooms to our daily routine can be an effective way to support mental wellness and get relief from anxiety, mild/situational depression, stress, sadness and other issues.
Herbs and mushrooms tend to work in collaboration with the body. Knowing which herbs impact different body systems can assist in bringing them into our daily lives, as well as ingesting them when we are struggling with specific issues. There are several categories of herbs that are helpful in relation to mental wellness. Nervines strengthen and support the nervous system and adaptogens assist the body in adapting and recovering from the physiological impact of stress and anxiety.
Nervines Can Help Strengthen and Support the Nervous System
Oatstraw (Avena sativa): Traditionally, Avena has been used as a long-term tonic to nourish, rebuild and revitalize a worn-down nervous system. It is also ingested to maintain the nervous system once is restored. Drinking this plant in an infusion as a daily tonic is the best way to enjoy its benefits.
Lion’s Mane Mushroom (Hericium erinaceus): This mushroom is fast becoming a favorite food of many, as well as a remedy. It can be eaten as a vegetable and there are many creative ways to prepare it. It can also be added dry to decoctions or taken as a tincture (alcohol extract). Studies have shown that this mushroom has the capacity to ease mild depression and anxiety. It also has been shown to regenerate brain cells, thus improving cognitive functioning.
Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis): Drunk as a tea or taken as a tincture or alcohol extract, lemon balm is a tried and true nervine. Lemon balm contains chemicals that have a sedative and calming effect. People use lemon balm for relieving anxiety, stress, insomnia, indigestion, dementia and many other conditions.
American Skullcap (Scutterlia lateriflora): It has been used for more than 200 years as a mild relaxant and to relieve anxiety and nervous tension. It can be drunk as a tea or taken as a tincture.
These are only a few of the nervines. Ingesting them on a regular basis and when we need extra support can leave us feeling uplifted and more ready to face everyday challenges.
Adaptogens Can Help the Body Recover from and Adjust to Stress
Adaptogens bring the body back to a steady balance by managing both physical and mental stressors. In other words they assist the body in adapting to/adjusting to physical stress. We can take adaptogens by adding them to food or beverages or take them as tinctures.
Reishi Mushroom (Ganaderma sp): There are many species of this mushroom that grow around the world. The species most widely used is Ganoderma lucidum, yet if foragers find a local species, they may be able to apply it in similar ways. Reishi has been shown to support the function of the adrenal glands, which secrete cortisol, a hormone that helps the body respond to stress. Research supports hundreds of years of use this mushroom in Chinese medicine, where it is believed to be a longevity tonic, thus the nickname, "mushroom of immortality".
Holy Basil (Ocimum tenuiflorum): People use holy basil to promote sleep, quell anxiety and reduce stress. Drink this herb as a tea, take it as a tincture or steep it in honey and add to other teas.
American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolium): This plant offers immune system support (immune modulators) that helps reduce inflammation and relieves pain (anti-inflammatory). In addition, this type of ginseng combats stress and boosts the nervous system, which improves how the body responds to stimuli (fight-or-flight). Some studies suggest American ginseng can reset dopamine levels and regulate mood.
Nervous System-Calming Herbal Infusion Recipe
To make a nourishing herbal infusion of Oatstraw:
Boil water (1 quart for every ounce of herb)
Place one ounce of herb (for each quart of water) in a tea pot, French press or canning jar.
When the water boils, pour the water over the herb (if using a canning jar, place a butter knife in the jar to act as a conduit; the knife will absorb some of the heat and keep the jar from breaking).
Put a lid on the container and set it aside for 4-8 hours.
After 4-8 hours, strain the herb and enjoy. Infusions can be drunk warmed, iced or sweetened.
Note: Infusions can be stored in the refrigerator for 2-3 days, after which they will start to spoil. They are nutrient-rich and become food–if they spoil, feed them to house plants.
Linda Conroy is an herbalist, community organizer, founder of Moonwise Herbs and founder and organizer of the annual Midwest Women’s Herbal Conference. For more information, visit MoonwiseHerbs.com and MidwestWomensHerbal.com
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