An integrative approach to healing ourselves and our world: honoring people, plants, planet

Posts tagged ‘anxiety’

Herbal Help for Mood Disorders: Radio program 12/11 on Highway to Health

Sorrowing old man ("At Eternity's Gate") by Vincent van Gogh

Sorrowing old man (“At Eternity’s Gate”) by Vincent van Gogh

I’m on West Virginia radio tomorrow for the Highway to Health show with Dave Hawkins, 9:15am. It’ll be available at immediately after the show.

Herbal Help for Mood Disorders
Therapeutic herbs are used worldwide to relieve anxiety, depression and a host of other mood disorders. Healthy Dave is joined by registered herbalist and psychotherapist Holli Richey to discuss a natural approach to therapy using herbs, psychotherapy and stress management practices designed to help the whole person – body, mind and spirit.

Please call in to (304) 422-3154 at 9:15 AM EST.

Forest Bathing Retreat: toe first then full immersion June 21-22

Forest bathing is a practice of being present, opening our senses to receive all of the forest. It isn't about taking your clothes off to literally bathe. It's a figurative use of the word, as in to fully bask in the atmosphere. This trail is through the forest at Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee.

Forest bathing is a practice of being present, opening our senses to receive all of the forest. It isn’t about taking your clothes off to literally bathe. It’s a figurative use of the word, as in to fully bask in the atmosphere. This trail is through the forest at Frozen Head State Park in Tennessee.

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.  – John Burroughs

Friday, 6pm-8:30pm; Saturday, 7:30am-11:30am *

(6am-7:15am optional start for sitting in meditation at the pavilion.)

Chattanooga Arboretum & Nature Center (Reflection Riding)

Forest Bathing is a Japanese concept of immersing oneself in the sensory experience of the forest with open awareness and no expectations. Studies in Japan have proven that opening one’s senses to the forest will reduce stress hormones such as cortisol, boost the immune system, and reduce the heart rate.

Join Yong Oh, mindfulness teacher, Dr. Jean Lomino, director of CANC and outdoor educator, and Holli Richey, therapist and herbalist, for this Solstice retreat into the woods where we will experience the life-changing practice of mindfulness in nature. Experience how to be present with the body and senses, and learn how to work with difficult thoughts and feelings which generate greater stress and anxiety. Experience what it is to rest in natural awareness. This is the first of more Mindfulness in Nature retreats to come. Toe first, then full immersion.

Register with Chattanooga Arboretum by Monday, June 17th.  Donation, $25 suggested.

*This is not an overnight retreat.


Passionflower eases stress-related sleeplessness and anxiety

Passiflora incarnata looking like it's designed to communicate with extraterrestrials.

Passionflower is an example of how we can lose an appreciation for the familiar. The exotically beautiful, though completely native, passionflower vine (Passiflora incarnata) is one of the few Passiflora species which grows in our temperate climate, and for this we can be thankful. This backyard remedy is tremendously useful for stress-related conditions: sleeplessness, tension, muscle spasms, irritability, restlessness, teeth-grinding, headaches, high blood pressure, attention-deficit, and even for withdrawal symptoms from addictive substances.

Passionflower is a deciduous vine with three-lobed leaves that smell like peanut butter when crushed. Its highly complex flowers bloom from June-October, and look as if they’re designed to communicate with outer-space extraterrestrials – though the passionflower is actually named by imaginative 16th century Spaniards for its symbolic imagery of Christ’s passion.

Passionflower fruits of Passiflora incarnata.

Edible, sweet-tasting fruits form after the flowers are finished, and ripen from green to yellowish-orange two months after forming. The vine often crawls along the ground, and when you step on the fruits they may pop, giving passionflower its other popular name, ‘maypop’.

Although the passionflower vine will grow in clay, it is most happy sprawled out over your vegetables, taking advantage of loose, fertile soil. To introduce passionflower into your garden, prepare a sunny spot as you would for tomatoes, and plant the seeds from a dried passionflower fruit. Give it space and a trellis or fence to climb. Venturing young shoots and leaves can be eaten when boiled and then sautéed.

Medicinally, passionflower is traditionally indicated when someone cannot sleep due to repetitive, worry-filled thoughts circling all night. Passionflower stills the rambling, anxious thoughts, bringing a calm and relaxed sleep without any sleep-medication “hangover”.

Numerous pharmacological investigations have confirmed passionflower’s ability to relieve anxiety. In one clinical trial of 36 people with generalized anxiety disorder diagnosed by DSM-IV standards who were randomly given either passionflower or oxazepam, a benzodiazepine prescribed for anxiety and alcohol withdrawal symptoms, the results found that passionflower and the pharmaceutical relieved anxiety equally; however, passionflower affected the participants’ job performance far less than oxazepam. An additional difference is that passionflower is safe in moderate amounts and non-addictive.

Studies also report its efficacy in reducing drug withdrawal symptoms for nicotine, alcohol, and opiates, such as morphine by increasing the effects of GABA, a neurotransmitter which calms the body’s response to stimuli.

Surprisingly the flowers hold little medicinal value, besides looking at them. The majority of the nerve-calming qualities come from a tea or extract made from the leaves and stems, either fresh or dried. Commercial sources of the live plant are few. It’s more common to find the South American blue passionflower (Passiflora caerulea), which has five-lobed leaves, an edible fruit and is almost evergreen in Athens.

Old-timer herbalist Tommie Bass said that passionflower brings people together by helping them to relax. He suggested it for domestic partners who’ve grown annoyed with the little things over the years, losing appreciation for the familiar. Cherokee Indians similarly used passionflower as a social beverage. If fences make good neighbors, then maybe passionflower should grow along the fence.

This article appeared in the Athens Banner-Herald on July 4, 2010.

Pictures of other species of Passiflora:

Passionflower botanical (1902) Dodd, Mead & Company. This botanical print came from a book. I have it in a simple frame.

Princess Charlotte's Passionflower, Passiflora racemosa, at Druid Hill Park Victorian Conservatory, Baltimore, MD

Mimosa (the tree, not the drink) brings happiness

Mimosa tree, Albizia julibrissin, growing at North Oconee River Greenway, Athens, GA

Although mimosas are called an invasive “trash tree” by many, Dr. Seuss couldn’t have created a more delightful-looking flower than the mimosa bloom. Mimosa’s whimsical June blossoms bring happiness just to gaze upon them, and their bark, foliage and flowers can do the same when taken internally as a tea.

Mimosa trees, Albizia julibrissin, dot the roadsides with their pink blossoms in early summer giving a tropical appearance. The fern-like foliage is made of fine compound leaflets. Mimosa flowers look like silky pink tuffs, giving the tree its other name, silk-tree. After the flowers fade, the seedpods form, resembling peapods, indicating it’s in the Fabaceae family, or pea family.

Originally native to an area ranging from Iran to China, historical accounts suspect mimosas were introduced to America as early as 1745. The famous French botanist, Andre Michaux, introduced the mimosa tree to Charleston in 1786. They produce prolific seeds, which allowed it to quickly spread throughout the South.

Mimosas grow where the soil has taken a beating. In fact, because they tolerate such poor soil and are capable of fixing nitrogen in the soil, they’re one of the species suitable for waste landfill remediation, synergistically enhancing the landscape. That’s an alternative meaning to “trash tree”.

Mimosa blossoms, Albizia julibrissin, "Collective Happiness Flowers"

It might be pure coincidence, but I find it interesting that a tree which heals disturbed land can also heal a disturbed heart. In China the peeled, dried bark of mimosa, called “collective happiness bark” in Chinese, is used as an uplifting remedy for an irritable-type of depression accompanied by insomnia, poor memory, grief and anger. In Chinese medicine this type of depression is diagnosed as a shen disturbance, a shock or trauma to the spiritual aspect of someone’s heart.

Current research has validated the traditional Chinese remedy of mimosa bark, showing that it relieves anxiety and has an antidepressant-like effect. Other studies have found that mimosa foliage and flowers contain antioxidants which inhibit the oxidation of the bad LDL cholesterol, decreasing the danger associated with high LDL cholesterol, which would make a lot of people happy.

The bark is boiled and steeped in water. For a milder effect, one can also use the flowers and leaves. The tea should not be drunk during pregnancy or if one is taking prescribed antidepressants. Also, because mimosas grow in disturbed soil, do be careful not to use any part of a tree growing near railroad tracks which could have absorbed a considerable amount of toxins.

This article was originally published in my Urban Forager Column on Sundays for the Athens Banner Herald–Living, June 20, 2010.                                       

Skullcap: One of the most useful herbs for your nerves

Skullcap on Daufusky Island, South Carolina (Scutellaria sp.)

Skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora) has two funny common names. The most used name, skullcap, points to the affinity this herb has with calming the mind and central nervous system, and also to how the flower appears like a hood. The second name, mad-dog skullcap, comes from a historical use for rabies, which is not a good idea anymore. However, skullcap remains one of the most useful herbs to restore and calm the nerves. I use this beautiful plant for myself and others, often.

Skullcap is known as a slightly sedating nervine, neurotrophorestorative, anxiolytic, and spasmolytic. Let me explain what each of those words mean:

  • A nervine normalizes the functions of the nervous system, soothing and relieving tension.
  • A neuro-trophorestorative is something herbs can do which pharmaceutical drugs don’t. It restores optimal function and structure of an organ or tissue. In skullcap’s case, its attention is the restoration of the neurons.
  • An anxiolytic relieves anxiety. Not all anxiolytic herbs do this in the same way.
  • A spasmolytic relieves or decreases muscle spasms in smooth or skeletal muscle.

Skullcap is specifically called for when someone has nervous, emotional irritability. Nervous irritability might appear as spasms, tremors, restlessness (perhaps in the legs), skeletal muscle tension (neck and back), teeth-grinding, stress headaches and agitation, both emotionally and physically.

Two types of agitation skullcap is good for are Excess and Deficient Agitation.                        Excess agitation is like the Yosemite Sam character: agitated, forceful, fiery, turbulent, angry, irritable, or jealous. The kind of energy they give off makes you want to back away slowly from them. They have a louder voice and their eye contact is steady. They give the perception of alpha dog, but when a lot of things pile up, they just might blow. This person might have cranky tension in his or her muscles (wry neck, low-back pain, or teeth-grinding) because they need to be doing something more active, not sitting behind a desk. Some women have PMS symptoms that are like Yosemite Sam.                                                Dose: 2 grams of the leaf in tea, capsules, or equivalent of tincture three times a day.

Deficient agitation is in someone who is very sensitive and easily overwhelmed by too much noise, light, such as in a big city or a big party. Excessive stimuli, i.e. too much input, would easily lead to nervous agitation in such a person. This person might have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), hypervigilance, physical hypersensitivity, heart palpitations, panic attacks/disorder, test anxiety or fear of public speaking.                     Dose: 2 grams of the leaf in tea, capsules, or equivalent of tincture three times a day. **Larger doses of the tincture in the moment of panic, having palpitations, or public speaking.

Skullcap demonstrates the complexity of working with herbs and the great capabilities herbs have, often not found in pharmaceuticals. This is why skullcap forms the backbone of my Peace Tea formula.

(If someone has nervous exhaustion, you’d choose wild oats, Avena sativa; and if it’s nerve damage, then St. John’s Wort, Hypericum perforatum, would be best).


Many years ago, there was an adulteration of skullcap with germander (Teucrium), and people became sick. This hasn’t happened for a very long time—over a decade—since our standards have improved for herbs. Chinese skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis) has different uses than the native American skullcap.

Skullcap is OK with kids, and is not addictive like valium or benzodiazepines.

Much of the above information has come from one of my great teachers, James Snow.

Mint Water: Refreshing & Uplifting

About this time of year in Georgia, adding mint leaves to your chilled water can do the body-mind good.

Mint water in my recycled glass pitcher

Not only does it taste refreshing, but a study published in 2010* shows that all varieties of mint studied are capable of relieving anxiety and lifting your mood. Research also showed that mints are neuroprotective, containing antioxidants which protect central nervous system cells from oxidative stress.

Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) had the highest amount of antioxidants and mood lifting qualities out of all the mints studied. Water mint (Mentha aquatica) had the highest potential for lowering anxiety.

Mint is so incredibly easy to grow anywhere. Give it room to roam, or grow it in pots. And use it liberally! You can either chop the leaves or add them whole as they are in the photo. The aromatic oils will quickly flavor the water in minutes.

I also add a little mint (spearmint) to my potato salad which gives it a little pizazz.

*Lopez, V., et al (2010). Neuroprotective and neurochemical properties of mint extracts.     Phytotherapy Research, 24, 869-874.

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