Natural Stress Relief: Herbs for Anxiety, Headaches and More

From pain-fighting feverfew to lulling lemon balm, you can ease aches, unwind and lift your spirits — naturally! — with these herbal remedies for stress relief.

| August 24, 2011

The following is an excerpt from Homegrown Remedies by Anne McIntyre (Gaia/Octopus, 2011). In this fun, photo-packed reference, McIntyre outlines the herbal help at hand for treating a variety of everyday ailments and offers 40 straightforward, easy-to-concoct remedies, including a soothing honey for coughs, a fragrant salve for eczema, an herbal sleep pillow for insomnia, and a healing oil for cuts and wounds. You’ll also find a directory that details the unique healing properties of each plant mentioned in the book, along with a chart identifying the specific vitamins and minerals that common herbs have to offer. This excerpt is from the Introduction and Chapter 6, “Managing Stress.” 

Gardening is one of the best kinds of preventative medicine, good for all manner of ills. If you love gardening, as I do, you’ve probably experienced that sense of joy derived from hours spent nurturing plants and seeing them develop in shape, form and color. For many people, the garden is their sanctuary, a place of peace and refreshment away from the stress of everyday life. Even if you don’t have space for a garden, you can still create form and beauty — not forgetting wonderful scents — from herbs grown in pots and containers, whether inside or out. When you grow herbs, you will have the reward of harvesting those herbs and using them to enhance your health and well-being.

Growing herbs is an excellent way to get to know plants that are not only beautiful and evocatively scented but are also remarkable medicines. Herbs are a very real part of everyday life: They enliven diet and cuisine, provide valuable ingredients for beauty products, cosmetics, toothpastes, body creams and lotions, and also play an important part in health care.

Many common herbs used by herbalists to help and cure everyday ailments can be found in your kitchen, on your patio or in the garden, in nearby parks, fields and hedgerows, and you can prepare them at home, simply and quickly. A sage gargle, for example, makes an effective cure for sore throats, hot mint and honey drinks ease colds, vinegar soothes wasp stings, and dock leaves rubbed onto nettle stings provide ready relief.

How Do Herbs Work?

Herbs are made up of natural constituents that have an inherent compatibility with our bodies. We cannot directly assimilate many of the substances our bodies need to grow to maintain our health and to heal us when we are ill. Plants process these substances for us, making them accessible to the body. Through photosynthesis, plants manufacture carbohydrates and give off oxygen while taking up minerals and trace elements through their roots. This creates metabolic pathways that provide building blocks for the production of compounds that can easily be used in the body. In medicinal plants, these include minerals, vitamins and trace elements, the raw materials we need for recovery, as well as a vast assortment of other medicinal substances such as volatile oils, bitters, tannins and alkaloids, which have affinities for particular organs and systems and have specific therapeutic actions in the body.

Herbs are very much like foods, and the dividing line between them is very thin. An herbal remedy is, by definition, any plant that has a therapeutic action, and this includes most of the fruit and vegetable kingdom. Celery seeds and celery have a cleansing, antiseptic effect through the whole of the urinary tract and are widely used for arthritis. Oats are a wonderful tonic to the nervous system, while raspberries have long been used for throat and chest problems.

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