diagram of body with nervines and specific body parts

Clinical Practice: Matching Nervine to Client

diagram of body with nervines and specific body parts

Almost everyone that comes to see me has a nervine in their formula. Sometimes the primary problem for which the client is seeking treatment seems completely unrelated to the mind, emotions and spirit. Maybe it’s acne or maybe it’s seasonal allergies, but I have found over the years, that almost everyone benefits from a nervine. No matter what the complaints that brings people through the door, helping them with stress and tension can have a cascade of effects throughout the body.  Sometimes you ease the tension and the other symptoms (seemingly unrelated) disappear.  The body and mind function as a whole, not as a collection of separate parts.

Some of the conditions and symptoms that respond to nervine include:

  • worry, anxiety, racing thoughts, obsessive thoughts
  • heart palpitations, rapid heartbeat, irregular heartbeat
  • sternum: tightness in the chest or pain
  • stomach aches
  • other aches and pains
  • insomnia
  • poor concentration
  • Irritable Bowel Disorder
  • PMS
  • menstrual cramps
  • headaches
  • TMJ, jaw clenching, teeth grinding
  • irritability
  • fatigue
  • sometimes skin conditions
  • sometimes respiratory conditions

The client comes to consultation seeking help for a particular problem or symptom, with a specific story to tell. After hearing what the client wants to tell you, a good practitioner will be sure to elicit information about the client’s whole lived experience, head to toe, body, mind and spirit.

I usually start with the simple question, “How’s your stress level?” It is an invitation to tell me more about what’s going on with the mind and spirit, what their struggles are all about. Most of the time clients will share this with you candidly. However, there are some folks who are suffering but tend to downplay their pain, or some people who are quite reserved and stoic. Learn to recognize these folks and ask precise follow up questions if need. I routinely ask about sleep quality, headaches and aches and pains.

When you are stressed out where do you feel it?

With dozens and dozens of nervines in the western materia medica, many of which have a laundry list of associated conditions and symptoms, how do you choose the most appropriate one? Certainly tongue assessment helps. Look for trembling, quivering or shaking tongue as a sign to consider anti-spasmodics. Lymph imbalance can play a role in depression, stagnation, loss of motivation and can often be observed in the tongue as prominent or inflamed papillae. Excessive heat and inflammation show up as redness in the tongue and are associated with anxiety and panic. These tissue state signs can help lead you to the appropriate remedies.

Study the remedies deeply. Learn about their flavor profiles, chemical constituents, energetics, specific indications, herbal actions and organ affinities.

I ask everyone to tell me where they feel it in their body when they are under stress. This is one of the most helpful pieces of information you can obtain. Many herbal nervines seem to have an affinity to specific parts of the body and an ability to reduce tension or restore balance. Most clients understand this question and will promptly tell you about what it feels like to be them when they are under stress. Most commonly people will describe neck and shoulder pain, low back pain, chest/sternum symptoms. Stomach and intestinal symptoms, and head symptoms and sensations are the next most common.

This diagram is a work in progress, created using indications I have learned over the years from teachers and the literature and experience in practice. It is by no means comprehensive. Some wonderfully helpful and oft used nervines like Agrimony, Cinquefoil, Linden and others aren’t on this diagram. For those and other plants I have been unable to match or identify precise physical symptoms or spots of tension with a particular herb.

Headaches

  • Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata) bitter, nervine anti-spasmodic with broad effects including treatment of PMS. IBD, menstrual cramps, muscular and psychological tension, menopausal symptoms, TMJ and teeth grinding, among other symptoms
  • Chamomile (many species) mildly bitter, aromatic, gentle yet profound remedy which treats headaches from tension, nervous feelings in the stomach, anti-inflammatory and antihistaminic effects, useful for allergies and gallbladder conditions
  • Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa), bitter, acrid, nervine and strong antispmodic with affinity to the head, neck and spine headaches, migraines, occipital headache, whiplash and neck injury, upper back tension, menstrual cramps, menopausal symptoms, depression, arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Wood Betony (Stachys officinalis) nervine, stress or tension headaches, feeling like head is buzzing or full of energy when under duress, tightness in the chest, stomach upset with stress, poor or weak digestion, spacy, lack of focus, ADHD, ungrounded individuals, mild cholagogue for the gallbladder
  • Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) nervine, diffusive, stress or tension headaches, nervous exhaustion, irritability and irritable PMS, insomnia, mild remedy for the liver

Jaw Clenching/Teeth Grinding

  • Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata) bitter, nervine anti-spasmodic with broad effects including treatment of PMS. IBD, menstrual cramps, muscular and psychological tension, menopausal symptoms, TMJ and teeth grinding, among other symptoms

Sternum/Chest

  • Wood Betony (Stachys officinalis) nervine, stress or tension headaches, feeling like head is buzzing or full of energy when under duress, tightness in the chest, stomach upset with stress, poor or weak digestion, spacy, lack of focus, ADHD, ungrounded individuals, mild cholagogue for the gallbladder
  • Motherwort (Leonarus cardiaca) strong bitter, nervine, heat and dryness reducing, stress felt in sternum/chest as tightness and constriction and heartbeat irregularities, anxiety, worry, insomnia, panic attacks, upset stomach with stress, use in pregnancy, postpartum and perimenopause, mild hypotensive
  • Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) aromatic, heat reducing, pairs well with Motherwort, stress felt in sternum/chest as tightness and constriction and heartbeat irregularities, anxiety, worry, insomnia, panic attacks, upset stomach with stress, additionally anti-viral, used for herpes, shingles and chicken pox,

Heartbeat

  • Motherwort (Leonarus cardiaca) strong bitter, nervine, heat and dryness reducing, stress felt in sternum/chest as tightness and constriction and heartbeat irregularities, anxiety, worry, insomnia, panic attacks, upset stomach with stress, use in pregnancy, postpartum and perimenopause, mild hypotensive
  • Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) aromatic, heat reducing, pairs well with Motherwort, stress felt in sternum/chest as tightness and constriction and heartbeat irregularities, anxiety, worry, insomnia, panic attacks, upset stomach with stress, additionally anti-viral, used for herpes, shingles and chicken pox

Stomach

  • Wood Betony (Stachys officinalis) nervine, stress or tension headaches, feeling like head is buzzing or full of energy when under duress, tightness in the chest, stomach upset with stress, poor or weak digestion, spacy, lack of focus, ADHD, ungrounded individuals, mild cholagogue for the gallbladder
  • Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) aromatic, heat reducing, pairs well with Motherwort, stress felt in sternum/chest as tightness and constriction and heartbeat irregularities, anxiety, worry, insomnia, panic attacks, upset stomach with stress, additionally anti-viral, used for herpes, shingles and chicken pox
  • Chamomile(many species) mildly bitter, aromatic, gentle yet profound remedy which treats headaches from tension, nervous feelings in the stomach, anti-inflammatory and antihistaminic effects, useful for allergies and gallbladder conditions
  • Motherwort (Leonarus cardiaca) strong bitter, nervine, heat and dryness reducing, stress felt in sternum/chest as tightness and constriction and heartbeat irregularities, anxiety, worry, insomnia, panic attacks, upset stomach with stress, use in pregnancy, postpartum and perimenopause, mild hypotensive
  • Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) sweet, mildly bitter, aromatic, affinity to stomach and guts in turmoil under stress, potent anti-inflammatory, useful for autoimmune conditions with weakness

Intestines

  • Catnip (Nepeta catria) aromatic, nervine, strong anti-spasmodic with affinity to the guts, relieves cramping from stress, tension, uterine cramping also infant colic, teething, hiatal hernia
  • Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata) bitter, nervine anti-spasmodic with broad effects including treatment of PMS. IBD, menstrual cramps, muscular and psychological tension, menopausal symptoms, TMJ and teeth grinding, among other symptoms
  • Chamomile (many species) mildly bitter, aromatic, gentle yet profound remedy which treats headaches from tension, nervous feelings in the stomach, anti-inflammatory and antihistaminic effects, useful for allergies and gallbladder conditions
  • Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) sweet, mildly bitter, aromatic, affinity to stomach and guts in turmoil under stress, potent anti-inflammatory, useful for autoimmune conditions with weakness

Occiput (base of skull)

  • Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata) bitter, nervine anti-spasmodic with broad effects including treatment of PMS. IBD, menstrual cramps, muscular and psychological tension, menopausal symptoms, TMJ and teeth grinding, among other symptoms
  • Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa), bitter, acrid, nervine and strong antispmodic with affinity to the head, neck and spine headaches, migraines, occipital headache, whiplash and neck injury, upper back tension, menstrual cramps, menopausal symptoms, depression, arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis

Neck/Upper Back/Trapezius Muscles

  • Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa), bitter, acrid, nervine and strong antispmodic with affinity to the head, neck and spine headaches, migraines, occipital headache, whiplash and neck injury, upper back tension, menstrual cramps, menopausal symptoms, depression, arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Prickly Lettuce (Lactuca serriola) mild bitter, relaxes muscular tension in neck, upper back, shoulders and lower back, excellent for insomnia and minds that won’t quiet at night with racing thoughts or obsessive thoughts and worries
  • Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata) bitter, nervine anti-spasmodic with broad effects including treatment of PMS. IBD, menstrual cramps, muscular and psychological tension, menopausal symptoms, TMJ and teeth grinding, among other symptoms

Lower Back

  • Prickly Lettuce (Lactuca serriola) mild bitter, relaxes muscular tension in neck, upper back, shoulders and lower back, excellent for insomnia and minds that won’t quiet at night with racing thoughts or obsessive thoughts and worries
  • Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) nervine, aromatic bitter, hormonal remedy, low back ache from stress or with depression, insomnia, nightmares, vivid or disturbing sleep leading to sleep that is not restful, ancient women’s health remedy used for a wide variety of gynecological issues
  • Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa), bitter, acrid, nervine and strong antispmodic with affinity to the head, neck and spine headaches, migraines, occipital headache, whiplash and neck injury, upper back tension, menstrual cramps, menopausal symptoms, depression, arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis

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