Make Herbs Your First Line of Defense

By Kelly Sheehan

We are constantly looking for new miracle fixes to combat stress in today’s fast-paced society. One of the last options people tend to look at may be revealed as the best first-line defense. That protector is herbs.

In the United States, we often read how herbs have medicinal uses, but most of us have never thought to actually try them. Yet many people in other countries such as China, Africa and India use herbs to solve almost every health issue. David Winston writes, “Herbal medicine is one of the most ancient forms of health care known to humankind…” in his book Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief.

In basic herb terminology, adaptogens are herbs that help counteract stress responses in the body. To understand how they work, let’s first take a look at what stress actually is and our physical responses to it. Stress is a normal reaction to anything that may upset the balance in our life. When we perceive a threat of this type, our nervous system responds by releasing a load of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, that course through the body and ready us for crisis action. Overall, stress can affect our body, mind and behavior.

As a result, some people become quick tempered and agitated, while others may get depressed or withdrawn. Either way, adaptogens can help reduce our stress levels and help us to create more feelings of well-being in our life.

Adaptogen herbs help build up a resistance to certain stressors in the body.

They are nontoxic plants that have a normalizing effect and restore our ideal chemical balance. In his article, “Herbal Adaptogens Fitting Into The Modern Age,” Christopher Hobbs outlines the general process that adaptogens follow. First, they support the adrenal function, which counteracts the effects of stress. Then they enable the cells of the body to have more access to energy, which helps to eliminate toxic byproducts of the metabolic processes. This also helps the body utilize oxygen more efficiently.

Although the term “adaptogen” has not been truly accepted into Western medicine, it has been used widely in Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine. A good tip to know when looking for this classification of herbs is to use botanical names when searching for or identifying them. Many of today’s websites and books on adaptogens use different name variations for the same herbs, so using the botanical names will eliminate confusion.

Top Herbs for Stress Relief
Ginseng. The most commonly used herb for stress is Ginseng. This plant is found in Asia and is one of the most essential medicinal herbs used in Chinese medicine. Ginseng has been found to have saponins, which are also called ginsenosides, that can counter stress by controlling cortisol production. The root of the plant is used for this purpose, and it can be chewed or brewed. It now comes in teas, foods, pills, and even powder, but it’s important to make sure the quality of the root is good. Most experts recommend using dried root, which is then cut into small pieces. It can be chewed or brewed into a tea using three to nine grams per serving. Some helpful preparation tips include: slowly boil the herb pieces for an hour, double boil the tea and, last but not least, drink the tea on an empty stomach.

Rhodiola. Another excellent stress-reducing herb is a little yellow flower indigenous to the Arctic area known as Rhodiola. A June, 2010, study published in Phytomedicine revealed that Rhodiola brings down stress by affecting the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. This axis controls the body’s stress response and regularizes cortisol. Rhodiola’s flowers and leaves can be dried, pounded, and then put into boiling water to brew tea. For those who aren’t tea drinkers, pills are available with dosages ranging from approximately 100 to 600 milligrams.

Ashwagandha. The third herb in our trilogy is a shrub with tiny red berries called Ashwagandha. It is mostly found in Africa, Asia and Europe. The seeds of the Ashwagandha shrub are known to have properties that reduce cortisol, although the plant’s alkaloids have proven even more beneficial as a producer of anti-stess affects. Along with most herbs, this one can be found in capsules at natural food stores. The root of this plant also can be dried, cut and brewed into a tea, and most recommendations are to use 1 gram to 6 grams per serving.

As noted author, native elder, and leading spiritual teacher Anne Wilson Schaef, Ph.D., has said,

“We have finally started to notice that there is real curative value in local herbs and remedies. In fact, we are also becoming aware that there are little or no side effects to most natural remedies, and that they are often more effective than Western medicine.”

As we become more aware of natural remedies in the West, take the time to explore the road less traveled and you may find a miracle around the next bend. However, be sure to consult a practitioner or doctor who understands natural medicine as you create your roadmap to optimum health and well-being.

Kelly Sheehan developed a strong inner connection with nature as she grew up on a farm in the woodlands of Wisconsin. Always one to be curious about medicinal plants and how they worked to heal the body, she is currently earning a Western Herbalism degree from Southwest Institute Of Healing Arts in Tempe, AZ. Observing the effects of chemotherapy on her mother, who was suffering from colon cancer, and the effects of processed foods and pharmaceuticals on her father, Kelly was motivated to look for a healthier holistic alternative to life, and her healing practice strives to help others create a more natural way of living. For more information call: 715-558-1120 or email:

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