Herbs for Stress

Chamomile, Lemon Balm, Rose, Lavender, St. Johnswort, Holy Basil, Stinging Nettle


Green and Joyful Solstice Greetings!

Another season comes and goes, and the wild energy of spring has me revved up in fifth gear as summer rushes in. I often find myself doing too much at the end of the semester... not getting enough sleep, eating on the run, juggling too many commitments that all sounded like fun when I agreed to them! Life can be stressful ...there are so many wonderful things to do and so little time to fit! Whether our stressors are inspiring (eustress) or depleting (distress) we sometimes need a little extra to help keep us vibrant and healthy. I reach for nourishing, supportive, revitalizing herbal support every day in one way or another. I may fill my water bottle with an infusion of Holy Basil and Stinging Nettle, or boil up a decoction of Astragalus root and Oat straw for my rice or oatmeal, or simply take a dropperful of Rhodiola tincture before I head out the door. The next time you're feeling as though life is zipping by a little too fast and you're having trouble keeping up, try to integrate nervous system tonics into your day. Many of the nervine herbs listed below probably grow wildly and lavishly in your garden, just as they do in green space all over the Island of Montreal. Harvest them yourself or buy some fragrant dried herbs and prepare them as suggested.

Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) tea is an all purpose relaxant that soothes an anxious or upset stomach. Cover the dried flowers with boiling water and let steep for ten minutes. Enjoy a cup or two as fatigue tries to set in late in the day. It will help you maintain focus and mellow you out simultaneously.


Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis) infusion will help relieve tension and stress, settle your nervous stomach and decrease anxiety. Its wonderfully lemony scent is cooling and refreshing. Whiny, crying children (and their parents) can enjoy the calming, soothing benefits of Melissa either hot or cold...or freeze a strong infusion in popsicle molds to add to your child's pleasure.




Rose (Rosa rugosa) petal infusion or glycerite will help strengthen your nerves, nourish your heart, balance your hormones and support your immune system. My glasses case is filled with rose petals and I inhlae her uplifting essence deeply every time I put them on. Buy yourself a bouquet on Monday and enjoy the delightful fragrance in your office all week long.




Lavender's (Lavendula officinalis) scent alone is relaxing, pain relieving, nerve soothing and antidepressant. Keep a vial filled with dried lavender flowers in your desk drawer or glove compartment and inhale the aroma deeply any time you feel stress mounting.




St. Johnswort (Hypericum perforatum) is another herbal antidepressant that balances mood swings and helps to dispel brain fog. Make SJW tincture in your favourite liqueur (40% alcohol or higher) to nourish your nervous system, relax muscles and add a dose of sunshine to your day. Or simply infuse the bright yellow flowering plant in olive oil this summer and get your massage therapist or lover to use it during your next massage.



Holy Basil, or Tulsi (Occimum Sanctum) is also known as an adaptogen...an herb that helps us adapt to the stressors in our life. Russian scientist and doctor, Nikolai Lazarev, coined the term in the late sixties as he and his colleagues searched for the ultimate herb in pursuit of superior military prowess, extended hours of factory work with less absenteeism, and more gold medals in the next Olympics. An adaptogenic herb allows us to adapt to stressors, all around and within us, by strengthening our intricately interwoven systems of the body. They increase our resistance to physical and emotional stress, modulate our stress response and regulate our endocrine, immune and nervous systems. Rich in antioxidants and nutrients, Holy Basil does all this...boosting stamina, improving memory and mental clarity, enhancing digestion, strengthening our immune system and decreasing inflammation. Try a dropperful of tincture twice daily or fill your water bottle with an infusion made with Holy Basil's dried leaves and sip it freely throughout the day.

I agree with David Winston that to be credible, herbalists should be prudent labeling every tonic, every nervine and/or every amphoteric as an "adaptogen". In order for an herb to be considered as a true adaptogen it must be nontoxic, it must produce a non-specific response in the body and it must have a normalizing influence on overall physiology. (Dr. I. Brekhman and Dr. I.V. Dardymov, 1968) I remember the herbalists in Quebec's Guilde arguing with Daniel Gagnon at his lecture in 2009 that Stinging Nettle (urtica sp.), with all its wonderful properties, should be considered an adaptogen. Stinging nettle is superbly nutritious and exceptional preventative medicine that makes me feel well nourished and full of life! It's considered food for our adrenal glands, which can use a little extra support during this extremely fast-paced time. Stinging Nettle leaves are loaded with calcium, Vitamin C, potassium, protein, silica and iron. They're also a wonderful source of antioxidants including beta carotene, selenium and lycopene which decrease free radical damage and boost our immune system, just like the herbs classified as adaptogens. With all this superior nutrition and health restoring properties for the respiratory, endocrine, cardiovascular, digestive, urinary, musculo-skeletal and immune systems, one would think that Stinging Nettle must surely be an adaptogen. But the fact that it is also a diuretic means that there is a specific response produced in the body and according to definition, it therefore can not be considered a true adaptogen.

There are plenty of true adaptogens however. The most popular adaptogens are the Ginsengs... Eleutherococcus (Siberian Ginseng), Panax quinquefolium (American Ginseng) and Panax (Chinese) Ginseng which is difficult to grow here but available in Chinese apothecaries. While you're there you can also buy exotic, medicinal mushrooms (reishi, cordyceps sinensis) or Schizandra berries (Schisandra chinensis) which are also classic adaptogens. Closer to home is Rhodiola root which flourishes in les Iles Mingan, Ungava Bay and the Gaspe. Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra), Ashwaghanda (Withania somnifera), and Holy Basil (Occimum sanctum) are also worthy adaptogenic herbs to consider when life moves too fast.

Considering that the word "adaptogen" was originally created for herbs, I was shocked to learn from Marie Provost's report at the Guilde des herboristes' General Assembly (Nov. 2011) that herbalists are barred from using this term on their herbal products. It's only "allowed" to be used {legally} on medical products produced in a lab... pharma has taken ownership of one of our words! But whether they're labeled on your favourite herbal product or not, try an adaptogen the next time you're feeling frazzled and see how they serve to complement your other coping mechanisms!

May the fireflies grace your garden this summer and fill you with delight,



Over the years I have been blessed with many inspirational teachers. I thank them for sharing their wisdom and knowledge through their lectures, workshops, websites and books. For more information about adaptogens and nervines, enjoy these insightful and informative resources.

ADAPTOGENS Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief by David Winston. Lecture notes from the International Herb Symposium, June 2011

ADAPTOGENS Herbs for Strength, Stamina and Stress Relief by David Winston and Steven Maimes (Healing Arts Press, 2007) Click for website: http://www.herbaltherapeutics.net/

Cercle de guerison du systeme immunitaire lecture by Daniel Gagnon (Montreal, October 2009).


Healing Wise by Susun Weed (Ash Tree Publishing, 1989)


Opening our Wild Hearts to the Healing Herbs by Gail Faith Edwards

(Ash Tree Publishing, 2000) Click for website


If you'd like to visit my medicinal garden or organize a weed workshop this spring or summer contact me!


Home | Herbal Health | My Wild Garden | Services | Wild Creations | Contact

  ©2022 Monica Giacomin