Category Archives: Nervine Herbs

A’ Tishoo A’ Tishoo we all fall down! The Effect of Stress on Health & Immunity – A different approach

Both from a clinical and social perspective, people develop infections from exhaustion and nervous depletion. We become susceptible to illness when dealing with chronic stress and work. Sayings such as ‘run down’ ‘too much on my plate’ & ‘stressed out’, all mean, lowered immunity due to high levels of stress. Scientific lingo Psycho-Neuro-Endocrino-Immunology (PNEI) is the study of effects of chronic stress on human immune tissue. Research has shown remarkable instances of tissue damage and immune deficiency with continued stress. Studies in Molecular Psychiatry and Immunology have shown, chronic excess levels of cortisol production, weakens activity of immune function opening the way to inflammation and infections. Neuroendocrine-immune interactions are regulated by corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) indirectly, through activation of stress directly and through pro-inflammatory actions on peripheral immune functions. The indirect effects of stress on immune/inflammatory responses occur via the stress-induced activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis and the sympathetic/adreno-medullary system. Glucocorticoids and catecholamines affect Th1 and 2 immune cells and mediators. Stress influences the development, course and pathology of acute and chronic health conditions such as infections, allergies, autoimmune, and inflammation. The psychological and behavioral consequences of stress have additional effects by increasing health-impairing behaviours e.g. poor diet, sleep, lack of exercise, substance abuse and mood disorders.

Medical herbalism offers a different approach, with the cooler changes ahead. Know your body and recognize the signs of exhaustion and stress. Enjoy rest, recreation, gentle exercise, sunlight (Vit D), healthy protein, Vitamins (A, B’s & C) and minerals (Zinc, Selenium, Magnesium).

Allow immune tissue to naturally respond to colds and flu, by utilising the wonderful benefits of pharmaceutical grade herbal medicines. Treatment is safe, effective and prescribed professionally.

Neuro-protective and Immune-modulating are terms used in this area of herbalism to describe Holy Basil, Withania, Siberian ginseng, Reishi and Rhodiola. These help the body adapt to stress and prevent infections and serious illness.

Immune-stimulating- modulating, Anti-inflammatory and Anti-microbial herbs include; Echinacea spp., Thyme, Boneset, Manuka, Andrographis, Cats Claw and Golden Seal.

Tonic and recovery effects are assisted with Codonopsis, Astragalus, Oats and Licorice Root. Respiratory and lung herbs effectively treat chest infections and severe coughs. These include; Inula, Ribwort, Licorice, Mullein, Pleurisy root, Hyssop and Wild Cherry bark.

General resistance herbs include; Cinnamon, Garlic, Ginger, Olive leaf, Fenugreek and Turmeric to maintain health. Herbal medicine has clinical and scientific efficacy helping to strengthen and nourish body tissue, invaluable in preventing infections. Treatment may be before, during or after illness.


Rhodiola rosea

Common names: Golden root, rose root, arctic root.

Botanical Family: Crassulaceae. Part used: Root

As part of my series on Nervines or herbs exerting a positive action on the nervous system, I would like to introduce Rhodiola. This is fast becoming one of my favourite herbs due to its unique actions and its ‘super-herb’ abilities.

Russian scientists and Western researchers have accumulated an impressive amount of scientific research to validate its abilities as neuro and cardio-protective, ie protecting brain, nerves, heart and blood vessels. Also it has tonic, immune-modulatory, adaptagenic and antioxidant properties. In other words in enhances physical, emotional and mental performance, particularly in times of severe stress. The saying of adaptagens in herbal medicine is ‘by taking these herbs particularly through stressful periods allows one to handle more crap for longer ‘ and not pay the price as often happens due to adrenal exhaustion.

Rhodiola boosts immune function, increases concentration, memory and energy.

It increases resistance to altitude sickness, assists with depression, anxiety and nervous system disorders. Interestingly, it assists with sexual dysfunction, anaemia, and chronic infections including post-viral syndromes, fibromyalgia and aspects of thyroid dysfunction.

Mode of Action

  1. Rhodiola has a balancing effect on the HPA (Hypothalamus, Pituitary and Adrenal) axis and has been shown to favorably impact cortisol levels and modulate the stress response.
  2. It also modulates the levels and activity of monoamines and opioid peptides such as beta-endorphins.
  3. The potent antioxidant activities of Rhodiola contributes to its adaptogenic effects.
  4. It modulates the immune system and improves physical stamina by increasing the production of ATP and has been shown to improve mental capacity under stressful circumstances.

Clinical Trials

A recent systematic review of randomized clinical trials found Rhodiola to be safe with beneficial effects on physical performance, mental performance and in certain mental health conditions related to stress.

As a tonic, I mix it with Withania, Bacopa, Astragalus, Rhemania, Schisandra and St Johns Wort, Magnolia or Passionflower and Skullcap, to assist clients; immune function, exhaustion, nervous debility, depression, anxiety and mental fatigue.


Chen, T.,S.,Liou, S.,Y., & Chang, Y., L.,(2008),Antioxidant evaluation of three adaptogen extracts, The American Journal of Chinese Medicine, 36(6), 1209-1217.

Hung, S.,K., Perry, R., & Ernst, E., (2011), The effectiveness an efficacy of Rhodiola rosea L a systematic review of randomized clinical trials. Phytomedicine, 18(4), 235-244.

Panossian, A.,G., (2013), Adaptogens in mental and behavioral disorders. The Psychiatric Clinics of North American, 36(1), 49-64.

Panossian, A.,G.,wikman, G., & Sarris, J.(2010),Rosenroot (Rhodiola rosea): Traditional use, chemical composition, pharmacology and clinical efficacy. Phytomedicine, 17(7), 481-493.

Ross, S., M., (2014), Rhodiola rosea (SHR-5), part 1 Holistic Nursing Practice, 28(2), 149-154.

Skullcap (Scutellaria Latiflora)

Skullcap is one of the most widely used herbs for anxiety and nervous conditions. It is a traditional herb used for soothing a frazzled nervous system and appears to work via the GABAergic system, often through an interaction with the benzodiazepine site on GABAA receptors for its anxiolytic (assist with anxiety) activities. Also Skullcap has demonstrated neuroprotective qualities via significant antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions (lohani et al, 2013).

A recent placebo-controlled, double-blind crossover study involving 43 healthy volunteers consuming 350 mg of Skullcap in a capsule three times a day for a period of two weeks found this intervention to significantly enhance global mood without reducing energy or cognition involving 19 healthy subjects obtained similar outcomes, noting a significant reduction in perceived anxiety without impairment of intellect or vitality (Wolfson & Hoffmann, 2003).

In clinic Skullcap is used to treat:

  • Nervous excitability, restlessness, wakefulness, anxiety
  • Physical or mental tiredness
  • Headache, depression
  • Epilepsy