8 Mood Boosting Herbs To Help Find Balance

In recognition of World Mental Health Day on Sat, Oct 10th, Blendtopia has launched a week long campaign focused on creating awareness as we bring together a community to show support and encouragement for one another. We’ve partnered with the mental health non-profit, To Write Love On Her Arms, and will be donating 10% of ALL online sales proceeds for the month of October 2020.

In today’s post we share our favorite mood boosting herbs that can help you to find balance and alleviate stress. Many have been used for thousands of years in both Ayurvedic and ancient Chinese medicine and can have incredibly impactful effects on your well-being.

An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. So when life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means that it’s going to launch you into something great.

Paulo Coelho

Chronic Stress Can Wreak Havoc

Chronic stress wears the body down. It impacts the nervous system, cardiovascular system, endocrine system, immune system – all of our major working parts. Stress doesn’t just impact the physical body either. Mentally, stress can manifest as inner self-talk that is harsh, negative and circular. Emotionally, it can lead to exhaustion, frustration, anger and an inability to manage emotions.

Here’s where plans can help us. While herbs won’t eliminate the causes of stress in our lives, many plants allies can support, soothe and balance our physical and emotional bodies was we experience chronic stress and anxiety.

What Is A Tonic Herb?

Tonic herbs are remedies that can be taken safely over a long period of time. In fact, they’re most effective when used regularly on a daily basis. These botanicals work steadily to rejuvenate, balance, restore and nourish our bodies.

Many tonic herbs are also adaptogens, which specifically balance and mitigate the effects of stress. Traditionally, these herbs have been used as longevity and vitality tonics. In this day and age, nearly all of us will can benefit from their profound effects and support for both our stress and anxiety.

Ashwaghanda

The traditional use of this rejuvenative herb in Ayurvedic medicine is for rebuilding strength after a long illness, especially for children and elders. It’s highly useful for issues presenting as deficiency (low-weight, under-functioning, hypo-conditions).

As an adaptogen, ashwagandha helps the body moderate stress. As a nervine, it supports the body in regulating anxiety. It’s also immunomodulating, being especially helpful for those who experience low energy and frequent illness stemming from being overwork. It helps reduce levels of cortisol (a stress hormone), and can support those who have difficulty sleeping, concentrating, or who have memory problems.

Holy Basil or Tulsi

Holy basil, also known as tulsi, is a rejuvenative tonic in Ayurvedic medicine—the traditional system of healing in India—that has been used for more than 3,000 years. A sacred and holy herb, the aboveground parts have been used as a tonic for the upper respiratory tract and lungs, as well as the digestive system. Tulsi is an important plant for spiritual and emotional growth, as it’s known to balance the mind and is used as a meditative aid. As an adaptogen, it helps the body regulate stress. As an immune-modulator, anti-depressant, antioxidant, and nervine, it can support those who are overworked and overstressed, especially those who get sick frequently or experience anxiety and/or depression related to stress.

Mucuna

Sometimes referred to as nature’s “chill pill”, mucuna pruriens is a master adaptogen. Adoptogenic herbs contain a unique set of phytonutrients that feed the adrenals, balance hormones and significantly reduce stress levels by lowering cortisol. Mucuna is a potent, safe, and corrective superherb that helps protect your body from the damaging effects of stress. Mucuna contains L-dopa, the immediate precursor to dopamine, a neurotransmitter that ignites the brain’s pleasure centers. It’s primary compound L-dopa is a precursor to dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline.

Milky Oats

Milky oats come from the same plant as oatmeal but we harvest the seeds before they ripen, during a stage in which they exude a white milky latex. The harvesting window is narrow, but the rewards are vast. One of the unique traits of this plant is that it is a trophorestorative (an herb that restores nourishment) for the nervous system, making it an important resource for adrenal exhaustion and chronic fatigue. It’s also helpful for anxiety and depression associated with insomnia or overwhelm, and for anxiety arising from depression. This medicine is best taken as a tincture made from the fresh milky seed heads.

Stinging Nettles

Stinging nettle leaves pack a mighty nutritive punch. High in vitamins A, C, D, and K, chlorophyll, iron, magnesium, potassium, and calcium, this plant makes for an important ally when we’re feeling depleted during times of high stress, or are in recovery from overwork and overwhelm. It has a hypotensive effect and helps the body release toxins through its alterative (detox and cleansing) and diuretic actions. It makes a delicious tea as well as tincture, and is an excellent food herb that can be mixed into soups, sautés, and pestos. Make sure to harvest fresh plants with gloves to protect your hands and arms from the stinging hairs. Cooking or blending the leaves will deactivate the sting, as will drying the leaves for tea.

Schisandra

Schisandra is a powerful anti-anxiety herb tonic, in addition to its ability to boost ones mood through lowering stress levels and enhancing mental performance. Its adaptogenic qualities mean that it specifically reduces both mental and physical stress, exerting a normalizing effect on the body. Schisandra helps to reduce cortisol levels in the body (the stress hormone) and is effective in controlling changes in serotonin and adrenaline caused by stress. This adaptogenic berry also fights the adrenal fatigue also linked to stress.

Skullcap

Think of skullcap when anxiety is accompanied by overwhelm. This is an excellent plant friend to have around if you hold tension in the body, grind your teeth, and experience body pains related to anxiety and stress. This is a great herb to work with if you do any body-based stress relief practice, including yoga or somatic experiencing. Not only is skullcap helpful in a tonic formula for general anxiety, it’s also helpful for easing acute anxiety and panic attacks. Harvest the aboveground parts in flower and dry for teas, or use fresh or dried to prepare a tincture.

Chamomile

Chamomile is a well-known aromatic herb with a powerful ability to calm the spirit and the stomach. It can help to calm the nervous system, relieves headaches, soothes menstrual cramps, and aids sleep. Studies have shown that chamomile is not only a relaxing herb but it also helps to reduce anxiety. Much of chamomile’s relaxing qualities are due to phenolics such as flavonoids, quinones, phenolic acids, and other antioxidant compounds present within the plant. Tea, tinctures, essential oils or bath are all wonderful uses.

Linden

The sweet scent of linden flowers is wonderful and gently soothes the nervous system. Linden has been used to help people experiencing anxiety, depression, insomnia, and digestive issues related to stress. As an antispasmodic, it helps relieve body tension and relax muscles. Linden also has an affinity for the heart and helps with emotional uplift. Use fresh flowers or dry them for teas and tinctures. 

Practices To Help Reduce Stress

While herbs are incredible allies for balancing stress, they’re meant to be used in addition to living a healthy lifestyle. Making changes to our daily lifestyles should be at the heart of any holistic stress therapy.

A slew of factors impacts our ability to manage and process stress, including diet, sleep, exercise, and friendship. If you’d like to enhance your herbal medicine practice with lifestyle adjustments, try the simple suggestions below to begin creating a personal plan for balancing stress in your life.

  • Eat a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals.
  • Get your heart rate up daily.
  • Try grounding and centering meditations (try an app like Insight Timer or Calm).
  • Journaling/drawing your thoughts, feelings, dreams, and reflections.
  • Gratitude practice: write or say three things you are grateful for each day.
  • Do at least one activity per day that brings you joy and increases wellbeing (take a walk, call a friend, make a cup of tea, get out in the garden, etc.)

How To Make Herbal Tinctures

Why not make your own tonic tincture by combining your choice of herbs. You can certainly take herbal supplements or make herbal teas but taking a daily tincture is a powerful way to combat and relieve stress.

The only supplies you’ll need include organic herbs, glass jars (either with a plastic lid or parchment paper/a sandwich bag to protect the metal lid from corrosion), a knife or chopper, metal funnel, cheesecloth, alcohol (sometimes called a “menstruum” in tincture preparations), and amber glass dropper bottles.

Important Tincturing Tips:

  • Plant Material Portions – Fresh vs Dried
  • Bottling Your Tinctures

Your first step is to fill your tincturing container with the correct amount of herbs. Proportions are important here: too little, and you’ll end up with a weak tincture. Too much, and the amount of alcohol added won’t be enough to pull out all the plant goodness from your herbs.

The appropriate alcohol strength and the relative amount of plant material to use will vary based on what you’re tincturing. Here are some basic measurement guidelines:

FRESH LEAVES & FLOWERS

• Finely chop or grind clean herb to release juice and expose surface area.
• Only fill jar 2/3 to 3/4 with herb(s).
• Pour alcohol to the very top of the jar. Cover plants completely!
• Jar should appear full of herb, but herb should move freely when shaken.

DRIED LEAVES & FLOWERS

• Use finely cut herbal material.
• Only fill jar 1/2 to 3/4 with herb(s).
• Pour alcohol to the very top of the jar. Cover plants completely!

FRESH ROOTS, BARKS, & BERRIES

• Finely chop or grind clean plants to release juice and expose surface area.
• Only fill jar 1/3 to 1/2 with fresh roots, barks, or berries.
• Pour alcohol to the very top of the jar. Cover plants completely!
• Jar should appear full of herb, but herb should move freely when shaken.

DRIED ROOTS, BARKS, BERRIES

• Use finely cut herbal material.
• Only fill jar 1/4 to 1/3 with dried roots, barks, or berries.
• Pour alcohol to the very top of the jar. Cover plants completely!
• Roots and berries will double in size when reconstituted!

  • Alcohol Type & Strength

Once you’ve filled your container with the correct amount of plant material, you’ll need to fill the rest of the space with a high-proof alcohol. Most spirits will work, but many herbalists favor a high-quality, clear, and low-flavor liquor like vodka or grain alcohol. Note that stronger alcohol types can be diluted with distilled water to reach a lower alcohol content by volume.

The appropriate alcohol strength for your tincture will depend upon the qualities of the plant material being used. Stronger is not always better!

TIPS FOR MATCHING YOUR ALCOHOL STRENGTH TO THE HERB BEING TINCTURED:

40% to 50% alcohol by volume (80- to 90-proof vodka)
• “Standard” percentage range for tinctures.
• Good for most dried herbs and fresh herbs that are not super juicy.
• Good for extraction of water-soluble properties.

67.5% to 70% alcohol by volume (half 80-proof vodka and half 190-proof grain alcohol)
• Extracts the most volatile aromatic properties.
• Good for fresh, high-moisture herbs like lemon balm, berries, and aromatic roots.
• The higher alcohol percentage will draw out more of the plant juices.

85% to 95% alcohol by volume (190-proof grain alcohol)
• Good for dissolving gums and resins but not necessary for most plant material.  
• Extracts the aromatics and essential oils bound in a plant that don’t dissipate easily.
• This alcohol strength can produce a tincture that’s not easy to take and will also dehydrate the herbs if used for botanicals beyond gums and resins.

  • Tincture Extraction Time

Tinctures should be secured with a lid during extraction. Since some tinctures can effectively melt plastic (particularly those with aromatic herbs), we recommend using a standard metal canning jar lid with rim. If you plan to let your tincture macerate for six months or more, you may consider protecting your lid from corrosion by placing a layer of parchment paper underneath the lid before securing the rim (a paper sandwich bag works well too). If you opt for this option, try to leave as little air space between the liquid and lid as possible, as too much air plus the parchment may cause tinctures of insufficient alcohol content to develop rot.

Store your tincture in a cool, dark, dry place. Shake several times a week, and check your alcohol levels. If the alcohol has evaporated a bit and the herb is not totally submerged, be sure to top off the jar with more alcohol. Herbs exposed to air can introduce mold and bacteria into your tincture. Allow the mixture to extract for 6 to 8 weeks.

  • How To Bottle Your Tinctures

Now it’s time to squeeze! Drape a damp cheesecloth over a funnel and place into a cobalt or amber glass bottle. Pour tincture into funnel and allow to drip. Then squeeze and twist until you can twist no more. Another option is to blend herbs into a mush and strain the remaining liquid. Keep extracts in a cool, dark place and your tinctures may last for many years.

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