Hello dear friends!
Those of you who follow me on Facebook and Instagram probably already know that I have been taking an herbalism class for the past few weeks. This semester, after an extended break, I’m back and working towards my holistic health professional certification, and my favorite class so far, hands down, has been about herbs!
I’ve been taking herbs for a few years now, most notably the Gaia Adrenal Health formula, and I have seen tremendous benefits when it comes to my sleep, energy levels, and brain fog. Because I have a background in health-related laboratory sciences and a passion for nature, I've considered herbalist school at several points in my life. So I wanted to get a taste of what it would be like, hence this intro class. Needless to say, I’m hooked! I’ve already tweaked my herbal regimen, created my own multivitamin tincture, and have lots more recipes planned. There’s just something special about taking a plant’s roots, leaves, and berries and hand-crafting your own medicine.
There are a lot of mechanisms in the body that are affected by Lyme, and chronic fatigue (or ME/CFS), and the illness is complex to say the least. But that’s one thing that’s wonderful about herbs- they work on a broader and more systemic basis, to bring about whole-body balance. It’s not like Western medicine with the pills and procedures that target only one area or organ of the body. This is one of the reasons I am drawn to them- because what I deal with is so deep and broad, taking herbs helps detoxify and rebalance my entire being. Naturally, one of the classes of herbs that I most passionate about are the adaptogens, which are herbs that stabilize the entire body systems, notably in helping our bodies handle stress.
These power herbs are getting a little bit more press lately, and hopefully even more in the future. When dealing with any kind of systemic stress, such as chronic illness, or even just modern 21st century life, it’s helpful to have a body that is flexible, adaptable, and sturdy. Especially in CFS, feeling like you’re not as fragile, sensitive, and breakable as you sometimes believe you are is a tremendous gift and a bolster to your mood!
When tackling things like extreme fatigue, brain fog, body aches and pains, and unrefreshing sleep, you may end up taking a dozen individual medications. Or you could just add 2-3 herbs to your routine and get the same (if not better) effects with fewer risks. Granted, I am not a certified herbalist and this blog post is not a substitute for medical care or qualified advice, but I’m becoming more and more of a fan of natural and plant-based remedies.
So without any more chitchat, here are my top three herbs for ME/CFS!
Known by either its Latin name, Withania somnifera, or its popular names of winter cherry or Indian ginseng, ashwagandha is a powerful herb used in the Ayurvedic tradition. These plants are part of the nightshade family, and grow plentifully in the regions of India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. It has been used for centuries to boost energy, vitality, and help the body handle stress and illness.
The word ashwagandha in Sanskrit means “ the smell of a horse”, not only to describe the plant’s musky odor, but describe the physiological effects of the “strength of a stallion and vigor of a mare” (yeah baby!). Because of its systemic action, it may interact with other medications such as thyroid replacement (it can boost thyroid hormone production), and sedatives (it assists the body’s relaxation mechanisms).
The roots are where the magic happens, and are generally sold as dried, chopped up bits for use in tinctures, teas, and to be made into pills. I incorporated ashwagandha into my recent multivitamin/CFS-busting tincture, and it is also an ingredient in the adrenal support supplement I’ve been taking for a while. It’s safe for long-term use, with daily doses ranging from 100-200mg of standardized extract. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should stay away from this herb, and all adaptogens in general.
You can also get a delicious dose of ashwagandha in my fave herbal coffee blend from Rasa Koffee!
Rhodiola rosea, also known as arctic root or golden root, is another adaptogenic herb that is found primarily in the high altitude mountain regions of Europe and Asia. The roots have traditionally been used to combat altitude sickness, fatigue, depression, mental fogginess, and lack of stamina, and because of these wide-ranging effects, rhodiola is typically used as a regular tonic for anyone dealing with stress, depression, or burnout.
Rhodiola is a powerful herb, and most dosages range between 100-500mg for regular stress relief and vitality. Doses over 1,000mg have been shown to have strong sedating effects, but lower doses (under 500mg) typically give a stimulating effect. Because of its stimulating powers, rhodiola may interact with things like caffeine (resulting in the “jitters” or agitation), and other stimulants used to treat depression or bipolar disorder. For these reasons, it is recommended to only take this early in the day, and reduce sources of caffeine and other stimulating herbs. It’s also a no-no for pregnant and breastfeeding ladies.
Rhodiola is the main ingredient in my adrenal support formula, and I really do think it works to combat stress and boost mood. After all, it’s been used for decades in Siberia to restore strength and vigor, and if you know anything about Russian athletes, you can see that it’s a great choice for those suffering from stress, fatigue, and even the wintertime blues.
Arguably one of the most popular herbs used today is valerian, or Valeriana officinalus, also known as garden heliotrope. This powerful perennial grows easily in moderate and temperate climates, and is native to Europe. It appears as a tall, spindly, grassy plant with clusters of delicate white or pink flowers with a pleasant smell. However, it’s the roots that are used medicinally, and those sadly have a strong and unpleasant odor! It reminds me of a boy’s locker room…eew. For this reason, it is typically consumed in pill or powder form, or mixed with other fragrant herbs in a tea preparation. Valerian comes from the Latin word “valere”, meaning “to be well” or “to be strong” and is a potent sedative, muscle relaxant, and anti-anxiety herb.
People with fibromyalgia, Lyme, RA, and other pain disorders can benefit greatly from this abundant herb. And while it’s not great to take for long periods of time (like for chronic insomnia), it’s a whiz at blasting acute insomnia and stress-related anxiety or panic attacks. If you need something on a regular basis for sleep, I’d recommend rotating herbal formulas every 3-4 weeks to give your body a break.
Some people find that valerian gives them the opposite effects than expected, making them agitated or irritable instead of relaxed and calm. Apparently a portion of the population lacks the enzymes to break down the active ingredients, and thus, this remedy is not useful for them. It won’t take long to figure out if you fall into this category, so give it a try and make a note of how you feel.
And another good thing to know: It amplifies the effects of other sedatives and hypnotics, so be aware of dosages and mixing valerian with sleep medications, painkillers, or alcohol. Typical doses for straight valerian are between 400-900mg, and that dose is halved when combined with other sedating herbs like hops or lemon balm.
I’m so jazzed about herbs that I’ll probably write a part II to this blog post, but for now, I hope this has been helpful. If you are interested in incorporating herbs into your routine, be sure to check with a certified herbalist and tell them all the medications you are currently on. Yes, herbs are just as powerful as Western drugs, and can cause serious interactions and side effects if you’re not careful! But if you do it right, and do your homework, you can take advantage of the ancient healing wisdom of these magical plants.
So what about you, friends? Do you take any herbs to help you deal with fatigue, stress, or pain? Please share!
And as always…
~ Hoping you feel as well as possible ~
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