Meet The Helpers
The right kind of herbs can be a great asset not only during times of heavy pressure, but also to help increase your body’s adaptive energy so you can take a lot more pressure without cracking. Hans Selye, the father of stress, did not believe this could be done. Now, thanks mostly to research carried out in Russia we know it can – provided you know your herbs well and choose the right ones.
There are two classes of herbals that are helpful when it comes to stress. The first are the adaptogens. These are agents which can help protect you against mental and physical fatigue.
The second group are the problem solvers such as valerian – an excellent alternative to tranquilizers when you need some extra help, or echinacea, which is an immune booster should you feel yourself in danger of getting a cold or flu during very demanding times.
Rather like people, each herb has its own personality. Get to know them; they can be great friends for stress and overall health, enhancing your energy levels, protecting you from fatigue and illness, and helping you to unwind.
Let’s look at the adaptogens first.
medicines for the well
The adaptogens include a wide variety of natural substances. In practical terms, they improve your ability to adapt to all forms of stress, while at the same time helping to normalize its biochemical effects. Taken as ‘medicines for well people’ adaptogens can be remarkably helpful in keeping you youthful and full of vitality. Russian researcher II Brekhman at the Institute of Marine Biology Far-East Scientific Center of the Academy of Science in Vladivostock has probably done more than any other single scientist to find natural substances with adaptogenic properties, and to test their effects both on animals and humans. One of the first natural substances which Brekhman and his coworkers investigated which had this ability was Panax ginseng. Probably the most well-known and highly respected natural medicine in the world, the ginseng root was first used for medicinal purposes more than 4,000 years ago ‘to restore the five internal organs, tranquilize the spirit, calm agitation of the mind, allay excitement, and ward off harmful influences.’
for perfect harmony
Over-processing and heat treatments destroy many of the beneficial effects of the adaptogens; as a result, most of the ginseng you find on the market is pretty useless. You need to choose your products carefully. There are three true ginseng plants: Panax ginseng, which is the original Korean/Chinese plant: Tienchi (Panax noto-ginseng) which is another Eastern version of the plant: And Panax Quinquefolius, or American ginseng. The active chemicals in ginseng are compounds called ginsenosides, of which there are thirteen. They lie at the core of ginseng’s anti-stress properties. When choosing ginseng you need to look for a standardized ginseng extract with a guaranteed percentage of ginsenosides. Panax ginseng comes from Korea or China. The best quality roots are the big red ones which are six years old. Second are the white roots and third are the red grown in Japan, so look for country of origin when buying them. The whole roots are best to take, with root pieces and extracts following in that order. Ginseng tablets and powders often contain ‘fillers’ and are much less potent. American ginseng – Panax Quinquefolius – is usually less effective than Panax ginseng, unless you can get large old roots which are hard to come by.
Unlike most other stimulants in common use, ginseng does not produce a sudden rapid rise in blood sugar followed by an unpleasant dip in energy. Nor is there any danger of becoming dependent on it. Also, Brekhman and others have found that ginseng acts as a stimulant without causing insomnia, and that it not only helps stave off fatigue but also strengthens the organism as a whole. The beneficial effects of taking ginseng multiply and build up over the period in which it is used. And ginseng’s benefits last long afterwards.
Another adaptogen which has now been widely investigated, particularly in the Soviet Union, is eleuthrococcus senticosus or Siberian ginseng. Members of the same family, but really a different species, eleuthrococcus’ therapeutic properties were only discovered in the past 50 years. Like ginseng, it has the capacity to strengthen the body’s ability to resist illness, degeneration and fatigue, while never upsetting its natural functions. It is also a mild stimulant, the stimulant action lasting between six to eight hours. But its tonic effects are accumulative – they come gradually over a few weeks. They include increased stamina, better sleep patterns, better memory, cleaner thinking and improved athletic performance.
Brekhman and many Russian researchers believe that eleuthrococcus is an even better adaptogen than ginseng. But there have so far been very few well-controlled studies to validate their claims. The best form of eleuthrococcus senticosus comes in extract direct from the Soviet Union. It has been carefully low-heat processed to preserve its biological activity.
The most exciting herb I have come across for a long time is suma (Pfaffia paniculata). Locally known as Para Todo – “for everything” – suma has been used by Brazilian Indians for centuries as an aphrodisiac and general tonic. Recent research shows that, like good ginseng, the wild root of the suma plant also has strong adaptogenic proprieties. Suma is well worth looking at as a nutritional support to raise your energy levels, enhance your ability to be very active – both mentally and physically without fatigue or damage – and detoxify your cells as a prevention against premature aging and degeneration.
Apart from the adaptogenics, which strengthen the organism against stress, there are two general herbs which can be a real help during times of heavy pressure – echinacea and valerian.
daisy with a difference
The immune system plays an important part in protecting from stress-damage. For prolonged stress can interfere with the immune system and you can become highly susceptible to infectious illnesses. That’s where echinacea comes in handy. Known as Purple Coneflower, echinacea is a member of the Composite (daisy) family with potent antibiotic and anti-viral effects. The roots of two species, E. purpurea and E. angustifolia, have long been used against infection, and in detoxifying the body, by native peoples including the American Plains Indians.
In recent years, the herb has been heavily researched in Germany, where numerous scientific studies now verify its health-promoting abilities. In Germany there are now more than 200 prescription products based on echinacea or its derivatives. Echinacea is able to amplify the activity of the immune system not only by helping an ailing body to recover swiftly, but by helping protect from infections such as colds and flu during the long winter months. I find it a welcome friend taken daily as a preventative during ‘flu season’ as well as a great boon to recovery if you feel yourself coming down with an infection.
There is one more herb that can be enormously helpful especially when you become so wound up that you find it difficult to come down. Valerian, Valeriana officinalis, lives up beautifully to its folk reputation as a natural tranquilizer. Recent research confirms this common herb has a remarkable ability to normalize the workings of the central nervous system. Scientific research confirms that valerian is a superb natural sedative. One of the major problems with drug-based sleeping pills is that, while they will put you to sleep, they can also interfere with the quality of the sleep you get when taking them, and leave you with a ‘hangover’ of fatigue in the morning. Researchers found that valerian not only significantly improved sleep quality it also left subjects with no hangover the next morning. But it is just as good as a de-tenser. I find it particularly helpful when I have been traveling across time zones as a help in readjusting my sleep patterns.
Get acquainted with a few of the best herbal stress-helpers. They are good friends to have around when you need them.