Nervine Tonics and Relaxants for Calming

Dr. Samantha Gray, ND RAc

Stress and the nervous system are intimately connected.  Chronic and acute stress puts the nervous system on alert. The triggered nervous system stimulates engagement of all major systems of the body including the cardiovascular system, the respiratory system, the musculoskeletal system and the gastrointestinal system in order to meet the stress at hand.  A chronically over-activated state of the body is metabolically demanding and over time this causes wear and tear on the body’s organs and tissues.


Ideally, if one is in a state of chronic stress, the lifestyle factor that is causing the chronic stress should be addressed as much as possible.  In addition, naturopathic remedies can also be of assistance to help calm the agitated nerves and thereby settle the body’s systems.  Nervine herbs are particularly effective for this function.  A nervine herb is defined as one that has a beneficial effect on the nervous system.


In the case of chronic stress, we turn to either nervous system relaxants or nervous system tonics.  Nervine relaxants are indicated for times when the nervous system is actively agitated and under considerable strain.  Herbs in this supportive category include Lavender, Passionflower, Scutellaria and Lemon Balm.  These herbs will help one to feel more calm and soothed during times of high stress.  It is highly recommended that these herbs be used under supervision as they can be quite sedating if not used properly.


Nervine tonics on the other hand restore and strengthen a nervous system that needs recovery after prolonged stress.  These lovely herbs nourish and protect the agitated nervous system like a welcome balm.  Herbs in this category include Oats, Bacopa, Borage and Verbena (pictured above).


In addition to nervine tonics, studies have shown that a healthy social network, regular physical exercise and adequate sleep counteract the effects of prolonged and chronic stress.  If you’ve been under a high level of stress, one of the best ways to take care of your physical and mental health is to go to yoga with a friend. After class, share a good chat over a nice cup of nervous system supporting herbal tea and then go to bed early with lavender under your pillow.  Your nervous system will be all the better for it.  In addition, contact your naturopathic physician to assist you in designing a comprehensive strategy to offset the negative effects of stress on your mind, body and soul.




Hoffman, David.  ‘The Herbal Handbook: A User’s Guide to Medical Herbalism“.  Healing Arts Press.  1989.


Stansbury, Jill.  “Herbal Formularies for Health Professionals.  Volume 3.” Chelsea Green Publishing.  2019.