Author: Winston Craig, MPH, PhD, RD.
Sometimes things get out of control in your life. You get really stressed out. And what is the result of chronic stress? Constant fatigue, memory failure, lapses in concentration, and depression. You become inefficient, and you enjoy life less and less.
Unmanaged stress can also lead to high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, elevated blood lipids, insomnia, ulcers and irritable bowel, tension headaches, backaches, allergies, irregular heartbeats, and a depressed immune system with an increased susceptibility to infections.
There are a number of successful ways to cope effectively with ongoing stress. Firstly, you must identify the stress factors in your life, learn to set boundaries, and prioritize your tasks. It is very important to develop a regular exercise program, take time to relax, get adequate sleep, and take time every day for meditation.
In addition, there are some herbs that are known to assist you to relax and reduce your anxiety levels. Herbal sedatives have a wide appeal because of their lower cost and higher margin of safety compared to conventional pharmaceuticals.
Kava and Valerian
The most commonly used herb for the treatment of nervous anxiety and stress is kava kava (Piper methysticum). It has been successfully used for many years throughout Europe as a mild sedative and provides relief of anxiety disorders, stress, insomnia, and restlessness. Recent reports of liver toxicity have raised concern about the long term use of kava.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is another well-known herb used effectively as a mild tranquilizer. The Commision E has approved its use for restlessness and insomnia. Valerian has a great safety record with long-term use as a sedative.
Passionflower, (Passiflora incarnata), is another herb used to provide sedative activity. Passionflower, also known as passion vine or apricot vine, is a hardy, climbing vine that is noted for its beautiful flowers, and tasty fruit. This perennial creeper is native to Central and South America, the West Indies, and the southeast region of the United States.
The aerial parts are normally collected during the flowering and fruiting period, and used either fresh or dried. The mild sedative activity of passionflower extracts is found mostly in the leaves and stems of the plant, while the flowers and roots provide little activity.
Passionflower was cultivated by Native Americans, both for its edible fruit and for its medicinal value. In the nineteenth Century, it was a popular treatment for insomnia. Europeans learned about passionflower from the Aztecs of Mexico, who used it as a sedative to treat insomnia and nervousness. The plant was taken to Europe where it is now widely cultivated and used in herbal medicine (as a tea or as capsules), in combination with valerian and lemon balm. There appears to be a synergism between the components in this mixture. This herbal preparation is a useful treatment for tenseness, restlessness, and irritability, as it provides mild sedation without any addictive properties.
The fragrant lavender flowers that appear in the summer are followed by ovoid fruits that are about two inches long. Passionflower extract may be used in foods and beverages as a flavoring agent. The ripe fruits can be eaten raw, or used for making jams, jellies, and drinks. The fruit is commonly added to fruit salads to provide a rich tropical flavor. The flowers may also be made into syrup.
Passionflower fruit contains delicious, juicy, yellow pulp mixed with many small black seeds. The fruit has recently been found to be a great source of lycopene, the health-promoting red carotenoid pigment also found in tomatoes, watermelon, pink grapefruit, and papaya. Passion fruit juice contains phytochemicals that inhibit neoplastic changes in cells, thus reducing the growth of a tumor. Passionflower is known to contain a variety of flavonoids, and other health-promoting phenolic compounds.
Symbols of the Passion
Spanish missionaries gave the name passionflower to the plant because of the unusual nature of the violet flowers that contained elements symbolic of the passion of Christ. Its coronal threads were seen as a symbol for the crown of thorns, the curling tendrils represented the whip, the five anthers represented the wounds, the three stigmas represented the nails on the cross, the ovary represented by the hammer, while the five petals and five sepals of the flower represent the 10 “true” disciples (Peter and Judas were considered unfaithful).
Today, passionflower is recognized as an effective agent for the management and treatment of generalized anxiety disorders such as nervous restlessness, stress, nervous tension, irritability, anxiety, in addition to mild insomnia, and gastrointestinal disorders of nervous origin. Passionflower does appear in some sleep aid formulations on the market.
No side effects that are typically observed with conventional tranquilizers, such as an impairment of memory or motor skills, are seen with the use of passionflower. In addition, there are no contraindications for its use. The typical dose is about 1 to 2 grams of finely chopped herb. A tea is made by steeping a teaspoon of dried herb in half a cup of boiling water for 15 minutes. Two to three cups of such tea may be drunk throughout the day.