Art by Bonnie Rose Weaver

Herbs to Support the Nervous System

The impact on our nervous system is somewhat secondary to our primary concerns with COVID-19. However, managing stress, anxiety, fear and panic improves our immunity. Herbalists use the term nervine to describe a plant that acts on the nervous system. The majority of nervines calm and cool the nerves, which can soothe difficult emotions. Many nervines are sedating to varying degrees, so they may help you sleep or ease your stress down a notch.

Matricaria* (chamomile) Tea Tinc

Eases panic and anxiety that affect digestion, particularly tension, gas, and indigestion; relief of aches and pains with the flu. Excellent and safe for pregnant people and children.

Avena* (milky oat) Tinc Tea

Rebuilds the tissue of the nervous system; like a cool, calm balm for your nerves, works both acutely and builds over time; warming. Oatmeal is made from a different stage of the same plant, so if you can’t find milky oats, try eating oatmeal. Safe for kids and good for everybody.

Melissa* (lemon balm) Tea Tinc

Uplifts mood, anti-viral, particularly good when anxiety, fear, or panic affect digestion; cooling.

Scutellaria* (skullcap) Tinc (fresh plant) Tea 

Gentle nervine to take the edge off of difficult feelings and support relaxation; cold.

Nepeta* (catnip) Tea Tinc Steam

Relaxing and gentle; particularly good when anxiety, fear, or panic affect digestion; cooing. Safe for kids.  

Passiflora** (passionflower) Tea Tinc

Gently relaxes muscles and nerves; can ease nerve pain and musculoskeletal pain; supportive of sleep, can be sedating in larger doses; cooling. Do not combine with other nervous system depressants; not recommended for folks with low blood pressure or in high doses with sleep apnea.

Lavandula* (lavender) Tea Tinc Steam

Antibacterial, slightly uplifts mood, reduces anxiety and depression; cooling. Consider visiting a local bush, or engaging with it via soaps, lotion or essential oil.

Eschscholtzia** (california poppy) Tinc

Strong relaxant/hypnotic, can use for panic/anxiety attack or insomnia; calming, centering, if you’re feeling fearful or vulnerable; neutral temp. Do not combine with other nervous system depressants.

Ocimum sanctum** (tulsi/holy basil) Tea Tinc Steam

Relaxing; aids in reducing emotional and physical stress.

Rosa spp.* (rose) Tea Tinc Steam

General balm for grief; soothing and uplifting to the emotional heart; cooling.

Preventative Care Practices | Herbs to Support Immune Function & Lymph | Herbs to Support the Lungs | Herbs to Support the Liver & Digestion | Herbs to Support the Nervous System | Early Infection Phase | Resources | Clinical Herbalists | Sourcing Herbs

Key to Plant Entries

Tea infusion made with leaves, flowers, and other airy bits: steep in boiled water, covered, for 20 mins; standard therapeutic dose: about 5g/day, or 1 small palmful

Tinc a tincture is an extraction in alcohol; for medicinal mushrooms, should be a double-extraction; preventive dose (staying at home): 8–10 drops 1x/day; preventative dose (leaving the house): 10–12 drops 2/day; acute doses range from 1 drop to 1 tsp per dose, up to 6x/day, depending on the plant, the preparation, and the person; consult a more experienced person if you need guidance

Steam pour boiled water over plant material in a large bowl, tent head with towel and inhale deeply for 3–5 minutes, 3–5x/day

* Safe for most people

** Avoid if pregnant or nursing; however, exceptions may be made depending on gestational phase and/or dose. For more questions, seek expert advice, as dosing or specifics on this topic is outside the scope of this guide

***Not safe for long-term internal use by anyone. Recommended for short-term use by generally healthy individuals

A Note on Sustainability and Choice of Herbs

In our clinical practices we prioritize the use of weedy, widely available herbs, the ones in our gardens and kitchens, and we have focused on those plants here. In an effort to respect Indigenous knowledge and resources, we avoid commercial use of sacred Indigenous plants as well as plants from traditions and geographies that we are unfamiliar with.

That said, because of the best information currently available on herbal protocols for coronaviruses, including SARS-CoV-2, some herbs in this document are widely used in TCM and come from that tradition, and some come from Indigenous medicine traditions.

We have deliberately excluded some herbs that are Indigenous to Turtle Island (aka North America) and are at risk of becoming endangered due to overharvesting and habitat destruction, including Lomatium, Ligusticum (Osha), Anemopsis (Yerba Mansa). We do not believe these herbs should be widely used, even though they would likely be supportive for this illness, and you will see others recommend them. We urge you to never use these herbs unless you can verify that they have been organically grown (instead of harvested from the wild, or “wildcrafted”). For more information about endangered and at-risk plant species, please see United Plant Savers.

We believe the herbs we have included in this guide will do what we need clinically and can be used without threatening the long-term population health of herbs that are crucial to Indigenous healers and their communities.

Please use your best judgement in sourcing herbs with an eye to upholding traditional knowledge-keepers, prioritizing Indigenous access to traditional medicines, and safeguarding sustainability in the widest possible sense. While this is certainly an urgent situation, it is not the first and it will not be the last, so we must work collectively to uphold the highest ethical standards of practice.If we want the herbs to take care of us, we must in return take care of them.


The full “Get Radical, Boil Roots” guide can be viewed as a live google doc (copying and printing not enabled).

For more about Gina Badger’s orientation to energetic herbalism, self and community care in these times, and my top herbs for the pandemic, check out my recent interview on the home|body podcast.