Food as Medicine

Nervines: Plants That Can Affect our Mood

Nervines are able to affect our nervous system by affecting the way that we feel mentally and physically. They can make us feel more stimulated or anxious, calm, or even and stable depending on what you consume.

Americans use nervines almost every day, most commonly in beverages like coffee and tea. The majority of adults consume at least one cup of coffee every morning before they rush to work, especially in New York City. Coffee stimulates your body making you feel more awake but it can also create an anxious feeling in some individuals when drinking too much.

Tea is more or less thought of as a relaxing drink before bedtime or just to feel calm throughout the day. However, this does depend on the amount of caffeine that’s in the tea. Many teas can be used to calm the body but if there is caffeine, it may be more stimulating than relaxing.

There are 3 categories of nervines: nervine stimulant, nervine relaxant and nervine tonic.

1. Nervine stimulant: can help support our nervous system by alerting our bodies. We feel more awake when we take a stimulant due to the caffeine percentage in the herb. They can cause side effects such as poor sleep quality if taken too close to bedtime and anxiety.

  • Camellia Sinensis (green and black tea)
  • Yerba Mate
  • Guarana
  • Cola nitida
  • Coffee arabica (coffee)

2. Nervine relaxant: is commonly used in people who suffer from anxiety and sleep disorders or function. It is also a great way to relieve the daily stress of life. They work to exert a calming effect on the body that allows our nerves to relax. Some of the herbs listed are used more as natural sedative such as valerian and hops. Taking these throughout the day and consistently will create the sedative response that those seek.

3. Nervine tonic: is used to even our nerves. This may be the most important category of nervines in society today because of how chaotic our lives are. We are constantly moving and stimulated by our screens so a coffee can become too much. Tonics can help us feel more stable.

The Bottom Line

These herbs can help us get through the hectic lives that we live. They can be used in many ways such as teas, tinctures, extracts, and capsule supplements. This is a natural way to help support our body’s nerves ultimately impacting our mood.

Some herbs can interact with other medications, so it is important to read the labels and consult with a dietitian or physician before taking it. 

Written by Vanessa Marzullo, Dietetic Intern, Hunter College

Reviewed by: Nazirber De La Cruz, RDN, CDN, CDCES

Nazirber De La Cruz is a bilingual registered dietitian and nutritionist who believes that healthy and delicious food should be enjoyed at any stage in life and that an eating plan should fit and satisfy your needs and fit your lifestyle.

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