In recent years the scientific community has shed an amazing amount of information about our gut health. One is the discoveries that not only is the brain in your head doing the work but actually there is a brain inside your gut too called the enteric nervous system.
Comprised of neurons, neurotransmitters and proteins housed in the tissue of the entire digestive tract from esophagus to colon, your Enteric Brain functions just like the brain in your head in that it carries out complex processes and is capable of learning, able to remember and of course, emits gut instincts. The vagus nerve, know as the "wandering" nerve connects our two brains. This nerve runs through the body and controls the heart beat, affects speech, regulates the movement of the lungs, the stomach and goes all the way down to the lower intestines and regulates that region as well. These two brains are created from the same tissue in a developing fetus and evolve separately. They are later connected via the vagus nerve as mentioned above.
When we feel nervous or some other discomfort, that feeling travels down the vagus nerve causing the heart rate to increase, palms to sweat, "butterflies" in your stomach and can even affect speech, causing a nervous stammer.
Of course it makes sense: the brain in your head and the brain in your belly are connected! Of course the foods you eat have an impact on your emotions! Of course IBS and other gut conditions are a physical manifestation of mental or emotional stress because everything is connected in our physiology! Thus, understanding this relationship can drastically change our approach to resolving these ailments whether through individualized diet plans, herbs, fermented foods, pro-biotics and so forth.
With that being said, then we can try to use some herbs that help to stimulate digestion, calm the nerves and ease anxiety. One herb that comes to mind is Skullcap.
Skullcap (Scutellaria laterifoli) is one of the most widely used nervines in the plant kingdom. A nervine is an herb that calms, nourishes, and strengthens the nervous system. Skullcap can be grown in moderate climates as long as it is in partial shade spot and has sufficient water. I grow it here in the foothills and it does great in the shade with adequate water. Skullcap is in the mint family and so has the usual square stem that mints have. Its flowers are small and in a shade of blue/purple and spreads by runners.
Skullcap are used for nervous exhaustion and help to ease the tensions associated with premenstrual time. Skullcap is bitter, cold and drying in nature. Ir helps reduce anxiety and fear. It calms the heart and helps to induce clarity and tranquility. It allays excitability and restores control over disturbed sensory and motor functions, such as tremors, muscle spasms, and nervous stomach. It can also be taken to help handle insomnia and feelings of anxiety. Also, because of its bitter nature, skullcap is excellent for digestion, as it stimulate the production of digestive enzymes in the system.
You can purchase skullcap in capsules or as an extract. (An extract, also called a tincture, is made by putting the herb into alcohol and allowing the properties to extract into the liquid.)
Hops is another herb that is great for the digestion and the nerves as well. When people think of hops they have an image of beer. However, hops wasn't used in brewing in Europe until the 11th century and it was never used in traditional English ale. Initially, hops was thought to encourage a melancholic mood and too many hops in German style beer was stated by an ancient herbalist as, " ill for the head." Hops, however, was considered to mellow out the more hot headed, angry type of person.
In late summer the female plant produces hundreds of strobiles that look like little green pine cones and are often mistaken for the flower part. Tucked inside the leaf bract is a tiny fruit and a wonderful golden pollen like substance which is the active constituent of hops.
For its nervine and sedative properties the plant is most effective dried. Hops is also a very bitter tasting herb thus it is good for the digestion. It can be combined with equal parts of peppermint and chamomile; one or two capsules of the powered herbs can be taken before meals or if you are using a tincture ( alcoholic extract) then take about 15 - 30 drops. It can be combined with skullcap as well for a good nights sleep and to aid digestion and anxiety.
I hope this article gives you some ideas about digestion and the nervous system. And don't forget to have fermented food on a regular basis to restock the good flora in your gut that keep you healthy and your immune system strong!!s