Woodland Herbs February 2012

In this issue
Welcome to your regular newsletter from Woodland Herbs. We hope you will find it interesting, entertaining and useful. If you do not wish to continue to receive this newsletter please use the link at the bottom of this email.
Don't Stress in 2012

Stress sometimes appears to be all around us.  It may be physical (think of an athlete's gruelling training schedule or a builder lugging heavy materials), but in our time-poor technology-rich lives, it's more often psychological or emotional in nature, whether it's down to major life changes such as bereavement or the general pressures of everyday 21st century life.

A completely stress-free life is impossible and undesirable.  Indeed, a little stress can be positive and motivates us to achieve goals and change parts of our lives we don't like.  However too much is certainly not a good thing - stress is being implicated in an increasing number of ailments and illnesses both physical and mental.  Though stress tolerance levels are higher in some than others, the days of equating stress with 'weakness' are thankfully long gone.  Nowadays stress is widely recognised as weakening the immune system, decreasing fertility and in the long term it can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, digestive conditions and ulcers.  People with a whole host of conditions, from psoriasis to angina to PMT, notice that their symptoms are worse when they are stressed.

What happens when we're stressed?
Stress interferes with homeostasis, the self-regulating process by which the body maintains a stable, constant internal environment. When the body is subject to a 'stressor' (something which provokes a stress response, whether this is the sound of a starting pistol or a swirl of thoughts about all the things you need to do), its first reaction is to prepare for danger.  The adrenal glands secrete cortisol and adrenaline until a state of physiological arousal is reached whereby the person can fight with or flight from the perceived danger.  Pupils dilate, breathing and heart rates rise, and digestion stops. This response was helpful back when humans spent much of their time hiding from wild animals, but perhaps less so when we're stuck in traffic in 2012. 

Short term 'fixes'
Unfortunately, stress often makes unhealthy behaviours tempting, with people indulging in self-destructive habits in an effort to cope with or mask stress. Many smokers say they smoke more when they're stressed as it relaxes them.  But nicotine (one of the 4800-odd chemicals in tobacco smoke) actually triggers adrenaline, the stress hormone which causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure.  It's likely that the relaxation associated with smoking at least partly comes from the diaphragmatic breathing involved in inhaling smoke.  The good news is that you can practise diaphragmatic breathing without inhaling dangerous substances.  Simply put a hand over the bottom of your ribs and watch it gently rise and fall with your breath.  You can do this anywhere - certainly more places than you're allowed to smoke!
Similarly, many 'comfort eat' when they are under pressure, only to dislike themselves for doing so. Fortunately, there are many ways to manage stress that are health-promoting rather than health-destroying.

Don't be fooled by quick fixes to stress: learning to manage stress and maintain balance is an on-going process throughout one's life.  Think of it as nurturing yourself in the same way a gardener would tend to a special plant.

- Think differently . Stress isn't so much to do with the outside world, but our response to it. NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming) can be very helpful in reframing life situations in more positive and less overwhelming ways.

- Don't be all thrill and no chill . Take 20 minutes of relaxation every day as part of your health regime.  Try a variety of techniques such as Tai Chi, meditation and self-massage until you find what's best for you.

- Ditch the coffee for herbal alternatives . If you're feeling stressed, a caffeine hit is certainly not going to calm and often makes symptoms of anxiety worse. Many herbs have soothing qualities when drunk as a tea, particularly the pleasant-tasting ones such as Chamomile, Limeflower and Lemon Balm.  Pre-blended loose teas such as Four Flower (Chamomile, Lavender, Rose and Limeflower) and Rose and Lavender are pleasurable both in the teapot and in the bath!

- If you struggle to get through the day without some caffeine, drink more tea than coffee .  Tea may contain caffeine, but it (especially green tea) also contains theanine, an amino acid helpful for alleviating stress (more on theanine below).

- Ask for help . If things are getting too much, consider meeting a counsellor or therapist   Your health professional can likely recommend one in your area. An empathetic professional will be trained in tried and tested ways to cope productively with tricky life situations such as family problems or work pressures.

- Exercise . Whether it's a brisk walk to the park or a long-distance run, exercise increases blood and oxygen to the brain and triggers the release of feel-good endorphins.

- Learn to say no . Remember that we don't have to do everything we're asked and it doesn't mean we're selfish.  In fact, learning to say no (nicely!) can be a responsible act.  If we run ourselves so ragged that we make ourselves ill, it's far more challneging to be of service to others. 

- Make bath and bedtime special . Have a routine that you find nurturing and relaxing.  If it means banning phones and computers after a certain hour, DO IT. The world will still be there in the morning.  Make this your special time; you deserve it.

- Use Essential Oils .  Many essential oils are calming (eg Lavender) or uplifting (eg Bergamot) or help promote a feeling of being 'grounded' (eg Cedar or Sandalwood).  Use them in the bath, in  burners , on tissues to inhale during the day or use diluted (1 drop to 2mls of carrier such as Grapeseed or Sweet Almond oil) for self-massage.  For an accessible, handy guide that won't break the bank, try Christine Westwood's Aromatherapy A Guide For Home Use

- There are a wide range of therapies that different people find helpful during periods of stress.  Massage is a very popular way of destressing, and many people also use therapies such as Acupuncture , Medical Herbalism (more info below), Reflexology and Reiki to relax and unwind. 

See your health professional if you have pronounced or prolonged symptoms of stress. NB: Seek advice if you're pregnant or on medication before using essential oils.

Supplement of the Month: Theanine

" There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea ," once said Basque philosopher Bernard Paul Heroux.  Indeed, it's no surprise that tea ( Camellia sinesis ) has fuelled many an all-night study session and soothed dramas the world over.  Generations of drinkers will tell you that it calms and refreshes, and in recent years this has been backed up by scientific studies focusing on a substance called theanine. Though an amino acid, theanine is not found in protein-rich foods but is almost exclusively found in tea. Higher levels of theanine are to be found in green tea rather than traditional black tea. In terms of its chemical make-up, theanine is similar to glutamine, the body's most widely used amino acid.

Like glutamine, theanine crosses the blood-brain barrier and influences brain wave activity.  It's thought that the substance stimulates alpha waves - the same brain patterns associated with the alert relaxation achieved during meditation.  Without causing sedation or dependency, theanine appears to increase levels of dopamine and serotonin, both of which are involved in stabilising mood and aiding relaxation.

In Japan, where green tea is ubiquitous, a study* was conducted in 2005 which showed that theanine decreases symptoms of stress.  Participants given theanine had lower heart rates and other decreased stress markers when subjected to an 'acute stress task' (a highly pressurised arithmetic test).  The study also cited animal studies showing that theanine reduced blood pressure and the excitory effects of caffeine.  Theanine can be bought in capsule form from Solgar.   It's a fast-acting substance and you can even break open a capsule and put the powder under your tongue.
* Kimura et al, 2006 'L-Theanine reduces psychological and physiological stress responses', Biological Psychology, Vol 74, 1

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, are on any medication or have a medical condition, always consult a healthcare practitioner before taking any dietary supplement or herbal remedy.

siberian ginseng  
Herb of the Month: Siberian Ginseng

There are many plants which people call 'ginseng', the three most commonly mentioned are: Siberian Ginseng ( Eleutherococcus senticoscus ), Korean Ginseng ( Panax ginseng ) and American Ginseng ( Panax quinquefolius ) although the American ginseng is not often used in the UK. Interestingly  Siberian Ginseng isn't a 'true' ginseng (its principle actives are called 'eleutherosides' rather than 'ginsenosides') but it has similar health qualities to the true ginsengs.  All three are adaptogenic, meaning that they help increase the body's tolerance to various stressors and have also been found to regulate the manufacture of stress hormones and to support the adrenal glands.  They also have antioxidant qualities and have been found to enhance the activity of 'killer' white blood cells - helpful when the immune system has been compromised by stress and fatigue. 

In the store we often help people choose between Korean and Siberian ginseng. Siberian Ginseng is suitable for both short and longer term use and is often used by women as the plant appears to have oestrogen-like activity in the body. Panax Ginseng is more often used as a stimulating pick-me-up for short term use. This is useful simple guide although a herbalist will prescribe according to a particular individual's needs.
Siberian Ginseng is available as Dried Siberian Ginseng , capsules from Solgar  and in liquid form from Salus

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, are on any medication or have a medical condition, always consult a healthcare practitioner before taking any dietary supplement or herbal remedy.

Legislation on the sale of herbs has changed

Due to the Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products Directive (2004/24/EC) we are no longer able to dispense herbal tinctures for internal use over the counter or on our website.  This means that most of the tinctures we used to sell are no longer available, unless recommended by a medical herbalist after a private consultation.  Medical Herbalists still have access to the full range of medicinal herbs. You can find out more information at the website of the European Herbal and Traditional Medicine Practitioner Association (EHTPA) and at the National Institute of Medical Herbalists .

The National Institute of Medical Herbalists' site has a facility allowing you to find a herbalist in your area   

Cautions and Contraindications: This newsletter does not substitute the advice of a healthcare professional.  Always consult your GP or Medical Herbalist before self-treating with herbs and/or supplements.


in Glasgow