The very phrase herbal stress relief may bring a smirk from hipsters and others who frequent green pharmacies– but that’s not what we’re about here.

Post-industrial society seems increasingly burdened with stressors and toxins. While individual herbal remedies may offer their comforts, an area which interests holistic health-seekers even more is the concept of non-specific formulations which are non-specific in their actions. The most comprehensive herbal stress relief may be experienced with combinations of herbs which support healthy stress response, compounded for maximum benefit. These compounds are often taken as teas and tonics, or as capsules.

This concept of herbal stress relief is often discussed in the context of adaptogens, or herbal formulas which increase overall immune resistance, and are normalizing in their combined effects. While it may be possible to develop your own blend, it would be wiser to go to an experienced herbalist. Generally, herbal stress relief practice in the USA is greatly influenced by Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), practiced by individuals holding a DOM (Doctor of Oriental Medicine) credential. This Taoist tradition is several thousands of years old, and may also include acupuncture and other practices which complement the use of herbs.

Just a word to the West: when working with an herbalist, be sure to define your terms. In the long and revered TCM tradition, the word “herb” may be translated loosely, and may be applied by practitioners to include ingredients and products derived from animal sources. If you’re vegetarian, vegan, pet-friendly, an animal rights activist, concerned with the destiny of endangered species, or simply curious, ask a lot of questions about any formulation you may purchase.

Ayurveda, a classical Indian tradition, also contributes greatly to our growing understanding of herbal stress relief.  This practice is also thousands of years old, and calls upon deep cultural references. An example making headlines today is “oil-pulling”, which involves swishing organic coconut oil around in your mouth for 20 minutes as a general systemic detox and tooth-whitener.

Whether using herbs topically or ingesting them as internal medicine, it is important to remember that they are potentially very powerful substances. Simply because they may be purchased without a prescription does not mean that all herbs are safe for you. When creating a program of herbal stress relief, consult experts, including a Western MD if you have one– especially if you plan to combine herbal stress relief remedies, including OTC vitamins and supplements, with any conventional pharmaceutical drugs.

One of the most popular herbs in the herbal stress relief conversation these days is not a leafy green at all, but a fungus: the wild Reishi mushroom.

From a traditional Chinese perspective, this wild mushroom (red Ganoderma) is felt to supplement and support all three of the “treasures” or energy-systems of human beings: Jing, Qi, and Shen. Of the three, Shen, or spiritual radiance, is most benefitted by taking Reishi supplements, which often include other herbs with the dried, powdered mushroom, and is believed to support Liver and Heart health foremost. In the TCM context, longevity is synonymous with spiritual advancement. The Taoist and Buddhist way shows old age as revered (not scorned or ridiculed, as it often is in the West), and those who live a long life are perceived as rich in wisdom, versus being depleted or diminished by the passing of the decades. Thus, Reishi is valued as a dynamic botanical ingredient which extends life-expectancy in literal terms, and enhances spiritual knowingness in more ethereal terms.

Other herbs often featured in herbal stress relief compounds include Ginseng root, Golden Root and Holy Basil. The latter is related to aromatic garden basil, familiar to those who love Greek and Mediterranean cuisine. In the Ayurvedic tradition, Holy Basil is equated with the powers of the goddess Lakshmi.  Ginseng and Golden Root in particular are generally attributed with a broad array of health-benefits, all focused upon general immune support for robust stress response. Many of the benefits may seem a bit vague, and may overlap– an aspect of herbal stress relief which creates controversy among Western doctors. This expansive approach, however, is congruent with thousands of years of herbal stress relief practices. In herbal stress relief, the herbs are selected and combined to work synergistically, and systematically, over time, as opposed to fast-acting, single-ingredient treatments for single-symptom maladies.