Nerve damage, also called neuritis and neuropathy, can result from injuries, infections, diabetes and viral diseases, toxic agents, autoimmune disorders, muscle spasm and vitamin deficiency. Damage to peripheral nerves may affect how you feel heat and pain, and how your muscles respond to stimuli. Conventional treatment may include pain relievers, anti-seizure drugs and antidepressants, but these can have unpleasant side effects. Herbal teas may relieve pain, spasms and inflammation, and help relax damaged nerves. Check with your health care provider before starting herbal treatment.
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St. John’s Wort
St. John’s wort, or Hypericum perforatum, is a small shrub with bright yellow flowers. Herbalists traditionally use tinctures and teas to treat mild depression, but the plant also has potent pain-relieving properties. Clinical herbalist David Hoffmann notes that St. John’s wort is useful for sciatica, a painful compression of the nerves in your lumbar region. He also recommends using it as a tonic, to nourish damaged nerves and to reduce inflammation that may be contributing to the nerve pain and trauma. Do not combine St. John’s wort with antidepressants. Check with your doctor before using this herb if you are taking oral contraceptives, antiretroviral agents, calcium channel-blockers or chemotherapy.
Skullcap, Scutellaria lateriflora, is a perennial herb with purple flowers. Traditional healers throughout the world use teas from the dried roots and aerial parts to treat a variety of disorders, including nervous conditions, inflammation, arteriosclerosis, high cholesterol and epilepsy. The plant is rich in antioxidant flavonoids, which may help repair nerve damage. The roots of some species contain baicalin, which affects the GABA receptors — your body’s main inhibitory neurotransmitter — and has potent nerve-relaxant and antispasm properties. Hoffmann calls skullcap one of the most relevant nerve remedies in Western herbalism. He recommends it for treating the pain and spasms that may accompany nerve damage. It is also a nerve tonic, useful for renewing a traumatized central nervous system. Do not combine skullcap with sedatives or antidepressants.
Basil, or Ocimum sanctum, is a popular cooking and medicinal herb. Traditional healers use a tea from the leaves as a nerve tonic and to treat muscle and joint pain, coughs, upper respiratory infections and skin disorders. A study by A. Muthuraman and colleagues published in the October 2008 issue of the “Journal of Ethnopharmacology” tested basil on animals with induced nerve damage. The study found that basil significantly reduced further nerve degeneration and pain in the test animals. The researchers attribute the benefits of basil in part to its antioxidant constituents, which decrease oxidative stress and help restore health to tissues and nerves. Do not use basil tea for long periods or if you are pregnant, and do not give it to children.